Lessons Learned Along the Way
Over the past two decades, I've worked numerous engineering jobs, and taken classes at two prestigious schools. At each phase I learned valuable lessons, on which I've taken some time to reflect.
University of Texas - Austin
In 1999, I started my college career at the University of Texas at Austin, as an Electrical Engineering major. I took classes in math, physics, hardware, and software. There were classes I barely attended, and classes I spent extra time on. Looking back, almost a quarter of a century later, I can see how the work I put in then effected my life.
- Dig deep into the details, the juice is worth the squeeze
- Be ambitious, and don't be afraid to take on big challenges
- Graduated in a class where half the students didn't make it
- Member of the Lacrosse team, winning the conference championship
- Earned top marks on my Senior Project: a prototype digital multimeter
In 2000, I started my first "real" job at Motorola. I was an Applications Engineer, at headquarters in Austin, TX. We were a small team of five engineers responsible for being the highest technical level of support for all of Motorola's microcontrollers. I was the youngest on the team, and the only one without a Master's degree. Although I took my job very seriously, I wasn't focused on personal growth. I passed up several opportunities to take on leadership roles, believing I needed more time to mature. I was wrong. In 2001 after Motorola sold their microcontroller division to Freescale, I moved on.
- Take work seriously, put people first, but take your chances and believe in yourself
- Take opportunities to grow, and don't be afraid to try something hard or new
- Designed Field Engineer Training Program (and companion software), using the prototyping board above
- Helped redesign Motorola's support website, organizing hundreds of technical manuals and papers
- Worked with the Dodge Viper team to debug some system design issues
General Dynamics Robotics Systems
In 2001, I moved to Baltimore Maryland to work at General Dynamics. My role was as a research and development engineer on their autonomous off-road vehicle program for the US Army in partnership with DARPA. I was responsible for deep software integration of and prototyping three experimental radar systems. This was a dream for me. I was working on cutting edge technology, and I had full autonomy to make it work. I was given access to top-notch equipment, and I was able to work with some of the best engineers in the world.
- You can do anything you set your mind to
- Work with the best, and learn from them
- Don't be discouraged by doubt: show it can be done
- Build on top of the successes of your predecessors
- Successfully integrated cutting edge MMW Radar into Robotics system
- Proved that MMW Radar could be used in real-time for autonomous navigation
- Demonstrated my work to an Army General, and we received a continuation of our contract
In 2004, I started Law School at Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor Michigan. I came into that program with a ton of energy and enthusiasm. I was able to maintain a high enough GPA to keep my full academic scholarship, and I was part of several student organizations as well as school affiliated honorary competitions and clinics.
- Focus on what you love, and learn from your mistakes
- Don't be afraid to take risks, and don't be afraid to fail
- Take it on the chin, and keep fighting for what you want and believe in
- Build a total understanding by anticipating concerns or questions
- I graduated from Law School with a 3.0 GPA, maintaining a full Academic Scholarship throughout
- I helped found the Intellectual Property Group at Ave Maria School of Law
- I competed in the Giles Rich Moot Court Competition
- I was a member of the Patent Law Clinic, helping inventors file patents
Teaching Law in China - and building an autonomous robot
The day after taking the Texas bar exam (a three-day endeavor), I left for China. I had accepted a position teaching law at a University in China. I spent one year teaching law in English to undergraduate students. I had a ton of free time, because my classes were only a few hours a week. I spent some of my free time getting to know my students and learning about their lives, dreams, and answering questions. I learned a ton about them and all the various cultures and regions of China: fascinating. When my contract ended, I returned to the US to pursue a career in web development, as I had been doing som web projects as an aside while in China.
- Be open to new experiences, and learn from them, but be careful
- Focus on one thing at a time. Don't try to do too much
- Find a community of people who you can go to for help
- I learned a lot about myself, and what I wanted to do with my life
- I learned about Chinese law, and politics, and how it differs from the US
In 2007, I started working at RateGenius, a startup in Austin, TX. I was hired as a software engineer, but I was also given the opportunity to work on the business side of the company. I was able to work with the COO, and learn about the challenges, opportunities, and goals of the company. We worked together to build a new SaaS product, improve the existing consumer facing product, as well as set the company up for growth.
I hired several budding engineers, and worked with them to grow their skills and their careers. Together we shipped multiple key integrations, partnerships, and products. That company now has hundreds of employees, and a large engineering organization.
After 3 years I was offered to take over as Head of Engineering. By that time, I had taken the company from 0 engineers to 5, and profit had grown to the point that the company was poised for massive growth.
- Go above and beyond, and push boundaries for the benefit of all
- Move fast and break things, and document your learnings
- Communicate clearly and often, and be transparent
- Teach others, and help them grow
- Migrated entire web application from Co-location Datacenter to AWS
- Migrated company email from on-prem Exchange to Google Apps
- Built a new SaaS product from scratch
- Improved the performance, reliability, and scalability of the consumer facing product, resulting in 10x growth
- Built a new engineering team from scratch, and helped them grow their careers
In 2012, a consultant pulled me aside and told me that I would do amazing in the Bay Area, as a software engineer. I took his advice, and started looking for jobs in the Bay Area.
In 2012, I landed a role as a software engineer at Trulia. I started just a few weeks after they went public. I joined the business services team: a new team responsible for building out a new product for real estate agents. Prior to that Trulia had primarily made money on broad-based advertising revenue, but they noticed an increasing number of realtors looking to differentiate themselves.
We built a new product that allowed realtors to purchase impression by zip code. They could bid on zip codes, and the highest bidder would get the most impressions. We designed everything from a purchasing flow, pricing models, and a dashboard for realtors to track their impressions. We also built a new CRM for realtors to interact with leads, generated from the impressions they purchased.
In 2015 Zillow acquired Trulia, and I stayed on the help transition Business Services into a new team at Zillow, which we called Premier Agent. I was part of team responsible for integrating a recent acquisition of Trulia's, and also building new products for realtors.
That CRM product was, and still is the number one revenue generator for both Trulia, and Zillow.
- Be a team player, work together, and make something awesome
- Focus on pursuing the big goals, by breaking them down into smaller ones
- Hard work is its own reward
- Built a new product from scratch, and grew it to be the number one revenue generator
- Built a new CRM from scratch, and grew it to be the number one CRM for realtors
- Built a new team from scratch, and helped them grow their careers
In 2015, I joined Earnest, a startup in San Francisco. I was hired as a Lead Software Engineer, and I was given the opportunity to grow a team of engineers. We were responsible for building new internal tools to help the underwriting team make better decisions, and also to help with compliance.
- Understand the business, and how you can help it succeed
- Be a leader, and be a guide for others
- Startups fail more often than they succeed. Don't take it personally.
- Built a new team from scratch, and helped them grow their careers
- Learned a lot about GraphQL, React, and Node.js
In 2016, I rejoined Zillow, to lead an effort to re-architect the frontend of the CRM application. I was given the goal of improving the performance of the application, the developer experience. With a small team of engineers, and a product manager, we were able to replace the complex existing CRM with a new version that was faster, more reliable, and easier to maintain. We were able to do this without any downtime, and without any interruption to the business.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- The most successful projects bring people in from all over the company, and build consensus early
- Listen to your team, customers, and stakeholders: they know more than you do
- Re-architected the CRM application, and improved developer productivity by at least 10x
- Unlocked our ability to ship new features without introducing new bugs
- Delivered an enhanced CI/CD pipeline, with high test coverage, PR-level test deployments, and automated deployments to production
- Built a new team from scratch, up to 9 engineers, and helped them grow their careers
- Helped the team grow from 1 deployment per week, to 10 deployments per day
- Helped the team grow from 0 automated tests, to 100% test coverage
- Introduced GraphQL, React, Node.js to the Premier Agent stack.
- MyAgent: https://www.zillow.com/premier-agent/my-agent/
- PA CRM: https://www.zillow.com/premier-agent/crm/
In 2022, I set out to build my own company. I landed on a solution to a problem I had experienced first hand: the lack of reporting on illegal dumping activity in cities, especially in underserved communities. I built a prototype, got verbal commitment from the City of San Francisco to pilot the product, and built a working solution. Over the course of a year, I reported over 6000 incidents of illegal dumping, and helped the city clean up several square miles of the most impacted areas.
- Get buy-in first, and make sure everyone is on the same page
- Building it is the easy part, building the right thing is the hard part
- Intimately get to know your customers, and build something they love
- Built a prototype, and got verbal commitment from the City of San Francisco to pilot the product
- The first company to offer this revolutionary service
- Filed a patent application for the technology
- Reported over 6000 incidents of illegal dumping, and helped the city clean up several square miles of the most impacted areas