Building Thriving Teams and Honing World-Class Talent: A Conversation with Engineering Manager, Jake Sorce
Q: What is your background and your current role at Aumni?
I got my start at Instructure in various technical roles, and worked my way up to tech lead and engineering manager there. At my last company, Podium, I helped grow the engineering team from about 50 to more than 150. Throughout my career, I've had the opportunity to work at small, medium and large companies, where I've helped build teams from the tens to the hundreds, and that has been very rewarding. That said, I’ve learned that a company with 1,000+ employees on seven different floors loses the fundamental sense of connection, at least for me. I prefer working in a tight-knit community in the startup world. I've been at Aumni since June of 2020 and in tech for about 11 years.
As the Engineering Manager at Aumni, I lead the engineering team. I hire the very best people, help engineers hone their technical and collaborative skills, and report our growing success to Aumni CTO, Rob Wise. It’s the ideal fit for me and I’m confident that the team we are destined to become will be second to none.
Q: Engineers of your caliber are always in demand. What drew you to Aumni, specifically, when there are so many great places to work?
The driving force behind my decision to join Aumni is simple: I'm a start-up guy. I’m fueled by Aumni’s mission to transform venture capital with data-based insights, but also by the opportunity to empower a team of dedicated engineers working together to make that mission a reality. That's what drew me to Aumni: the promise of building a team and growing it to make a huge impact.
Q: What has been the most important element of support at Aumni? What has been the most enjoyable?
The working relationship I have with our CTO, Rob Wise, is the most important dynamic I’ve discovered at Aumni. Rob is the most technical CTO that I've ever worked for. His technical talent far exceeds that of the average business-minded CTO and is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever worked with. He single handedly built Aumni's initial technology from the ground up for our seed round, and he continues to be very active in our architecture discussions and roadmap planning.
Rob’s leadership example at Aumni makes it possible for me to develop my skills. I love that I'm able to serve as both an engineering manager and a software engineer here. I have time that's allotted for me to code with the team as well as mentor the team. I am encouraged to hone my technical skills and my people skills every day. That balance is strengthening my understanding of how to develop rewarding capabilities in the members of my team.
Q: Can you share some of the technical aspects of your team’s current work and alignment?
Aumni’s engineering organization is comprised of four squads: Data Modeling, Admin, Core One and Core Two. Our Data Modeling squad builds complex data models to replicate dependencies and financial outcomes that are unique to venture capital investing. Core One and Core Two are dedicated to building new core features and optimizing current core features of the Aumni platform. The Admin squad builds and safeguards the backend data entry interface. Our tech stack is Ruby on Rails on the back-end and React on the front-end. We also have a very robust data warehouse and data pipeline built with AWS Redshift and Matillion. Currently our data pipeline calculates over 86 million data points every hour.
Q: What's unique about being a developer at Aumni?
At Aumni, code quality is top priority. We're not willing to compromise quality to be solely deadline driven. Instead, we write the cleanest code and the most effective architecture possible. Our objective is to enable our company to scale and grow on a quality foundation, rather than paint ourselves in a corner with avoidable technical debt that cripples scalability. Our hiring conversations demonstrate the appeal of this philosophy: talented developers are drawn to an environment built on respect for quality and the integrity shown when we adhere to plans that reward the creation of high-quality work products.
Q: How are Aumni engineers organized for innovation and efficiency?
Aumni engineers currently run weekly sprints in cross-functional squads comprised of a project manager (PM), an engineering manager (EM), two to four dedicated engineers, a designer, an SDET (software developer in test), and QA, such that every facet of the stack is represented. We also have other departments in weekly standups as necessary to ensure everyone is aligned. PMs run the planning on Monday, and we have Slack standups Tuesday through Friday to limit the amount of required meetings engineers are in and to capitalize on momentum and productivity.
Working in cross-functional squads unlocks understanding across the project. Everyone is heads-down because they grasp the broader implications of their role on the project and are clearing obstacles for the rest of the team. The co-development of a plan at the beginning of the week allows for improved ownership and clear paths to success for everyone involved. Engineers agree to the front-end architecture, the backend architecture, resolve any design questions, and answer any product questions. Then, they work towards a common goal and a common definition of project completion the remainder of the week. Our weekly sprints in cross-functional teams have proven to be the most rewarding for each member and allow for quality to be planned from day one.
Q: What has been your proudest accomplishment as a team to date?
We recently re-architected our entire application using our data warehousing solution. We’ve now gone through three iterations of our architecture and have decided to stick with Archaeological periods of time for our naming convention (Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age). Iron Age being the most recent period of our architecture. This was a huge accomplishment that has made the engineers more effective and efficient, the code base cleaner, and future iterations to the project quicker and easier to implement. To have this kind of level of rigor around data cleanliness and architecture is unique to this size of company.
Q: Which career opportunities are you looking to fill presently and in the near future?
Aumni is a technology company at its core. We're continuously growing our engineering team to outpace the demand for market-changing products and innovative features as well as customer-driven projects. Aumni is on a remarkable analytics journey. We need engineers that refuse to tolerate mediocrity. We’re always interested in speaking with quality-hungry engineers who love their craft and are skilled in the following areas of expertise:
- Software Engineers that specialize in Ruby on Rails, React, or both;
- SDETs engineers that specialize in Java and Selenium;
- Data Engineers that specialize in Aws Redshift, SQL, Data Modeling, and Data Warehousing (PostgreSQL specifically);
- SREs (Site Reliability Engineers), or DevOps engineers, dedicated to the health of our servers and critical database maintenance.
We're eager to find dedicated, collaborative engineers for each of those roles.
Q: What advice do you have for engineers who are interested in Aumni's engineering positions?
Aumni hires force multipliers. Technical talent and expertise (i.e., React and Rails, or very heavy SQL chops, etc.) is fundamental. The most successful candidates have experience working at startups and crave the fast-paced creation of products that didn’t exist prior to Aumni. Engineers will be challenged to multi-task and remain open to learning and flexing with demand.
Engineering roles in larger companies are often siloed -- an engineer may work solely on one element of an entire application. Aumni is different. Engineers are positioned to impact every single piece of the application and the customer experience, which is incredible. Many of our engineers, myself included, affect front-end development, back-end development, support for SQL plus they interview and onboard new team members. My advice is: be ready to run at the pace of a hyper-growth startup (with a work / life balance!) and you will thrive in our environment. The hunger to build something and put your name on it is a valued trait at Aumni.