I accepted my first programming job long before I realized I was an engineer at heart. On that fateful day I was led downstairs, through the basement, into a broken computer storage room, and to a closet door. “Here’s your office!“
When I opened the door, another cramped programmer glanced back at me in dismay — and scooted his monitor over a few inches to make room for me.
I almost turned around and walked out the door. I’m glad I didn’t.
Not only did I launch my career — and establish a lifelong friendship with my officemate — but I discovered that even a dusty programmer’s office/closet is full of opportunity. I was able to teach myself more about programming than any class could. While I didn’t realize it at the time, I was hooked.
Fortunately, I have never occupied another awful office/closet. In fact, I’ve ensured that every job I’ve held since has offered freedom in where, when, and how I work.
I’ve worked for newspapers and government agencies, and even designed backend systems for medical and insurance companies from my living room. I quickly learned that my favorite work is in the open-source world.
I am most motivated when I can engage with other self-motivated engineers from all around the world — united in our desire to build tools that improve people’s lives.
So when I received an email from Dr. Chris Waters, I was intrigued. In our first conversation he shared how well Aha! operates as a diverse distributed team. The company culture of autonomy, accountability, and agency that Chris was describing to me was identical to what I loved about open-source communities.
Impressed by the Aha! culture and curious about the product, I scheduled a second interview midweek with Alex Bartlow, another Aha! engineer, and started a free trial. As I went through the “Getting Started” tutorial, I immediately saw the depth and complexity that must exist underneath the surprisingly easy-to-use application.
I was bursting with questions about how the codebase worked — what tools were used and how many people were behind such an effort. Alex met my torrent of questions with enthusiasm and excitement. His response was uncharacteristic of a developer worn thin by rushed deadlines, suffocated by red tape, or stifled by lack of direction. (All common issues in the field.)
Alex described not just the interesting technical challenges, but also the human ones inherent in designing an intricate user-friendly system. I began to glimpse the attention to detail and creativity that permeates the engineering team at Aha!
The final interview was with Brian, one of the co-founders of Aha! I was nervous — because at that point I had something to lose. I’d come around from being intrigued by the prospect to hoping that I would soon join the team.
Fortunately, Brian quickly put me at ease. He described the history of Aha! and the shared goal to help companies innovate and build better products. What I found really interesting, though, was that he placed that same emphasis on helping the internal Aha! team grow.
Here was a place where I was not just expected to work as an engineer, but to grow as a person.
Far from sticking the engineers in the basement closet, Brian was inviting me to not just be part of the team but to learn everything about the company — inside and out. Of course, I had to accept the invitation.
I hit the ground running working on a custom user fields feature in Aha! — and that was just the first of many cool things. Since joining Aha! I have enjoyed new levels of independence and productivity, as well as learning my way around one of the most sophisticated Rails apps I’ve had the opportunity to work on.
That is why I joined Aha! — and why you should too.