My Year in: Tech

I started out 2020 taking my first relatively prolonged vacations of the last 15 years or so: 3 weeks. Coming out of the first year of my twin children, the break was welcome.

To recap, I was working at Toptal’s core and had just finished recruiting a new team, having hired 3 new front-end engineers. I put myself in contention for a promotion to Engineering Manager. At Toptal this was a rarefied position. The company was about 600 or 700 people and only 4 EMs existed. They were opening 4 new spots. I was looking for a step forward, not necessarily associated with a title.

Almost parallel to that, a former colleague tweeted that his company, Circuit, was looking for people. I really love this guy, Filipe Alvarenga, so any company he’s working for must have virtues. I met Jack Underwood, one of Circuit’s founders and its CEO. I felt good about him and the company. It helped that Jack publishes monthly letters to the public about how the company is doing, and they seemed very candid.

Circuit provides technological infrastructure for last-mile deliveries. Think managing your daily routes if you are an individual driver, and also doing that in a team of dozens of drivers.

I was hired at the Team Lead level, same as I had been at Toptal. The idea was to expand the front-end headcount at Circuit and create a React team. When I joined, in the second half of March, the world had just been turned upside down by Covid. All plans at the company changed very quickly: despite the immense negatives of the pandemic, Circuit was in a position to help things and grow significantly, as deliveries exploded everywhere.

I operated as an engineer for the rest of the year. In my first 2 or 3 weeks I wrote an application where recipients of deliveries could track their shipments. It was relatively simple, and got shipped quite smoothly. That was the first application written in React at Circuit.

The company’s focus had shifted to really serving teams of drivers. It’s a natural progression from individual drivers, to teams, and eventually to enterprise.

Our back-end uses Firestore, a serverless product from Google, and there was work to do there after completing the recipient application. I shipped or helped ship several of these cloud functions, both for external and internal use. What was missing in our backend were tests. A colleague had just started writing unit tests in the repo. I spent weeks of off-time trying to learn how to properly test back-end functions in Firestore. The documentation is not helpful and I could not find good materials. So I pieced out the knowledge, tried things, and eventually got one version to work, then we all improved on it. I think this was our main achievement of the year, technically. Soon the tests spread out in the app, all colleagues were writing tests, and I believe we got a much more productive rest of the year with the benefits of serious test coverage.

After some work converting our internal admin panel to React, we took on the rewrite of, also in React. SpeedyRoute is an acquisition made by Circuit some time ago, originally written in CoffeeScript. We completely rewrote it in React, and now the UI looks a bit more contemporary too. Around then the decision was made to convert all our web applications to React, and to start the new ones in React as well, phasing out Ember.js.

At this point, we were in the last quarter of 2020 and we were ready to go back to the original plan for my joining Circuit. Jack invited me to lead the recruiting of 4 front-end engineers. It was great to be back doing interpersonal-focused work. The internal recommendations of engineers were very strong and this helped the process move quite quickly. We now have 3 hires and may close out the 4th soon.

The newcomers will start in the first few weeks of January, and we will spawn a team to rewrite our most important web client, Circuit for Teams.

The year was challenging, of course, but at work it did not feel proportional to a global pandemic. The culture at Circuit is driven but very balanced, the founders are sensible, very intelligent, and rational. They are always present, designing and coding along, so it feels they get a much more realistic sense of how things are progressing than if they were only doing management. And because they are working with everyone, it is just natural that we can talk frequently and issues get resolved quickly.

The company more than tripled its annual recurring revenue from US$3M to just over US$10M this year. There were next to no major bugs or incidents, and a lot got done during the year. Interactions with everyone were unfailingly pleasant and constructive.

I was the 8th person in the company when I joined, we are now 12 and, with the new team, will be at least 16 in the first quarter of 2021. It will be fun to help grow the company, help keep the good things that can be kept of the current structure, and also help add good things for it to scale nicely. We have reasons to be optimistic that Circuit will accomplish this.