It’s the obvious question all software engineers have to grapple with as we approached college graduation. Do you want to work for a corporate giant, one that offers an opportunity to contribute to established products, is relatively stable and has a large network of coworkers to learn from? Or do you want to join a scrappy startup that works on experimental and cutting-edge projects, offers more freedom to explore and experiment professionally, and gives you a chance to make larger contributions? It’s a stereotypical and simplified binary, but a valid one.
As I attended career fairs and went on interviews in my final year at the University of Michigan, I was lucky to speak with representatives from many amazing smaller local companies, and I knew which end of that binary choice I wanted to land on. I wanted the freedom to explore and experiment; things these eager and excited startup employees had. Luckily enough for me, I came upon an ad in the University of Michigan’s engineering school newsletter about a new program out of Detroit called Hacker Fellows. It’s a fellowship program focused on keeping tech talent in Michigan by matching new graduates with fresh startups. I was accepted into the inaugural program and was matched with Tome.
Tome was the perfect fit for me and everything I wanted to find through Hacker Fellows. I’ve had free reign over what skills I want to develop since day one. There has always been a way to explore a particular idea at Tome, whether it be through projects, culture trips or our monthly lab days. In this way, flexibility, freedom and curiosity are at the core of Tome’s DNA. These traits have allowed me to try on as many hats as I can handle: backend development, frontend development, database design and “dev ops.” I’ve been blessed to explore all of these and more, and each opportunity has increased my ability to contribute to projects with a broader perspective.
I took on larger responsibilities and projects over the past few years until a new hat was presented to me: leadership. We needed to start full development on an Android version of our Down to Ride App, and my growing experience with Android made me an ideal fit for the project. However, we needed more personnel to get up and running. The solution was to bring on a co-op student who would begin developing the app under my management.
While thinking through and shaping my leadership approach, I wanted to absorb and keep intact those core Tome DNA traits; that flexibility, freedom and curiosity. These traits are all the more important for a co-op here to learn, to grow and to experience the kinds of workloads and expectations they simply cannot become attuned to during their time at school. I wanted any co-op working for me to have the ability to explore technologies, patterns and strategies as they saw fit, while still providing the structure and direction needed to get meaningful work done.
Creating the balancing act between unbridled exploration and functional expectation has not been an easy process. The needs of the project called for a fast-moving development cycle and minimal dependencies so we could get off the ground quickly and catch up with our iOS counterpart. So for every pattern or technology that a co-op wanted to explore, another one had to be shot down.
One clear example of this reality comes to mind. The first co-op on the project, Conner Wallace, discovered a new UI building toolkit for the project, Jetpack Compose. Unfortunately, at the time of our evaluation it was very difficult to configure and still very much in its early days. Despite it being cutting edge and an awesome and forward-thinking approach to UI building, I had to make the decision to cut it and enforce the more familiar patterns that I had used on previous projects.
Despite these necessary choices, one of my top priorities as a project manager continues to be the maintenance of the breathing room necessary for the exploration of new ideas or deep dives into old ones.
Exploration and experimentation is paramount to the efficient development of new groundbreaking products in the software space. It’s the key to everything we do at Tome. It’s why Tome continues to be the kind of company I want to work for.