Every company starts small with just the founders and expands the team as needed. Juan is the first engineer that came aboard to help develop the product and the longest non-executive employee at Ople. Why did he choose to join a startup with just four people to start his career as a software engineer?
Tell us a little about yourself.
Originally from Colombia, I studied Computer Science at UC Santa Cruz. I worked as a Data Analyst in college and my core responsibility was to help high school students get into college. I used SQL to create and manage databases and used different measures to analyze data. Before that, I helped my family’s software company expand the business online using Google AdWords and other tools. I also participated in multiple Hackathons in college. One winning project was a silent alert system. I created a program that connected a smartphone with a Pebble watch, and if a user was in danger, he or she could silently tap the watch to trigger a series of alerts to pre-set receivers.
What brought you to Ople?
My first exposure to artificial intelligence was in a class. I learned very basic machine learning and high-level data science, but that was enough to excite me about the field. When I came in for the interviews and saw the very early version of the product, I saw a very promising vision and the passion for the product. Of course, my first job was to get ramped up in data science. Petr was kind enough to put together a private data science curriculum for me to follow through. I still have lots to learn, but the exercises helped me to become more familiar and comfortable with what we are building here.
Tell me more about when you saw the product for the first time.
It was very different from what we have right now. The UI and the features were very basic, and the infrastructure was not at an enterprise-ready level. However, the product was working, which rarely is the case for most of the startups that early, and I could believe that the team is capable of making the impossible possible. In fact, I love that fact that I was able to join the company so early and got a chance to see all the changes take place. We still have a long way to go, but we have a clearer roadmap and mutual understanding internally about where we are headed.
What does your day to day life look like?
As a software engineer, my job is to make sure the wonders of data science work in our product and are scalable. Another big job is preparing onboarding documents for the new hires to help them ramp up on how our software works. I also organize our weekly Fellowship, which is our company’s internal workshop. Every Wednesday, we take turns and teach others something new, both technical and non-technical.
Do you have a memorable challenge or a mistake you have made that you want to go back and fix?
In the beginning, I would try to achieve a big goal but it went nowhere. I was not able to figure out how to accomplish the goal because there were many tasks associated with it. It took some time, but I found out that a goal can be broken down into smaller pieces that can be actually tracked in terms of progress and be verified that they are working. So if I can go back and fix, I will tell myself to start small and focus on an achievable goal at a time.
What do you like to do for fun?
I do quite a few different activities. The main two I do regularly are Argentine Tango and Toastmasters. I am actually the president at a local Toastmasters club, so every week, I organize meetups for the members to come together and practice their public speaking. I received a great deal of help from the club and I am glad that I have the opportunity to give back to others. The latest hobby I picked up is painting.
You have been with Ople for over a year now, making you the longest non-executive employee. What changes have you seen so far and what more do you want to see?
A lot has changed, and I think I have grown as a better engineer with the company over the course. In the beginning, the company went through a discovery phase. We were exploring what we can develop and how the market would react. I did exactly the same with my career by exploring different technologies and learning data science, machine learning, and software engineering. As the company grew, we faced many mistakes that we learned from. As a result, the product became better in every way, just like how I became a better engineer through different lessons.
The one thing that has stayed the same is the awesome culture of being brutally open and relentlessly passionate about what we do. I strongly would love to see we keep the culture the same way no matter how big the company becomes. In fact, I think our culture will be the main driver in creating a killer product that will have a huge impact on our customers.