A Day in the Life: Ashley Joost (Principal Software Engineer, Skyscanner)
What has been your journey in tech so far?
Initially, I had zero intention of becoming a software developer. I was a history and media studies major who happened to code as a hobby, making birthday cards for my friends in Flash with emo music and ActionScript and making websites on Tripod.
It was in a media studies lab my third year where I learned about web standards and the web standards movement and that there was a better way to build websites than just hacking some tables together. Later that year, I got a part-time job as a web developer and sysadmin for our student center and picked up a few freelance gigs building websites for student clubs. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation. I was thinking about academia or digital journalism, but it was the Great Recession that made me a developer.
I graduated in 2008 and as jobs dried up, I was lucky enough to be offered a role as a full-time web developer for my university. It turns out, I really did enjoy building digital products and my humanities background ended up being an asset.
From there, I moved to in-house IT in a very enterprise-y shop, introducing them to progressive enhancement, responsive design, and design systems. And from there I moved to a fast-growing mobile agency where I managed teams building native apps and web sites for our clients.
This past year, I moved to London just in time for a global pandemic, and joined Skyscanner back on the individual contributor track. The thing that’s kept me in tech is that it’s an interdisciplinary team sport. I’m at my happiest at the intersection of tech, product, and UX.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced moving into your current role? (and how you’re working to overcome the challenge)
In an agency, you’re often in green field projects, and in new products you can move at start-up pace. Moving back in-house I’ve been reminded of the challenges of evolving a long-lived product while also developing, maintaining, and modernizing a platform for software engineering.
An interesting challenge at Skyscanner right now is improving our software development platform for front end web development. It’s a big challenge with a huge payoff, that will enable us to go faster. The piece I’m focusing on is aligning our engineering roadmap with our product ambitions so we can make big changes to how we build our products while also continuing to evolve our traveler experience.
Briefly describe your stack and workflow (the technologies and frameworks you use, how often you ship updates etc.)
My stack is Slack, Zoom, Confluence, and VS Code in that order. Most of my time is collaboration and the tools I use reflect that.
At Skyscanner, on the web front end, we’re a React shop and practice continuous deployment. Do a travel search on our mobile website and you’ll get a glimpse of where we’re going with our web products.
What does your typical day look like? (ways you interact with your team; tools or processes you use to organize yourself)
My days are a mix between working on what we’re delivering now and long term planning around our larger initiatives and platform strategies. I’ll go from team ceremonies like sprint planning and demos, to collaboration sessions with the front end principals to work on our platform plans.
Other days, I’ll be helping our product team with quarterly planning and then act as rubber duck if an engineer has a problem. I like dipping in and out between what we’re actively working on and what we’re planning to build so that our future plans are grounded in our reality.
What’s the best and worst part of your job?
When you’re a front end engineer, it’s easy to get addicted to the near instant feedback loop. It’s pretty exciting to make a change, have your browser reload automatically and see if what you just did works. It’s even more exciting when you merge your PR and in a few minutes you’re looking at your work in production.
As you move into management or the senior individual contributor track, your feedback loops get longer and that can be a real challenge. It’s the length of this feedback loop that’s the worst part of the job. The piece that makes it worth it though, is that your impact can be much, much bigger. When you’re proposing a new way of working, new architecture, or helping someone grow, sometimes it’s months before you see the payoff. I like balancing tasks with near term payoff and long term payoff to keep myself motivated.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
In my first job with lead in the title, my amazing project manager at the time talked often about the responsibility that comes with influence. She reminded me that as a lead, I set the example for how our team operates, performs, and works together. And I’ve taken that with me to every role since then.
Especially as you move up the ladder in your career, you have an opportunity and obligation to model behaviors you want to see around you. This is absolutely the type of long feedback loop work that’s easy to abandon or give up on, but I’ve seen it work and change culture in a bunch of different types of teams and organizations.
What’s your most useful resource?
My RSS feeds. It used to be Google Reader (RIP) and now it’s Feedly Pro, but I have a list of sites I always read. It’s a combination of general tech industry news, tech policy, tech criticism, in the weeds web and mobile stuff, travel industry news, and good old fashion blogs. There’s always something in my Feedly that’s relevant to what I’m working on.
What is one thing you would like to learn, develop, or work on this year?
I’m still figuring out how to work remotely. Even though I’ve been at it for a year now in lockdown, I definitely haven’t mastered it. I’m one of those people who loves being in an office, so I’ve definitely struggled with different aspects of remote working. If anyone’s figured out how to run a workshop remotely, oh God, please share.