David tells us about how he’s helped hire and onboard a team of world-class software engineers at PepsiCo, which in 2019 delivered nearly $2 billion in global eCommerce retail sales value. The company’s broad portfolio of iconic beverage and snack brands includes Gatorade, Bubly, Mountain Dew, Lay’s, Doritos, and Quaker Oats.
What has been your journey in tech so far?
I landed in tech by accident. After I graduated college I was applying to office and administrative roles to take a break on academics before applying to graduate school for religious studies. A friend reached out to me — I wasn’t getting very many responses on my applications — and suggested I talk with his co-workers who were building anew application for social recommendations.
After a phone call, I was hired as their first in-house technical person. They gave me the title of “Data Scientist” at first, which was not what they needed nor what I was. I quickly picked up the programming side of things and got some mentorship from their contracted engineering team. A lot happened: the contractors switched us from Ruby to Elixir — which got me into both functional programming and the Elixir community, we hired quite a few people, rebuilt the app twice, never truly launched it, and the company went sideways.
Having some Elixir experience under my belt, I got connected with two guys building a log monitoring platform, and I was a fit for their stack of choice. We built out a really robust system with idiomatic, language-specific integrations. I was and remain really proud of what we did. After about 2 years, it became clear that while I might have a bright future with this group, I wouldn’t get the mentorship and learning opportunities I needed to grow. As luck would have it, a friend-of-a-friend was starting the engineering team at PepsiCo eCommerce and my needs aligned with what PepsiCo could offer.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve face moving into your current role?
Growth, both in terms of hiring and then dealing with the increase in the number of people. Hiring an engineering team has a lot of layers to it: we had to figure out candidate sourcing, the technical screening, and the interview process. After each interview we’d refine the process a bit. We also had to work on how we pitched the company and team to the candidates we were targeting. Working all of this into the existing structure PepsiCo already had was a massive change from the blank slate I had experienced at startups before.
When Mark Towfiq, our SVP for Digital Technology and Experience, came on board, he really helped us streamline the process and instituted an amazing technical screening
process. I’m also really lucky because PepsiCo’s HR and Talent Acquisition teams are amazing at what they do, and they’ve worked with our team every step of the way.
Then there’s the problem of time. I’ve had days where I’ll do three technical screenings — each taking an hour — back-to-back. And the time I’m doing technical screenings is time I’m not writing software. We’ve been spreading out the responsibility as more people join the team.
Briefly describe your stack and workflow
We’re shipping multiple times per day, and our deployments are fully automated.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m still working on what “typical” looks like for me. The one constant in my day is standup at 1PM ET.
What’s the best and worst part of your job?
The best part is the people. We’ve got so many talented people across the organization, and it’s amazing to be around them.
The worst part is figuring out what I should have my attention on. There’s a lot of moving pieces, and it’s not always clear which ones I should dedicate my time to. That’s something very particular to my experience having joined the group so early and accumulating odd responsibilities over time.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
To go home. My second job out of college, my manager would turn the lights off when she left at 5pm and tell me it was time to go home. It made me appreciate the balance between work and life and not to let one become too much of the other.
What is your most useful resource?
Twitter has yielded a lot of rich material for me over the years. I can rely on my friends to surface particularly interesting links or threads.
What’s one thing you’d like to learn, develop or work on in 2020?
Saying “no” more often. I easily get into situations where I’ve over-extended myself, and I’m working to focus more on quality over quantity.