Note: Article has been updated since submission on September 28, 2014. Interview based on class assignment.
Click, click, click, and clack. The sounds are more than common in a room filled with computers. Worn pads are evident on many keyboards. Cycling intervals of intense strokes intermixed with silent pauses are familiar. Some people converse about a current project, while others are dedicated to finishing the job. This is a workspace of software engineers.
Erik Allar is currently employed at Sprout Social, a social media software company. He defines his workspace as casual. It is not a monotone space, such as a cubicle. There are couches, ping pong tables, bean bag chairs and more. His favorite thing about his space are the snacks conveniently located in the kitchen. The entirety of this space is where budding minds create applications.
These applications entail managing social media for big name companies. Companies of notable mention are GrubHub, Urban Outfitters, Spotify and more. Sprout Social’s products analyze and publish tools to monitor social media influences. Their products are available in web browsers and mobile applications. Since social media is changing how companies interact with consumers, it becomes necessary to find better ways to manage those interactions. Sprout Social is an answer. It creates a better experience for customers and allows businesses to flourish. Erik found that this company was doing what he wished to do.
Erik Allar graduated from Michigan State University in 2010. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts in finance. He was a bright graduate itching to grab on to life. Yet, his degree did not lead him to where he thought it would. The dreams of success and prosperity were not turning out how he wanted it to be. At this point in his life, he did not have an exact goal or path, but he found that finance was restricting. The creativity associated with programming lured Eric into his field. Finance was not as enjoyable as he thought. Fortunately, he mostly taught himself how to program. Erik realized “how much potential there was for me to create”.
He further studied programming from Dev Bootcamp, an intensive program for learning computer programming. There he gained the skills necessary to begin his career in programming. Starting with back-end applications, Erik did not believe that he would eventually end up where he is now. In November 2013, Erik began working for Sprout Social. A friend had enlightened Erik about his own experiences, and Erik was hooked. He was interested in the types of problems that Sprout Social was addressing and decided to get an interview. Yet, the most important part that influenced his decision was the people. Erik found that the people were “very kind”, “down to earth”, and “enthusiastic about what they were doing”. As described by Erik, “There was an infectious energy at Sprout and I wanted to be a part of it.”
As part of the Sprout Social team, he begins his day with a simple hello. Each day typically starts with some coffee and oatmeal at 8 or so. Next, Erik attends any stand-ups, meetings for current projects. Then he gets to coding. Currently, at Sprout Social, he is a software engineer with a concentration in iOS applications. Erik maintains and builds iPhone and iPad Apps. His most used programming languages are Objective-C, Python, Java, and a few more. He types away until the next part of his day. Lunch is usually with lots of chicken and other colleagues chatting about current projects. In the afternoon, there is an occasional meeting, but usually, Erik is programming again. When the day comes to an end, Erik leaves around 4:30, takes the L, to avoid the blunders of Chicago traffic.
A typical work week is the standard Monday to Friday set, but it is possible for Eric to work from home. Yet for Eric, going to Sprout for the people is one of the best things about the job. Even there, he can be an independent and or a collaborative engineer. There are times when working alone is best to finish the intended project. His team is incredible and with high energy, so working is a good time.
Yet, there are times when he is being challenged. Ironically, Erik considers his greatest challenge to be not knowing any mobile development before becoming an iOS engineer. Any problem does not go without kinks. Obstacles do not stop Eric. Although they may be difficult at times, working within a team while solving problems is fun. According to Erik, “We work on some very unique problems at Sprout, so we need to come up with some very interesting solutions”. If there is ever a time when Erik feels the need for help, he talks to other iOS engineers and together they solve the problem. Collaboration is a key characteristic of the engineering teams at Sprout Social.
According to Erik, it is necessary to handle frustration and have patience. Being able to learn quickly and efficiently is an important skill for someone in computer science. The discipline is about solving hard problems, which allows intuitive minds like Eric to grow. Erik values being able to work out these problems, despite being frustrated. He has learned that “Eventually you’ll figure it out, but it takes patience.”
It has become important to be able to manage his time and improve his focus, but these qualities apply to life, not just work. He does not feel that Sprout Social has “changed” him, but rather he feels energized as a person. “Most of the stuff I did before Sprout is still there, it’s just been amplified because of the energy, support, and balance I find in working at Sprout”. He would say that “developing a sense of trust” and “following instincts” are what led him to Sprout Social. If he had chosen to continue finance, he may be a different person. The intense and hard work at Sprout Social is unmatched.
Ecstatic is a one-word description of Erik. “I love my job, work at a phenomenal company, and most of all have met tremendous people, the best.” It is because of the space at Sprout Social. It is where hard problems are solved despite having such a pleasant atmosphere. The soft couches and the high number of computers create a haven for software engineers to grow. Although there are times when assignments are uncomfortable, Erik will do it. For him, “If you are comfortable, you are doing something wrong”. The way to learn and discover new things is being outside his comfort zone, despite the luxury of Sprout Social. This is the way of a software engineer.