We finally managed to pull Frontend Software Developer, Casey Primozic, away from his work for long enough to hear his Stackline story and get his take on life at a fast-paced Seattle startup. Our engineering and data science teams are packed with some of the best innovaters, programmers, and problem-solvers in the industry, and we're looking forward to sharing more of their stories in the months ahead.
First up, meet Casey!
Tell us about life before Stackline.
I’m from Chicagoland originally and went to Valparaiso University, where I graduated with a computer science degree. The plan originally was to double-major in computer science and data science, but I found that my passion was more for the programming side applied to analytics domains. A few months after graduating early from my program, I joined Stackline, and I’ve been here for just under three months.
When did you first start nurturing an interest in programming?
I was always interested in computers. I would open up programs in text editor and try to look at the machine code to figure it out. In high school, I would program games into my TI-84 graphing calculator, and from there I moved into more modern programming.
What attracted you to computer science?
When you think of building things, you think of putting together treehouses in the backyard or cars in the shop, but with programming, it’s all software. It doesn’t initially look the same as building something physical, but it’s very much the same when it comes to the thought-process and the end result. You get something you can look back on with the satisfaction of thinking, “I made that.” It also requires intense technical problem-solving, which I really enjoy as well.
You had a lot of potential pathways ahead of you when you graduated. What brought you to Stackline?
I had invested a lot of time in building personal websites that tracked and compared various things, like video game statistics. Then I got into the financial world, exploring crypto-currency and working on visualizations of market data and portfolio valuations. The core of Stackline’s work is actually very similar. We do data-tracking and gathering from many different sources and then display it and make it useful for businesses. It’s kind of like the grand continuation of my personal projects, done at a very high standard with talented colleagues.
What languages are most important to your work?
Stackline really does the full stack; we collect the data, we process the data, and we visualize the data. So we use the language that’s best for each of those different pieces, and we have people who are highly skilled in each of those languages and areas of expertise.
Were you fluent in many of these languages before you joined Stackline?
I’ve got more experience with some than others. One of the main appeals of Stackline is that there are more opportunities for exposure beyond the more typical, narrow focus on web development languages. I’ve already been able to work on AWS configurations, I’ve been able to work with the backend team, and it doesn’t feel like I’ve just been building out web UIs all day -- which I think is a more conventional fresh-out-of-school experience. I’ve been given much more freedom and opportunity than that.
What are some of the projects that you’re most enthusiastic about right now?
Besides building out new features for the front-end, I’ve been setting up automated testing with the mission of really trying to reinforce the reliability of the platform and ensure that everything works smoothly and seamlessly when we add new code. We’re also modernizing our deployment process to make it easier for developers to make changes without interfering with other people’s work. Outside of that, I’ve worked on optimizations -- bringing our whole code base up to the very highest standard, which is something many companies never get around to tackling.
That’s a lot of ground to cover in three months! What’s keeping you inspired and energized?
Working here is exciting. We’re innovating out ahead of the industry, and the proof is in the fact that our competitors can’t offer what we can offer. If it were easy to do what we do, you would see our capabilities rivaled elsewhere, but we are providing products that aren’t available anywhere else. The way the company is put together, and the end result we’ve created really pushes the industry forward.
I’m also enjoying the camaraderie I’ve found on the team. There are a lot of younger developers here along with veteran developers who have been in the business for years. It’s a great mix of people and everyone is super friendly and eager to share knowledge and experience.
How would you sum up Stackline’s differentiation from an engineering perspective?
Stackline is tackling a really tough problem and finding industry-first ways to wrangle challenging data sets. Our unique approach is based on the wide variety of data we have, the interesting ways we process it, and the innovative application of machine learning to solve problems at scale.
What critical tools and skills should a candidate possess to thrive in an engineering role at Stackline?
I will definitely say a computer science degree helps, but it’s also not a necessity. Programming is in a lot of ways as much craft as it is a technical skill, and as long as you have the passion and you’ve spent time learning the skills you need to build, there are a lot of ways to get to a career in software development.
One of the most important characteristics of someone who thrives at Stackline is the ability to take a problem and figure out what steps need to be taken to solve it on your own rather than waiting for a list of instructions. You need to be able to track down the data or information required to figure things out. If you go to an Amazon or a Google, you’ll have a big internal wiki where you can look up a lot of things, but at Stackline - or any startup - you may spend more time digging and asking questions, and you have to keep on your toes. You can’t settle into what you know; you have to keep pushing the boundaries and adopting the newest tools and methodologies. It’s also critical here to learn from other people’s ways of doing things, and then find the right opportunities to integrate them into your own unique workflow.
Being able to ask good questions, being able to go out and find the things you need to solve the problem without being led through a concrete process, and having the desire to build things from the ground up, stay flexible, and stay excited about technology -- those are the characteristics that are important.
I think there’s a prevailing perception out there that startups are inherently riskier than larger, more established companies. How did you decide on startup life?
There are definitely tradeoffs, but there are lots of compelling reasons to choose a startup, especially when the market is as strong as it is right now. Even though Stackline is experiencing fast growth and has an agile startup culture, it’s already well established in this industry. One of the biggest things that attracted me to Stackline was the choice to not take any early funding. The company has been profitable from day zero, which is such a positive signal when you’re establishing the health of a business, and it really says a lot of good things about its longevity and its future potential.
Outside of that, being at a startup gives you a whole lot more flexibility. You’re not bound by as much red tape. Things move a lot faster, things break a bit more, but it’s a lot more of an open environment where you can explore more on your own and tackle problems out there on the bleeding edge of technology rather than on the beaten path.
I think people tend to assume life inside a startup is a free-for-all. Did you find a sufficient balance of structure and freedom when you arrived at Stackline?
We’re definitely moving in a great direction. We’ve been establishing code review practices and automated testing and verification to maintain code quality. And we’re using programs like GitLab to manage workflows and communicate progress.
Let’s talk work-life balance. Do you feel like you have time to pursue passions outside of work?
Yes, definitely. For me, one of the best things about my life here is that I live just a 15-minute walk from work, so I’m not wasting hours and hours every week on a commute. As soon as you step outside our office, there are countless coffee shops, restaurants, bars, music venues, you name it. You can very easily spend your evening doing something exciting, even if you’re working pretty late. Everything is so walkable here, and there are so many beautiful parks. The Seattle spring is just magic. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
If you were talking to someone considering a role at Stackline, how would you sum up the value you’re deriving from your work?
It gives me energy to be able to look back at the work I’ve done in a short time and see it actually working in our software. That’s the thing about a startup; you’re not just pushing code into the void. You’re actively participating in building a product and a business, and you can see the immediate impact of what you’re doing.