I’ve been working as a programmer since 1998. But in the five years I’ve been at Notarize, I can say without a doubt that I have learned and grown more than I have at any other company.
On my first day at Notarize there were six other people on the engineering team and ten people overall in the Boston office. But we didn’t stay that small for very long. By the end of the summer we outgrew our small office and moved down the street to the current space that serves as Notarize headquarters. Most of that early growth was in engineering.
Our growth at Notarize gave me my first experience in designing the approach to interviewing and hiring engineers. There are a lot of crazy techniques used in tech interviews, like forcing candidates to “write code” on a whiteboard or tricky logic problems that bear no resemblance to anything an engineer would ever do on their job. At Notarize, we wanted to do better. We needed solid engineers who could work together creatively to help build a new product using cutting-edge technology. It was rewarding to help craft a useful interview process that was not torture for the candidates and helped us build an amazing team. One thing I particularly liked was getting rid of the term “culture fit” and instead talking about “culture add.”
Throughout my career as a programmer, I had often been offered management roles, but always declined. However, at Notarize, I began to see how I could use my experience more effectively in a management role than personally writing code. So, at the end of 2017, I became an engineer manager. This was a much bigger change than I expected. I found that I really enjoyed working with people as much or more than working directly with code: Finding out what problems people are having and helping solve them, streamlining team processes, making sure teams are working on the most important projects and removing the roadblocks and bottlenecks.
Of course, it hasn't always been blue skies. Like any tech startup trying to grow fast, there have been all kinds of ups and downs. Letting people go is never easy, whether it's voluntary, performance related, or due to a reorganization. Having to deal with departures made me realize that people are by far the most important asset a company has. It's made me committed to building a strong, tight team and protecting that team to the best of my ability. I’ve often seen online discussions where people say, "Your manager doesn't really care about you." I have been striving to prove that statement wrong, at least for myself. A team that does not feel safe, secure and cared for is not going to do their best work.
In technology, there are times when things don't work the way they should. Sometimes those things need to be fixed urgently. These can be high-stress situations involving long hours. Seeing this team come together and voluntarily put in the hard work to get things back on the rails always fills me with pride. It's astonishing that there is never a hint of blame or anger at these times. People just do what needs to be done out of pride for the platform they built and a desire to make it perfect.
Some of the most trying times for me personally were when the company really started taking off and expanding. Our massive growth in 2020 took us into totally new territory. There were scaling challenges in every area — technology, personnel, strategy and communication. At the same time, we were transitioning into a fully remote company. Tempers were frayed. Stress was at an all time high. But this was also one of the times I learned most about myself. Though it was a difficult time, those of us who had been here for a few years recognized that it was the success that we had all worked so hard for. We more than doubled the size of the engineering team and did not lose a single engineer in this almost two-year period. Over the last two years, the whole organization has matured and we are continuing to expand. This is not to say that everything is perfect, but I know with certainty that this team can take on any challenge and see it through.
I've learned a lot about myself in the last five years at Notarize. I've learned that when the going gets tough, success is often right around the corner. I've learned when to fight for something and learned which battles to ignore. I've learned the importance of people, building a good team and above all, caring for the people on that team. I've made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I've learned from those mistakes and tried not to make them twice (or at least not three times).
The Notarize of today is not recognizable as the company that I walked into five years ago — we’ve evolved from a small start-up with a vision to an enterprise-level tech company. We still have the same vision and the same heart, and that’s what keeps me so engaged. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes in the next five years and being able to contribute to that story, too.