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Dev Corner | Jul 16, 2020

Dev Corner Spotlight: Matthew Hwang, Senior Software Engineer

By Shippo
Dev Corner Spotlight: Matthew Hwang, Senior Software Engineer

At Shippo, we are proud of the work our team is doing on a daily basis to help bridge the gaps between e-commerce businesses and their customers. As our CEO Laura Behrens Wu has said, “Our goal is to make shipping as easy as sending a text.” Bringing that goal to life requires a healthy mix of innovation, creativity, and scrappiness, as well as an acute understanding of the operational needs of e-commerce businesses.

Each month, we’ll chat with a different Shippo team member to learn more about them, and what they’re working on to help bring Laura’s vision to life.

This time out, we’ve got Matthew Hwang, a senior software engineer on our Merchant Experience team. This team is one of our largest engineering teams at Shippo and continues to grow.

Matthew Hwang

Why Did You Join Shippo?

The primary reason I joined Shippo was the opportunity I saw for growth as an engineer. I was the first engineer at my previous company, and by the time I had left, the engineering team had grown to seven engineers. But, being in the early stages meant that the engineering team didn’t have any process for prioritizing and managing requests from the different departments. It was really tough having to constantly switch between marketing, product, and healthcare delivery requests all the time. For my next job, I knew I had to find somewhere more stable where I could really dive deep into the best practices of engineering.

I first learned of Shippo through a recruiter I was working with, in my job search. I was immediately drawn to the fact that the engineering team was about 5x larger, with the ability to manage technology at a much larger scale than my previous company. 

I appreciated the flexibility in the interviewing process, since it was pretty tough to leave unnoticed when you are one of just 20 people in the office. I also really liked the technical questions during the on-site interview, where we discussed real-life problems that Shippo is solving, as opposed to generic questions about data structures and algorithms that are typical of big companies. 

Shippo’s VP of Engineering at the time was very influential in my decision to join Shippo. I could tell that she and many others on the team had a deep knowledge and passion for engineering and could provide opportunities for me to continue growing and learning. One of the opportunities she mentioned was a tech lead rotation where I could “test-drive” being a tech lead for a short while without having to commit to the role. Having never been in a management position before, I was unsure of whether I’d want to be a tech lead, but knew that I could not say for sure without trying it. This rotational program was perfect for me, and gave me the opportunity to lead, while having the option of staying as an individual contributor if I really did not like the role. I’ve been a lead now for about three months and am really enjoying the mix of project management and individual contributor work. 

How Did You Make The Jump From the Healthcare Industry To Tech?

Growing up, I was always interested in technology in some way—from playing video games as a kid, to building a computer in high school and then working as IT support in college. But initially in my career, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I started working at Epic (the electronic medical record software company, not the gaming company) while applying to medical schools. Epic was a good example of how technology can help improve the quality of medical care. 

I got my first taste of web development with a side project I helped work on at Epic. Eventually, I was forced to decide between going to medical school or scratching this web development itch, and I decided I would regret not trying out web development more than not trying out medical school. 

From there, I was lucky enough to get a job working as a solo developer for UC Davis Health System, creating applications to support biomedical research and learning a ton about web development along the way. My first real tech job came two years later when I started at a small pet healthcare startup in San Francisco. 

I loved the fast-paced environment where I could see the results of what I built right away, plus now I had a team that I could both learn from and help grow. Seeing the apps I built from scratch connect thousands of concerned pet owners with the medical advice they needed was such a satisfying experience, and I knew I had made the right decision. Moving to Shippo was the natural next step to gain more experience working in a bigger company, where the technical decisions you make have much larger impacts. 

Did You Have Any Reservations Before Joining Shippo?

My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t do a good job at Shippo because I didn’t have any experience working with technology at Shippo’s scale before. It was a little daunting going from dealing with a tiny database at my old company to Shippo. Now, I’m several months in, and although that fear hasn’t disappeared completely, I’m much more confident. 

What Does Your Team Do?

The Merchant Experience team is primarily responsible for the web app that our customers use to manage their orders, get rates and buy shipping labels for their business. Additionally, we maintain and enhance Shippo’s core services (getting rates from carriers, buying shipping labels, tracking shipments).

What Are You Currently Working On?

As a tech lead, I’m constantly thinking of what’s coming next in the pipeline for the team to work one. Recently, we released a new feature to the web app that enables our customers to create business rules that can apply package templates automatically to orders based on order weight. 

Now, I am working on a related feature to allow users to re-run the rules against existing orders in case they make a change to rules and want to apply these changes in bulk before buying labels. 

What Makes Shippo and the Engineering Culture Unique?

One of my favorite things about the engineering culture here at Shippo is how everyone is so willing to jump in and help if needed. And, if I have a question about how a certain flow or piece of our technology works, the responses always come quickly. The same happens if something isn’t working the way it should. You never feel alone when tackling a problem because you know the team has your back if you need help. 

How Has Your Team Adapted to Shelter-In-Place?

I think I can speak for everyone on the team when I say the transition to work from home full-time was tough. I am lucky to only have one roommate in a decently large house, but others have to try and get work done in their living rooms next to several other people, and I can see how that can get pretty frustrating and claustrophobic after a short amount of time. 

Now that we are several weeks in, I think most of us have found a good routine that keeps us sane. Work-wise, we’ve moved to Zoom for all of our meetings, and have daily slack standups (slack-ups) or video standups each day to keep each other updated on progress.

On Friday afternoons, we have team demos where anybody can show what they’ve been working on and receive feedback, and then we end the meeting with drinks and some online games such as Pictionary or Jackbox games. It’s been a good way to stay connected, even though we’re all apart. In all, the team is continuing to work better together—even during this unprecedented time. 

What’s the Best Advice You’ve Gotten From Another Shippo [Employee]?

The first piece of advice that comes to mind wasn’t created by another Shippo, but was shared by them to the team as a reminder of the times we live in. It revolves around the concept of WFH. Some people may see working from home as an easy ride, whereas during COVID-19, even though we are all working remotely, we have not lost sight of our drive to solve user pain points and continue to push forward.

This continues to be in the back of my mind when I think about the team—the priority is to make sure the team is healthy emotionally, physically, and mentally above all else. This means making sure that team members are taking time off when they need it and, as a team, balancing that.

What Are Some Of Your Hobbies?

Tennis is my main sport—I usually hit at Dolores Park 1-2x a week. During the winter, I go snowboarding. The past couple of winters, I went to Park City and Denver on ski trips, and last winter, I spent 10 days sightseeing and snowboarding in Japan! 

I also bought an instant pot recently, so I’ve been obsessed with using it for everything, especially traditional Chinese dishes like braised pork over rice, which I’ve made four times in the last month. Now I’m getting hungry, so I’m gonna go get a piece of sour cream coffee cake fresh from the oven.

To stay connected, please follow us on Linkedin. We’re always looking for great people to join us as we learn and grow together. Our goal is to bring interesting people together who want to build interesting things!

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