Insights from a Joot Engineer: Navigating the Intricacies of Startup Life

Insights from a Joot Engineer: Navigating the Intricacies of Startup Life

The thought of working at a startup for many job-seeking software engineers can be either a frightful or compelling proposition. Not everyone is suited for startup life, and compatibility often depends on the engineer’s own personal career goals, the company’s mission, and an aspiration to work with driven individuals unafraid to take risks.

As the relatively new frontend engineering lead for Joot, I still have a lot to learn about the world of compliance, but this isn’t my first tech startup rodeo. My experience at previous bootstrapped ventures means building quality code with a talented team is an all-too-familiar scenario.

Not every developer gets the chance to work at a startup, and when the opportunity does arise, we discover it’s not as straightforward as your typical corporate job. So what is it like working as an engineer at a fast-paced tech startup like Joot?

A Wardrobe Full of Hats

All employees, not just developers, wear many hats. Whether it’s QA, DevOps, design, or product management, the variety can be energizing. Here at Joot, the engineering team doesn’t specialize in just one particular field. We’re spread out over multiple stacks and offer our expertise as needed. While continuous context switching might be stressful for some, here at Joot our engineers have learned to juggle different roles in order to get the job done.

Develop: Frontend and Backend

It should be no surprise that our Joot software engineers are most frequently found writing code. Our team handles two main types of programming: frontend and backend. When working on the frontend, our programmers are building our application's visual and user experience elements found on the client side. On the backend, our developers are focused on improving the main server-side functionality that consists of interface and data requests. It’s important for these opposite programming types to work together to create a functional, dynamic web application.

Design: UX and UI

When it comes to design, Joot has recently received a facelift. While the improvements to Joot’s overall look and feel are a continuing process, our user interface has matured over the years into a bright, easy-to-use compliance technology platform. While our application already has everything clients need to manage compliance, we’re still focused on improving our user’s overall experience. These improvements include enhancing current features and tools with a new style and refined organization, converting Joot to a more mobile-friendly application, and adding more online resources that provide current and future users a knowledge hub for all things Joot-related.

Documents Redesign Example of Recent Joot Design Improvements: 2022 Documents and Policy Manual

Everything Else: QA, DevOps, Product Management, Marketing, and More

The small development team here at Joot shares the load of miscellaneous but necessary behind-the-scene roles. For every release, we build corresponding unit and integration tests to ensure quality code while manually running through test cases. This Quality Assurance (QA) process ensures our new features enhance our product without hindrance. After passing QA, we push our new feature up to our production environment. This process (DevOps) is simplified through continuous integration, deployment, and monitoring.

Looking beyond the technical roles, our team is also responsible for the overall product management of the Joot application. This includes building a prioritized product roadmap, conducting customer discovery and support, and ensuring all feature requirements are complete. Additionally, we assist the marketing team with website management, video production, and product announcements.

Building an Engineering Culture from the Ground Up

Engineering culture is directly impacted by the personalities of the founding members, so hiring the right people who embody the company's core values is essential. Here at Joot, we’ve developed a small team that fosters creativity, encourages innovative solutions, and is passionate about the end product. We realize a team’s culture doesn't happen overnight, but by continually encouraging transparency, authenticity, and integrity we’re organically growing a culture based on trust.

Just Be Nice

It goes without saying that you should be kind to your coworkers. However, creating an authentically kind culture goes beyond a daily “good morning” and is not defined by the stereotypical startup perks such as ping pong tables, pizza lunches, and bean bags. A positive culture is one that values communication and transparency, encourages work-life balance, and respects an individual’s own identity.

It’s unfortunately common in the startup world to create employee burnout by promoting a hustle and grind mentality. This work culture, in addition to not being healthy for employees or a company as a whole, is not sustainable and leads to poor decision making. WeWork infamously encouraged long hours and displayed neon signs around the office with phrases like “Hustle Harder.” This eventually led to the company’s downfall and even a notorious spotlight in a Hulu documentary.

It’s up to company and team leadership to lead by example since they set the tone for the entire organization. Practicing these values will promote a work environment where employees are trusted to get their work done on their own time and feel comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns.

Encouraging Creativity and Innovation

The benefit of a small engineering team and a young codebase is any individual member can directly contribute to and change the culture. If I wanna create Notion documentation for a design system or implement a new component hierarchy in the name of code quality, there are very few hoops I need to jump through to reach my end goals. If any developer on our team takes the initiative to implement something important to them that will make our product better, then they are empowered and given the resources to do so.

When I first started at Joot, my coworkers were deep into a large onboarding process. Since I was a Joot newbie, I was unfamiliar with our applications codebase and the world of compliance. While my colleagues remained busy and heads-down in their code editors, I decided to take initiative in rebuilding the marketing website as a way to further familiarize myself with Joot. It took a few weeks to upgrade the old WordPress website from a slow-loading goliath that was increasingly hard to maintain to a user-friendly, secure, and scalable Jamstack alternative.

Marketing Website Redesign 2022 Joot Website Upgrade

Similarly, when our lead backend engineer, Ethan Gallagher, first took over our backend and server-side functionality, he wanted to modify code originally built by contractors into a cleaner, reorganized program. This led him to build new unit and integration tests and convert the node.js codebase to use TypeScript.

As Joot grows, these early measures will impact how our software decisions are made in the future. Encouraging new ideas, embracing mistakes, and being receptive to pushback are all ideals that lead to creative solutions. Overall, these actions help us improve the Joot product and engineering team culture inside and out.

Trust the Process

What exactly does “trust the process” even mean? It’s a phrase often repeated throughout the tech startup world, but its origin story began with Philadelphia 76ers general manager, Sam Hinkie.

When Hinkie first took over the Sixers in 2013, his goal was to transform a mediocre team into a championship contender. He encouraged his team to focus on the big picture, favoring long-term victories over short-term success. In interviews he referred to this rebuilding effort as a “process,” with trust and patience as a cornerstone. Within a few years, Philadelphia fans were chanting “trust the process” during free throws.

This steadfast faith in process has trickled its way into a variety of other facets. Its adoption by startups was a logical step. When young tech companies implement their game plan for a new product, it can be discouraging to not see immediate results. By taking the time to do things right, and having the patience to focus on the big picture, startups realize their full potential.

Patience Is a Virtue

It’s rare for a startup to become a sensation overnight. Products take time to develop, grow, and build momentum. Roughly up to 90% of startups fail. The ones that find success rely on more than just luck to reach their goals.

Patience is a difficult skill to practice, especially when you have an eager and passionate group ready to dive in head first. Here at Joot, our team is committed to taking things slow when necessary, but we're still able to act quickly when opportunities arise. We wait for market research results to make sure our products align with compliance industry demands, and we conduct user interviews in order to build improvements relative to client needs.

“Knowing when to act and when to wait is the difference between success and failure, and is a skill that can’t be taught.” Chris Herd, Firstbase CEO—Why Patience Is a Startup's Superpower

Move Slow and Make Things

Another popular tech motto that contrasts the “trust the process” mantra is “move fast and break things.” Originally coined by Mark Zuckerberg, the phrase is repeated by entrepreneurs and developers who value speed over accuracy. Often small startup teams are pressured to quickly push out new features regardless of production bugs, and while this practice might be practical for some, for certain industries it should be avoided.

With compliance and finance industry products like Joot, it’s important for us to be careful of security when handling our users' data, knowledgeable of current compliance policies and standards, and mindful of our users' overall experience when completing compliance tasks. These factors have influenced our team to adopt Stitch Fix’s version of this famous motto: “move slow and make things.”

Move Slow and Make Things

As developers, we love writing code that we can look back on three months down the road and be proud of. Seizing the opportunity to slow down and take a deep breath not only ensures that our users' compliance operations run smoothly and securely, but also allows us to write new code with quality in mind.

Joot Life Is a Good Life

Overall, startup life at Joot is fairly well balanced. On the engineering team, we may juggle many roles and grapple with impatience for results, but at the end of the day we control the creative direction of our product while creating a positive engineering culture.

For a small team with big ideas, the work we do day-to-day matters, so we make sure we don’t lose sight of our primary goal—simplifying the compliance process. If you have any thoughts, concerns, or ideas on any of Joot's products or services, feel free to reach out and join the conversation.