Square From the Trenches, Month One

A new engineer’s first month experience.

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Written by Peter Mattis.

I joined Square’s New York engineering team a little over a month ago. Prior to joining Square, I had been aware of the company and was impressed by their products, but had no clear picture of the culture and the inner workings of teams. This post is intended to shed a little light on my first month experience.

Indoctrination

To ease the transition into a new company, Square has a new employee orientation program called Square One. Square One is a week long program that provides an introduction to the company culture, the various systems and groups within Square, an alphabet soup of acronyms (ACH, AML, MCC, SMB, …), and regular access to the amazing on-site food and coffee. The information content of Square One is high and the presenters are uniformly passionate about the topics they are presenting. For an engineer, the most fundamentally important part of Square One is the setup of the development environment and introduction to the Square development processes. But there are also plenty of presentations that focus on the business at large to make sure we’re all well rounded.

After Square One I was ready to get down to business. Almost. I had the great luck, with a dash of foresight, to arrange for my first week at Square to be capped by the company holiday party. All I can say is that Squares like to have a good time. Work hard, play hard. Did I mention there is a weekly happy hour? Often two, actually.

The Culture

Openness is a key tenet at Square. Many companies pay lip service to openness, but I have never seen it more clearly and succinctly expressed than the notes@ mailing list we utilize. At Square, notes are taken for every meeting and then sent to the notes@ mailing list, which every Square is encouraged to follow. This holds true for board meetings and executive meetings, all the way to daily stand-up meetings amongst members of a product team. This transparency is reflected in how on point the average Square employee is with the company message and direction.

Life on a Team

Teams at Square are fairly small. My team has 9 individuals: 6 engineers, 2 designers, and 1 product manager. I only recently learned of Jeff Bezos’ 2 pizza rule, but I’ve been a believer of that philosophy for a while. We’re a “full stack” team, with work spanning Java and Ruby on the server, JavaScript and CoffeeScript in the web frontend, and Objective-C and C++ in the iOS client. This is the perfect setup for me; I thrive when my contributions can go exactly where they’re needed most.

The importance of communication is emphasized by the daily stand-up meetings amongst team members. As a new employee these stand-up meetings provide a critical forum for airing issues that are blocking your work. From the banal — how to do a git pull request when coming from the worlds of Perforce and Mercurial — to the explicitly situational — the exact input data to reproduce a problem at scale. During the day, our team hangs out in a Campfire room which provides a forum for both quick questions (“Is XYZ unit test failing for anybody else?”), and more involved discussions (“Check out this profile showing the CPU usage of MakeNewFrozBoz during account sign in.”).

The most important aspect of the team experience is the quality of the other team members. I can report that Square’s interview process is working well. Fellow engineers have consistently been top notch and willing to lend a helping hand; from helping a git newbie, to providing guidance when introducing a performance optimization to a complicated system. Square practices good development hygiene and engages in code reviews, unit testing and continuous integration.

The Future

Square’s mission is to make commerce easy and the opportunities are exciting both in their impact and the challenges that need to be met. With the first month’s foundation laid, I’m excited to get started with the work ahead. Peter Mattis Follow the latest activity of Peter Mattis on Medium. 35 people are following Peter Mattis to see their stories and…medium.com