Online shoppers are familiar with the frustration that comes with buying an item from an internet retailer only to discover a coupon or discount code in their email soon after they’ve completed the purchase. Recognizing the opportunity in this very common frustration, Earny has built a digital tool that seeks refunds from retailers with price protection policies in order to return money to the customer.
The complexity that goes into a tool capable of tracking price swings in e-commerce requires a high-caliber, collaborative engineering team — one that Earny is rapidly scaling and helping to grow. To learn more about the investment Earny is making in their engineering team, we spoke with Director of Engineering Tony Metzidis.
YEAR FOUNDED: 2016
EMPLOYEES: 24 in Santa Monica; 29 in Los Angeles; 9 overseas
WHAT THEY DO: Earny uses low-latency price tracking to identify the lowest possible prices and obtains refunds from internet retailers with price protection policies — the user automatically gets money back from online purchases when prices drop.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Santa Monica
IDEAL CANDIDATE: Engineers who are highly skilled, analytical and methodical; those who collaborate well with an innovative team and feel a sense of personal responsibility to end users.
Tony Metzidis, Director of Engineering
Metzidis works closely with his engineering team members to equip them with the tools, resources and guidance needed so that they can support each other and build the complex framework necessary to return digital shopping value to customers.
BEYOND WORK: Metzidis is an avid road and mountain bike cyclist. He finds that the way road racers succeed — by harnessing each team member’s strengths and working together — also rings true in software development.
What might someone find surprising about the skill involved in what Earny does?
There are no off-the-shelf solutions in this space, which is generally true of our services. The price-tracking itself is a big challenge. We track millions of stock-keeping units, or SKUs, on a minute-by-minute basis, which means we’ve built a massive crawler based on thousands of instances. Even once we meet a challenge, we continue to innovate on the system. For example, we’re using applications like Kubernetes and Kafka to make our platform more efficient.
How do you help employees self-regulate their workload?
Overall, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Empathy, frequent communication and partnership are the keys to addressing employee wellbeing. We take care to manage projects directly and make sure work is not insurmountable. We use Kanban, which enables developers to pull down work when they have capacity, as well as milestones and weekly planning to help the developers focus. I'm always proactive in noticing a change in performance or morale and engage the team to make sure everyone has the support they need.
There are no off-the-shelf solutions in this space, which is generally true of our services."
How should managers view their own learning opportunities from junior team members?
One of the parts of being a manager that I most enjoy is having dozens of perspectives I can learn and grow from, which suits me since I consider myself a perpetual student. Just recently, one of the devs introduced the team to ReactiveX, which is a bit of a paradigm shift that works well with distributed systems, through our “tech-talk” series of team meetings.
What kind of candidate do you want on your engineering team?
Of the solutions we build, 90 percent are custom-made for our business. For a single service, we may use dozens of open source components. Consequently, we look for developers who are resourceful, pragmatic and can iterate quickly. We obsess over results, so it's also important to have a scientific mindset. Moreover, having a firm grasp of data structures, algorithms, databases and networking is a key success factor. In practice, this means being familiar with distributed systems, NodeJS, AWS/GCP, Linux, RDBMS and NoSQL.
One of the parts of being a manager that I most enjoy is having dozens of perspectives I can learn and grow from."
How do you give new hires room to grow at Earny?
I believe every developer is part architect, software developer and site reliability engineer, or SRE. That means developers have a say in the design of the system and are responsible both for writing quality software and for making sure it's stable for customers. Design standards are reviewed by the team leads and peers. The development phase focuses on demonstrable results, and stability is measured carefully with operational key performance indicators or KPIs. My role is to help developers meet all of those expectations and encourage them to have creative license in meeting those standards.
Describe some recent steps Earny has taken to innovate on the engineering side.
We're making a big investment in DevOps, which connects software development and operations. We have one of the best DevOps leads in the city and we are revamping our infrastructure. We're also focusing on continuous integration and continuous delivery — to better roll out updates to our users — plus better automation and improving our code-coverage.
How does your team integrate into the rest of the company and how is feedback distributed?
Our company is very flat. The developers work directly with the founders — not to mention designers, project managers and the marketing team — on a daily basis. The desire for collaboration is ubiquitous throughout the company.
On my team, we do biweekly 1-on-1 meetings, which highlight both positive and constructive feedback. We celebrate wins, and it's just as important to give early and honest feedback when change is needed. We do company-wide monthly meetings to allow each team member to showcase their big wins for the month. More formal feedback is given on a quarterly basis, where we ask team members to self-reflect and to be introspective.
Our company is very flat. The developers work directly with the founders — not to mention designers, project managers and the marketing team — on a daily basis."
What is a team tradition that represents the Earny team and company culture to you?
One tradition I relish is the team breakfast, as it speaks to a lot of our values. Every month, a few team members partner to make breakfast for the rest of us. As the tradition has continued, it's become customary that the meal is inspired by the cooks’ upbringing.
We have a very diverse team, with more than a dozen nationalities represented. Not only does that mean everyone takes turns preparing delicious exotic breakfasts for each other, but we all take time to learn about the diverse heritage that everyone at Earny brings to the table. Ultimately, the tradition highlights how much we love spending time together, and how much we love to enjoy food, homemade and family-style, and preferably with our hands!