When You're Down an Engineer

As a founder, you have to wear several hats. From making sure everyone submits their receipts on time, to updating the links on the footer of your website, to holding all-hands, to talking with customers, and the list goes on.  

My background is in engineering, but primarily in embedded engineering. I spent my time as an engineer designing circuits and writing firmware in C. Then, when I worked at a small hardware start-up (~15 people), I picked up Python when writing the test code for our production lines.

Needless to say, my engineering experience was primarily lower level and focused on backend. I never wrote much frontend code outside of some random HTML/CSS for websites I worked on here and there. Whenever someone said Javascript or React, I kind of 'ran'. Sure, I conceptually understood JS, React, and other frontend frameworks, but I never wrote a line of it in my life. Ok, I copied/pasted some JS and made small edits here and there, but never truly wrote anything. I never thought I would have to write JS. Boy was I wrong...

Late last year, one of our engineers left the company and someone needed to pick up the ball. Guess who? Our frontend is React, Typescript and out backend is Python. Most of the work that needed to be done was frontend so I had to roll-up my sleeves and learn. There was some Python that needed to be written, so I was able to handle that (Side note: the difference between Python3 and Python2.7 – Wow). When I first started diving into the codebase, I was confused to say the least. My exposure to frontend code had been very limited so I had to learn Javascript, Typescript, and React in record time. I was excited to learn something new and take on another new challenge, but this was one I wasn't 100% prepared for.

Can you guess when we lost an engineer?

For me, it was not only a lot of trial and error, but I also spent time reading documentation, Stack Overflow, and complaining to my engineering friends that JS makes no sense. Ultimately, I ended up having some fun. You can visually see the changes you're making in near real-time. When I was writing embedded C, I had to write code, wait for it to compile, and look at a debugger to validate what I wrote was actually working. This time, I made some changes, saved them, and they appeared in front of my eyes – This was way better!

I've always worked with frontend developers as a PM, but never rolled up my sleeves and wrote frontend code. It had always been easier for me to comprehend the backend as I had written a good amount of Python as an engineer. Taking this step has added another skill to my tool chest and I'm grateful for it. I cannot (and will not) call myself a frontend web developer but I've enjoyed diving into new languages and coding practices.

When a ball starts to drop and no one is there to catch it, you have to be the one to do so, even if you have no idea what's inside that ball. Who knows, sometimes you'll catch a ball and you'll learn something you never thought you would actually want to!

Show Comments