October 29, 2021

Earlier this month I said goodbye to Tableau after 7 years of service. I accepted and started a new position at Amazon Web Services as a Senior Front-End Engineer on Project Jupyter, an open-source project for computing and data analysis that is primarily targeted at the scientific community. Before Tableau I had spent over 8 years working at Amazon on the Email Platform and Kindle Store teams.

I’m very grateful for the opportunities I had at Tableau. One of my first projects, Workbook Formatting, was demoed on stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at Tableau Conference 2015 in Las Vegas. I had never been in a room where over 10,000 people applauded a feature — a working but early-stage feature — that I had built. In total I went to five in-person Tableau Conferences, each larger than the last, and I was always impressed by the passionate community surrounding what my company had built. Some attendees printed their own T-shirts just for the conference. Some of my co-workers attended in costume. I participated in a dance flash mob set to “Watch Me Viz,” a parody of Silentó’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” My favorite part, though, was being able to sit down and talk with the customers who had flown in for all over the world to improve their knowledge of data visualization and analytics.

The internal development culture at Tableau emphasized working as a team, humility, honesty, and respect. Those were all taken seriously and they helped us all be successful. Being kind and being productive are not mutually exclusive. In 2019, Tableau was acquired by Salesforce. The parent company is unafraid to voice its opinions from all levels of the org chart. Salesforce puts on such a marketing show that it recently launched Salesforce+, its own video streaming service. Internally, Salesforce uses the V2MOM process which requires everyone to define their own vision and to define explicit goals to make it a reality. Some of the challenges that independent Tableau experienced persistently are now being examined, in writing, as business problems in need of verifiable solutions. While awkward during the transition, this approach will help everyone be successful in the long run. Salesforce also stands out by emphasizing individual wellbeing and promotes good mental health both internally and externally. It’s sometimes taken to the point where it invites parody — the show Silicon Valley is partly based on Salesforce and its CEO — but it comes from a place of compassion, and I will take that with me as I go.

I am a “boomerang,” a person who left Amazon and returned later. The company has undoubtedly changed a lot since I left it in 2014. Although I still know dozens of people who work in Amazon’s ranks, I have never worked in AWS before. I have very little experience with the Jupyter project itself so I’m going in eager to learn and to deliver new things. I’m particularly looking forward to working for Brian Granger, who co-founded Project Jupyter and who continues to work on the project as an Amazon employee. Open source development was not something I saw much of in my previous stint at Amazon, but this time around, I’ll be balancing work that in some cases will come from outside the company. Large companies, small companies, individuals, and non-profit institutions all benefit from and can contribute to Jupyter. It’s an exciting new challenge and I’m eager to get started.

My 2021 job search was my first active search since I joined Tableau in 2014. I was floored by how many companies out there are hiring. LinkedIn put me in touch with dozens of them, and I had been talking with several when my AWS offer came in. To my surprise, 2 of my last 3 full interview loops included no whiteboard coding questions whatsoever — and Amazon, the exception, asked me much more about my project experience than about my classroom memories of algorithmic complexity. Now that the interview process is done from the candidate’s home, even a formerly “on-site” loop can be scheduled much more easily than in the pre-COVID times. One former colleague told me that he did nine full loops in a two-week span, all from home.

The ongoing conversation about work from home (WFH) versus work from office was a major factor in where I chose to interview and where I chose to work. Companies that two years ago frowned upon remote work are now considering candidates where time zone proximity is more important than physical office proximity is. At the same time, after a year and a half of full-time WFH, I decided that I at least wanted the option to have a desk in an office. I still have no idea when or how often I’ll be going into the office, or what the office experience will be like, but I am not ready to commit more years of my life to an environment where I only ever see people via a video call. On-site meetings, conferences, and even small talk at the coffee machine are all useful for personal and professional development.

I am honored to rejoin Amazon’s development team. I am excited to be working on open source software to help people doing scientific research. I have a lot to learn and a lot to reflect on. It’s still Day 1.