Welcome back to Taking a Shortcut, a series where we interview our colleagues. The order in which we run these interviews is random, but that randomization is based on a process in which our Director of Creative Marketing builds a big Plinko board on his roof, writes everyone’s name at the bottom, and invites his good friend Drew Carey over to announce the winner on live TV after he drops the Plinko chip and it lands on someone’s name.
These interviews are meant to provide a glimpse into what it's like to work at a remote first company, while also exploring the topics of React Native, getting island fever in Hawaii, and hanging out at Lucky Chances in Daly City at 1:00 in the morning.
For this edition, we spoke with Jenel.
Tell us what you do at Shortcut.
I work on our mobile apps. They’re written in React Native, which means I’m able to work on both our Android and iOS apps. At most companies, you’d usually just work on either iOS or Android instead of both. Right now I’m also actually working on the front end app on shared components.
Walk through exactly what that means, shared components. I assume these would work both on the mobile app and the web app, allowing you to update in one place and have it work everywhere.
Exactly. We're creating a library that's filled with different UI components that are able to be shared between the mobile app and the web app, and, hopefully soon, the desktop app.
That’s cool. So you’re more of a React Native developer than specifically a mobile developer.
Yes, exactly. This is my first web experience though. Usually, I've only worked in mobile before. I started off with a Swift background mainly working in iOS, but during my time at Shortcut I’ve had the opportunity to start working on the front end app and to learn more about that.
I started here when there were only around 10 people, and we were working out of our investor's office which was cool.
Woah, that’s super early. Are excited to expand from mobile development?
Yes, I would like to hopefully become a full stack dev eventually. This allows me to get my feet wet with the front end and web stuff.
Where were you working before Shortcut?
I started my software engineering career path at First Derm, which is a dermatology app. You basically take two pictures, one up close and one far away. The dermatologists help determine what it is and how to treat it, and suggest how to treat it. Then after that, I started working at Tubi TV, which is basically like a free Netflix. I don't know if you have heard of them, they just got acquired by Fox. Then right after that, I worked at PetSmart.
What initially made you want to come to Shortcut?
I've always wanted to work somewhere remote so that I could have the freedom to travel and experience new things and see different countries. So I applied for the job at Shortcut and it's been great ever since.
You work remotely, where do you work remotely from?
I work in Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona.
Is that where you grew up?
No. I was actually born in the Philippines. I'm a dual citizen, I have a US passport and a Philippine passport. Then after that, I grew up part of my life in the Philippines, and in Canada, Toronto specifically, and then California, and then the rest of the time in Maryland. Then I went to college at University of Hawaii and stayed there for a while. When I got the job at PetSmart they paid for me to relocate and that’s why I ended up in Phoenix.
Having ended up in Phoenix, is it your favorite place now? Do you prefer Phoenix to Hawaii?
No. I love Hawaii so much. It's different, though, because Hawaii you're just stuck on an island and a lot of the jobs are based on tourism. I really like how here in the mainland, there's so much to see and do, but also your career opportunities are endless out here.
Where in Hawaii did you go to college?
I went to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which is on Oahu, so in Honolulu.
I've been to Hawaii a couple of times but never actually to Oahu. I need to go there one day. Software engineering, is that something that you've been into your whole life? What drove you into engineering?
Yes, my brother is actually a software engineer. He is one year older than me. When I was in Hawaii, I was actually going to school for bioengineering, and I wanted to go to med school but I couldn't stand the sight of blood and cadavers, it just freaked me out. My little brother's doing it though, which is pretty cool. He's going to medical school or trying to go to medical school, but my older brother was like, "Hey, I think you should try this software engineering stuff."
At this time, he was in San Francisco, but right now he lives in Boston. I started to feel like I probably needed to get out of Hawaii. It's a different feeling when you live there because you get island fever. Everyone thinks that it's the perfect place to live. And I loved living there but, literally, there's nothing to do other than go to the beach. I wasn't really getting motivated. I was like, okay, whatever. I'd never lived in a big city, because I’d lived in the countryside in Maryland. I was like, "Okay, why not?" I moved to San Francisco, did a boot camp, and then all else happened from there.
What was it like to go from studying bioengineering, obviously, you hated the sight of blood which is a big effect in going into medicine and everything else, to go from that to software engineering?
I love the sciences, and one of my best friends right now, she's a pharmacist, and sometimes I wish I would have gone down that path because I really like chemistry and biology, but the thing that interested me the most about software engineering is solving problems. I used to get so frustrated, I would stay up at a 24-hour coffee shop in San Francisco, trying to solve a problem and just couldn't figure it out. So I would always ask my brother, but he'd be like, "Don't ask me Googleable questions."
I think I just fell in love with it just because of being able to solve those problems, and feeling great once you solve them and then also I specifically chose mobile because I really felt that mobile was the future, especially being a millennial and having grown up around cell phones.
That does seem to be the trend.
Except now, it's just like we're not really mobile because no one's mobile. We're taking a little break from mobile, but it's very interesting because I don't think anyone predicted this. Maybe some people did, but I don't know, I think mobile will end up happening again, but I think this time, I feel like mobile will end up skyrocketing because everyone has been so secluded. Now people want to interact and be on the go after this whole coronavirus.
I completely agree with that. I think that once the vaccine has been properly distributed that mobile's going to explode again because no one will want to be at home.
What other programming languages are you really interested in learning?
Cool. You lived in San Francisco for a time. That's where I am. It's weird for me to work at a tech company and be one of the only people here. Where were you when you were in San Francisco?
I lived in Daly City with my brother. I'm Filipino and there are a lot of Filipinos in Daly City. I would take BART to the Financial District to work at Tubi.
That's cool, and Daly City's cool. There are a lot of really good restaurants in Daly City.
Yes, have you ever been to Lucky Chances?
Yes, I have been to Lucky Chances.
It's so good. One o'clock in the morning...
So now you're in a place with lots of outdoor stuff to do, where it's warm pretty much all year. What do you like to do when you're not working?
I like to go on hikes a lot. I really like adventuring, you could say. I like finding new trails, finding hidden trails, finding hidden waterfalls, going to different areas of Arizona, and learning about the culture. The other weekend, I was in Tucson, and I went to visit the oldest chapel in the city. That type of stuff is very interesting to me. I really like traveling.
With the coronavirus going on, how do you pass time? Aside from just staring at the computer, what do you do to keep entertained?
I mainly go hiking, and I go to Sedona. I mainly go to Sedona to go on the different hikes. Whenever I'm at home, I usually try to garden. I like gardening or I like working out. I like going on runs. I like reading a lot. I'm really into self-development books.
Of the books you've read this year, which are your favorites?
Oh, gosh. I was reading the Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I felt like that was really good, because he uses scientific data to talk about the outliers in our society. Malcolm Gladwell is probably one of my favorite authors, also Robert Greene. I don't know if you've heard of him, The 48 Laws of Power.
I've heard of that.
Those types of books.
Just taking control.
Taking control of your life.
Taking control of your life, becoming more powerful.
I am a huge history buff. Growing up in Maryland, my dad used to take us to DC and to Gettysburg to watch the re-enactments.
I've been to DC one time for a work conference, and I really enjoyed just walking around and feeling the sense of history there. You like to garden, what do you grow in your garden?
I try to grow mainly vegetables. Right now I'm growing some arugula and some basil so herbs, vegetables. I did grow watermelon over the summer, but it didn't produce any fruit. I had to research why it didn't produce any fruit, and that was really interesting. I didn't know there were like male and female flowers. You have to pollinate them.
It would never occur to me that I would plant some watermelon seeds and then there would be need for pollination. I would just plant them, go back inside, and start getting ready to eat some watermelon in six to eight months.
Once coronavirus is over, what's the first thing that you want to do that you really can't do right now?
Travel to Europe and Asia to see my family. I think that's one of the main things. I've been wanting to go back to Asia for so long.
Travel I would say it's probably the number one thing on everyone's list. Where do you want to go next?
I really want to go to Italy. That's been like a dream of mine. I really wanted to check out Positano and the Amalfi Coast.
I've been to Italy and I just went to the lamest part. I did not go to the Amalfi Coast. I went to the mountains, which, it’s not really fair for me to call them lame, because they're gorgeous and I had a great time, but it's not what you associate with Italy.
You work remotely and you joined Shortcut to work remotely. You weren't forced to do it by coronavirus. Now that you've done it for a while, do you prefer working remotely to working in an office?
I do, but I like the option to go into the office. When I could, I would always go to New York City to visit everyone and work in the office for a week or so every other month, or two months, or three months. It was nice to be able to see everyone and get to know new employees. But I do love working remotely. I would like the option of having both. I'm actually really excited for us to get an office so I can see it and meet everyone else in person.
Is there anything that you've learned from working at Shortcut or that you had reinforced to you that you think is really valuable to share?
Oh, wow. I think the main thing that I've really learned at clubhouse was to really speak up if you have an opinion or if you have an issue with something. The one thing I really do love about Shortcut is that they take into consideration your thoughts and your opinions. In some companies, I know that not everyone is able to do that because they're scared they're going to get fired, but at Shortcut you're really able to speak your opinion.
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