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My Journey to Menlo

My journey to Menlo began all the way back in January of 2020. I was in my Junior year studying computer science at Yale University. I didn’t really start coding until I got to college. During my summers in college, I interned for a few companies in Silicon Valley where I learned more about software engineering. I was looking for summer work closer to home when my mom sent me an email about this “cool company in Ann Arbor, you should check out” called Menlo Innovations. I took a look at the website, and two ideas really stuck with me. “Suffering as it relates to technology” and “joy”. At the time, I was feeling pretty limited in my role in software development. With little guidance and only periodic feedback in my previous employers, I had to figure out most of the work on my own.  As a naturally creative and collaborative person, I wanted a more collaborative work environment. So, I heeded my mother’s advice, and I went on a public tour of Menlo.  I got there and was greeted by warm and smiling faces. I noticed that as developers were working together, they laughed together. There was a sense in the space that this was indeed an environment filled with camaraderie and joy. 

Before the tour even began, I knew I wanted to work there. And by the end of the tour, I gave the tour leaders my resume, hoping that I could get an interview. 

Fast forward to mid-March of 2020, I came in during my spring break from school to do a one-day interview. To assess potential summer developers, Menlo pairs college students with experienced developers to mirror their work environment.  Instead of programming alone, you work side by side with a partner.  I had never pair-programmed before, so I was a little nervous. But as soon as I started to work with my pair partner, my nerves vanished because I realized that I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to figure most of it out on my own.  I could learn by doing and creating with another person. My job was to learn and to ask questions and get to a point where I could pass on what my pair partner and I had figured out together. And, that was a joyful experience. 

Sadly, a few days later, the pandemic shut everything down. Menlo was no longer looking to hire summer developers, so my journey to Menlo was put on hold. 

Almost exactly a year later, Andrew, one of the tour leaders on the first public tour I went on, called me. He asked if I was still interested in working at Menlo. I think I actually jumped out of my chair saying “Yes!”

A few months later, more than a year after I interviewed, and about 18 months since I first toured the Factory, I finally joined as a developer at Menlo. I spent the summer working on a number of projects, and here are just some of the things I learned:

Questions are a two-way street

Before coming to Menlo I was often reluctant to ask questions. I thought that if I asked too many questions, I would seem incompetent. But in an environment like Menlo when projects are constantly progressing and you may be on more than one project in a week, you need to ask questions to be a competent developer. I also learned that by asking a question, you are really giving the team a gift. Asking questions gives team members a chance to practice their presentation and teaching skills. A question can expose gaps in consensus and prompt deeper communal understanding. I learned during my summer at Menlo, that asking questions and being curious are things to celebrate, not shy away from!

Working and growing together 

Throughout the software industry, I’ve heard independence is valued over collaboration. Developers are incentivized to work as independently as possible which can lead to one dimensional growth. At Menlo, collaboration is paramount. Developers grow their engineering skills while learning how to manage projects, work with people with different expertise, and communicate with clients.

I was also amazed how seamlessly developers move from project to project at Menlo. There aren’t huge silos or towers of knowledge. When someone is out, a project can continue on without them. Knowledge is easily transferred with this interdependent model of work. There were many times when I was working on a project and because of schedule changes, I would change partners during the middle of the week or the middle of the day. These types of changes were not disruptive or project halting. They were commonplace because it is that easy to ramp up a new partner in 15-30 minutes and just continue on with work. All you have to do is trust your ability to carry forth information and your partner’s ability to ask questions to fill in any gaps. 

Trust and Joy

Looking back on my summer and my journey to get to Menlo, I see two key themes: joy and trust. To a certain extent, I expected joy. It was all over the website, and the co-founder of Menlo, Rich Sheridan, wrote a whole book about it! But expecting it and actually experiencing it are very different. Getting to know my colleagues and constantly learning and working with curiosity are joyful experiences. But this wouldn’t be possible without trust. I needed to trust that I would eventually make it to Menlo, many months after I first stepped into the Factory. And every day I trust my pair partner and all the Menlonians that together we'll continue to learn and grow and get a little closer to “ending suffering as it relates to technology.”