The Man Behind the Code: Ross Paffett, LevelUp Platform Engineer
Tell us your name and how long you’ve been at LevelUp?
I’m Ross Paffett, and I’ve been with LevelUp (formerly SCVNGR) since July 2012. I guess that makes it 5 ½ years now.
What’s your role?
I’m a platform engineer. Basically, I’m a software engineer that works on LevelUp’s backend web application infrastructure. My team and I write all of the code that processes LevelUp transactions and enables our merchant campaign infrastructure, basically everything else that you might think of as a LevelUp service. All of the data flows through our code at one point or another.
When did you start coding?
I always had a computer in my house so I was drawn to that. I wrote my first code in middle school and I was self-taught since then. My first idea was in 2003 when I was in middle school. I came up with the idea of creating a personal file hosting platform. I wanted to actually call it “Myspace” and I asked my dad if I could buy myspace.com. Unfortunately…that was taken.
Despite not being able to create Myspace, I learned a bunch of other programming languages. I’m proficient in probably half a dozen. At LevelUp we mostly use Ruby, Python, Java and a smattering of other things.
What’s the biggest technical challenge facing LevelUp right now?
The past year at LevelUp has been interesting for the engineering team. With the rollout of Broadcast & order ahead, the number of transactions coming through our system has grown considerably. Most of our technical challenges have to do with keeping up with the growth and ensuring that we have the capacity to keep things running smoothly for all of our partners.
What are you most excited about in the restaurant technology space?
I’m excited for cryptocurrencies to no longer be a thing.
What projects are you most proud of lately?
Again, I think of the ramp-up of Broadcast over the past year, which has been very successful. We started designing the back end in early 2015 so seeing that come to fruition over the past few years has been exciting. People are actually using the product in the wild, and it’s showing up in these beautiful apps we’re publishing.
What made you first join LevelUp 5 ½ years ago?
I was a freelance software consultant and Nick Herbold called me on my birthday and wanted to know if I was free to do some contract work for a company in Boston. LevelUp was SCVNGR at the time, and Nick was a recruiter (he works on network operations now).
I came in that Friday and talked to the team. I was based out on the south shore of MA, and SCVNGR didn’t have much of a presence there so I didn’t know much about the company. I joined as a contractor and 2 weeks later they flipped me full time. I’ve been here ever since.
What kept you onboard since then?
Really…Ashleigh (our HR Princess). She’s awesome.
But in addition to Ashleigh, I’ve worked with a lot of engineering teams. The software engineering workflow and the standard of coding quality we hold ourselves to is excellent. Not even trying to oversell this for the blog…it’s genuinely very good, compared to other engineering teams I’ve worked with. That alone is refreshing and hard to find. It’s awesome to work with people that hold themselves to such a high standard.
What has changed over your time at LevelUp?
The main thing that has changed is the number of people on the team. What hasn’t changed is the quality of people on the team. We’ve been so consistent in hiring extremely competent and intelligent people, even with our massive growth.
What is it like working remotely? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
I grew up in and around Boston and after 25 years it was time for a change. In November 2014, I walked into Seth’s [Priebatsch, CEO & founder] office, and I said I was done with New England but I would love to stay with LevelUp if I can. Thankfully he and Harald [Prokop, CTO & CIO] said sure, we’ll make it work.
It was really generous of them, I’m very thankful for that. I appreciate them going out on a limb and making that leap for me. Being able to explore the West Coast has been incredible.
Out in San Francisco, it’s me and Wesley [Graybill, another platform engineer]. Actually, we live on the same street…so we don’t have a proper office we just work out of each other’s apartments. Can’t beat the commute.
As far as communicating with the rest of the team, we use email, Slack and Zulip. Because of the nature of our work, we keep in very close touch. One of us writes a bunch of code, and then we put it up for code review. Everyone reviews each other’s work and because of that it’s hard not to be in touch with everyone.
We strive to spend half of our time writing code, half of our time reviewing.
Getting facetime with your coworkers is very important. Thankfully we work for a place where we can remote-in to our monthly company-wide meetings. We fly to Boston a few times a year. If you’re not getting that facetime, your coworkers become faceless people on the internet. A lot of other companies are not so good about that, especially companies that have employees who are mostly remote.
What has been your favorite problem you’ve solved for the platform?
I’m really proud of all of the work that went into our very first Agency apps. Sweetgreen was a titanic amount of work from the entire company and across engineering. We basically “did a 180” on a lot of parts of our technical platform for that project…and look where it’s gotten us.