Karl Shouler

Why I Left ALK for Monetate

I’ve been at Monetate for a good bit of time now — the better part of three years, in fact. Recently though, I realized my time here had surpassed the length of time, about 2.25 years, I spent at ALK. I thought it might be a good mental exercise to think on why I haven’t felt the need to move on from Monetate like I did ALK after this time. I’ll start back at the end of my senior year at school.

After receiving a few offers, the one I wanted most came through on April 11th in 2008. A small-ish 200 person company in Princeton, New Jersey called ALK Technologies. It was obvious to me at the time — writing C++ was right inside my wheelhouse, they were paying more than I’d ever made in my life, and the culture and people felt right. I had worked in companies before on my summers off from Villanova, so I let that advise my choice to join ALK.

I spent two years there working on a range of projects with a range of people. Some I enjoyed more than others, but on the whole, it’s the people that kept me there for as long as I stayed. You see, things happened along the way. Silly things. For example, developers were required to fill out a timesheet for payroll, as well as a separate timesheet detailing what we worked on for leadership to do who-knows-what with. Small, but silly. Remember a few of those great big snowstorms that rolled through the winter of 2010/2011? I think the term “thundersnow” was coined that year. Well, despite the Pennsylvania declared state of emergency following one of these storms, employees were still required to use personal time if they couldn’t make it to the office. Mmmhmm. At some point in March of 2010 I began to feel the complacency set in. I’d been there almost two years without seeing any increase in pay or otherwise. The reason was always the same — “Everyone has to wait two and a half years before they’re promoted.” That always felt archaic to me.

My coworkers were pleasant, I enjoyed playing on the softball team (even if it sent me to the emergency room), and I was still learning quite a bit. When it came to pass though, shit adds up, and it was a number of things, rather than one Tunguska event, that sent me looking for other options.

When I came across this post on Hacker News in the summer of 2010, I was ready for a change. Having had a difficult time of it life-wise toward the end of July was good motivation to connect with Tom at Monetate and see what might happen. We talked on the phone, I forwarded him along the typical materials as well as some code snippets, and within a few days I was in the office for an interview. Some of us who started when Monetate was living across the river often recall how unique it was walking into a sparsely populated office for their interview, not knowing who anyone was or where to go, eventually resigning to asking the closest warm body who Tom was.

After my interview, I wasn’t sure what would turn out — I had done my best to show them I could hack it, and hoped they had seen that. Two days later, when David Brussin called me, I was on my way to our usual First Wednesday happy hour at Triumph Brewing Co. in Princeton. Parked around the corner from my coworkers, I listened to David’s plans for Monetate and how his team was trying to finally give online shoppers the experience internet retailers had been promising since the late ‘90’s. He highlighted the seemingly infinite market potential, stock options, lunch everyday, and thankfully, absence of timesheets.

I started at Monetate on the last day of August in 2010. Since the office was a mile from my apartment in Conshohocken, I’d have to make fifty round trips to Monetate before I covered the ground of single trip to and from Princeton. What a novel idea. Though I only ended up living in Conshohocken for another six months before I moved into Center City Philadelphia, I was able to take train out to the office pretty effortlessly — which I still do to this day.

Almost three years, a new office space, over 150 new employees and who knows how many slices of pizza later (my back of the envelope says 2 slices/wk * 50 weeks * 2.75 years = ~275 slices), why did that milestone come and go with nary a blink? If I had to say it simply, it comes down to the easy things a company can do to keep its employees happy — and when it comes to me, and I’d say most other engineers, happy means having the tools and the environment we need to work through a problem. On my current team, there’s a culture of mutual trust among engineers, which goes a long way toward us working well without most typical corporate constraints. Rather than being distracted by having to empty trashcans or find the job code for the 7 minute task I just completed, I instead feel a bit freer — that is to be creative and build some cool stuff. That’s how I want to work.