My Name Is Jonathan Steel — This Is Why I Joined Aha!
“A high-growth software company where I can stay close to the customer.” The hiring managers asked me what kind of company I saw myself working for and I gave this response. This was a number of years ago, before I joined Aha! The panel smiled knowingly before replying that those jobs simply do not exist — not everybody gets to work with customers. While that may be true in some organizations, I knew that it would never be true for me.
As an engineer, I will always choose a role where I can stay in touch with customers.
Throughout my career, I have found that staying connected to customers was most possible in startups and smaller companies. There were more opportunities to connect directly with our users and see the real impact of our work. And this was true no matter the role. I worked at many different levels of development, from low-level device driver and operating system development, up to mobile application development.
I started out in low-level software and hardware at eSentire, which provides managed security solutions to enterprise organizations. I was building network security devices. The physical sensors were being deployed to customers all over the world and helped protect highly sensitive information.
Next, I moved onto a SaaS product. I joined gShift, a leading platform for SEO and marketing analysis. I worked on data aggregation and reporting as the product constantly adapted to our users’ expectations and needs. I also had a chance to help the company grow from five to 30 people over a few short years.
Each role seemed to focus more and more on delivering a reliable service to customers.
And I had the opportunity to lead teams of developers (both local and remote) doing development with many different types of technologies. I found that the remote teams were often more engaged and attuned to the goals of the work at hand than their in-office counterparts.
So, as I started thinking about my next role, I was tempted to try working from home full time. However, I found many companies treat remote workers as contractors, not as valued employees. To continue to grow and learn, I knew I would need to find a remote role that had a defined career track — not just a “gig.”
While searching for remote job openings, I found an Aha! posting on a remote work aggregator site. Beyond the appeal of the specific job description, the product itself addressed how I believe a company should be run — the red thread of strategy connecting everything together and visible for everyone to see. The Aha! ethos of being self-funded, profitable, and highly responsive appealed to me as well.
During the Aha! interview process, each person I talked with was kind and had a wide breadth of knowledge.
I paid special care during the interview process to determine if what I had read on the company’s website, such as The Responsive Method, was just lip service. It was immediately clear from my interactions with the team that Aha! had been built from the ground up with these principles in place. But even better, the team was employing the concepts in their daily work.
I was excited to accept the job offer because engineers at Aha! are not shoehorned into a specific engineering role. We work on all parts of the application and its architecture. The entire company uses the Aha! application to manage our own work, including the engineering team. Every engineer takes full ownership of the work and we all push one another to continually learn and improve.
I love that engineers at Aha! are closely connected to cross-functional teammates and customers. The engineering team is a real part of the company, not just a budget line expense. We also share the responsibility of supporting the customers, including support rotations. It helps that we are surrounded by so many product managers that know how to build a good product.
I have worked on tight teams before, but this is a tight company. Everybody is on the same page and seems to genuinely care about the customers and each other.
As soon as I started, I was given the opportunity to create a new integration with Desk.com. Then I got to add key new functionality to allow Aha! users to create their own mockups directly within the application. And I have enjoyed the role of bug chaser when working directly with customers during support rotations, finding improvements for edge cases and deploying fixes that make the product even better for customers. The app is amazingly well-built and is fun to use and improve.
I found that elusive perfect fit of a remote role in a high-growth software company with an incredibly responsive team of talented co-workers. And as a bonus, I finally have a retort for that interview panel. These jobs do exist: You absolutely can work in a high-growth company as an engineer and stay connected to customers.
That is why I joined Aha! — and why you should too.