My Name Is Justin Paulson — This Is Why I Joined Aha!

Ridgedale, MO | Photo by Justin Paulson, Aha! Engineering

April 1, 2022

My Name Is Justin Paulson — This Is Why I Joined Aha!

by Why I Joined Aha!

Do you gravitate more towards science or the arts? For many people the answer is clear. But I have always enjoyed both. As a kid, I loved everything from painting to programming. While I participated in statewide math competitions and made games in Visual Basic, I also wrote poetry and created visual art. This eclectic mix of interests made it difficult to decide on a career — until I realized how to combine all my passions into a singular focus.

Software development is the perfect blend of technical and creative thinking — I can apply my knowledge of coding and math to create something new.

In college I studied computer science. But I found my classes disappointing. The pace was slow, and I felt that I could learn the content better on my own. So I left school and managed a movie theater to support myself. Although I knew this was not my long-term profession, managing 70 employees taught me invaluable people management skills. I learned how to train a team, standardize processes, and motivate people (most of whom were teenagers and not necessarily passionate about being there!).

Two years later I was ready to resume my education at the University of Missouri. I decided to earn dual degrees in computer engineering and electrical engineering. To me these fields were more challenging and engaging than pure computer science. And it was exciting to gain a holistic understanding of how systems function — both their hardware and software components.

After graduation I joined an HVAC equipment manufacturer as an electrical design engineer. I soon discovered that working with hardware could be frustrating — processes were slow and required much upfront design work. In order to increase efficiency and usability, I built an iOS application that let users control and set temperatures across multiple HVAC units in a building. I was amazed by how much I could accomplish (and how quickly I could iterate) with software.

So I moved away from hardware and spent the next few years in software and web development positions at a variety of companies. No matter the role I was always motivated to streamline processes and help the team work more efficiently. I also spent a year as a product manager at a SaaS marketplace company. This gave me a deep respect and admiration for the discipline of product management — building solutions to help customers accomplish their goals. Eventually I became an engineering manager at a large legal services organization, leading five groups across the front- and backend of the stack.

Although I was not directly involved in writing the code, it was gratifying to build and support a team of developers — enabling them to create excellent products that customers love.

When the leadership and direction at the legal services company changed, I knew it was time to find my next opportunity. I wanted to help scale engineering teams at a growing organization with values I believed in and a product I loved. I was already familiar with Aha! Roadmaps from my time as a product manager, so when I saw an open role for director of software engineering on Hacker News, I decided to apply. Everyone I spoke to during the interview process was smart, kind, and thoughtful. It was clear that Brian and Chris, the co-founders, actually apply the company vision and values to every decision they make.

Since joining a year ago, I have focused on growing our engineering team. Our developers are incredibly smart and remarkably productive. I have added new events to bring the team even closer together. And I have also worked to improve our onboarding process, standardize tooling, and decrease the errors encountered in our application.

It is fulfilling to take on a variety of technical and creative challenges every day, from software development to product management to people management.

I am proud of how much we are able to accomplish together, from delivering weekly releases to launching Aha! Develop and Aha! Create. Above all, I respect how Aha! lives its values. Each encounter I have with my teammates proves this — we are goal-first, curious, and transparent. We really do follow The Responsive Method (TRM) and care deeply about creating value and delivering lovable products. It is a joy to use my technical and creative skills to help build a product and company I truly believe in.

That is why I joined Aha! — and why you should too.

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