Career Dean recently hosted an ask me anything session with AdRoll’s Valentino Volonghi, giving software engineers everywhere an opportunity to get answers from our star CTO on everything from common challenges in scaling an Engineer team to his experience as president of the Italian Python Association.

Q: What does your day-to-day life look like?Sally Yu

Valentino-6739Valentino: The day is actually pretty wild, but it starts fairly normal with some random cardio at the gym. If I can’t do it in the morning it will end up at night if I can.

Then it’s mostly heads down at work. From 9-10am onwards and the schedule is usually pretty dense with meetings. The team at AdRoll is now 75 people strong, organized in 10-15 person teams. Between sprint planning and design sessions, meetings end up taking a fair chunk of my time each week. My daily time is also at complete service for anyone in my team. I make it very clear with them that I’m always available if they need to discuss any technology matter that is troubling them. Oftentimes people just need someone to bounce ideas off of, and I’m happy to be useful to them when they need me.

In case there are failures or troubles in the system, I usually try to take responsibility and stay up with the team to find out what the issue is and fix it. Luckily this doesn’t happen often. After work lately I’ve been studying Japanese—one to two hours a night at most to keep it refreshed, not stress my brain too much, and still make plenty of progress.

Q: What were some major adjustments made when the company was evolving to a larger scale? – Li Chien

Valentino: In 2012 we grew from 25 to 125 people. That was an incredible change. Many of the choices we made in terms of software were simply wrong at the new scale. For a good two years we spent time scaling the infrastructure to the right size and getting to a place where we don’t need to constantly follow the growth curve in engineering.

Then we realized that we had so many metrics for our infrastructure but didn’t have enough visibility into our business metrics. So we had to scramble to build a BI system that could satisfy our introspection needs. We spent six months heads down and building what I consider one of the best infrastructures around for the task. Now we have access to all the data generated by the business in a single place.

Now it’s a bit more calm in that regard: the systems work properly and are well monitored and maintained. Now my obsession is speed—bigger businesses are usually slower, and I don’t want to go there. We need to release software faster and of higher quality, even when the engineering team is growing. Understanding how to organize work is a big challenge. Moving from a monolithic codebase to a more service-based infrastructure is a massive undertaking, even when you are a startup. Product and engineering need to work very closely to find proper solution to these issues.

Q: What is the work culture like at AdRoll? – Anonymous

Valentino: We have six values at AdRoll that we hold to the highest position:

  • Hire great people and help them grow
  • Transparency
  • Build great products that work for lots of people
  • Do good by the customers and the community and each other
  • Do more with less
  • Take work seriously but not yourself

I’d say overall we stand behind them and try to do everything to respect them in every decision we make. Every team inside AdRoll will then have their own culture, but these six values are overarching themes.

In engineering we have a fairly well balanced work/life situation. Everyone here is working on what they like so we all assume that we’re putting the best effort in our work. On top of that it’s not really a blame culture: we never care who introduced a bug, even a costly one, but instead work on fixing the problem. We do like when whoever introduced the bug/issue also works on fixing it though.

Q: In your opinion, what makes a good software engineer? Any consist patterns? – Anonymous

– Good CS fundamentals
– Teamwork
– Curiosity
– Do what it takes

That’s about the sum of it, I’ve seen this over and over again. I think you really need all 4 to be a good software engineer.

There are many articles on the web highlighting that it means to write good software and so on. I think if you only limit yourself to the technical aspect you’re falling short of the requirement.

Interested in leading the way in ad tech with the best team on the planet? Come roll with us!