People often ask me why I left a large, well-established tech company to work for StumbleUpon. Here’s what I tell them:
You Work in the Open
Big companies (like Google, Yahoo, Apple, etc.) tend to be rather secretive about what they do and the technology they build. In many cases, it makes sense since their technology is giving them a strong competitive advantage. The Silicon Valley is made of a myriad of small and medium-size startups, and through open-source projects, they implicitly “team up” to build tools and products that have a chance to stand up against the technology built by big companies. After joining StumbleUpon, I started to discover this ecosystem, going to various meetups and talking to people at other companies. This proved to be invaluable to learn new things and build new connections.
When you open-source your own projects, it’s also very rewarding to see other companies adopting it. At StumbleUpon we love open-source projects. We rely extensively on open-source technology such as Linux, MySQL, memcached, gearman, ZooKeeper, to name just a few. We’re one of the major companies supporting and iterating on HBase and we’re even helping other companies like Facebook or Adobe adopt and deploy it. It’s a fair game: we help these projects get off the ground, and eventually they help us in return by contributing engineering time back to the project. Recently I built OpenTSDB, our distributed monitoring system (don’t miss my upcoming talk on OpenTSDB at OSCON Data on July 25, in Portland, OR).
You Wear Multiple Hats
One of the things I enjoy most about being an engineer at StumbleUpon is how I can work on many wildly different things. I’ve learned tons of things I could never have learned at my previous employer, because they had that problem solved already or because it wasn’t in my scope of responsibility to solve that issue. We have a very wide range of interesting problems to solve at StumbleUpon, and our engineers have a lot of latitude to pick their battles or have their say.
When we rebuilt our main datacenter, for instance, we had to solve a variety of issues in different areas, from server hardware to network design to front-end serving and load-balancing infrastructure, just to cite a few. We ended up designing and building a new infrastructure that relies exclusively on open-source technology (including OpenBSD, Varnish, and Perlbal), to replace enterprise gear like Cisco ASA firewalls or Citrix Netscalers (HTTP load balancers). We built a new, modern, highly performant, and efficient network using Arista gear, relying exclusively on open standards (such as VRRP or ECMP).
You Have the Right Resources
StumbleUpon has a rather interesting story, being a “re-startup.” This means that a lot of parameters are rather different from your typical Silicon Valley venture. It’s almost like taking the best part of being a startup without inheriting many downsides. Unlike small startups, we aren’t primarily constrained on resources or budget. It’s very exciting and enticing to work in an environment where you can change just about anything, help shape the company, and execute quickly, without the burden of the red tape typically found in larger organizations, and have the resources to execute on your ideas.