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Oscar: A Day in the Life of a Software Engineer

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Interested in how Axon gets the products that we make into the hands of agencies who protect life? The first installment of our “A Day in the Life” series features Oscar, a Front-End Developer. Oscar has worked at Axon with our Records Management System (RMS) team for 6 months. Before Axon, he earned a BS in Telecommunications Engineering in Spain and worked as a researcher at a neuroimaging lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

How did you become a front-end developer?

My educational background is in engineering, but after university I didn't want to spend my life sitting in front of a computer so I started studying psychology. My first job in the US was as a researcher for a neuroimaging lab at UPenn, and part of that was making software to make it easier for scientists to share brain data. There were huge datasets and no good way to share them with other researchers - they used screenshots, which is not useful for comments or data analysis. I wanted to do research there but I found myself always coding so I figured I might as well embrace it.

What excites you about Axon's mission?

We do a few things I think are really cool, but my favorite is our goal to get officers back on the streets. Police officers spend up to 80 percent of their time filing paperwork. Think of it this way, if you were spending six and a half hours every day on meetings, how bad would it be? Many police officers get into the field without knowing that side of it. How can we make that experience faster? At the Records team we are redesigning their entire experience, from optimizing keystrokes to generating real-time insights.

I'm really excited about the mission of RMS, which is to empower police officers to be able to have an even greater impact on their communities and help them focus on what matters while we take care of the rest. We're trying to separate brain work from mechanical actions, so analysts can spend time really generating insights from the data. Generating insights is another issue, as some departments can afford the researchers to analyze data but others can't. And analysis is important; for example, to know where to best deploy patrols so you can prevent car accidents (and save lives). Data can help solve some of those logistical problems.

What does a regular work day look like?

Go to work, have some coffee, start coding. One of the nice things about Axon is the little amount of red tape, which means I get to code a lot. I really enjoy our “maker time” policy, which lets me block big chunks of the calendar just for coding. Otherwise, code reviews, discussions, and planning meetings, figuring out how to tackle a project. Now that the team has grown, design meetings have become more important as they help keep us on the same page and keep the quality up. I've been really enjoying these. You can do something on your own, but the result is so much better when you can bounce ideas off other people. We keep regular meetings short and few. Recently, I've been doing a lot more interviewing 'cause they're trying to hire so much.

"Axon fosters a coding environment where everybody helps each other become a better developer."

What do you like about working at Axon?

To me, it boils down to the mission and the people. The people is an easy sell. It’s not just that the team is crazy smart and talented. What makes it unique is this unwritten, zero-tolerance policy for divas. It doesn’t matter if you are a coding guru if you are a jerk. The result is a coding environment where everybody helps each other become a better developer.

The focus on diversity and inclusivity helps too. As a gay hispanic immigrant I think it’s fair to say I’m part of some minority. So I appreciate the efforts in making everybody feel welcome, from gender neutral bathrooms, to naming conference rooms after scientists of underrepresented minorities, or just simply being involved in Seattle’s Pride Parade. For me, it's not something I think about. Axon makes it part of the culture, and I don't feel any different.

Another thing I like is the emperor chairs, which are so much fun. Whenever I have a chance I go and sit there — it's so comfy. Regularly I would use three screens but there I get four.

What are some technical challenges that you face in your job?

The software we build is used to prosecute crime, so ensuring things work reliably and as expected is a big concern. Javascript is at an inflection point right now. There's a lot of cool tech coming out and there are many interesting things you can do, but few solutions are mature enough. The biggest challenge for a front-end codebase is scaling Javascript and CSS. RMS is a new project, so we need to set the right foundation so that two or three years from now people don't hate us too much for what we are doing today. I'm sure we can't necessarily prevent that situation but we can make the codebase cleaner so it takes longer to get there.

Any lessons you'd like to give your past self?

It took me a long time to focus on learning — to read more, to improve. That's what makes a good developer a good developer. It's not that the concepts are hard to understand, it's that there's so much to learn. Unless you keep pushing through, it's hard to grow. We all start from the same spot, and the only difference is persistence and drive to learn. if you have those, you're going to be awesome.

Something you've learned working at Axon that you would never have anywhere else?

Before I started here, one of my biggest fears was that everyone would be crazily pro-cop, at the expense of citizens. Axon empathizes with the tough work that officers do but we focus on transparency and the pursuit of truth. Before Axon, I didn't have as much empathy for law enforcement, particularly with all the videos you see online, but after I joined and went on a ride-along, I saw another side of law enforcement. Since then I've seen footage where you can see that in the vast majority of cases they do the right thing, but they just have a really tough job that places them in unfortunate situations. And that really changed the way I approached police relations. Most of the time, people are trying to do a good job and there are only a few bad apples.

Advice for anyone interested in your job?