I joined Highnote in May of 2022. Having previously worked at BlackRock, Thomson Reuters, and Capital One, I made this transition to Highnote, which is surprisingly still defined as a startup, for a single purpose: To enjoy what I do every day.
In any Fintech company, the chasm between the technology-wing and business-wing dictates the speed at which ideation can manifest into concrete reality. In most places, these domains are led by entirely separate internal organizations, each with its own KPIs and targets.
If you work on any one side of this chasm, it is inevitable you would hit the red tape, bottlenecks, and other frustrations that come with all that is lost in translation between this chasm. Your work is less about your skill/expertise and more about how you can describe it, to whom, and with what degree of success.
At Highnote, John, Kin, and Elaine are more technical than any Fintech leadership I have personally seen. It is a real pleasure to see how they envision services and solutions. It’s impressive how they’ve amassed all this financial domain expertise, while primarily having tech titles. In fact, if I didn’t know, I would have never guessed they had tech backgrounds and would have assumed they operate from the business side because of how exceptional their expertise is.
It is equally enjoyable to witness solutions proposed to them: They get it! It’s not a struggle to get everyone on the same page.
This shift has compound implications. For instance, while adopting frameworks and platforms, people like taking the well-trodden path when they want to deliver a result quickly, even if the only reason is knowing it’s worked for others. But with leadership that has a strong technical background, we don’t do things without proper reasoning. We don’t skip investigating and adopting new frameworks/platforms (See how we used Google Cloud as outlined in this blog post by Google). Great services are provided to customers when the right technology is matched with the services & demands of the hour. Only then are these services applied and absorbed effectively by customers. It’s not about impressive interfaces and gimmicks but an in-depth understanding of the pain points of the customers.
It’s amazing how diverse the target audience is for card issuance. There is so much to be done for easing complexities and making services less expensive and more flexible. The APIs we work on are not just based on our understanding of customers' pain points but also on how much power we can give them to define their own customizations. It’s truly self-evident motivation to show up to work and be amazed at yet another card product or yet another way to improve developer experience or yet another feature for existing products. Isn’t that what people envision doing as developers in their careers?
Even the recruiting team at Highnote doesn’t walk the widely adopted “Data Structures & Algorithms and System Design'' interview path. Megan Elits and Katie Hamm, my recruiters, were very different from the traditional recruiters one meets in the tech space. They navigated screening, interviews, and offers wonderfully. It was a smooth transition into Highnote, and that doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes a ton of work to get it all aligned and make it seem effortless. It was clear that they, much like my immediate team/colleagues, were exceptional at their jobs too.
As for the interview itself, I’ll say this: I had a few competing job offers which stemmed from traditional interview formats. It got me wondering if the interviewers knew what they needed for the position they were recruiting? Did the dynamic problem with the “memoization” or System design for “OpenTable” prepare me to be effective for the position? Did it convey any particular skill that made them offer me a position? Is a brand name enough to accept a job? Will I be happy doing this job?
At Highnote, I was only interviewed by people who would be on my team. I met engineers, product designers, and product managers from my team. I met with Lisa Hamm who personified customer obsession and asked me questions as though I were a customer using Highnote APIs. There was Trevor Carr, who talked about GraphQL mutations and queries with the ease of humming a tune. There was Ryan Burke, a product documentation ninja who spoke at length about my pick for well-documented APIs or SDKs, and then there was Jody Soldo who was disarmingly omniscient about all things Product at Highnote. When it came down to the wire, I requested to meet with my team lead - August Jaenicke, and even though we hadn’t met during the interview, it was clear he knew what he could expect from me on day one. He had already done the work-up. That short meeting with him proved they take each interview seriously.
I knew what was expected of me before I joined Highnote. I knew what frameworks were being used, I had a sense of team dynamics and I did my research on leadership, funding, runway, burn rate, and technology. It led to an inevitable conclusion - This is not all a career bet. This was going to be fun and extremely good for my career.
I’ve been here a short time, but I’ve worked on a dozen new frameworks and paired with folks across different teams and so much of it is already in the hands of customers. In fact, my first release was within a couple of days of starting here. Normally, this takes a couple of months at other places.
Lisa Hamm was my mentor and guide through the first few days at Highnote and I remember thinking this woman should be featured in some kind of women-in-tech magazine for the software savant she is.
I’ve seen the pace of work here at Highnote to be a product of a well-oiled machine - it allows Quinn Neumiiller to flex his SDK skills, Michael Borosh to be a swiss army knife of API solutions, and Philip Johnston to build demo apps that show the flexibility of our APIs, Taylor Moss to be our very own quarterback for multiple projects (and still have time to mentor silly-old me), Trevor Carr to be our MVP overseeing all changes to our public-facing Dashboard, Ben Adams who brings product visions to life and Ryan Burke & Stephen Patterson to be the wizards that convert our efforts to a sensible product for all our customers. All of this happens at the same time. In fact, in one sprint we put out more work than most teams would in four or five. August Jaenicke is the first team lead I’ve seen to oversee all these initiatives while simultaneously working on API features himself.
This is not our pace because we are a team in a Startup. It’s because that’s how the founding engineers intended it to be. It's not happenstance - a lot of effort has gone into building quality infrastructure and software foundations that enable us to be at our best.
I work with really smart people who don’t know (or perhaps care) that they are whip-smart. That in and of itself is extremely rewarding. Working with wonderful coworkers is the primary factor for determining how much one would enjoy their work.
At Highnote, we love what we do.