Interviews with Engineers: Vince Thomas

vinceMEET VINCE THOMAS – SOFTWARE ENGINEER @ BLUE APRON

We sat down for coffee with Vince recently to ask about his transition from the Chicago tech scene to NYC, his new role on the engineering team at Blue Apron, and his interests both in and outside of technology.

Tell us about your first engineering job or internship.

My first software engineering job was in 2010 at FactSet in NYC, where I was a very small cog in a big machine doing C++. I worked on a team building a desktop application that provided financial market data to investment professionals. I primarily focused on application code, along with some front end work.

What was the tech scene like in Chicago?

Chicago is awesome and the tech scene is really growing. There’s a humongous coworking space/incubator there called 1871 that basically serves as the cerebral cortex of tech entrepreneurship in the city. They hold tech networking events where you can learn the lay of the land. Working out of 1871 enabled me to meet tons of people in the tech space and build a solid freelancing business. And there, the scene seems to revolve more around practical industries such as healthcare and finance, centralized and grounded around activities at 1871.

How did you know you wanted to move to NYC from Chicago?

One of the best things about NYC is the feeling that so many people are passionate about what they’re doing, and support their passions with their work. I’ve met a ton of really interesting and engaging people and it really energizes me. Taking a tour around the city, you see diversity everywhere – people with different ideas, backgrounds, experiences – that’s one of the most enticing things about this city.

How was the transition from freelancing/consulting to being on staff on a tech team?

Everything you think would be good or bad about freelancing is true. The flexibility is awesome, and when you build the right business and reputation, you can stay fully utilized and make more money. However, you do have to deal with issues outside of engineering like sales and playing debt collector…

Ultimately, I discovered that I like to build things and help people realize their business goals. That’s in part what pulled me back into full-time work. When you’re consulting, because of the nature of the role, you don’t really stay that invested in what you’re working on. You’re not picking projects based on your passion – it’s to fulfill someone else’s vision. And by the time you fall in love with the product, that’s it, you’re done. The project’s over. I wanted to make a transition to a place where I could grow with the business and the product.

What are the things you had to come up to speed on to be successful in landing your current job?

I did a lot of practice problems on leetcode, focusing on algorithms and data structures to get my tech interview chops back up to date. I also went through a small personal to-do list of “hello world” type projects in newer technologies like React, so that even if I didn’t have professional experience in those technologies, I could still carry on a conversation about it.

How did you decide the role you took was the right fit for you?

There were a few considerations. I liked the company size. It’s big enough to have opportunities to interact with a lot of different engineers, so I felt I could develop myself from a technical standpoint, but still small enough that it feels entrepreneurial and that my work has impact. I felt I could help shape the vision of the product with a great team. I saw a lot of potential there.

What are you working on at work currently? What do you like about it?

Lately I’ve gotten a crash course in Backbone.js, picked up some Python, and am working on some secret IP (shh!). The tech department organizes its teams by Squads. I’m currently on the team focused on consumer-facing products, along with really sharp front end engineers, back end engineers, designers, a product manager, and an engineering manager. They provide great resources to learn from, and it’s always helpful to engage with fellow engineers to make sure we’re all learning on the right track.

Specifically, I recently improved our cancellation survey in order to gather more information about why people were cancelling and ultimately shape our product development. I changed a simple drop-down menu to a series of dynamic elements using JavaScript animators/sliders and using Backbone. Over the holidays, customers had the option to donate their meal to a food bank, so I recently finished improving updates to facilitate those donations.

I absolutely love it all! Blue Apron definitely delivered on their size and growth. I’m learning a ton and like everyone I work with. It’s really cool working on a high visibility product – a lot of people know about Blue Apron and I can say “I worked on that!” when they point out specific features they like.

So what are your hobbies or other interests besides engineering?

I work out – do some lifting and running. I’m pretty into football (Denver Broncos!). And I play D&D and video games from all genres.

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