My first 30 days as Head of Platform Engineering at Front

Vrushali Patil,

Head of Platform Engineering at Front

19 October 20210 min read

Our engineering team is growing! Vrushali Patil shares her first impressions on culture, onboarding, and more after a month at Front leading our platform engineering team.

I've officially spent 30 days at Front as Head of Platform Engineering. I joined Front for the people, the culture, and the product. The fact that it’s a rapidly growing company where I could make an impact as an engineering leader came secondary. I want to take this time to reflect on my experience on the team while I am still new and provide a glimpse into the team’s onboarding and culture.

A people-first atmosphere

Front felt like home from the get-go. My first introduction to the company was through our weekly All Hands meeting. I have been through four of them so far, and it is amazing how energized I feel after every single one. From product and customer highlights to Mathilde’s Musings and ending with a Fronteer spotlight, every aspect has humanness and camaraderie that is palpable.

Thoughtful onboarding programs

As I get ready to welcome new engineers to my team, I can see that my onboarding experience is a reflection of the effort the company has put into rebuilding the onboarding process for the pandemic era. Front believes it’s a team effort to ensure new hires are successful from the very beginning.

I have been thoughtfully paired with my engineering peer, Sean Xie, a Front veteran, as my engineering onboarding buddy. I am thankful for the many insights Sean has shared, from understanding the mechanics of the org to what makes Front the company it is today. I’ve also got a cross-functional buddy, Sylvie Woolf, who heads customer success. She has helped me navigate the ins and outs of the organization and pace myself as I take on more company responsibilities.

When you join the Front team, the hiring manager, your onboarding buddies, and the people operations team are all in lock-step from day one. Beyond that, there are training sessions, recorded videos, training documents, and the sheer willingness of people to jump on a Zoom call to make you feel at home.

Caring and transparent culture

Front is evolving and maturing as a company but hasn’t lost the essence of its culture. As any other startup undergoing a hyper-growth phase, there are changes happening—reorganizing teams, hiring new folks, introducing new processes. But for every change, there is a thoughtfulness that goes into why and how it is done. Changes are made swiftly but with care, and feedback is always welcome and appreciated. The Radical Candor quadrant gets discussed during the new hire training, highlighting our core value around transparency.

Using the product we’re building every day

What’s unique about Front is that you can harness the power of the product you are building—everyone at Front uses Front to manage email every day. A great example of what makes the product powerful is how we use it in our interview process. When we are communicating with external candidates, the entire recruiting team and hiring manager are all working together on the conversation—even if it’s sent from one recruiter. So when a candidate asks a question about the interview process or the role, we discuss it right in Front to come up with an apt response. The shared email drafts, sidebar comments on emails, task assignments, and SLAs for response are all tools that help us ensure the candidate gets the best interview experience possible. In a world of AI, chatbots, and automated responses, Front helps us keep the human connection.

Front also changes how we operate—Front the product (and the company) empowers us to work asynchronously and on the schedule that works best for every individual. Yes, we use Slack, but there is mindfulness to how Slack gets used versus Front (we detail it in our Guide to Productive and Effective Internal Communication). I find it refreshing to operate in a mode where not every communication needs to be instantaneous, and I can spend focused time on work without interruption or feeling the need to respond immediately.

Engineering complexity

The simplicity and the intuitiveness of the product belie the engineering complexity that has gone into building it. We store emails that come through our system because that is what allows us to annotate them with workflows, assignment rules, and CRM context. The Front architecture is built to handle the scale needed to manage 1PB of data. There is a multiplayer real-time collaboration aspect to the app that makes for interesting distributed systems problems. And lastly, we know our customers rely on us for their day-to-day communication, so we take service reliability very seriously: even a few minutes of downtime can impact our customers’ business. This cross-section of the problem space, scale, and reliability lead to engineering challenges that I look forward to working on.

Come join us

In the coming months, my goal is to work with our engineering team to shine a spotlight on different engineering problems at Front. In the meantime, if this sounds like the sort of place you would want to work, come talk to us!

Up next: The 5 principles that guide our development at Front

Written by Vrushali Patil

Originally Published: 19 October 2021

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