What’s My story?
This is Xinjiang, a.k.a @soleo. I’m currently working as a principal software engineer at Peapod Digital Labs. Previously I was a full stack developer for Peapod, focusing more on the front-end side of the house at the time. I also was previously working for EXACT Sports as a full stack developer. I’m pretty passionate about building a better product for end users.
While I’m not coding, I like reading as often as possible, writing occasionally, drawing randomly, cooking creatively, running regularly.
If you are interested in working with me, feel free to checkout my Résumé, and reach out to me via Email.
The Much Longer Version of My Story
My early life
I’m Xinjiang. Xinjiang is directly coming from PinYin of my Chinese name. Most people would have some degree of difficulty to pronounce my name. My previous supervisor Ed Grosvenor won’t be able to pronounce it, and the my current colleagues in Peapod definitely still try to figure it out. In the digital world, I usually call myself soleo. A word coming from nowhere, but it is pretty cool name.
As a kid growing up in China, I still feel a bit weird living in Chicago, IL in the past few years. I am pretty sure that I am not the smartest kid among my peers. Chinese is usually very competitive, and I certainly didn’t go to the top schools, end up in working for big corporations. However, I do feel like I chose a very unique career path comparing with my peers, and I think I’m making the best choice for myself.
Whenever someone ask me where I come from, I would tell them that I come from a small town. They would assume that a small town be a place with no skyscrapers and everyone knows everyone. But my hometown is packed with people and huge buildings. I’m not kidding! Time square does exist in my town which might be larger than the real one in New York. I have the dream of becoming a software engineer since I got my first desktop in elementary school. Just like any other kids, it was video games which makes me curious about how computer works at the very beginning. Then one day, my school teacher told me I could stay longer after school, and she would teach me be able to do website design. That was the year 1998, and I started to know how to build a website with Microsoft FrontPage and Dreamweaver.
Time flies, and I was about to choose major in college after the national college entrance exam. I didn’t get a good enough score to get in a top university, but I did full analysis of what school I could get into and still make the best of it. I chose a math related major called Information and Computing Science because I know I want to be able to go for future education in Computer Science no matter what. A math major would be very beneficial for me lay a solid foundation for Computer Science naturally. In college, I met my advisor Prof. Zhishen Wang who is truly an inspiration to me. He’s a friend and a mentor to me. During my tenure in his telecommunication lab, I learnt a ton of things related to telecommunication hardwares, how to conduct research on different topics, how to explore new ideas.
In my last semester in college, I did an Internship in Sagittarius Tech Co., Ltd.. I still can vividly recall the interview with Tomasen Shen, and Yangming Dai. I was so new to the industry that I barely know any answers for any of written tests, and I was on my way to fly back to start my winter break that I still have my luggage with me at the time of the interview. But the next day when I got home, I got a call from Amy, our HR, saying I could start working after the Chinese New Year. During my days in Sagittarius Tech., I started doing research on subtitle matching optimization with acoustic fingerprinting, and supporting a hardware supplier to use our subtitle matching service for their hardware player. Tomasen and Yangming are both very important to my personal development for software engineering. That’s my start of becoming a software engineer.
On the last month of my Internship, I told Tomasen that I am planning to get further education and pursing my master’s degree on Computer Science in University of Illinois at Chicago. Soon I started my new life in Chicago. I actually felt really calm when I arrived. In UIC, I really like Prof. Jacob’s course because he is like a hacker with the right mind. He would record his whole lesson, and his class is always filled with his personal insights and good demonstrations. If you talk with him in person, you might think he’s socially awkward, and whenever he’s talking about things related to Computer Science, his eyes lit up.
Full Time Software Engineer
When life is getting boring in grad school, I got an email from Barry Tarter who is the founder of EXACT Sports. He’s looking for an intern, and asked me if I am interested in working in his company. Since school work is lighter than I thought, I said yes. Ed Grosvenor interviewed me. His last words at the end of the interview is “I’m not picky.” , then I started working with him building our camp registration platform and athletic recruiting platform from scratch within the next few years. I stayed with EXACT sports for almost 5 years, and my personal feelings get so attached to the product that I would check the status over the weekends, sometimes in the middle of nights. It felt great that whenever you have a new idea or got an idea from your coworkers, you can start implementing it and see it grow or fail. The thin of management make the product delivers faster, but Barry might disagree with it.
We built a ton of things in EXACT Sports, but one thing hit me very hard, and I’m eager to find the answer. Since there are a lot of feature we built during 5 years period, we don’t remove features that often. We end up with a code base which contains lots of defects or one time used feature and never used again. So I was curious at that time that how could we manage a clean code base with features that is actually the users really want. Then I got an invite from a Hacker Event. The host of the event is Peapod, the online grocery delivery company which is founded in 1989. I start to wonder if Peapod’s engineering team has already figured it out.
I went to the event early enough that I talk with Tim Franklin and Dan McQuallian. I didn’t get my answers that night, and it sounds like there is something new going on in Peapod. Peapod is in the process of transformation to moving from legacy architecture to a more modern architecture. The conversation with Dan makes me really want to work with him because he’s not only knowledgeable, but also very young in his career. I kind of wonder what makes him an excellent engineer. Like any other meet up event, I don’t think I would meet Dan or Tim again in my future, but Lynn, Peapod’s recruiter, contacted me soon after the hacker event, telling me that they are interested in interviewing me for their Full Stack Engineer role. The next day I got interviewed, I got accepted.
Now having been working in Peapod for a year, I really like the working environment. It is definitely less stressful than working for a start up, and things are designed more in details, thoughtful manner. But also it is also moving slower. It is during my tenure in Peapod that get me to learn making the web application more accessible for everyone. And I started to focus more on front end development, share my development stories with medium blogging, and organizing hackathon events internally. I’m still learning, and still looking for the ways of delivering good product to end users.
Having been in the industry for more than 7 years, I realized that to become a good engineer takes a lots of efforts, years of learning and practices. Even if you did stay curious, and learn a ton of stuff, there are still new stuff coming up every day that you cannot keep up. How to handle the fear of unknown? How to make the right decision when there is something has to be done in time? There are still a ton of questions I have that I have not fully figure out yet, and I am looking forward to exploring the answers.