Our Employee Spotlight series continues with one of our earliest engineering hires, Alex Romano.
Alex is originally from New Jersey but moved to California to study computer science at U.C. Berkeley. Now based in San Francisco, he’s happy to be back doing what he loves at a small but (rapidly!) growing company while still having time and opportunity in his personal life to take advantage of the best the West Coast has to offer. Learn more about Alex—and his advice for engineers just starting their careers—in our conversation below.
What brought you to Finch?
After spending several years working at enterprise and midsize organizations, I wanted to go back to my roots and join an early stage startup. It was important for me to find an opportunity to get in at the ground floor, because I wanted a lot of ownership, and I wanted to be able to take on a lot of different responsibilities and grow with the organization. There is good opportunity to do that here. I was also really impressed with how much traction the product was getting. Finch only had one or two engineers at the time, and they were already working with big companies. That was motivating—to be at the cusp of powering all of these other businesses.
Where were you before Finch?
When I was still in school, a couple of my friends and I created a startup and ended up taking some time off to keep pursuing it. I loved the camaraderie of the team and the feeling that I had a lot of impact on the end product. It was really fulfilling for me. When I finished school, I went in the complete opposite direction. I went to a gigantic company—Apple—where I started in mobile development before switching to machine learning. Then I went to a neobank called Digit, where I worked on the money management system. After that, I really wanted to go back to something small.
Tell us about your role.
My official title is founding software engineer. My responsibilities are varied, but it's mostly engineering work. I started out building our integrations with different payroll systems. Recently, I moved more into building new products. The project I’m working on now has been a little bit different than the rest of our endpoints, because we’re able to not just read from the system but also write back into it. And this week I'm doing product marketing, which I've never done before. So, I get to dabble. That's been cool.
What drives you to do the work that you’re doing here?
It’s evident that we’re building critical infrastructure for employment-oriented companies, so they can streamline manual processes. Knowing that we’re solving a real pain point, and that my role directly ties to clients’ needs, is really motivating for me.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
The work is very open-ended; there's not really one right answer. And so, a lot of it requires creative solutions. But that's also what makes it fascinating to me—the fact that it's not always a straightforward task. I have to dig and take different angles. For example, there's not really a roadmap for the product I’m working on. The challenge is how you scope it down and identify the needs of the customer and then figuring out how that all fits together. It’s the hard part but also the fun part.
What makes you a good fit for your role and for Finch?
I really care about the bottom line. I wouldn't work on something just because I thought it was interesting if it has no actual impact on the business. I‘m kind of existential in that way. I like to ask myself, “Why am I even doing this?” I need to know that what I'm working on is important and that it's going to make a difference in the outcome of the company.
What do you like most about working at Finch?
What I like most is that the people are really authentic. I think that's kind of rare, and it's definitely something that I value. I feel like everyone can be themselves here, and there's no weird power dynamics or hierarchies. Everyone is at Finch for the same reasons.
How would you describe Finch in one word?
We have this part of our values that basically means not getting too high off of the highs or too low off the lows—just making sure to keep looking toward the next opportunity. So, I think levelheaded is the right word for that.
When you’re not plugging away at work, what do you do for fun?
My main thing is hiking and backpacking with friends. I try to do both as often as I can, usually every weekend. Most recently, I spent time in Sequoia National Park, Colorado, and Yosemite. That's one of the reasons that I like living in the western part of the U.S. I’m always trying to get outside and into the mountains as much as I can.
What’s the best advice you can give to someone who just started their career?
Try to get a breadth of exposure to problems as early as possible—startups are the best for this! You’ll feel like you’re floundering a bit, but it will give you a general framework of what you like and don’t like, and it will help you think about new problems from different angles throughout your career.
Interested in joining the Finch team? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions here.