Employee Spotlight series: Founding engineer Aren Patel, a proud Canadian and veteran of Big Tech who couldn’t wait to get back to his startup roots.
Growing up in the small town of Rosseau, Ontario, Aren Patel never imagined he’d wind up in California working at some of the most innovative companies in the world. His college internship turned into a full-time gig at Google, and now he’s a full-fledged Bay Area engineer working to unlock access to the global employment ecosystem. Recently, we caught up with Aren to talk about his experience.
You returned to the startup world after a long hiatus. What’s the story there?
I graduated from the University of Waterloo with an electrical engineering degree. During my final semester, I joined BufferBox, a four-person startup founded by a hockey friend of mine. The concept was like Amazon Locker, but any e-retailer could ship to their kiosks, which were located in stations throughout Toronto’s GO Transit system. I was responsible for the design and development of all of BufferBox’s web services and APIs, which was an exciting amount of responsibility for someone fresh out of college. And then, while I was working there, the company got acquired by Google.
Your career at Google lasted for nearly a decade. What projects did you work on?
I worked at Google Shopping for a bit before transferring to Nest. There, I led the team responsible for building the Nest to Google account migration on Nest's login pages, and I served as the technology lead on the team that built Nest’s MyAccount data export tool. After five years with Nest, I took a position on the Orion Wi-Fi team at Google's R&D incubator, Area 120, where I developed Angular (Dart and TypeScript) web apps. After two years at Area 120, I got my green card, giving me permanent residency in the States. At that point, I was ready to join a smaller company, so I took the opportunity to reenter the startup ecosystem.
Why did you want to go back to a startup?
I like small teams and making genuine connections. Like most people, I spend a good chunk of my life at work, so building relationships while I’m there is important to me. To put things in perspective, when I started at Google, there were around 30,000 or 40,000 employees. By the time I left, there were 200,000+ employees worldwide. The dynamics are very different when you’re working with a lean team of 16, like I currently am at Finch, versus a global population of 200,000.
What made you decide that Finch was the right move?
I engaged with hundreds of companies during my search. Finch stood out to me for two reasons. The first one is the types of problems that Finch is tackling. It was a natural fit between my prior experiences at Google and BufferBox and what the team at Finch was looking for. The second is the people. After meeting Jeremy and Ansel [Finch’s founders], I was impressed with the environment they had cultivated. Throughout the interview process, they were open, honest, and willing to share. It’s safe to say that these qualities are embodied by everyone at Finch.
How was your work at Google similar to your work at Finch?
When I was at Nest, we focused on making the thermostat, smoke alarm, and camera products more open, so developers can build complementary products on top of them. Finch is doing something similar but for employer data. Our API makes it easy and secure to read and write data to any employee system, so forward-thinking companies can build innovative products on top of those systems.
Describe your role at Finch.
My title is founding engineer. Day-to-day, I am responsible for a lot of software engineering-related activities: figuring out what we're building, reviewing design docs, scoping projects. I'm a full-stack engineer, so I work on the front-end, the back-end, and everything in between. Any piece of code we have, I'm touching or changing. Just like a lot of traditional software engineering roles, I cover a wide range of responsibilities.
What excites you about your job?
The employment sector is old and stagnant, which only means that the opportunities to improve and automate processes are countless. Unlocking employee data is definitely going to be a game-changer for all industries. As a software engineer, it’s always exciting to see growth in the product that you’re working on and the impact of all of your efforts.
You also take an active role in the hiring process at Finch. What do you look for in a potential new hire?
I am always on the lookout for genuine enthusiasm for our product and our mission. Creativity is key as well. Thinking outside the box and coming up with novel ideas and solutions is essential to success at a startup like Finch. I am also interested in people who are willing to learn. They don’t have to be an expert in every subject, but they do need to catch on to new skills and information quickly and then be able to apply those learnings proactively.
How do you feel about Finch’s asynchronous work model?
It has been super helpful for me. My fiancée is a nurse, and she works crazy hours in the ER, so I tend to work around her schedule. Finch is really accommodating to that. There are no set hours; as long as you’re getting your tasks done and attending the meetings you agreed to, you’re good.
How do you get to know your colleagues if you are all working remotely and asynchronously?
At Finch, we all find ways to connect with each other–inside and outside of our remote setting. But on a day-to-day basis, one of our most effective tools is Gather, a virtual office space that we use to collaborate and stay engaged. It has been instrumental in helping me get to know everyone at Finch.
The layout of Gather is similar to the Sims game. We customize our office space, personalize our avatars, choose a desk, and chat with each other in real time. I can walk up to anyone at their desk and start a conversation like I would in a physical office, only it’s video. It has made approaching people much easier.
Here is my desk and our conference room!
Interested in joining Finch? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions.