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Startup Engineer Jobs: Work Smart, Play Hard

“Are you joining a company or a fraternity?”

That was the question one of my friends asked when I described Nanigans to him a few weeks after I started here as a user interface engineer last July, describing some of the perks and culture.

Nanigans is a company that brings out employees’ creativity by being just a little silly. We have some absolutely brilliant people working on some complicated technology with a taxidermied squirrel butt hanging on the wall and an inflatable zombie shark staring from a stand-up desk.

I came to Nanigans after years in the corporate world of local media, working on in-house projects as part of a much smaller team than the few dozen specialized software engineers that work on Ad Engine. I went from a world of cubicles to an open office plan, from a world of dress shirts and khakis to a wear-what-you-want dress code.

If we had a Facebook-style saying, it would be “Get Stuff Done.” And we do. The secret sauce is a combination of the right people and the finely tuned yet spontaneous environment.

The Right People

Nanigans’ hiring process focuses on getting people who can Get Stuff Done, no matter the background or education.

My background is certainly unconventional: a degree in broadcast journalism and close to ten years working on the websites for various local television stations and web software projects at a corporate office of a station group. I’m basically self-taught, both on the job and as a hobby.

Starting the same day as me was a recent Harvard grad with a minor in computer science. He worked on a really cool software project to help HIV patients in South Africa.

There are things all engineers here bring to the table: creativity, mutual respect, and the right balance between flexibility and convention.

We’re divided into skill groups and functional teams; for example, I’m a front-end engineer by skill, and I mostly work on our targeting, custom audience and FBX features. But I’ve also dipped my toe into some back-end engineering since I have some skill in that too and I’ve pitched in on projects that have nothing to do with my functional team.

The Right Environment

Most Nanigans engineers sit in our office on the twelfth floor of a building on the border of Boston’s financial district and the North End. Even our vice presidents and CTO sit at the same size desks as the rest of us. Our open floor plan encourages creativity and the sharing of ideas.

The office is full of whimsy: a large area set aside for beanbags when you need new surroundings, silly décor like a taxidermied squirrel butt and a cat statue with sunglasses, and the occasional Nerf gun. Our breakout rooms have “creative” titles — Zuul, Roomcoin, and a couple references to strangely named files in our codebase.

Then the perks help keep us fed and at our best: free catered lunch from various restaurants, snacks and drinks in the kitchen, and even adult beverages we can break out during weekly social hours or even just some evening coding sessions.

And there’s a lot of mutual respect between management and employees. The adult beverages aren’t behind lock and key, we can work from home when we need to, and there’s little paperwork. In exchange, we don’t abuse the privileges and make sure to Get Stuff Done.

Startup Instability – Or Not

Several years ago I almost joined a much different startup, but I was hesitant; I figured it would either soar or fail spectacularly. Fortunately I turned down the offer, since it turns out my fears were realized.

But Nanigans isn’t your typical startup. The company that ultimately failed had little revenue and was spending boatloads on getting their first big product out the door. Nanigans, on the other hand, has been around for years and has plenty of revenue. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few years, you’ve heard of some of our biggest clients.

Our management team keeps us informed about the state of the company, and although a lot of those numbers are confidential, trust me, they’re good. We’re drawing talent away from much larger and more established companies — even the guy who built one of the biggest Facebook ad technologies we use.

We’re global. A lot of our revenue comes from the United States, but we’re growing rapidly in Europe, Asia and Australia. (I have yet to convince my boss that we need a UI site visit in Sydney.)

Stuff We Get Done

I’ve touched a lot on Getting Stuff Done, and I’ve self-indulgently capitalized it every time. Sure, ad tech isn’t one of those industries you can brag about to your friends — “I built a clean Website Custom Audiences UI” isn’t exactly the most interesting party talk — but there’s still a lot to be proud of here.

As a UI guy, I don’t want our clients to notice my work. To me, good UI is easy and stays out of your way. There’s work to do to meet that goal, as with any software, but since I started here a year ago we’ve come a long way.

Won’t you join us?

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