SDE Computational Marketing
Palo Alto, CA
Software Development Engineer and Pride@Groupon Site Lead, Owen, talks about the importance of building an inclusive workplace and what sort of challenges him and his team tackle in Computational Marketing.
We see that you are a member of Pride@Groupon. Why did you join?
I joined Pride@Groupon because I’m passionate about LGBTQ+ issues. I’ve always been politically active, so it’s important to me to work on some of the issues I’m passionate about. My friends and family are members of the community so part of me joined in solidarity with them. Lastly, I thought joining Pride would be a great way to create events and get people talking, working, and playing together in Palo Alto.
What’s your role in Pride@Groupon?
I’m the Site Lead for Palo Alto. I coordinate events for the Palo Alto office.
Why is it important for Groupon to champion and support Pride@Groupon?
LGBTQ+ organizations are important because gay rights are human rights. Anyone can be born gay or be affected by gender dysphoria or have a child, friend, or family member who is. It’s vital that those people have equal rights as people. From a corporate perspective, there is a lot of LGBTQ+ talent and if those people feel welcome here they are more likely to join and stay at Groupon.
Have you ever worked for a company that accepts, champions, and supports the LGBTQ+ community before? How do you feel about it?
My previous company, Bend Research, was very open and accepting of all people but didn’t have the infrastructure to explicitly take care of the needs of those communities. One thing I appreciate about Groupon is that employees are willing to take time out of their day to engage with these groups and make it an inclusive place to work.
What makes Pride@Groupon unique?
Our emphasis on culture and having fun makes us unique.
How are you celebrating Pride Month personally? Professionally?
Personally, I’ll go to the San Francisco pride parade because it’s an amazing time and a great social event. Professionally I’m coordinating volunteer events sponsored by Pride@Groupon and potentially a march in the Silicon Valley parade.
Who are some notable figures you’d like to recognize for Pride Month?
As a software engineer, I have to recognize Alan Turing who was persecuted horribly for his sexuality despite his enormous contributions to computer science and the war effort during world war two. As a Starcraft player, I’d also recognize Scarlett (Sasha Hostyn) who is a trans-woman and by far the best female player in Starcraft 2.
What’s your favorite Groupon memory?
My favorite Groupon memory is the 2017 Holiday Party. I loved the aviation museum and flight simulators (although they were hard to learn). The drinks and photo booth were really on point and I brought a friend who made it really fun. It was great bonding with my team and the rest of Groupon Bay Area, especially seeing the people who usually work from home.
So what was your first role here? How did you get to where you are now?
I started out at Groupon in SEM as a Software Development Engineer 1 fresh out of college in 2016. I got promoted to level 2 last year and SEM has now taken over SEO so we call our team SE* now.
Tell us about your job! What do you do exactly? What do you love about it?
We take all of the deals on Groupon and generate Google search ads for them. We create several headlines, description and site links for each deal using templates. Keywords are generated programmatically using templates, purchased from third parties, added manually by account managers, and we’re working on a machine learning pipeline to generate smarter keywords since the keywords are the core part of our business. We also work on determining ROI for each keyword and setting bids for those clicks accordingly. The problems are fascinating and have no fixed answers. The success metric is in raw dollars so it’s exciting to see the revenue and cost impact of each change I make. We work with a lot of user data and the big data experience is invaluable.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve worked on?
Getting my bachelor’s in engineering at Cornell was by far the hardest challenge I’ve ever had. Like many engineers, I really struggled with classes during my sophomore year and considered dropping out of engineering or switching schools. I ended up taking a semester off to continue with a chemical engineering internship which would up lasting 9 months and was one of the best work experiences of my life. I went back to school energized from my time off and ready to recommit to school. I found a girlfriend, powered through my classes, and managed to graduate in 4 years despite taking a semester off. Overcoming this challenge makes me really proud.
Where can we find you outside of work? What are your hobbies, side projects, or interests?
I grew up in a medium-sized mountain town in Oregon so anything outdoors gets me going. I’m a huge skier and climber and I also love to hike, camp, paddleboard, and bike. I picked up guitar last year and practicing guitar takes up a big part of each evening. I’m relatively politically active so I try to help out on some campaigns in my spare time. To relax I’m an avid video gamer. Right now I’m into Fortnite, Starcraft 2, and League of Legends.
What was your first impression of Groupon?
My first impression of Groupon was that it was a profoundly relaxed and fun place to work. I immediately loved my teammates and found the work deeply rewarding. I felt and still feel like Groupon is a place where I am treated like an adult and have a lot of flexibility but can still be productive and create a lot of value.
What do your parents think you do?
My parents actually have a pretty good grasp of the general idea of what I do. I think they might be a bit worried after the Facebook personal data scandal since what I do is basically the buy side of that industry. They still ask me for menial IT tasks which I can do but that’s not my job at all!
How does your work connect to Groupon’s mission of being the daily habit in local commerce?
The work I do in Search Engine Marketing brings new and old customers to the site. I guess it’s most relevant to the ‘daily’ part since I’m responsible for showing people how awesome Groupon is and how much better it is than all of the other sites on Google search results.
What’s your favorite local business?
My favorite local business is the bar where I’m a regular, Blooms Saloon on 18th St. in San Francisco. It’s close to my house and the bartenders are really nice. It’s got a great view and a pool table. You can find my roommates and I there a couple of nights per week playing pool.
Have you won any awards during your time here?
No awards yet but my team is applying for a patent on one of the projects I did so I’m stoked about that!
What’s unique about Groupon’s Engineering culture?
Our engineering culture is unique in the flexibility we have to work how we want and to determine on our own which tasks we want to work on. I’ve heard that the work culture is much more rigid at other companies and that’s something I really appreciate about Groupon.
What’s been surprising about working here?
I think people would be most surprised to learn about how much work and value we can produce with such a flexible and distributed work schedule. We have people working in offices all over the world and working from home, an unlimited time off policy, free lunches in Palo Alto, and yet we still produce a stable website with great customer experience.
What’s your favorite part about your team’s Software Development process?
Our software development is driven predominantly by user data and the behavior we see from users coming in from Google and Bing. I think that really sets it apart from other engineering teams because we can truly start with the customer and work backward. Our team is highly distributed so each of us has a lot of trust and a lot of responsibility for our work still getting done.
Vim or emacs? why?
I prefer Vim but don’t really have a great reason why. I’ve never seen a linux distro without it so when I need an editor it’s always there.
Name your favorite programming language.
Python is by far my favorite because I like being able to choose between functional or object-oriented styles. I work a lot with Java these days so I’m growing to love Java as well for the maintainability and the ability to deploy packaged code anywhere.
Tabs or spaces?
I use tabs because I like just pushing one key to indent. No hate for those who like spaces though.