10 questions with an Uplevel dev: Stewart Spencer

How did our own Stewart Spencer go from a major in physics to upgrading our data platform systems as a senior software engineer? In this dev Q&A, we dive into his passions, projects, and hopes for the future.
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Stewart Spencer joined Uplevel in 2020 as a senior software engineer. Since then, he’s been an integral part of turning our data into real-world solutions. And while his road to software engineering had a few detours, what he learned along the way  made him the essential source of knowledge he is today for the Uplevel team. We sat down to ask him a few questions and learn more about his experience. Here’s what he had to say.

Stewart Spencer, Senior Software Engineer

1. Why did you become a software engineer?

It’s more of a “how” than a “why.” I didn’t plan to become a software engineer. I did a little programming in college, but I was a physics major. I only got into engineering because I needed a job, but that wasn’t what I was originally doing. I started out working on analytics and data entry, which is where I was given the opportunity to work with data engineers. That was really the catalyst for me. While working with them, I picked up what they were doing. With more emphasis on data modeling than knowing coding languages, data engineering was a nice fit with my data and physics background. I started with simple ETL data pipeline stuff, and learning to write in different languages came over time.

2. What are you passionate about in your field?

For me, the problem-solving and architectural aspects are the most enjoyable. I like having a complicated, advanced toolkit and applying it to business problems to create something useful. People may think engineers work exclusively on products, which can be its own motivating factor. But in reality, only a few actually work on the customer-facing product. Others are working on supporting systems and automation. It may not be as fun, but it’s still important and you’re still making things for people. Some like the tech creativity that comes from languages and what you can do with them. I prefer the application of it, applying it to concrete real-world problems.

3. What brought you to Uplevel?

Conceptually, the space was really interesting. At the time, the product and approach were still pretty new, so there was freedom and flexibility that comes with an early-stage startup. I was able to make my mark on a product that wasn’t already established. I had also worked on an analytics team with two Uplevel employees, which is how I first heard of the opportunity. They reached out, and I said yes.

4. What projects are you working on right now?

I’m working on a data platform systems upgrade to enable higher scalability, easier tracking/debugging of issues, and more.

5. What are you most proud of from your time at Uplevel?

Probably working on our team builder, which gives you ownership of how you create teams to better fit your unique working patterns. It’s great for helping managers organize large teams. That was a good example of a large, complicated project that we managed to plan and deliver on time, basically without issue. We haven’t had to go back or make changes and modifications after the fact, which is a good indication that what we did worked well. It’s a good example of when everything goes right.

6. What does a typical workday look like for you?

Being on the East Coast, I typically have 9 to 1 free, which is when I do my coding work. My afternoons are more meeting/planning heavy with scrums, 1:1s, etc.

7. How do you use Uplevel?

My favorite way we use Uplevel with our own teams is during sprint retros. It helps out a lot when reflecting on how things are going and if changes are needed. We’re able to gather feedback throughout the sprint so we’re already prepared with discussion points, which makes it a lot easier to remember messy moments or things that went well. We can also see what was added mid-sprint to inform our future sprints. Overall, it helps guide our entire retro conversation, showing us critical information around not only our projects but also our people health.

8. What excites you about your future and the future of Uplevel?

My future? I have no idea. That’s often the thing about being a software engineer. I have no desire to get into management, so I hope to still be building things. As for the future of Uplevel, we’re currently focused on building some more of our foundational pieces. With those in place, we can do more of the cool things we have planned that we haven’t had the resources to do. We’ve done so much with the initial idea and metrics to establish an identity. But when we have more data integrations and a more robust pipeline, we’ll have the opportunity to ask more questions and come up with new ideas.  That will be fun for us and useful to the customer. And we’ll finally be able to address some of the tech debt that we’ve had our eyes on for years.

9. What do you like doing outside of work? Are you building anything in your spare time?

I do not like coding outside of work — I try to avoid it. It’s nice to do activities outside of work where my posture can be better. My biggest hobby is music. I have a dedicated music room in my attic, and I play a bunch of instruments. Lately I’ve been working a lot on drumming.

10. Do you have any advice for a dev just starting out?

Keep calm and find a mentor. The first few years can be tough. There’s an enormous amount of information to learn, and it can often feel like any mistake means you’re failing as a dev. The truth is that it takes time, and it takes the ability to evaluate your own work critically. Having a mentor helps a lot with this process by giving you a resource for asking questions and testing new ideas — without fear of judgment. Don’t worry about stack ranking or trying to be “the best.” Just be kind, seek mentor help when needed, and help others.