Welcome to our Meet the 50 Team series, where we give you the lowdown on how the people at 50onRed get stuff done. This time we’re sitting down with Software Engineer Chris Cannon!
As a Lead Software Engineer at 50onRed, what are your main responsibilities?
I’m the lead developer for the Ad Network Operations (AdOps) team, which is responsible for tracking company metrics (e.g., daily active users, revenue, spend, etc.), displaying those metrics to our internal analysts and external publishers through dashboards, and managing our products. My day-to-day work involves writing code (<3), monitoring production systems, and managing two developers with whom I help fix bugs, write pure code, discuss design decisions, and join in the collective facepalm when we’ve figured out the cause of a particularly mysterious problem.
What brought you to 50onRed?
For many years, I worked at Drexel University (DU) as a research engineer with Marcus McCurdy and Jeffrey Segall. As soon as Marcus left DU and began working at 50onRed, he started telling me about the amazing culture, plentiful perks, and challenging work. Once I saw pictures from one of the quarterly outings, I knew 50onRed was going to be my new home. I came in for an interview and received an offer in less than a week. Later, we’d both convince Jeff to join our ranks.
Growing up, you helped run part of your father’s business selling magazine slipcases. How has that influenced your work ethic?
When I was a teenager, my father quit his day job to start his own business and wanted to sell his product online to his worldwide customer base. The only problem was that he couldn’t afford a software developer to build and maintain his website. For reasons that mystify me to this day, he looked to his 16-year-old son to lend a hand. Calling this a “trial by fire” is an understatement, as I had never written a single line of code at the time. However, I had a deep interest in all things computing, and I learned how to move quickly, teaching myself the skills needed to complete such a challenging task. I learned to break up what seemed like an impossible job into small doable tasks, and iteratively improve the product. The business ran smoothly and was profitable for more than 12 years, so I must’ve done something right.
You’ve spent a lot of time traveling Europe, including three months sponsored by the US Army to live in Prague and conduct research with the Czech Technical University (CTU). What did you work on there?
At DU, my research focused on artificial intelligence and, in particular, coordinating distributed systems to solve a global problem. At CTU, part of their research focused on developing algorithms to detect possible air traffic collisions and provide suggestions to air traffic controllers about how to best avoid those collisions. We teamed up to solve the problem of coordinating multiple autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to monitor a series of targets where the number of targets is greater than the number of UAVs. My algorithm told the UAVs which targets to monitor to globally maximize the amount of time they were surveilled, and CTU’s algorithm de-conflicted the airspace so that UAVs would not collide with one another while surveilling the targets. I also worked on drinking pivo… Lots of pivo.
What tools do you use to get your job done?
There are so many tools in my toolbox, but here are some listed in order of importance: iTerm2, zsh, IntelliJ IDEA, Vim, Slack, SourceTree, Mailplane, Sequel Pro, VirtualBox, Chrome, Captured, and QuickCast.
In your free time, you practice various martial arts. What got you into that?
As many young boys were in the early 90s, I was obsessed with Bruce Lee. I wanted to be as ripped as him, strike like him, and emulate his general badassery. As a Christmas present one year, my grandmother bought me a gi (a.k.a., karate uniform) and some introductory lessons at a local Kenpo Karate school, where I continued to take lessons up until I left for college. In college, I joined the Drexel Judo team, and after I graduated I switched to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Balance Studios, which is where I’ve been training for the past 4 years. Bruce Lee got me in the door, but the people I’ve met and the confidence I’ve gained have made me stay.
You got married in November (Congrats!). Where are some of your favorite places to go for date-night in Philly?
Thank you! It was the happiest day of my life. My wife and I love to try new places, but we certainly do have some favorite restaurants we enjoy. In the Fairmount area, the Blue Cat Restaurant and La Calaca Feliz are musts to get your fix of Latin-American cuisine. In Center City, Village Whiskey, The Dandelion, and The Continental Midtown offer some of the best tasting dishes in the city for a price that won’t break the bank. In Olde City, our new favorite is High Street on Market. It consistently blows our minds, and out of all the restaurants I mentioned, that’s the one I most highly recommend.
Speaking of, you’re also a self-proclaimed expert on the best cocktail bars in Philadelphia. Any recommendations?
If you’re anything like me, you enjoy a truly well balanced cocktail that doesn’t skimp on the alcohol. My all-time favorite spot is Hop Sing Laundromat, run by the best dressed and hardest working man in Philadelphia: Lê. They have over one thousand bottles behind the bar, pages of delicious cocktails to try, and a bar top lined with nickels. It’s difficult to find and has a strict dress code, but I assure you it’s worth it. A very close runner-up is The Ranstead Room, which also offers really well-crafted cocktails and the atmosphere of a speakeasy right out of the Prohibition era. Pro tip: Make a reservation at The Ranstead Room, and while you’re waiting grab some food and drinks at El Rey. Once The Ranstead Room calls you to let you know your spot is open, let your El Rey waiter know and they’ll lead you through the kitchen, down into the basement, and up into The Ranstead Room. Apparently, they don’t want you to film the kitchen on your phone.
While we’re on the subject of drinks, you have some experience brewing hard cider and mead. Can you share any tips for first-time homebrewers?
My best advice is to start small, and don’t initially invest a ton of time and money into your homebrew setup. To get started with the bare minimum, purchase the following items: a glass gallon jug of apple juice from Whole Foods, and a stopper, air lock, and Red Star Montrachet Yeast from Home Sweet Homebrew. Combine these elements and wait. In three to four weeks, you’ll get to taste your creation and come to one of three realizations: 1) You’ve created the cheapest, best-tasting alcohol known to man, and in this case you can rinse and repeat; 2) You created something tolerable, but could be better, so start investigating different juices, yeasts, ways of temperature control, sanitization, and homebrew measurement tools (e.g., hydrometer); or, 3) Waiting three to four weeks for alcohol is an exercise in futility, and you can just scrap the whole homebrew idea.
There’s growing competition to work in the tech industry. What advice would you give people looking to work here?
At 50onRed we value developers who are self-starters, constant learners, possess a “beginner’s mind”, have a breadth and depth of computer science knowledge, have a dedication to the operation of production code, and who can remain cool under pressure. We’re one of the few tech employers who don’t require a computer science or related degree, so don’t think that’s holding you back. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned that’s immensely improved my software engineering is that code is king. Craig Slusher, our VP of Engineering, constantly practices and preaches this philosophy. If you don’t understand how a library works, don’t treat it as a black box, but rather go into the source code and look at what it’s doing. At the end of the day, it’s all just code, and if you can understand the code, you can understand exactly how it works and how best to use it. Documentation, blog articles, and Stack Overflow don’t compare to reading the source code. Code is KING.
What’s your all-time favorite 50onRed perk?
My favorite perk at 50onRed are the quarterly outings. They’re a chance for the whole company to relax and take a step back to look at what we’ve accomplished over the past quarter. I believe the quarterly outings embody our “work hard, play hard” attitude. Not to mention, the administrative team at 50onRed always does a fantastic job planning a unique and memorable event every quarter. They’re truly the unsung heros of all our perks at 50onRed.
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