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Beyond the Code: An Inside-Out Conversation with Aptible Team Members

Yujie Z.
Yujie Z.
Operations

Hear about the experiences of Aptible team members across four different teams - finance, customer success, support, and engineering. This deep dive interview was conducted with the help of our friend, Florian Feichtinger, who helped us bring out the objective stories and perspectives of each team member. Read on!

Let’s start off with some icebreakers to help everyone get to know you better. Nowadays, since we’re always so surrounded by media content in all forms, share with us your favorite book, podcast, etc. that you’d recommend.

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Josh: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. If possible, I actually recommend listening to the audiobook version narrated by Ray Porter. It’s a sci-fi story that brilliantly combines humor and science to describe an end-of-the-world scenario while providing a unique perspective on what non-Earth life might be like. It’s a good story that’s easy to enjoy.

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Madhu: Oh my favorite book series of all time is actually a sci-fi series as well, called the Hyperion Cantos. It’s kinda like an 80’s Game of Thrones/Canterbury Tales style of storytelling in space with AI.

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Nav: For me, one book that I challenged myself to read, and I’m glad that I did, was Anna Karenina. It’s a bit daunting but I highly recommend others give it a shot because it’s very well written and I like to think each chapter is like music but in literary form.

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Gab: I’ve got two podcast recommendations. The first one is The Customer Success Channel, which obviously, is good inspiration for CS. They interview known leaders from different companies, especially large ones that are scaled like Amazon, Google, etc. I also love Las Culturistas with Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang, it’s just fun to listen to sometimes at work when I need a giggle.

These are great! And of course, we’ll have to start off with introductions to our audiences by describing your role at Aptible. What do you work on, and do you wear many hats?

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Nav: I’m a Senior Financial Analyst. My scope includes everything from billing, accounts receivable, payroll, taxes, month-end, and financial planning. I also dabble in a lot of non-finance-related work to help provide coverage over all of our shared operational responsibilities on the team.

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Gab: My title is Head of Customer Success. I'm currently the sole person on the Customer Success team, which means I do all the CS things - such as talking with customers regularly, customer newsletters, health scoring and playbooks, and overall CS strategy. I also play a big role on the product side. For example, this could be turning customer feedback into features for our product roadmap. Or working with and managing our relationships with design partners as we build out new products. I personally find that customer success and product are very closely aligned, especially since it’s so important to us that we build for the customer, so I dabble in a lot of product work.

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Josh: I’m a Customer Reliability Engineer, so I work on the support side separate from customer success. The support team at Aptible is very unique. There's me and three others who are all engineers, and our Director of Customer Experience who runs our team is also an engineer.

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Madhu: I’m a senior software engineer. I work full stack on everything, as most of our team does. I actually don’t wear many hats, which is nice. Being a software engineer, my role is pretty well defined and even if there is some variability when it comes to scope, it’s all within that role. I’d say Ashley, our VP of Engineering, has done a pretty good job in making sure that our team doesn’t take on a million different things at once, which is nice.

Josh - What did you mean when you said the support team is unique? Tell us a bit about that, and also generally what you’re known for.

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Josh: I think support is really a big part of what sets Aptible apart, especially given our platform is built for developers. Having it built by developers and supported by developers makes a big difference. We're not a help desk that just gives them basic troubleshooting steps. We often go above and beyond, and while we’re experts in anything Aptible-specific, we’re also pretty experienced when it comes to other software our customers are using in tandem with Aptible. So they often rely on us for expertise.

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Gab: Yeah, when I joined Aptible as a Technical Account Manager the biggest challenge ahead of me at the time was being able to connect with our customer base of software developers. I'm not a software developer myself, so being able to understand and put myself in the shoes of a developer in order to be an effective TAM felt challenging at the beginning. Not to mention understanding the different markets we are in: such as the digital health startup space, PaaS space, etc, which I didn’t necessarily have experience with prior to Aptible. The biggest most important question I always asked myself was “How can I be helpful to our customers and most importantly, advocate for them in order to get them more value in the end?”

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Josh: I actually wasn’t an engineer before this, I was the Technical Support Lead owning support operations and strategy. I started off as the only non-engineer and so I tried to make our support engineers’ lives easier and make their work more efficient and effective. We’re very close-knit, and my team really pitched in to help me learn and grow into becoming an engineer over time. For example, I’m now able to deprovision stacks, and recently built our new 2FA reset functionality for our customers that saves them and us a lot of time manually resetting 2FA.

Congratulations on the new role! That’s a pretty incredible skill-up, making the transition from being non-technical to becoming an engineer.

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Josh: Thanks! It’s something I’ve been working on a lot. I want to be known for expertise, both from our customers who expect it from us, but also from our team in being someone who can leverage our collective knowledge and share it with the broader swath of our customers, to educate them beyond their immediate needs. And this potentially extends to people who don’t currently use Aptible but have the potential to become our customers one day because they’re attracted by the quality of our support and expertise. I’m not there yet, but I’d like to be known as someone who’s able to learn and become someone who can enable others that way.

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Nav: It’s very much an environment at Aptible where you are encouraged to challenge yourself and think outside of the box. I learned while working here that my manager defers to asking me a lot of questions about problems we work on to encourage me to think about it myself before jumping directly into explanations. Even now, sometimes when she'll ask me questions, I'll think: “Oh my God, maybe I don't know the answer to this! Am I not smart enough for this?” But she approaches this in a very open way and will let me take a stab before she tells me her train of thought and why she thought of it in her own way.

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Madhu: It always feels like other people have your back when you're working on things and you don't really feel like you're doing things in a vacuum or in a void, because that can be really scary, especially as an engineer.

It sounds like a really supportive culture of growth and learning that you have on your teams. On a similar note, what was the moment that made you realize you made the right decision to join Aptible?

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Madhu: I think I knew it before I joined because I researched the Aptible pretty thoroughly. One of the important things I had in my checklist that I was looking for, was having technical leaders.

I’ve worked with companies in the past that didn’t have technical leaders, and I’ve learned that because I want to grow as an engineer, I need to surround myself with people who are hyper-technical, like Frank (CEO) and Ashley (VP Engineering), whom I learn from every time through a combination of technical work or cross-pollinating intuition. And I think that the more experienced you become as an engineer, you realize that the people you surround yourself at work with really shape who you become because you basically get to learn from them for free while you work together and it pays dividends over time.

For example - Frank was one of the biggest contributors to Aptible’s code base early on. So he knows the product and he gets involved on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes he'll read code, and even when we had our team meetups, he was writing code. He's still very involved and in a perfect world, if everything in my career works out the way that I imagine, I could see myself being in a similar leadership-oriented role while still having that.

And that ultimately sums up what I was looking for - technical leaders, and a core product that motivates me. And Aptible just so happened to have both.

What was the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome to really thrive here?

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Gab: The toughest thing that I've had to adjust to is pivoting priorities. We don’t hesitate to let go of things that don’t work out, and say things like “Maybe that's not worth investing our time? Maybe this has a higher priority? Let's focus on something that we know is gonna be successful or is more aligned with our strategy.” I think that took an adjustment for me for sure because I like to just see things through. But for a team our size, our resources are limited so we will drop things if it's not the most impactful thing we could be doing, and there are other things that you can pivot to and have a bigger impact. That was definitely something hard for me to adjust to.

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Josh: Same for me, priorities can change and it’s important to move fast. For me, I learned to develop a bias for action and experimenting instead of waiting for an idea to be perfect.

I think that's the key to actually achieving goals - being able to say “no” to things so that we can say “yes” to the right things.

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Gab: Yeah, it goes back to what I’ve experienced with shifting priorities. It requires understanding what your top priorities are and then tackling those first instead of trying to tackle everything at once. Overall, I appreciate working with a team that recognizes we’re not super-humans. No one’s working you to the bone for unrealistic ambitions, and it feels safe to push back and say “how do we do all of these things all at once?”

Alright, as a final question, what makes Aptible different from other companies that you’ve worked for? What resonates with you about this team?

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Madhu: As somebody who works on the product, having our flat hierarchy, clear ownership and the way Frank (CEO) listens to your feedback resonates with me the most. If you aren't empowered to own whatever it is you're working on, you start to become detached from what you’re building. So because everybody is owning the product as a group, as a collective, there's a community aspect of being invested in whatever it is we're building.

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Gab: I agree, it just feels really great to be able to have a high degree of trust toward your co-workers. I think once you have an interaction, whether it be within the product, with the team, or on our website, you really just get the understanding that we care a lot about what we do and the people that we work with.

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Josh: The thing that I'm always impressed by is just the impact that we have despite being just 20ish people. I feel like every person on the team has an outsized impact on the business and on our customers. We're a small team, but we accomplish a lot for very large customers who in turn have thousands of employees and customers of their own.

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Nav: I feel like Aptible is a place where you should look forward to not being the smartest person in the room. And I mean this in the best way possible. You're surrounded by an entire group of incredibly smart, passionate and motivated people, and this is the type of environment that really fosters learning and growth in addition to your day-to-day.

So you're not here to just do your work and then log off after you're done. You're here to help support and nurture one another. We help our customers grow and we help Aptible grow. The focus is never on a single person, or on an individual task. There's a greater meaning and purpose connected to why you're doing what you’re doing, and it's to make sure that we are all growing, the company is growing and our customers are growing. It’s like 360-degree empowerment.