On the eve of our first frontend engineering event in Sydney, we talked with speaker Adam Schuck about his eventful career journey and moving from frontend to full-stack.
Adam is the cofounder of Lexy, a Sydney based AI/NLP (Natural Language Processing) startup, and was previously engineering lead for Twitter’s NY office. He led the frontend engineering team on Google Wave and was part of two successful startups (Julpan and Zeetings). He’ll be talking about how his experiences with frontend engineering have shaped his journey as an engineer and tech leader.
For Schuck, broadening out from his strong base in frontend engineering has been the catalyst to taking on ever more audacious projects. When he started out, “Backend and data science seemed exciting yet inaccessible to me”, he says, “like dark magic.” But he advises that it’s not hard to make the leap and take on more of the stack. “I’m really glad I did: having a broader skill set helped me take on progressively more ambitious projects throughout my career, which allowed me to manage a diverse set of engineering teams (frontend, backend, data) at Twitter, and also ship entire products from scratch at Lexy.”
Adam was Google’s first engineering hire in Australia, and worked there from 2006-10. “Working as a frontend engineer at Google was great preparation for the varied roles I’ve held in startups and at Twitter since then”, he says. He joined Twitter in 2011 when the company acquired his social search startup Julpan, where he had been tech lead and architect since leaving Google.
This was a series of rocketship rides for Schuck. “At both Google and Twitter, I saw growth from ‘everyone fits around one lunch table’ to ‘we don’t fit in one building’. But he soon found himself longing for the lunch table days again. His new startup Lexy is getting back to that desire for a small, high impact team. “I’ve always found working in a small, focused team to be more impactful, not to mention fun!” he admits. “One of the best aspects of working in a small team is the opportunity to work on a variety of tasks”
Another aspect of his past experiences that has informed his current work at Lexy is what Schuck sees as the changing nature of the workplace: remote work, small teams and asynchronous processes.
“At Lexy, we made the decision to split our engineering team from Day 1 between SF and Sydney, using our learnings from distributed teams at Twitter, Facebook and Google. We’ve found that being distributed forces positive changes that would benefit us even if we were a non-distributed company, e.g. we don’t make decisions in hallways and forget to share them with our peers! As a startup, we optimize for total team time, and empower the team to not block on decisions, e.g. we do post-commit code review.”
Of course, that human touch is important too: “We keep a video conference open at all times, and travel together… A few months ago, we all did a barista school together - that’s how much we love our coffee!”
What inspired him to start Lexy?
“A number of factors all conspired together to make Lexy an opportunity that couldn’t be ignored. Firstly: we saw a unique and rare opportunity to solve one of the most interesting AI / NLP problems around, that also happens to have significant global impact.
On the technical front, we’re tackling a diverse set of interesting problems, ranging from Natural Language Processing, distributed systems, UI development, through to high-performance algorithms. We use a lot of Computer Science fundamentals in our work, as a result of doing NLP at scale.
On the non-technical side, everything that comes with the fast-paced startup world keeps the excitement levels high - e.g. feedback sessions with people using the product, through to discussing strategy with investors.”
We hope that everyone enjoys Adam’s talk on Wednesday. His presentation will be preceded by a talk from Canva CTO Dave Hearnden about the modern resurgence in functional, declarative and reactive principles on the frontend. We’re excited to be hosting this very first event and supporting the rapidly growing frontend engineering community here in Sydney!