Why ‘Autonomy’ is Core to Engineering at This Tech Company
Recently, Xian Zheng and her colleagues at Prove needed to utilize Reactive Spring to build a product for internal use.
The caveat? The team lacked experience with the framework. No matter, though.
“We spent a few weeks just researching how to use it. It was like a try-and-fail and see-what-succeeds type of situation,” Zheng said. “Being in the same boat, trying to figure out how to use this new technology, was really fun.”
The episode recalls the environment of continuous learning that Zheng and her teammate, Director of Software Engineering Elijah Johnson, describe as imbued in the organization. According to the duo, who both joined Prove in 2020, a collaborative spirit and having ownership of their work are what allow engineers to move forward in their roles.
It’s a recipe that will be important as Prove — riding the momentum of last year’s $100 million fundraising round — looks to expand its reach beyond the core fields in which it’s seen success. In a July 2020 release announcing the organization’s rebrand (dropping its former name, Payfone), the company said it had supported 20 billion transactions the prior year.
To keep up with the volume of transactions and client demand, Johnson said that they need to ensure their technical foundation is sound.
“The industry is moving quickly. We can’t be reactive; we have to be proactive in our architecture,” Johnson said. “We have to be able to make something that if we end up getting ten sales next month, we can support that and that size of traffic.”
Built In Colorado connected with the technologists to learn about Prove’s engineering philosophy, the reward of tackling complex challenges and how company culture informs success.
How would you describe the engineering philosophy at Prove?
Zheng: We have a very entrepreneurial spirit. We like people taking the initiative to take on problems and solutions. We like our engineers to have passion for what we’re doing, and we allow for a lot of creativity and collaboration.
Johnson: Our leaders let our engineers engineer. We really want our engineers to be making a lot of these decisions and campaigning for their own solutions. I feel as if my team on our MFA platform has made a lot of crucial decisions that me and other leaders have discussed and talked about. Our engineers are experts on the technology. We want to trust them and give them autonomy.
What do you think is unique or notable about the engineering challenges that are specific to your team in your industry?
Zheng: If we were doing the same things repetitively, every single day, we would get kind of bored. The challenges that we face are different on a day-to-day basis. It’s really interesting to work alongside all the other engineers because they’ll come up with solutions that you’ve never even thought of. You get to view the code that they’ve written, which is always really clean.
Johnson: Our MFA platform is one that is decent in age and can support older technologies. Blending that, and having an architecture that can support new, innovative technologies and new libraries, with also old legacy code, is something that can be really tough. To provide that full suite of products that we offer our customers, our engineers and team leads have to really think through how we can design this new application in a way that’s going to play nice with our other applications — because offering that full product suite is definitely one of our priorities.
Secondly, there is a level of customer service that we hold ourselves to. I’ve personally never been as involved in, or as knowledgeable about, the needs of our customers, which I think is really cool. From an engineering side, we’re not just hearing from product — we’re on call with clients. Engineers get a glimpse into the needs of customers. It provides a really cool, unique and different challenge of supporting the product.
Our engineers are experts on the technology. We want to trust them and give them autonomy.”
How would you say Prove defines or characterizes innovation?
Zheng: We give our engineers a lot of free range to do things. You can use new technologies; you can go to conferences to learn more about newer technologies in order to innovate. We’re trying to provide a product that proves to our clients that who we’re trying to verify is who they say they are. We use something like a trust score. To do that, we have to always innovate and make sure that we’re properly identifying users. Our data science team will take a lot of data to provide to us with a trust score that we can use.
Johnson: I think how it’s manifested is through really strong collaboration across sales, data science and engineering, which gives us a lot of insight into the needs of our customers to create brand-new solutions that are really industry-leading.
Prove's Tech Stack
- Frameworks include Spring, AngularJS and Luigi. Databases include Redis and MySQL.
How do you scale your engineering work while still encouraging innovation?
Zheng: We do a lot of prep work before we actually dive into working. The way we innovate is by allowing our engineers the ability to continuously learn. We have access to lots of different resources, such as Pluralsight, attending conferences, having one-on-one meetings with other engineers and picking each others’ brains.
Johnson: Both are things that take time, consideration and planning. Technology changes so quickly, and the needs change so quickly that, as we're planning and really designing our applications and our services, we’re planning to the best-projected scale that we see as the lifespan of this application.
I think Prove does a really good job prioritizing the refactoring of old and legacy code. At a lot of companies, you get to the point where the product roadmap is just so long, and there’s pressure from the product team to move on something. But the product team here really values updating our applications. If our engineers see an application getting stretched, they have the autonomy to vocalize updating the application as a priority. That allows us to both be innovative, change where we need to and be very dynamic with new demands as far as traffic or what have you.
Lastly, in your opinion, what makes Prove an exciting place for engineering?
Zheng: The people we work with are some of the most amazing and talented people. They’re always innovating and continuously challenging us in every way. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with people like this in my career. It’s always so nice to learn something new.
Johnson: There are the challenges of being in the midst of growth, planning for scale, planning for innovation and supporting both our current clients and older technology. The challenges are unlike any that I’ve been at. Every day brings a brand new challenge that really forces you to stay engaged in your work.