May 8, 2020

There are many hills that full-stack developer Alex Reynolds would die on, but pushing for Kotlin over Java wasn’t one of them.

As much as he loved the “newer, better” version of Java, consideration for AdAction Interactive’s engineering team outweighed his affection for Kotlin.

“I acknowledged and accepted that a lot of people may not be as familiar with it, and Java is just a more standardized language to choose for a lot of reasons,” Reynolds said.

Conversations around tools, processes and systems are common at AdAction right now as the company sets sail on a greenfield project with a new product and engineering team. 

While the adtech company remains tight-lipped about the project, which is set to launch later this year, VP of Product Strategy and Analytics Pat Shively said the undertaking entails a new web-based enterprise model that connects consumers to brands. 

AdAction’s exploration into web-based applications aims to expand the types of brands the company is able to market on behalf of. But it doesn’t mark the first time the company has tackled a greenfield project. 
 

We’re met with another opportunity to do the same thing and go a little bigger.”


“Around two and a half years ago, we built a proprietary in-app monetization solution, and it’s since been successful,” Shively said. “Now, we’re met with another opportunity to do the same thing and go a little bigger.”

Shively, Reynolds and Director of Product Shelby Cer walked Built In Colorado through the processes and opportunities that have unfolded as they progress on AdAction’s latest venture.

 

adaction

 

How did you begin this process of building a team and product from scratch?

Shively: After identifying our target area to invest in, we started bringing on key leaders, like Shelby to oversee product and a new director of technology. We defined our consumer-first mission statement to align our team to our cultural values, like shared ownership. This helps everyone understand what’s going on and encourages them to get involved from the start. 

Additionally, over the past two years, we’ve refocused our efforts toward automation and deeper analytics so that we can prepare for expanding our products and scale our technology quickly. 

Cer: Engineering and product are two different departments, but I view them as one. I’m making sure our working agreements as a team are established so expectations can be agreed upon and held to, and that everyone knows the process. This calls for people to speak up and contribute, but it also goes deeper by highlighting our code review processes, deployment windows and release communication. 

Reynolds: AdAction has a mature data and business intelligence team and high-performance data ETL, but a lot of it is fragmented across different codebases. One of the things I’ve been working on is combining these where it makes sense, and developing a consistent platform and collection of technologies so that we can apply this to both our internal models and our external full stack, like our greenfield project. I just finished working on a skeleton Java API server to apply to our CI/CD pipeline.

 

Tools, methodologies, and more

So far, AdAction’s team has elected to move forward with the Kanban engineering methodology to support an iterative software development process. The product team chose Roadmunk for its road-mapping efforts and Jira for ticket management, while engineering has begun work with a Java microservices, Vue,js and Material design, and a Jenkins CI/CD pipeline.

 

Alex, as the first engineer hired for this project, how are you laying the groundwork for how your team operates?

Reynolds: I’m intentional about building a collaborative engineering culture that prioritizes code review and test-driven development. I’m also trying to make sure that we’re selecting the best tools to use and not something just because it’s new. We have a lot of agency here as engineers. I want to make sure that we avoid mistakes that I’ve seen at previous companies like picking a poorly supported framework that actually slowed things down. 

 

adaction office

adaction employees

 

What key factors or approaches have you implemented in your build process?

Cer: I want to make sure our roadmap brings value to our users that’s not driven by one entity. In my past experience, I’ve seen companies make greenfield product adjustments, like developing a client-requested feature instead of a user-centric solution, to secure a client’s business. I want us to slow down and consider how a feature change will or will not provide value across clients down the line, which aligns with our mission statement. 

Shively: Some of our core focuses right now are how to develop a fast-to-market, scalable infrastructure through continuous integration and delivery frameworks. For example, our Java API Server is being built out with heavy influence from Netflix’s microservices architecture. 

Additionally, we’re looking to make recyclable, scalable bits of code to apply to different types of websites and digital properties. By focusing on code reuse and automation, we’ll get the most out of our engineering team.  

 

LOOKING TO JOIN?

AdAction is seeking flexible engineers who exude humility. “We’re still choosing a lot of our tools and languages, so if you only write Scala or Go, that sort of rigidity can be destructive in a greenfield project,” Reynolds said. 

 

What’s most exciting about this greenfield project?

Cer: Taking a vision from leadership and bringing it to fruition into a software product is a huge skill that someone will showcase for the rest of their careers. You get to build without inheriting legacy code messes that can dictate your future from the beginning. Plus, AdAction still has its lucrative app side of the business, which means we get to play around and shoot big in this new space without the pressure of getting it right immediately out of the gate. 

Reynolds: What I enjoy beyond the code are the system design and architecture discussions that happen more frequently in a greenfield situation. You form non-coding technical skills from asking and answering what infrastructure is going to look like, and how we’re going to automate processes that are beneficial.

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