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On the Record with Rose: Dan Sisan

image of Brightspot employee Dan Sisan

In this chat with Rose, Dan Sisan reflects on his 12 years at Brightspot, involving a switch from the physics lab into software engineering and more recently leading delivery and client engagement across multiple projects. Learn about Dan's lifelong computer fascination, his commitment to developing innovative solutions for our customers, and the vibrant company culture at Brightspot that engages employees both during and outside office hours.

How long have you worked at Brightspot? What brought you here?
I’ve been here so long I sometimes lose count, but I just had my 12th anniversary a couple weeks ago. What brought me here was Brendan Brelsford (Brightspot’s VP of Engineering). We worked together at Georgetown University in the same physics lab. He got back in touch when he was working here and enjoying it, and he asked if I wanted to come and check it out, and before I knew it I had a job offer, and then 12 years later here I am talking to you.

What do you enjoy most about your role as a developer? What do you find most challenging?
Like a lot of engineers, I enjoy the challenge of hard technical problems, but more recently I’ve been developing some of the softer skills. My role has evolved such that I now manage multiple projects at once, versus focusing on just coding and on one project at a time. So I have to juggle different projects and prioritize appropriately, and to get things done in between the meetings that nearly fill my calendar. It’s a new sort of challenge that many engineers on this career path face.

What inspired you to become a software engineer?
Even though I spent the first part of my career in the science world, I was interested in computers from a very young age. One thing that appealed to me was being able to build something without needing permission. In the sciences and many types of engineering, projects need significant money and there’s a lengthy funding process, but with a computer I could just try whatever I wanted. I also liked that computers provide quick feedback—in the sciences you can work on a project for a year or more before discovering it was doomed, but computers will tell you if it’s wrong in seconds and even give you some information why. Lastly, and more related to my role at Brightspot, I like that every day I’m able to help our customers with some problem they’re having: needing a site from scratch, rebuilding an improved version or fixing bugs.

You've worked on lots of interesting projects over the years. Is there a particular one that stands out to you? If so, why?
One project that stands out was a crossword puzzle generator. Content management, which Brightspot focuses on, can get complicated, but it rarely involves heavy algorithms, whereas the challenge with this project was almost entirely algorithms. It took lists of words—which could be automatically pulled from an article—and used them to create a crossword, packing the words as densely as possible. It wasn’t as dense as a New York Times crossword, but it was decent. I really got into it, to the extent I started spending my free time on it. Unfortunately, the customer changed directions and the project never saw the light of day.

An interesting project that’s more recent and that did become public—in fact, it just launched—was a custom adjustment to the search experience. This customer’s site is unusual in that it covered many different topics spread across only a few pages, with the content contained in modules (versus in the body of an article dedicated to one topic). We modified the search result preview to highlight the part of the page that was relevant to the user’s query (versus just the page’s title and description) and the result links scrolled the user to that part of the page.

What's the best piece of career or life advice that you've ever received?
Somebody told me that you should work in a role that is central to how the company makes money or its mission. I think all of the roles at Brightspot fit that description, but I have seen some friends in other businesses take on roles that were peripheral, and sometimes their projects would be neglected, or their job cut entirely during hard times. I like to think that I’ve followed that advice so far.

If you could pick another role to try within Brightspot for one week, which would it be and why?
It’d be fun to try sales, if only because it’s a very different type of role. There’s a stereotype that salespeople aren’t always the most honest, whereas I like to think of myself as a straight shooter. However, I think when you have a product as great as Brightspot, being forthright would be very effective! I also love to travel, so I’d hope it’d be a week that involved traveling to and pitching a customer directly.

Besides the people, what is your favorite part about working at Brightspot?
I feel like I should say something about our product, which of course is great, but the more honest answer is probably all the fun stuff! We have daily lunch and a barista station in the office, and Anne (Brightspot's incredible Director of Details) ensures there’s always something interesting going on or coming up. For instance there’s a company hike planned. There’s a book club every quarter. There’s also a kickball team, which I was on. We have frequent ping pong and shuffleboard tournaments in the office. A group of us play basketball some mornings. I participated in an internal golf tournament, and we even got matching quarter-zips with the company logo. That sounds like a lot of sports, but there’s also been game and trivia nights. The culture is great, and it’s not just about work.

What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of the office?
I’ve taken up running. Runners are some of the worst as far as talking about running all the time and you’re going to make me one of those people. I ran my first half marathon a couple weeks ago. It was the Parks half marathon and the route went right behind my house. I was tempted in the middle to just run home, but I stayed the course and finished!

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Antarctica. It seems like a terrible vacation because it’s super cold and there’s not really anything there. However, it’s not really available to the public, so that seems like the best use of the power to go anywhere! That’d increase my chances of hitting all the continents too, which I think would be cool. And I’m from Michigan so I can take the cold.

What was the last movie you saw? Would you recommend it?
Barbie! I want to complete “Barbenheimer,” but despite my physics background, I went to see Barbie first and have yet to see Oppenheimer. I would indeed recommend Barbie, but it’s best seen in the theater, because many people dress up. I was no exception, and my outfit showed a little Kenergy if I say so myself!

Rose Pleskow Brightspot employee
About the Author
Rose Pleskow has been working at Brightspot since 2011 as a content and quality assurance specialist. In addition to writing employee profiles, Rose has played a critical role on a variety of client projects with her keen eye for detail and Brightspot publishing expertise. She has contributed to the launch of various projects ranging from SpecialOlympics.org to Amazon Science and Healthgrades.
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