In honor of January's National Technology Day, Rose sat down to chat with Matt Livas—Brightspot Senior Software Engineer, problem-solver extraordinaire and all-around nice guy—about how he got started in the IT field, the superpower he wishes he had and how working across the company in different departments has helped improve his work overall.
How long have you worked for Brightspot? What brought you here?
I started back in 2017, so it's coming up on five years. I found Brightspot, or Perfect Sense at the time, at a career fair at University of Maryland. Parker Ramsdell was running a booth with a huge smile and a lot of positive energy, so I walked up and introduced myself. He mentioned that the company was very involved in giving back, which really grabbed my attention. I was called back for an interview with Parker and Aaliyah Goodman, where I remember making a joke about something they said making "perfect sense," which gave us all a good laugh!
In January we celebrate National Technology Day (January 6). What inspired you to become a software engineer and join the IT field?
I've always liked working with and on computers, but I didn't really get into programming until high school. I took an Intro to Java class and just got hooked! It was interesting to be able to tell a computer to do something and watch the computer do it exactly as instructed. That's how everything in the world works these days! I knew that computers were our future and I wanted to know more.
You've worked on lots of interesting projects over the past four years. Is there a particular one that stands out to you? If so, why?
Out of everything I've worked on, the project that stands out the most has to be the California Times (the owner of the L.A. Times). It was a huge project and a huge undertaking. I ended up being one of the core members of the development team along with Brendan Brelsford and Will Steiner. We had a huge team of people (way too many to name here) all working together on California Times. It was a very complicated project with lots of little bits and pieces that the client wanted in a precise way. We had a ton of interesting problems to solve, and it's the project that both taught me the most and with which I was the most involved. I did a majority of the deployments and environment management, as well as actual development work, so I was intimately involved in a lot of aspects of that project.
During your time here at Brightspot, you've had the opportunity to work in different areas of the company including in services, on the platform team and in operations. How has that insight impacted the way you view your role, as well as the company overall?
Well, it's given me a much more holistic view. I started off in services, where I was just building on top of the platform and working directly with the client. At that time, all I really paid attention to was taking what we had from the platform and changing it to fit what the client wanted. I didn't pay too much attention to how all the different pieces of Brightspot fit together. When I moved to our operations team, I learned to pay more attention to those smaller details. I learned about the cloud hardware that we run on, how that works with the cloud storage and the caching layers that we use, and all the different services that actually power Brightspot, beyond just the code I was writing before. Now that I'm working on our platform team, and having seen those two other sides of the company, I have a broader perspective about how I should be building tools and features for the services team to build on top of and customize the CMS for our clients. I've also gained a better understanding of the capabilities of Brightspot. Overall, I feel these experiences have enabled me to become a great source of knowledge for my teammates.
What do you find challenging about your role on the platform team and the projects you work on?
Just the breadth of work that we do. Brightspot has a ton of different integrations and we are always looking to add more, so it takes a lot of work to make sure we can support everything that we want to offer. The most difficult thing about my current position is probably making sure that I take the wide array of requests that I get and build solutions in a way that will be useful both out-of-the-box and allow for the services team to be able to build on top of them.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming a software engineer?
Probably the best advice I can give someone is to stay curious and don't be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions is one of the best ways to learn and get other people's perspectives on a problem. People tend to think about things in a different way from you, so getting that other viewpoint can be very helpful in understanding and overcoming problems.
Besides the people, what is your favorite part about working at Brightspot?
If it's not the people, it's the company atmosphere, which is kind of another way of saying the people. I feel like I can go and ask just about anyone for help. They might not know the answer themselves but they can at least point me in the right direction. No one ever gets mad if you ask them for help. The way that our company culture works is great and very supportive.
What are your favorite activities or hobbies to do outside of the office?
I play video games with my friends from college and I am in a fair number of online Dungeons & Dragons games. They keep me pretty busy, are a lot of fun and let me connect with people I would have never met otherwise.
If you could have any superpower, which would you like to have? Why?
Time manipulation would be great, even if I could just pause it. Right before my alarm goes off in the morning and I would like to get more sleep? Pause time! When I am on a boring drive somewhere? Speed it up so I don't have to sit in traffic!
What is your favorite TV show? Would you recommend it?
The last TV show I watched was Arcane on Netflix. It is very good, the art style is fantastic, and the storytelling is very engaging. I would highly recommend it. Arcane is an intense story of two sisters who take dramatically different life paths through a city split between the slums of Zaun and the prim-and-proper upper echelon of Piltover. It follows their story and the effect that their choices have the on the people and the world around them. Season Two is coming out in 2023 and I'm very much looking forward to it.