Engineering Solutions for Tech & Life: Insights from Spiro S.
“Human beings have a natural tendency to want to solve issues they see. It seems we are all trying to find better solutions to problems that surround us. This motivates me to learn and grow as much as I can to help solve the more challenging problems we’ll inevitably encounter together,” shares engineer Spiro S.
Spiro S. is an engineer from big tech in San Francisco, who transitioned to freelance engineering two years ago. The past two years he spent a significant amount of time working from Greece, and is now getting ready to start his own venture.
To learn more about how Spiro is taking his background in algorithms and data structures to build products that solve problems, we sat down with him to chat technology, lessons from the digital nomad life, and plans for his upcoming venture.
Strong Engineering Starts with Strong Infrastructure & Clear Goals
My engineering experience started out in big data projects and big science tooling. In this area, you need to do computationally expensive operations (i.e., massive statistical analysis on large datasets). Often, you would need to spread the load across multiple machines and then combine the output for analysis. In this role, I would build tools that the data scientists use to comb through these large datasets; tools like the servers and programs that ran the actual algorithms. And on top of it all, it was very much about infrastructure building; understanding how all these services link together and inter-operate.
From this experience, there’s a few engineering fundamentals to building a strong infrastructure and sustainable engineering program. These are:
Establish a clear goal of what you want the end result to be.
Choose the best algorithms and data structures suited for your project.
Write tests, and make sure you are trying to break your own system to know where the faults are and build resilience against those errors.
Start small, then scale. Don’t try to build your full system immediately because you don’t know what the exact requirements are and how it will look.
Lessons Learned from Big Silicon Valley Tech to Freelance Engineering in Greece
I started out my career working at a large tech company in Silicon Valley, and found the work at these big firms to be very rewarding. You are able to work with incredibly smart people, on systems that are impossible for a single developer to keep stable. It was amazing to see how teams of developers work in tandem, and build something greater than the sum of our parts.
Then two years ago, I made the decision to become a freelance engineer and move to Greece. While I liked San Francisco, California, its state, reminded me a lot of Greece. Greece is where my family is from and where I would travel a lot to as a child. Unfortunately, working and school caused me to lose a connection with the culture, and to repair this loss I wanted to find a way to live in Greece. That way I could relearn the language, the culture and customs of my heritage, and be able to continue working. So, being a freelancer was a way I could live in Greece and continue working as a developer.
This big transition to freelance ‘digital nomad’ life taught me two main important lessons. First, the importance of stability and routine. You need to keep a schedule that you stick to help you stay grounded while moving around. And second, that the social media (i.e. Instagram) portrayal of the digital nomad life isn’t the reality. The idea that you’re sitting by the beach and coding… well, I tried it once and got sand all over my laptop. But in general, it has been amazing to see the world while working. Being able to experience cities by living in them for a while, rather than experiencing it as a tourist, has forever changed how I travel.
It is critical to establish transparency and trust at the outset where both sides feel comfortable placing their proverbial cards on the table outlining deal terms necessary to yield a successful partnership.
The Next Chapter: Building a New Company from the Ground Up
Now, I’ve entered the next chapter of my life – the entrepreneurship one. Statistically speaking, starting a company is not the best move financially to do so money has not been my motivator. What I’ve come to realize is that this next chapter will be extremely challenging, very uncertain, and mentally taxing… after my travels I noticed that these three qualities in problems are what I enjoy working through.
So for me, creating a company allows me to work on problems that have these qualities and create something that I have always wanted to create.
To begin, my cofounder and I will be iterating on ideas that we have and seeing which ones resonate with the market. Instead of working on a full solution for one idea and then realizing it is not a good market fit, we will start by building small solutions to the problems we want to address and test to see which ones are wanted.
Like any strategic decision, when considering a partnership opportunity you must begin with the problem.
Best Practices for Engineering & Building
… even though I allowed my curiosity to lead me away from my comfort zone, I reduced the daunting nature of the project by approaching it as if it were a new startup venture or partnership.
The Universal Truths of Building New Partnerships & Ventures
Trust, learn, and have fun with it. As a developer, one of my biggest challenges is imposter syndrome, the feeling that you are faking it no matter how much experience you have behind you. It’s a challenge that must be constantly addressed and one where you must be realistic about it. Especially in the engineering field — a world made up of heavy data, ML, complex mathematics – it can be easy to get lost and feel that it is all too complicated for you. To overcome this, I focus on three key aspects: 1) Trust in yourself, 2) Continuously learn, and 3) Remember to have fun.
Continuously iterate. There is an idea in economics about the sunk cost fallacy. It is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered and the fallacy is that people add more time and money to try to recover the unrecoverable. So don’t be dragged down by the time and effort you’ve spent on an idea if something better comes along. Be ready to fail and throw away something you’ve been working on for a while for something better.
Be cautious. Be cautious about wanting to start a company. Don’t just go into it for the sake of starting a startup, and don’t go in it for the money. Realize that it’s a lot of hard work, its mentally draining, and takes a lot of drive and commitment to succeed.
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