Across the vast body of pop culture and entertainment history - particularly science fiction - there’s inevitably someone who plays the role of an engineer. While the portrayals sometimes differ - from the arrogant Tony Stark of Iron Man to the measured Montgomery Scott (Scotty) of Star Trek - one thing always remains the same. They’re always problem solvers and inventors who deliver miraculous feats on the toughest technical challenges around. At Pinwheel, our engineering team is no different.
In this conversation, Aaron Pelz, our product engineering manager walks us through how our engineering teams are hyper focused on conversion and ways we are continuously improving our products for our customers. He also talks through some best practices our engineers follow to ensure our customers are covered 24/7.
Q: Aaron, let's start with your background. How did you first get into engineering?
A: My interest actually started in early high school. I took a freshman-level engineering and robotics course at Ohio State when I was a senior in high school. Once in college, my interest continued to grow and straight after I joined an early stage startup in DC, Quorum, as a backend engineer and eventually Head of Backend Engineering. Quorum builds software tools for public affairs, aggregating all sorts of government and communications data and building tooling on top of it. Think of it as a Bloomberg terminal for politics. Backend engineering is everything users don’t see. It’s the scraping, data modeling, business logic, and devops work that powers our systems. And now, at Pinwheel I run the product engineering team as an Engineering Manager leading a team of 16. We build everything Pinwheel’s customers use.
Q: Wow you have a team of 16! Tell us a bit more about them and your team's organization.
A: So my team of 16 is a very geographically distributed group, and they have backgrounds in everything ranging from big tech companies to seed stage startups. They all take a ton of initiative and absolutely love building products for our customers. My team is broken down into 4 smaller teams focused on increasing conversion for our customers; Deposit Switch, Earnings Stream and Verify. We followed the cross-functional product team model so a PM and team of engineers can be autonomous and efficient in serving a particular product. It’s helped us move faster as the company has grown.
Q: What is the big focus your team has right now?
A: Right now, we are really focused on improving conversion for our customers. You can think of Pinwheel as a big funnel - an end-user “converts” if Pinwheel can help them switch their direct deposit, sync their earning data, or some other action. The more users who convert, the better our customer experience.
Q: What are the projects your team is working on related to conversion right now?
A: We’re working on a few conversion focused projects right now. One of those projects is Link API. Rearchitecting our Link flow to use a REST API allows our customers to have full customization and control their frontends. Link is our platform interface which enables end users to search for their employers and payroll providers and to seamlessly authenticate with their login credentials to authorize access to their payroll account. We’re replacing our old web-socket connection which was great for getting the product up and running but started limiting how quickly we could run A/B tests and experiment with new flows. Not to get too into the weeds, but this has been a long project that makes our systems much more compatible and easy to iterate on with customers. They’ll be able to have any branding, styling, copy which will lead to increased conversion.
One set of Link A/B tests we’ve run to boost conversion is experimenting with our employer mappings. With our connection to the most number of employers in the industry, we are best equipped to find the perfect mix that leads to the highest conversion. We recently improved conversion by 25% with smarter employer mappings!
Another conversion-related project we’re working on is to launch doc uploads. Doc uploads makes it possible for users to upload their documents, such as a W2 or paystub, to our API platform. This helps to supplement their payroll data or serve as the primary data source for users not able to connect a payroll account. With this functionality, we’re providing users with more options for submitting their data, leading to increased conversion.
Lastly, we are rolling out new exit surveys for end users who drop out of the flow at every stage. We want to capture information on why they drop out, helping us to get smarter and improve Link.
Q: That’s a ton of different projects happening concurrently. What sprint process does Pinwheel follow to ensure everything moves forward in a timely manner?
A: The whole engineering team runs on two week sprints and we are very engineer-driven in our sprint management. The way we manage work is actually very unique to Pinwheel. Each engineer manages their own work, timelines and goals rather than Product Managers setting somewhat arbitrary deadlines that we have to rush to meet. Giving engineers agency and accountability of those outcomes increases our collaboration with our Product and Commercial departments by making conversations back and forth instead of one way. And that elevated autonomy creates better ownership of the software we deliver, resulting in quicker shipping and higher quality.
Q: What are some of the best practices we follow?
A: To really create a culture of ownership, you have to invest in observability and incident response so it’s clear how your code is performing. We follow devops best practices where teams maintain their own work, and we back this with 24/7 on-call rotations to be responsive around the clock. And as any engineer will tell you, being on-call can be really stressful if your code isn’t high quality and if you don’t have strong tooling to help you triage and resolve incidents quickly! So that 24/7 rotation is an excellent incentive to invest in testing, observability, and automated recovery mechanisms.
We also follow the blameless post mortem culture, pioneered at Etsy. This means whenever we have an incident, our team doesn’t point fingers, but instead takes a step back to figure out why it happened and what we should learn. We then put in place measures to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Q: What are you most excited about?
A: I’m really excited about the products we are building. I think we are really working on products that meaningfully will help our customers as well as their customers. There are novel engineering challenges, we are creating new data sets that don't currently exist, we are learning a ton about end users, how people get paid and how information appears in payroll systems. I’m also excited about our efficiency. On the tech side of our work, we are getting much more effective with the people we have. We are consistently improving how developers build so that engineers can work faster.
Get in touch with us to learn more about how Pinwheel helps to shape fintechs products of the future.