People

Inside Change with John Mertens

Dec 11, 2020

What is your role at Change? What was your path into Engineering?

I’m the Director of Engineering for our “Comms & Integrity” group. This essentially means that I’m accountable for making sure our communications platform runs efficiently, that our users receive only communications from us that they’ve agreed to and that our site isn’t inundated with fraud.

As for how I got into this field, I had my variation of the “classic” path. I’ve always been a builder and in first grade I was introduced to LOGO at school. I was instantly addicted to programming. I taught myself after that (which was slow going living in a rural area, pre-internet) and eventually went to university to get my degree in computer science.

Immediately after graduation I decided I didn’t want to spend my days in a basement cubicle (which had been my experience in tech up to then) and so I stopped coding professionally for a while. Instead, I worked as a bartender, a cab driver, an EFL teacher in Korea and various odd jobs for a few years before coming back to tech as a developer in the UK.

What do you find exciting about Engineering at Change?

We’re right at the size, both in terms of people & scale, where individuals at all levels can have a large impact.

We’ve also got a pretty modern stack. Sure, we might have a service or two that could use an upgrade, but overall we’re deploying React apps that use Graphql to hit backend APIs (Ruby & Elixir) deployed in containers to Kubernetes on AWS.

Personally, I’m excited about our investment in Elixir. It’s concurrency model allows us to build reactive systems that use resources efficiently.

How is your team working to increase equity?

Acknowledging that our work in equity is never done, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made over the last few years.

Internally, we’ve made strides to name and reduce white supremacy culture; specifically around decision making and urgency. We are also working to incorporate an equity lens into our planning processes to make sure we’re building product for all of our users.

Externally, we’ve worked with our fabulous recruiting team to iterate on our hiring practices. We’ve put together an interview process that reduces bias, has standardized rubrics based on our own engineering growth paths and is, well…humane to our candidates.

What are some pieces of advice you would like to share with folks who are interested in Engineering at Change?

Change is a great mixture of size/scale, mission and culture.

We are at the size where, no matter your level of experience, you can have the startup-esque direct effect on our products, yet we operate at an enterprise scale where we get to work on really interesting engineering problems.

In terms of mission, enabling anyone, anywhere to make the change they want to see in the world around them is pretty compelling in my book. Given the amount of our lives spent over a computer, engineers should be asking themselves if they are comfortable where their energy is going. When I listen to our users & campaigners and see the impact Change has around the world, it is astounding and I know I’m in the right place.

As for culture, in the engineering department I appreciate our low ego, you-are-not-your-code, learning & feedback environment. Company-wide, we’ve got all the funny quirks one would expect: lots of snapping in agreement, calling each other “frolleagues” (friend + colleague), etc.; but we also have an ever-evolving culture of openness, transparency, feedback & support, for which I’m grateful.

What have you learned about yourself since COVID-19 changed the way we live and work?

I was a remote employee before COVID-19 so the main thing I learned was what it would take to make me buy a car. Four months without public transportation or ride shares forced me to break a 15 year car-free streak.