Employee Spotlight: Way Spurr-Chen

Volusion is what it is because of the people who work within its four walls. So we thought we’d tell you more about some of those people. What makes them tick? Why do they come to work each day? And what do they look forward to doing when they leave the office? In this Employee Spotlight series you’ll get a glimpse at one featured employee each month. This month we talked to Way, who is a Software Engineer Manager III.

What do you do here at Volusion?

I'm a Software Engineer Manager III on the core platform team for our V2 product. I help coordinate and support our engineers in building features, optimizing the infrastructure and improving developer experience. My job involves plenty of code review, making sure the right people are talking to each other and looking ahead to identify potential issues and obstacles. However, I do frequently roll up my metaphorical sleeves and write code myself.

How did you get into the field?

I actually went to an art school for video and film arts. However around my junior year, I realized that I much preferred playing Minecraft — so much so that I decided to start my own server. This was a slippery slope to becoming a web developer: I was frustrated by lack of customization, so I learned how to set up a virtual private server to run the game server, which meant I had to learn the basics of Linux administration; I imagined it would be cool to have in-game economies and bank accounts, so I taught myself Java to build mods; I wanted to attract more people to my server, so I taught myself how to build a website for it.

In comparison to all of that, the idea of grinding out my senior year was apathy-inducing. I just found falling down technical and system thinking rabbit holes more interesting. (At one point while working on an extremely overambitious game engine as a second project, I found myself asking "What is a thought, really?" I decided that maybe I should try to build a Super Mario Brothers clone first.) So when some friends of mine invited me to go on a long road trip touring the US instead, I dropped out.

After that trip ended, I spent a lot of time on internet communities and managed to hack a Tumblr theme into an internet radio station that could be listened to and streamed on a Tumblr page. I realized someone would probably actually pay me to do this, so I started taking small jobs doing minor fixes for people's Tumblr and WordPress themes. At some point I heard that Austin was a great city for tech, and also being the only Texas city with livable public transportation (I didn't have a car), I decided I'd try it out. I got a full-time job as a front-end developer at an agency, and the rest is history.

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

This is my first role as an official manager as opposed to just a team lead, but I am also a team lead and sometimes partial individual contributor, so moving up and down between higher-level strategy and low-level implementation has been the biggest learning challenge. Figuring out how to balance my time and energy has been a large area of focus. You always read about how energy management is more important than time management, but you don't really realize what they're talking about until you have more to answer to than a code editor!

What are you most proud of in your career? What about outside of your career?

I'm probably most proud of my ability to solve problems and my temperament to do it thoroughly. I like to think that I am good at sussing out issues, potential problems and being able to figure them out down to the correct level of abstraction. While I can get lost in the weeds sometimes, this approach toward problem-solving has helped me throughout my entire career and through some very challenging projects.Outside of my career, I am most proud of my ability to help people prioritize their goals and lives.

What do you love most about Volusion?

The people, of course! Everyone is pleasant, interested and investing and learning, and all here to do the work. A strong second is the flexibility. I'm a terrible sleeper, and on rare occasion I just don't. When that happens I might start work at 5 AM, and so long as I don't have meetings to attend and I get my work done, I can sign off at noon, nap, and people understand that I'm still a competent, functioning member of the team.

The apple parfait and Hot Cheetos snacks are also my favorite.

What’s the first thing you do when you get off work?

I drive home while listening to a podcast, make dinner, turn on The Office (the entirety of which I have seen so many times I think it could qualify as religious observation) and work on a side project.

What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

I have too many interests and have to actively cull them, lest they take over my life, but my most notable current hobbies are improv comedy, astrology and learning about financial markets.

I do occasional shows with the Hideout Theatre downtown; the last ones I did were a Harry Potter-inspired show and one about love, relationships and ghosts (metaphorically speaking), and one upcoming ones is a wacky female-duo-led Scooby Doo-based show in a modern era high school called Capital High.

Astrologically speaking, I became fascinated with the study of astrological compatibility between people, both romantic and platonic. I found it extremely easy to discount a lot of astrological information (and the internet is full of low-quality astrology content) for myself, but when looking at the interaction between two people the primary dynamics are immediately apparent and undeniable. I started working on building an app that could automatically score astrological compatibility between two people. I figured that if I could get enough data and interview enough couples, I could build an algorithm that both matches people as optimally as possible. I don't talk astrology at work (besides mentioning Mercury retrograde as it applies to inexplicable technical malfunctions), but I am giving a talk on astrological compatibility in the workplace at another company later this month!

Eventually I got turned on to the idea of applying astrology to financial markets. I've been studying the market ever since, both from a fundamental, technical and astrological perspective. I'm fascinated by the idea of applying statistical analysis, machine learning and modern computing practices to find correlations (or lack thereof) between astrological events, patterns and conditions and the action of various financial markets. It's an extremely difficult problem to even approach, because it requires financial savvy, deep knowledge of astrological principles and coding and infrastructure know-how — but that's part of why I find it compelling. While it's extremely difficult to identify any sort of real statistical correlation for people's inner worlds, with finance, it's either there or it's not. In either case, I want to one day publish my findings.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Besides my hobbies, probably dropping out of school to go on a 5 month road trip across America with no plan and little savings. At the end of it, there were no savings.

Where are you going on your next vacation?

Not sure yet, but probably Croatia. I have a number of friends who congregate there as part of a tiny glitch art convention where we break technology and aestheticize the results in the name of art. If not that, then I may follow my friends into a Peruvian jungle somewhere.

If you could open an online store, what would you sell?

I would probably sell bespoke bookmarks. Or painted pins, or stickers or something tiny. Maybe hats for cats. Pretty much anything small enough that I could make with my hands and I wouldn't have to go to a post office to mail it.