Meet the Red Spark Team: Senior Director of Engineering, Rob Harrigan
Here at Red Spark, we never stop innovating. From coding new features to building powerful optimization tools, our team is always looking for new ways to make an impact in ad tech. None of this would be possible without the many individuals who make Red Spark the cutting-edge ad tech company it is, like Senior Director of Engineering, Rob Harrigan.
Rob has been an integral part of the Red Spark Family for the past six years. A master coder who juggles an enormous to-do list, Rob has always exemplified our core values. Read on to learn more about Rob.
What do you do at Red Spark?
I do lots of different things related to the RTX Platform from making sure our servers stay up to making sure features get coded and deployed, and bugs get fixed. I also manage five people right now so making sure those same people do the same things. I try to transfer knowledge wherever possible, mentor the newer people. I also participate in lots of meetings and try to guide feature development and that kind of stuff. I try to keep up with the latest technologies, trying to see where we can leverage them into our architecture, and we constantly reevaluate the things that are working, not working, that kind of stuff.
How and when did you become interested in the kind of work that you do?
Let’s see, way back in the day, I think I was on Prodigy Classic and made my first web page and then upgraded to Prodigy.net, where you could actually publish your own web pages and things like that. This was before I went to college or anything – and so I started to learn a little bit about web programming using Perl and CGI scripts and then I was sort of hooked. I went to college and took a bunch more courses on computer programming and things like that, got a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and then have just been working in the field ever since.
How did you find Red Spark?
Through a referral, a friend of mine worked here. We were at a company together down in the city, and then she left there to come here and she really enjoyed the culture and the fast-paced environment. I had never really worked in advertising before, but I thought it was an interesting field.
What would you say has been the biggest adjustment working with advertising?
The biggest change when you come over to advertising is how many requests you have to handle per minute. You start to get into the habit of thinking of things per second and things per minute instead of things per day and things per hour. So, volume and throughput and how things perform is a huge focus. I would say that was the biggest transition because when I first came in, I was like, “Oh, we’ll just connect to the database and make a query when we want to know something.” And they were like, “No, you can’t do that, because we do that a million times per second.” So, learning all the ins and outs of how to scale your architecture to meet the demands of your request load was definitely a challenge.
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on at Red Spark?
Obviously, I like the RTX Platform because I’ve been working on it for two different major versions; once in PHP and now in Python. So, that’s been since I’ve started and a lot of that initial code I wrote by myself for awhile, and then obviously the team grew and it’s owned by more people now, but I enjoy working on it or else I wouldn’t be able to be here every day.
That’s pretty cool that you wrote a lot of the original code.
Yeah, I wrote a lot more of the backend systems like payment processing and job management type stuff. I’m not a huge UI front-end person, but I have done some of that. I also created a thing called Flocka that we use for testing branches of our code. Basically, you make a change in the code, you push up a branch to our repository and then you can run that branch in an isolated environment. It doesn’t affect any other code and you can give people a link to test and they don’t have to really worry about anything. That was a Hackathon Project I threw together and we’re using it pretty well, so it’s eliminated a lot of the bottlenecks in our QA process.
What would you say are the biggest challenges of your role?
Time management is probably the hardest one. I’m in lots of meetings and also, I do a fair amount of feature development. We’re a pretty flat organization, so everyone sort of manages themselves which does leave me time to get in the weeds and code, but that’s hard to do when you’re getting pulled into different meetings. So just trying to keep all of that working can be difficult.
As you know, Red Spark was recently nominated for a Timmy Award. Why do you believe Red Spark fits the category of Best Work Culture?
Well, it’s a challenging workplace, but I think the rewards make it worthwhile. Everybody tries really hard, is really good at their jobs, asks a lot of questions and helps each other out. Everybody is busy from pretty much the time they come into the time we leave, but we don’t let that demoralize us. We’re always having fun, hanging out, joking around. It’s a fun place to work.
What do you look for in a potential job candidate?
Someone who is a generalist is typically what I like. So, someone that doesn’t exactly specialize in one thing. When you work here, you have to wear many different hats. So somebody that’s eager, and open to learning all kinds of different things whether they think they’re in their job role or not. Just, hungry to learn and hungry to do different things and is capable. You obviously have to know how to code but, that even goes with it. Even if you’re not the best coder, but you really have the personality that shows you want to get better and you want to work with the team, and you want to be challenged, that can go a long way.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young developer, what would it be and why?
Try to learn lots of different types of languages. So, learn a functional language, a dynamic language, a strongly typed language, and just ask lots of questions of your fellow coders. Actually…hold on, let’s step back for a second. Try to work on a team with other people that are smarter than you. I think that you can learn so much. I think the biggest mistake I’ve made was working by myself for like, seven years at my first job. I was really happy to have a job out of school, they paid me well, it was near my house, but I was on a team of one and I didn’t have a lot of people to mentor me, so I got into a lot of bad habits that I had to unlearn. Work with people who challenge you to be better and ask lots of questions and really lean on them for guidance.
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