Fronteer spotlight: A chat with Software Engineer Dennis Stevense

Our Fronteer Spotlight series highlights some of our awesome team, the work we do, and what inspires us every day. Interested in joining us? Check out the openings on our jobs page.

👋 Hey Dennis! Tell us a little about yourself.

Dennis: I’ve been at Front since August 2018, and so far it’s been a fun whirlwind. I’m focused on the front-end because I’m passionate about creating great user experiences, and there are plenty of interesting engineering challenges here. I have a CS background and have full-stack web, mobile, and infrastructure experience, so you can also find me pondering performance optimizations and redundant server architectures.

In my free time I’m a volunteer yoga instructor and aspirational private pilot. One reminds me that not everything in the world needs to be explained, even if it can be. The other reminds me that sometimes you want to be super conservative with your technology choices — such as when it’s keeping you from dropping out of the sky 😂.

Dennis flies planes, but he also drives! Here he is after an ATV ride during our 2019 company offsite in Palm Springs.

What brought you to Front?

D: Everyone at Front is super thoughtful about creating and maintaining a great work culture. Having worked at a company like that before, when I visited Front’s office for my interview, it just felt right. I’m also very excited about Front’s product, because it has the potential to improve the life of everyone who uses email (which is pretty much everyone), which means my work has the potential to impact a large number of people.

How did you get into engineering?

D: I’ve been programming since elementary school, getting into “trouble” by making all the computers on the school’s network make noises with their floppy and CD drives.

In high school and college, I was doing freelance web development, and did a lot of work with Drupal, an open source content management system. Being a part of this open source community ultimately landed me a great job opportunity in California as a software engineer.

It can be hard to contribute to open source if your employer doesn’t pay you to do this full time, but even smallest PR or (constructive) feedback on GitHub can help many other developers and showcase your working/contribution style at the same time.

What motivates you?

D: In college I commuted by train and built an iOS app to make it easier to get real-time train departures, to scratch my own itch. This was in 2008, when the App Store first opened up. I had no idea it would become as popular as it did. The app used existing data, and did not make your train go any faster. But it turned out many commuters were helped simply by being able to get to the realtime information easier.

Because of that experience, what motivates me is making people’s lives better by optimizing away busywork and human error. Everyone has a mission, and technology can either get in the way — such as with bad design that ends up making users feel stupid. Or it can get out of the way, and make it easier for people to do what they’re good at.

What’s your favorite Front feature?

D: My favorite feature in Front is the JIRA integration and the ability to tag JIRA issues to customer conversations. It makes it super easy to track how many customers are impacted by an issue, read back through the original customer emails that sparked the issue, and follow up when an issue has been resolved.

What kinds of projects are you working on right now?

D: Right now, I’m working on Front’s HTML editor. Our customers need to be able to put arbitrary HTML in emails, such as what comes out of Word, Google Sheets, and third party systems.

While most WYSIWYG editor libraries out there are moving towards a highly structured model-based approach and managed DOM, we are sticking to ye olde `contenteditable` and building a new, modern editor component around it. It’s been technically challenging, but it’s been good to focus on a high-impact project.

What are you looking forward to working on next?

D: I don’t know yet what I’ll be working on next. But Front has been great about assigning engineers projects that they're excited to work on. I want to shoot for something that involves more user workflows and collaboration with the product and design team.

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