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Meet Senior Backend Developer Aaron Speer

We like to think everyone on the Modern Tribe team has a pretty dazzling personality, but Senior Backend Developer Aaron Speer takes it to another level.

On Finding His Way To Tribe

“I have the distinct advantage of living in the same area as Reid, one of our partners at Modern Tribe. We used to do a monthly WordPress meetup that my old job hosted in our office. So I would see Reid a lot and hear about what Modern Tribe was doing as a company. Pretty much every time, I would sort of silently sit in the corner and be like, ‘Man, I really wish I was doing that too.’ Just the fact that the work was so innovative. I was working at a good company, but we usually focused on what people typically think of as WordPress blogs or brochureware.

What Modern Tribe was building was really pushing the industry. They were doing lots of things that I’d never done before. Their approach made a lot of sense, and it seemed like it was really the direction the industry should be heading. I was like, ‘Man, that sounds like some very fulfilling work.’ And then Reid would share code snippets that people at Modern Tribe would do. I wound up seeing some of Sam’s work and I remember being like, ‘Woo boy, howdy. That’s a new highwater mark to hit. If I could work with people that smart, that would be pretty fantastic.’”

Aaron and Reid, together at last.

On Feeling In Over His Head

“So obviously when I got myself through the door at Modern Tribe, it was a pretty steep learning curve. I historically have tended to describe myself sort of like Forrest Gump. I always feel like I’m a pretty drastically under-qualified person, just sort of stumbling into these really cool situations. At the last handful of jobs I’ve had, I have been able to kind of con my way into getting hired. Then immediately I’m like, ‘Oh shoot, I was not qualified for this position at all. I need to do a lot of work to get qualified.’ Thankfully, I am a relatively self-motivated learner, so it’s a fun challenge.

“But when I got my first project, I was like,Oh, okay. This is the big leagues.’ It was Renovation Network, which was an eLearning platform. It was a very intense, custom WooCommerce integration. There was a really complex UI, subscriptions, recurring payments, just lots of stuff. So that, combined with getting code reviews from super smart and bluntly honest people, I was like, ‘This is a whole different level. But I’m dealing with it.’”

On Facing Imposter Syndrome

“I would wager that the vast majority of people who work in a field where their work is peer-reviewed struggle with the same thing. When you’re a developer or a designer or in a position where literally everything you’re doing has at least one other set of eyes on it—and their whole job is to basically call out everything you did wrong—feeling imposter syndrome from time to time is probably inevitable. It’s really easy for my brain to go there. ‘You have no idea what you’re doing. You have gotten extremely lucky up until now, and your next project is going to be the one where they finally realize what’s going on. They’re going to boot you out of the company, and you’re going to go back and work at Blimpie’s for five more years.’

“I’ve talked with a lot of developers here and at other companies, and every single one of them has expressed a similar thing. You know, especially at a company like this, where everybody is really smart. It’s hard for me to properly communicate how smart a lot of these folks are. And so it’s intimidating. It’s tough not to feel like you’re the kid in the room. But it’s helped me grow a lot. I can’t think of a single day that’s gone by where I haven’t learned at least one non-trivial thing—whether it’s a new technique or a new feature or way of doing something, or an entire concept that I’d never thought of before.”

On Sticking Around

“I think my three-year anniversary at Modern Tribe was last August. The lifespan of a developer’s career at any one place is generally pretty short. After three to five years in one spot, you’re considered pretty senior. It speaks to Modern Tribe as a company that people have been here for much longer than most devs tend to stick around somewhere.

“I think a major factor in our ability to retain devs is that you can really tell that the company was founded by three people who were kind of sick of how most agencies work. And they were like, ‘There’s gotta be a better way to do this. There has to be a way to run a business that actually values its employees instead of just treating them like cogs that churn out work on demand.’ And honestly, that just really shows. I feel like most people here feel heard. I feel like I have the ability to go directly to any of the three owners and say, ‘Here’s something I’ve been thinking about.’ And they listen. There’s a really direct, tangible connection between the boots-on-the-ground people and leadership, which I think is wonderful.”

On Lurking Where He Doesn’t Belong

“I’m a firm believer in lurking in the Slack channels that I probably don’t belong in. I hang out in the #sales channel and the #design channel and the #strategy channel because in my opinion, it would be kind of silly to work at an agency full of lots of smart people in a bunch of different disciplines and not try to glean every piece of wisdom I can from them. I have this whole treasure trove of literal geniuses doing stuff around me and talking openly about it. And I don’t want to miss out on that. So I just hang out and kind of lurk and make inappropriate jokes every once in a while. People threaten to kick me out, but they never do.”

On Maintaining A Strong Company Culture

“I think there’s always a risk of a team culture taking a big hit when a company grows. But by and large, we’ve really managed to maintain being a super cool company despite some major growth, which has been wonderful to see.

“They just hire the right people. Our leadership is a big part of it. The fact that we’re remote and we sort of cater how we work to people’s needs. Having more freedom is a big part of it. I think when people feel empowered to work when and where it works for them, to have a life outside of work, to do things like go to their kid’s baseball game in the middle of the day and come back to work… That kind of cliche-sounding stuff really does make an incremental impact—a pretty substantial impact over the long term—on how people view the company and how they interact with one another.”

On Working On Cool Shit

“To be a good fit for Modern Tribe, you’ve gotta be someone who likes working on cool shit. That’s big. That’s how people flourish here. And the thing about working on cool stuff is that it’s often really hard stuff. It’s very rare that someone gets done with a super easy project and feels like, ‘That was really neat.’ It’s the stuff that really challenges you that you’re going to remember five, ten years down the line. So you need to have that in mind when you’re applying here. You have to be the type of person who’s willing to tackle the big gnarly problems because the end result is awesome and you feel great for having been a part of it.”

On Offering (And Receiving) Help From Afar

“Another thing that makes someone a good fit for Modern Tribe is being helpful. But when you’re remote, you have to kind of go out of your way to be helpful. You don’t get those built-in obvious opportunities to help other people. So you need to keep your eyes open and always have an attitude of, ‘How can I help? How can I be of value?’ If you’re not someone who’s naturally helpful, you’re probably not going to thrive here.

“I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of that helpful spirit. It’s no secret that Sam is one of my most favorite people who has ever lived in all of time. Like, if I had to be stuck on a desert island with only one other person, it would be Tom Hanks. But if there was a second choice, it would be Sam. Sorry, no. My wife, then my kid (I have to say that in case they read this). But if not them, and not Tom Hanks, definitely Sam.

“I have lost track of the number of times that Sam has seen me working on something. When I’ll post about one thing or another, or I’ll mention that I’m stuck. And despite the fact that he’s probably one of the busiest people that I know, within two minutes he’s DMing me and taking five minutes out of his day to try to work through it with me. And it’s not because I asked for help—in fact, I would say I’m very bad at asking for help—but he just cares enough that if he sees I’m struggling with something, he just reaches right out. It’s a really wonderful feeling. You don’t feel alone. You feel like you really are part of—for lack of a better word—a tribe, which is pretty amazing.”

On Maintaining Strong Working Relationships Remotely

“I think the biggest key is you have to be intentional. Take five minutes out of your day to post something on Slack that isn’t immediately work-related. It’s usually some sort of dumb joke or some dumb story, something like that. We recently found out on Team Three that we all love popcorn, which is wonderful because I just really love popcorn. And so now we have this dumb inside joke about popcorn, and we’re always eating it. Like people on scrums would turn on their cameras just to show that they’re eating popcorn. Is it silly? Yes. But it’s also a distinctly Team Three thing. And stuff like that just makes you feel so much closer.”

On Texting Etiquette

“We communicate primarily via text, whether it’s on Slack or in Jira. And one important thing I’ve learned is that subtext is not a thing that really exists in text communication. In fact, I think it’s a really easy way to alienate the people you’re talking to if you are typing something in a tone that can be misinterpreted. So I like to use lots of exclamation marks and emojis because it’s sort of my way of making sure that my tone is coming across. Also, GIFs. Always a good choice.

You just can’t assume anything in text communication. So I recommend just going out of your way to make anything that’s implicit, explicit instead. If you’re really explicit and try to really load your messages with visible or perceptible context or emotion, it just works way better. So for example, the one-eye-closed-tongue-sticking-out emoji at the end of most messages. Almost every message. At this point I use it instead of a period.” 😜

On Not Commuting

“One of the many things I like about working remotely is how close my office is to where I sleep—it can be measured in feet, not miles. I think I could pretty successfully throw something at my bed from where I work. Okay, maybe not because I’m not a good thrower. But someone with a half-decent arm definitely could.

“One of the things I hated the most about one of my first jobs is that I had an hour and a half commute in each direction—freeway, stop and go. It was just awful. I genuinely feel like I lost major chunks of my life being stuck behind a wheel, angry about traffic. So not having that at all is really nice.”

On Being Around For His Son

“I have a son who is two and a half years old. Being able to take a quick break in the middle of my work day to go down and see him is another great perk of being remote. That’s like lifeblood for me. It energizes me, and I feel so much better when I’ve gone down and run around with him and he’s given me a hug or whatever he does. It’s just really wonderful being here for him.”

The littlest of the Speers and cameo star on Team Three scrums.

On Renovating An Old House

“Three years ago my wife and I bought a house that was built in 1907. It’s beautiful, but there’s a lot of work to be done. So whether I like it or not, a major part of my life has become learning how to do repairs on my home and build things and do DIY stuff. It is not a skill that comes to me naturally, but it is something that I spend a lot of my time doing—tearing up carpet, installing tile, that kind of thing. It’s way outside of my comfort zone, but I’m learning.

On Filling What Little Free Time He Has Left

“Music has been a major part of my life. I used to play drums in a band. My whole life I was pretty sure that I was going to be a professional drummer. Life took a turn, and I am not a professional drummer, but that’s still definitely one of my hobbies that I like to keep up on. I’ve got a drum set in the basement. When it isn’t being used by my toddler to make noise, I’ll play on from time to time. And occasionally on Modern Tribe team trips I’ll form a boy band—you know, as you do. (Shout out to NuThang and my 2018 Belize Team Trip fans.)

“Outside of that, I mostly spend a lot of my time here during the warm months on my bicycle, getting out there, riding everywhere. I try to make a little game out of seeing how many weeks I can go without getting in my car, which is nice. A few summers ago, I think I went six weeks without getting in my car. That was before I had a kid, obviously.”

Feeling inspired by Aaron’s energy—and his characteristically illustrative perspective on what makes Modern Tribe a special place? Check out our open career opportunities, and let us know if we seem like a good fit for the next stage of your journey.