At AppFolio, our team members are the ones responsible for making the company such a fun, intellectually challenging, and dynamic place to work. To that end, we will be introducing you to various folks here in our blog, and sharing their insights with you. The following is an interview of Heidi Helfand, ScrumMaster at AppFolio.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you arrive at AppFolio?
I’m a teacher that switched to software development in the late 90s. At that time, I heard about the amazing screen sharing technology created by Expertcity.com (now CitrixOnline) and sent in my resume. I was soon hired there as a writer. After a while I became a project manager in the Engineering team. I have always enjoyed working with engineers and knew that I had found the right fit for me career wise. It was great being a part of that company and helping it grow. After 8 years, some of my engineering friends from there started working at AppFolio which was co-founded by the former CTO of CitrixOnline. I wanted to continue working with them, and so I pursued a job at AppFolio and became their ScrumMaster.
You are the “ScrumMaster” at AppFolio. Can you explain what a ScrumMaster does?
ScrumMaster is a role from Scrum which is an industry standard Agile software development framework. As a ScrumMaster, my job is to coach and empower engineers to build products that customers love. If they have any blocking issues or impediments in their way from doing their job, I can step in and help them solve them. Another important aspect of my role is to encourage and empower our engineering teams to self-organize their work. I aim to have them take charge of their Scrum meetings so they own and run them, with my support in the background. I also organize monthly fun activities to get the team out and about in Santa Barbara to have fun together. I believe that building relationships together and having fun together makes building software easier. I think we all should have as much fun as possible in our jobs. My supervisor calls me the Director of Fun.
How do you ensure that your software development team maintains an innovative approach?
Our engineers have the freedom to figure out the best way to build the features that are requested by our product management team. They can also initiate their own projects via our Future Focused Fridays and Hack Days. Future Focused Fridays are days where engineers can work on projects of their own choosing which further the AppFolio cause. It could be refactoring code, developing a new feature or addressing specific customer feedback of their choice. We also have Hack Day. These are where engineers can build whatever they want for AppFolio in a short, fun period of time. It’s a competition, and we have voting and a trophy awarded at the end. We also have surprise fun along the way that has included face painting, foam dart fights, music and singing… Some of the things built for both of these innovative activities find their way to our customers through our product releases and sometimes internal tools are built as a result of these activities.
How do you keep the team motivated day in and day out?
I think that giving as much ownership and creative freedom as possible to the team is what keeps them motivated. So I aim to make sure that they have both of these things the best that I can.
How do you keep the team connected with customers’ real-world needs?
We have a great product management team that has the job to make sure we address the needs of our customers – both internal to AppFolio, and out in the field – to the best of our abilities. It’s great for engineering team to have product managers doing this since we can then focus on building the software and everything that comes with that. We follow the lead of our product managers and work on what their research shows as the most important priorities for the company.
What’s the funniest thing that you’ve experienced during your time at AppFolio?
We have a very fun-loving engineering department. If someone goes out of town on vacation for a while, they may find their desks decorated in a silly or unexpected way. For example, two of our engineers had their desks replaced with Costco apple boxes while they were out of town. We also once replaced our VP of Product’s computer on his desk with one from the 1980s. Our CTO had his desk covered with stacked up exercise balls. Just today an engineer had his desk covered in green tea boxes since he always kept running out of his favorite tea. I’ve worked here for over 5 years now and it’s a great place to be. I love it.