Grant leads backend development at Comfy. He has over 10 years of experience in software development, ranging from systems programming to user interfaces. He started his career at VMware working on virtual machine software before moving on to lead and grow the engineering team at a solar sales company called One Block Off the Grid. Grant holds a B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University and is Comfy’s resident music and LED aficionado.
Tell me about the path that led you to Comfy.
I’ve been into software for as long as I can remember and have been writing basic programs since I was about yay high. There were always computers in my house, so I was probably exposed to that world a bit earlier than most. But I think my interest really solidified in college because, to be quite honest, it [Computer Science] was the one major that didn’t involve writing any papers or lab reports...the less English I had to write, the better! Writing code, on the other hand, was always quite fun for me, especially in college because your homework and exams are basically just creating games.
After a few years at VMware, I went to work for a company called Virgance, which was an incubator for startups working to drive positive social change. One of projects was with a solar sales company called One Block Off the Grid. It was sort of like a Groupon for solar in that we would negotiate with large home solar installers on behalf of consumers and use the power of the internet to get leads in the door, qualify them, and streamline the buying process. It was pretty innovative actually; we could use satellite imagery to get all kinds of information about your roof and use advanced modeling to figure out which system would be right for you, how much it would cost, and estimate energy savings and payback periods...all in an effort to dramatically increase the adoption of home solar.
"I’ve always wanted to focus on purpose driven work...that’s what brought me to the solar company and it’s what also led me here."
The company ended up receiving a round of funding and experienced a huge growth period, during which time the former VP of Engineering left and I ended up taking over his role....and to be honest, I don’t think that’s something I want to do again! I much prefer someone else to manage me. Ultimately, I decided to leave the company and take a two year sabbatical starting with a few months of backpacking through South America...because, why not? Well, I only actually camped about three nights and just carried my pack between hostels the rest of the time, but I think that still counts. I started in Santiago Chile, went down through the Patagonian Fjords, and then all the way to Antarctica. I went on to travel through Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal before settling back in the Bay Area when I came across Comfy. I’ve always wanted to focus on purpose driven work...that’s what brought me to the solar company and it’s what also led me here.
What’s something you would change about your office space?
Plants...lots and lots of plants. I remember LB saying something about the fact that we [people] benefit from having some sort of random motion in our field of vision. So what I really want—and this is still pending HR approval—is just a giant fish tank in my space. Another fun biophilia fact; apparently there’s also something therapeutic about looking at far away objects, which is something I love to do already, staring out at vistas [sighs]. Right now, I can actually look up from my desk and see straight to the bay bridge, which is awesome. So I guess, more plants, fish, and views for days.
What can you geek out on for hours?
LED art...I can geek out on that for hours, at least! For instance, I’ll be investigating a piece on the internet and very quickly find myself down a rabbit hole thinking, “oh see, the color depth here just isn’t quite right” and “well, this program could be so much better if...” and on and on. There’s actually a Facebook group where other LED nerds like me spend a lot of time discussing and sharing things, so I keep my eye on that. I’ve also been making installations for Burning Man for many years, which is really fun but can definitely become life-consuming. A few years ago, I made this piece that was essentially a single, 25-foot pole of LED lights. If you looked at it straight on while shaking your head—fairly vigorously and side to side—you would end up seeing a giant photograph…it’s awesome and probably my all-time favorite.
If you weren’t at Comfy, what would you be doing?
I definitely thought about being an artist and have actually been approached to do installations for peoples’ private residences and other commission-based projects. I sort of dropped that idea because 1) having a regular paycheck is nice, and 2) I wasn’t really into the self promotion aspect of selling my art. I much prefer working with open source and collaborating with others to make a better product. That’s a movement I really believe in as a whole, especially when it comes to LED art, because it’s really the programming that’s the actual art and the piece itself is essentially just a display. So I do get frustrated with people who make these LED pieces but don’t open source...it's like you invented the TV and you're the only one who chooses what’s displayed on it. I want to make art that anyone can create content for. My next pet project is a tablet controlled wall of LEDs...I think some people are going to have fun with that!
Is there something you do regularly to perform better at your job?
I, without a doubt, do better at my job when I have balance in my life. I can get in a sort of frenzied state when I’m deep in coding...you’ve seen the mad hatter/engineer eyes after hours of non-stop typing...not exactly a pretty sight. Anyway, I can get sort carried away in a way that’s actually detrimental, where I start making mistakes. So there’s a diminishing rate of returns if I’m not conscious about stopping and taking breaks to space my work out a bit. It gets to a point where I just need to close the laptop, step away for the day, and go make art or something.
Staying a bit intentionally vague here, but I practice a lot of mindfulness in a variety of forms. I’m really into work-life balance, so taking breaks and wandering around the woods for a little bit is very important to me and, ultimately, to my team.
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