Meet the Daves: Q&A with Ryan Johnson

Wondering what it’s like to work at a fintech startup building out the future of banking and helping the 4 in 5 Americans who live paycheck to paycheck thrive? Read on to get to know Dave software engineer Ryan Johnson, and keep an eye out for more Q&As featuring Ryan’s fellow Daves.

Ryan Johnson joined the Dave team in early 2018 and previously worked at an agency building web and mobile apps. Prior to starting his career in software engineering, he was an animator in both 2D and 3D formats. When he’s not solving the money challenges of Dave’s 2 million members, Ryan enjoys working on personal projects. In his free time, he has created a database for ballroom dancers and a system that reproduces how light behaves in the physical world and renders the results into a 2D image.

Hi Ryan, let’s kick things off by having you introduce yourself. What is your role at Dave? How long have you worked here, and where did you work before?

I’m a software engineer at Dave and I’ve worked here for a year and two months. Before this, I was working at a small agency building websites and mobile products for clients. We had two main types of clients at the agency. One kind were entrepreneurs who had an idea for a website or mobile app that they wanted to launch into a business. So I worked on a lot of minimum viable products (MVPs). We also worked with corporate clients who needed internal tooling or general branding and marketing websites.

What’s it like going from building MVPs to building a product like Dave which is for the long term?

With MVPs, I got to build a lot of projects from scratch. I could afford to move pretty fast because these projects didn’t have a lot of people using them yet. When bugs happened, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

The Dave app has enough people using it every day that mistakes or bad decisions affect a lot of people. It’s a very different perspective for me when working with code. Stability and scalability in our app are much more in the foreground of my attention now.

Are there any unforeseen challenges in building for the long term that you’ve come across?

I’ve definitely learned a lot. I find I need to take my time more. I think I initially focused on finishing my tickets instead of spending the extra time to understand every edge case and understand my domain as deeply as possible.

That isn’t to say we aren’t still experimenting. Our code base has constantly been improving. At one point it was an MVP but as the team grows we have minimized technical debt so that we can feel comfortable experimenting. We’re working every day to find new ways to help our customer base of two million users.

Speaking of experimenting, what are some tools that you’ve learned about since coming to Dave?

One of the tools that has been interesting to learn about is Mode. We use it to keep track of data across the entire company and understand our users better. When running experiments, it helps us to understand what works and what doesn’t by creating understandable dashboards that can be easily shared within the team.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing the benefits of Typescript since we ported our NodeJS codebase to it last year. On a larger team, having tools like this helps us to write consistently solid code so that we can scale quickly.

What was it about Dave that originally made you want to join the team?

The team itself was the biggest reason for me. In previous companies where I worked in web and animation, there were ten people or fewer. Most of the time when I was building MVPs I owned the project along with a small team. I wanted to join a bigger team where I could learn from other people and learn how to work within a larger team.

The culture also really drew me to the company. During my interview, I went out to lunch with our CTO and he was just himself. I interviewed with some other teams in Silicon Valley where the process felt a little formal. While I was interviewing at Dave I just felt very comfortable.

Tell me more about the culture at Dave. What three words would you use to describe it?

In three words I would say — depth, care, and high performing. On depth, I’ve found when taking my coworkers out to lunch every person on the team has a tremendous amount of depth. We’re big on grabbing lunch with different people each week and I’ve found that everyone is excited about something. Everyone I’m working with is working on something within Dave and outside of Dave that they really love and that lights them up.

I’ve also found everyone at this company brings a huge amount of care for each other and for the people who use our app. People care a lot about each other. Even when there’s conflict. It sometimes even surprises me that people here are willing to step into conflict in such a caring way that lets us resolve it and learn from it.

The high performing aspect of our team goes along with the care they bring. People really care about what they’re working on here. I think it’s a combination of having driven personalities on the team and knowing that real people depend on the work we do.

Dave’s mission is to help people thrive paycheck to paycheck. Can you tell me about your biggest money mistake? And your biggest money triumph?

The thing that could have been my biggest money mistake actually ended up being my biggest money triumph. Over the past few years, I invested heavily in myself. When I was an animator I didn’t have as high of an income and I made sure to spend time and money on myself outside of work learning how to become a software engineer.

The investment has paid off but it could not have! Before I got this job I spent a year working on my own coding projects without being employed. I actually got this job just before I ran out of money! So that investment could have been a mistake but now I wouldn’t change a thing.

Natalie Rix

Natalie Rix