We have been inventing new uses for location since 2003, and we continually work on collecting the locations of billions of Wi-Fi access points worldwide to build the infrastructure and software to deliver this information. Our organization is fueled by our engineering team and their passion for building disruptive technology. Skyhook has an eclectic mix of mathematicians, code gurus and inventors who are driven to make a huge dent in the universe. In reflecting on this last year, we are excited to be growing so rapidly and looking to what the future will bring with our new suite of context products.
We sat down with our SVP of Product and Engineering, Kipp Jones, who works to guide and shape the innovative location intelligence technology at Skyhook. With over 20 years developing technology and strategy for numerous technology startups, we asked him to comment on his past experience so up and coming engineers can learn from his career path - and help advise them when looking for their dream software engineering position.
1. What was the hardest lesson you learned in your career (so far) in engineering?
That engineering doesn't always win! As much as we'd like it to, good engineering decisions sometimes are overruled by business, customer, time, or other considerations. It's hard to let go of the ideal, but it's important to keep fighting the good fight!
2. What was the best moment you’ve had so far in your engineering career?
This video shows a snapshot of the Apple 2008 MacWorld Keynote, where Steve Jobs unveiled the Skyhook partnership that leveraged our location for their new iPhone. Jobs features us side by side with Google.
3. If you could give some advice to someone looking to land their dream engineering gig, or engineering students just out of college, what would it be?
On company match: One of the keys for me has been finding the right company. I enjoy being in a company that is doing something I can relate to, that I understand, and that I can impact. I love technology, if I can't be at the forefront of technology then the company is not good for me (or vice versa). Find your passion and try to find a company that matches that passion.
On work: Be willing to take on new tasks, be willing to go out on a limb, be willing to work your tail off, be willing to say no thank you, be willing to speak up.
4. How do you know if your position is a right fit for you?
It's a right fit If I'm:
learning new things
working with great people
making happy customers
Sure, it's not all that all the time. But if week after week I can hit 5 of the 8, I'm doing good!
5. What are some ways you can stand out as an engineer in the interviewing process?
Be prepared. Sounds simple, but don't just look at the website: see what you can find online about the company, check out social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, look into the patents they have secured, read whitepapers they have put out, papers from the key tech team members, etc
Additionally, part of the preparation should also be a set of questions that you will ask the interviewer. Some tech, some business, some people, some psychological, some tricky...but if you don't have questions, either you aren't interested, aren't curious, don't care, or haven't prepared -- none of which will help you. Here are some examples of questions to ask at your interview:
How do you get MySQL to handle billions of rows?
What kind of hardware do you use to process billions of transactions?
How do you get your software deployed across all kinds of devices?
What’s it like working with businesses like Sony and Samsung?
What’s a release cycle look like at Skyhook?
What is your business model? How do you drive revenue? (You need to be able to understand and appreciate the business side of things, as you need to help contribute to this in addition to writing the code)
How is the development team organized?
How do you decide which features to build?
What do you guys do for fun?
6. What are some characteristics you look for in a job interview for an engineering position?
I look for things like energy, curiosity, enthusiasm, smarts, and passion. I like people who tinker with their technology, and who are involved with open source projects - and am likewise interested to hear about these during their interview. I also like people who read lots of things, are up to date on and truly embedded in the latest technology and can converse about it, and people who are excited about what’s going on in the world of IOT.
Circling back to the last point on interview questions, their questions during the interview process help exhibit some of that curiosity. This can be as simple as asking who the company is and how their technology works. Confidence is also crucial - be sure to clearly identify your strengths and your knowledge so we are certain about what you know before we hire you.
And if you don’t know or don’t have experience in other aspects, be upfront about it. Don’t pretend that you know everything, unless you do. And don’t be a d#@K.
7. What specific skill set do you recommend for an ideal engineering candidate to master?
Obviously, slinging code is rather important. Beyond that, it's how you think about software, awareness that there is a goal in mind when developing software and that 'done' is a lot harder than you think. But also realize that there are many paths and it takes many different people to make software and a company successful. You need people who are very focused but you also need people who are multi-faceted. There is no 'ideal' engineering candidate, you need the right one for the right job!
8. Any tips on books to read, blogs to subscribe to for the aspiring engineer?
I read the MIT tech review, ACM Journal of Computing, TechCrunch, Slashdot, and whatever comes across my network on Twitter. I also joined a lot of LinkedIn groups a while back, so I always get new article notifications that are interesting. It’s important to be aware about what’s happening in other industries, and part of that is following the right people.
From a personal interest standpoint, I also am a big fan of space.com - though this is also applicable technically. For example, if we have solar flare, GPS goes out - so it’s good to keep tabs on the universe.
In terms of books, I also highly recommend technical and geeky books - Querying Moving Objects Detected by Sensor Networks is good, just finished a book on Hadoop last month.
Age of Context is another industry book that we’re particularly interested in at Skyhook. As a location company, we are also interested in the history of location, and books like like Longitude by Dava Sobel are also great because they are not just about wifi positioning but history of why it’s important. Try to carve out time to read a new book every 3 months.
About Kipp Jones
As SVP of Product and Engineering, Kipp works to guide and shape our innovative location intelligence technology. He has spent over 20 years developing technology and strategy for numerous technology startups including NuBridges, PathFire and his own company DirectSight Networks. He’s authored 19 patents for the methods pertaining to Skyhook’s hybrid location technology. Kipp received his BS in Computer Science from the University of Nebraska as well as an MS and ABD in CS from Georgia Tech. You can follow him on Twitter at @skykipp.