Programming in Paradise

January sunrise over the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA (2018)

January sunrise over the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA (2018)

Once a month, I wake up very early, put on a warm jacket, make myself a cup of coffee, and sneak out of the house while the rest of my family is still asleep. I drive about ten minutes up highway 101, past hills, a vineyard, lemon orchards, and a couple of ranches, to a turnout on the side of the road where I can park the car. There is a short path I walk along to a cliff with a great view. I stand at the edge drinking coffee while I watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Barbara is a unique place where, because of its location and orientation on a coastal point, the sun both rises and sets over the ocean for half of the year. Sometimes I can watch the sun sink back into the ocean from a hill near my house after I leave work and before I return home to the tornado of energy that is life with three small children.

This is a blog post about software engineering in Santa Barbara (or programming in paradise, as some call it). I’m writing it as a reflection on my time here, because I think our environment has a big impact on how we see life and on the work that we do. Even a company like Apple recognizes this -- they proclaim, “designed by Apple in California,” on the packaging for their products.

I grew up in Los Angeles and decided to attend the University of California Santa Barbara after high school. I knew even in high school that my passion was coding. I figured, “what could be better than studying what I love in a beautiful city?” It was not long before I fell in love with this place. I had an ocean view all four years of my undergraduate studies. When I finished school, I decided I had found the place I wanted to call home and would find work at one of the tech companies built upon the engineering talent which UCSB attracts to the area.

Santa Barbara has a different feel from what you might think of as a beach city. Just a couple miles inland stand the impressive Santa Ynez mountains. These mountains offer hiking trails, waterfalls, and hot springs for people to explore. Santa Barbara is sandwiched between this tall mountain range and the ocean. The unique topography of the area creates a temperate Mediterranean climate unique to coastal California. The climate is well suited for vineyards, lemon orchards, and avocado orchards, all of which you can find throughout the city.

The city has a small town feel (despite the fact that it is 20 miles long). There is a high likelihood I will see someone I know whenever I visit the grocery store or a restaurant, and for me this leads to a strong feeling of connectedness with the community. This feeling of connectedness is even stronger within AppFolio, where the people I work with are the same people I love spending time with outside of work too. This is a different experience than what I had growing up in a big city like Los Angeles.

I think the connectedness we experience and foster within AppFolio because of our location in Santa Barbara has a profound impact on our business and in the lives of our customers. More than anything, we are a customer driven company. Everything we do is based on input and feedback from customers. We do this by connecting with them and with one another. We are constantly creating prototypes and putting them in front of customers to get feedback, we invite customers to our office, we send teams to visit customer offices, and we attend customer meet ups all over the country. I’ve even had a customer invite me and a team over to his house for BBQ and prototyping.

Just a couple weeks ago I traveled to Seattle with a team of engineers. We rented a big AirBnb together and hacked on code in the offices of two customers. We built a prototype in one office, and completed a shippable feature in another office in just four hours. To me there is nothing as satisfying as seeing the smile on a customer’s face because of something we created together.

Many of our customers are small, family operated businesses. When we work closely with them, I feel it is our family connecting with theirs. They trust us because we listen to them and we are top notch engineers. We love them because they give us a reason to come to work each day. We are a growing company but we believe that part of our success depends on us “keeping it small” so that no customer or teammate gets lost as a cog in a big machine.

We are a group of passionate engineers. We work hard and get the job done. We take pride in our work as engineers, and we never want to let our teammates down. In my experience, the best engineers are the ones who realize that being brilliant will only get you halfway there. The other half depends on a willingness to roll up your sleeves and make things happen. These engineers love problems because they recognize them to be opportunities.

We work exceedingly hard, but we are not running in a rat race. Our location in Santa Barbara reminds us that there is more to life than work. Across our engineering group we have avid rock climbers, cyclists, runners, surfers, volleyball players, soccer players, softball players, hikers, and kite boarders. Santa Barbara is a place that attracts people from all over the world because of its natural beauty, the influence of the university, and its deep cultural roots. There are many festivals throughout the year, including Fiesta, the French festival, the lemon and avocado festivals, the solstice parade, and the famous Santa Barbara film festival. Visitors and residents enjoy a variety of unique restaurants throughout the city.

Santa Barbara has much to offer beyond work, but for those times you need something from the big city, a short drive to the south will take you to LA. We are far enough from LA that the air is free of smog and the highways are not a constant traffic jam, but we are close enough for a day visit. To the north you can enjoy wine country. People from all over the world come here to vacation and we get to live here!

Santa Barbara is a special place to me and to so many of us at AppFolio. This is the place I met my wife. I proposed to her standing on top of the mountains overlooking the city and ocean. I loved what Santa Barbara had to offer when I was a college student who had just moved away from home, and I love it now as a place where my wife and I can raise our three young boys. The beauty of the city and surrounding nature, the people I have come to love, and the opportunities I have to build something awesome with an amazing team are the things that keep me here.

We’ve got a thriving business at AppFolio and are hiring great engineers who want to have real impact in customers’ lives. If this is you, then come program with us in paradise!

November sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA (2017)

November sunset over the Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara, CA (2017)