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Welcome to the Synapse Team Spotlight blog series.

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Carla McMorris
December 16, 2020

This month we’re highlighting Matt Freeland, a dedicated product engineer.

What is your role at Synapse and what are some of your responsibilities?

Officially a Product Engineer. One of my main responsibilities is assisting our implementation and account management teams in onboarding platforms. I’m their direct SE while they're in the process of using sandbox to learn the products and start developing their applications to interact with it. I also do some reporting stuff, working in our databases to pull reports for our compliance & engineering teams and do some general support engineering stuff. Additionally, I contribute to our Backend codebase. 

Did you always know you wanted to become an engineer?

Kind of. Even before I was in an actual engineering role, it might seem ridiculous but I’ve been using Excel and doing a couple of art projects in various graphics programs like Photoshop. I had been introduced to the world of scripting so I would script automated tasks in Excel, I’d make macro-enabled spreadsheets and stuff like that so I did a little bit of lightweight coding and I’ve been doing that for basically my entire working life. Anything I could create shell scripts for or make macro-enabled spreadsheets for, I would do it and when I started learning Python it just all clicked for me and I realized yep, Engineer is where I want to be.

Once you made that decision, how did you know what the next step would be from there?

I got laid off from an industry that is very cyclical and is prone to bulk layoffs and decided that I wanted better stability and I had plenty of time and runway to make a change. I decided the best way would be to go to a programming boot camp. So I did with the express idea of becoming a web developer not yet sure that I wanted to be a back-end engineer at that point but as I went through the courses I kind of gravitated towards Python and Flask specifically and that is where my focus is right now.

What drew you to joining Synapse originally?

Initially and before I knew anything about the product, it was a stack that I was comfortable with. I looked at the technical specifications in a listing and was like ‘Hey Flask! I can work in Flask’. From there when I was doing some research on the company and the product it was just super cool and I was pretty invested in getting the job. I did a lot of research on the public API, but it really cemented in when I came in for the interview and talk to you and Sankaet and Hillary, sitting there and watching Sankaet’s overview of how the product worked, I was completely hooked at that point.

Since joining, how has Synapse and the engineering team helped you in your development as an engineer?

It’s been really great! I think specifically because I came on board as a Support Engineer and that made me learn the product really well like across-the-board. I learned every nuance, where things happen, and where things can potentially go wrong so I can diagnose problems and that got me a lot of good exposure to the way our back-end code works. 

That set me up for success when I started working in the back-end. As far as development goes, the more you code the better you get at it. I get a lot of good opportunities to make contributions to our code-base and also read code on a daily basis. Additionally, I do code reviews with onboarding platforms.  I’ll look at some of their security parameters and some settings in their codebase so I have a lot of additional context for code and I’m just constantly learning how to interpret other languages, understand their codebases, and generally getting lots of exposure to read and write code.

What projects or initiatives are you currently working on?

I’ve worked on a lot of cool ones. One of the coolest ones right now is we’ve got an across-the-board initiative to get more robust end-to-end logging. From the time an API request comes in, to when a response goes out, we’ve got a really cool system that we’re building out that will give us insight into every step of the process for every single transaction that hits the API. That will give us good monitoring and health statistics for the product as a whole and help us identify potential problem areas and fix them up before they become an issue. It will help us be really proactive with our bug fixes and code contributions going forward. 

Additionally, I’m working on a really cool automated reports process so that I can get monthly reports sent to specific people so that they don’t have to go through our dashboard or go through an engineer to get them to run something. I can get it automatically output to them and get people more report controls through the dashboard so that there’s less reliance from our legal and compliance team to need an engineer to run something for them. Those 2 projects are at the top of my mind right now. 

What is your favorite part about working at Synapse and why?

Well, pre-Covid I would’ve said it’s the office and the office environment in general. Everybody is super cool and all of the teams are great. Our engineering team has meme channels and we play video games together. Just really good people. [Post-Covid] I’ll still say the people but I also really liked the office and I miss it. Basically, everything about it is good. There’s a lot of work to be done and it’s very challenging work but at the end of the day, I feel the support that I have around me in terms of brilliant engineers and really good people across the board makes it good.

With Covid, how have you been adjusting, or has there been a significant adjustment?

In terms of my day-to-day, it hasn’t really changed much. I don’t have to commute to and from work anymore which is nice but I do go stir crazy from time to time. As a way to get outside because I don’t particularly like running and I don’t have access to a gym, I got a heavy bag and I’ve been going outside after work every day, going a couple of rounds with it. It’s getting me out in the sun and getting me out of the house. 

The only time I get out of the house right now is when I go to workout or when I go shopping. I can’t really visit people and it’s starting to wear on me but I think I’m going to make it.

Have you boxed before?

I did a little bit of UFC training never with the intention to actually fight just because it’s a great workout. I did cardio kickboxing back in the day, never fought in the ring but I’ve done it as an exercise for a long time. I don’t know if there’s one in San Francisco but I went to the boxing gym in Oakland. I also have a personal trainer that is a really good boxer.

What do you find most challenging about your role?

Probably just the organization of workload for me. I wear many different hats and work in different spheres of the product. The context switching from one project to the next could be an entirely different part of my brain so trying to organize things so that they get done in a timely manner but also so they’re grouped together so that I can get them done efficiently. Managing that is pretty difficult but I’m getting better at it.

What do you like to do outside of Synapse?

Pre-Covid I would play a lot of video games with my friends from Colorado, Iowa, and my local friends. We play Overwatch from time to time and Dungeons and Dragons is fantastic. I’ve got a weekly game that I do on Fridays. Beyond that, I used to be a really good Trapshooter. These days I’m decent at it. 

Back when I was 16, I was training to go to the Olympics as the #1 regional trapshooter in Colorado, but then when I moved to California, the gun laws from Colorado to California are very different so I couldn’t bring my trap guns with me. I had to leave them in Colorado and had a long hiatus where I didn’t go trapshooting. Now I do it for fun but I have no designs to go to the Olympics anymore. 

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

It’s probably that I was training for the Olympics for trapshooting.  Even in my introduction initially, with the company, I hesitated to bring it up because guns make people very uncomfortable so it’s definitely not something that I bring up right away. So most people probably don’t know that about me. And that stupid fact about me I gave when we went to our first Mindgym and I was introduced. It was a fun fact about how everyone in my family is above 6 feet tall. But that’s true about everybody in my family. 

What’s one thing you’ve taken up while social distancing?

A lot of things have been impacted since the dawn of Covid. I’ve been trying to cook significantly more. I was looking at my finances and realized that I was ordering $600 a month worth of takeout from Uber Eats. So I was like “I should probably stop doing that and actually cook for myself”. I’ve been in the process of trying to cook more, cut down sodium, generally eat healthier. I’d order poke bowls every day. There's a Turkish saying, “I’m not rich enough to eat baklava every day.” For me, it's that I'm not rich enough to eat poke bowls every day.

What would you love to build if you had unlimited time and resources?

Probably a space elevator. Something to make getting out into the rest of the solar system. We’re eventually going to run out of the natural resources to launch ourselves from this planet so the easier we make it, the easier it will be to colonize other worlds. Eventually, humanity will reach the stars and the first step is making it easier to escape the gravity prison that we live on.

Maybe an orbital ring around the planet would also be cool but that’s a 300+ year project. I’m going to go with either a space elevator or an orbital ring. 

What’s your favorite quote?

I’m going to go with my favorite turn of the century radio personality of WC Fields and he said, “Everyone has to believe in something, I believe I will have another drink.”

He also had another good one which was “Always carry a flask of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake on hand at all times.” It’s that 1910s-1920s alcoholic radio personality, something we will never meet again.

Anything else you may want to share?

I will say that the executive team that we’re bringing on and the changes that we're making across-the-board seem to be highly beneficial and are making me very optimistic for the future. Brad Post, VP of Engineering, by himself is fantastic. I’m really excited to get all of the initiatives that we’re working on fleshed out and realized.

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