As part of our SendGrid Spotlight Series, we’re happy to hear from SendGrid’s co-founder and CTO, Tim Jenkins.
I like a challenge. Whether it was breaking the copy protection of Might and Magic as a kid, teaching myself C Programming in high school, elevating to black belt status in Jiu Jitsu, or making email safe from spammers, I need to solve. Luckily, the past four years at SendGrid have been a non-stop journey of coding…and decoding.
When I think about what I’ve learned from SendGrid, I look at it from two perspectives. On a granular level, when you’re at a start-up for this long (I’ve worked at a lot of start-ups—none of which lasted more than a year) you learn a lot about scalability of systems and maintainability of code. Since SendGrid started I’ve been able to take my knowledge to a whole new level of code. And on a larger level, I realize that you gain a better understanding of the full life cycle of products while learning about how to build trust in your team, how to create an environment that fosters mentorship, and about how to continue to be challenged on a daily basis.
Fortunately, my team here really challenges me. We’re spread across multiple offices, so the key to us making progress is having open communication. When I’m working on something my team will let me know without hesitation if I should be doing it differently. I love when people tell me “hey you’re wrong, you should have done that better!” We’re always pushing each other.
So we love it here when people try to be entrepreneurial and build new stuff. I tell prospective employees, if you want the stability of a growing startup that has the thirst to solve challenges, we’re a good fit. I think that combination is a great differentiator for us.
We have to keep that communication open as we continue to grow. On a larger level, we help to do this by having Isaac, Jose, and me travel to our multiple offices on a regular basis to address all of our employees, new and old, through a founders’ Q&A. We discuss how SendGrid came to be and answer any and all questions that our team has for us. (These Q&As are not only fun for the team, but they help us founders practice the skills we learned in our Decker training.)
We’re asked a lot if it’s been hard to relinquish some control of the company as we’ve grown. Isaac likes to say that building a company is kind of like raising a child, which is true. It’s a lot easier to give up ownership of things now than it was before. It’s a good feeling seeing the company grow and being able to entrust it to our teammates. I’m very proud of the team here.
In fact, one of my favorite memories was the day we hired Joe Scharf, who’s now our VP of Engineering. Hiring Joe was like taking a step into the unknown because he was the first non-founder employee to join SendGrid. It was a great feeling to bring in someone who really wanted to kick some ass. And he has.
A big part of my job is being a mentor. I can help my team learn the lessons that I’ve learned and prevent them from having to learn the hard way, because I’ve had to learn everything the hard way. That just comes with the territory of building a start-up. But now, it’s nice to be able to help answer questions so my teammates don’t get stuck. Isaac, Jose, and I have been provided with so much mentorship throughout SendGrid’s growth that it’s satisfying to be able to provide a similar support internally when I can.
With our growth comes a change in responsibility. I don’t code as often, but every now and then I sneak some in. I miss it, but if that’s what I really wanted to do full-time, I would. I’ve learned that you can’t code and have your fingers in everything. You have to pick one and focus. And by and large, I can do more for the company in my role as CTO than I could as an individual developer. I can still contribute to developing our architecture and problem solving, both of which satisfy my itch for a challenge.
I’m not sure I knew what I expected when this all started four years ago, a lot has changed since then. But I do know that the fact that I was a part of building a system that delivered 100 billion emails is an incredible feeling. That’s a big number and so much more than I thought. I’m looking forward to continuing to experience milestones with this great team and to enjoying it along the way.