“The unicorns of Silicon Valley are companies like Landed that stitch visions of equity and service into the core of their business models, while still pursuing impressive returns.”
Co-Founder Alex Lofton sat down with Landed's Engineering Manager Siobhán K Cronin for a Q&A to learn what makes her and our engineering team tick. Check it out!
What does home mean to you?
Home is where I cultivate space to be still, to reflect, to heal, and to practice self care so that I can be present and love others more fully. I create home with my partners, my chosen family, my ancestors, my immediate and extended family, my creative community, my friends who join me each morning around the world for meditation, my garden and my four-legged peace ambassador Arlo.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I definitely took a non-linear path to engineering management! I began my career in neuroscience research, exploring how music affects brain development. I loved the work and envisioned a future where I would forge new frontiers in cognitive science, yet something kept nagging me that I couldn’t put my finger on.
Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I never saw depictions of trans women thriving in science, engineering, or business. I thought the only way I could be myself was to be a downtown performer in NYC, so I quit research, moved to NYC, and split my time between performing and managing arts nonprofits. Over time I managed larger and larger projects, yet I knew I was avoiding a deeper calling, and despite the love and support I received from my community, I was still terrified of coming out. That all changed in 2016 when the suicide of a young transgirl named Leelah Alcorn kicked me into high gear. I refused to sit on the sidelines and watch another generation silence themselves as I had done. I knew I would be putting myself at risk of unemployment and increased exposure to violence, but the desire to show up for myself and others trumped my fears.
Within the span of months, I came out to my entire community and began deadheading back towards STEM, vowing to shine my light as bright as possible. It didn’t take long to catch the machine learning bug, which I spotted as the major development in neuroscience in the years of my absence. I began cross-training in software engineering and saw a future where I could work on problems that mattered. I vowed to never forget the humans behind the data. Not just the countless trans and nonbinary humans who have been failed by defective binary data systems (two checkboxes to encompass all of human biological diversity? Really?!), but all humans.
After working for two small startups, I found my way to Landed and joined as the company’s first engineer to build out our data infrastructure and to begin growing our engineering team. Like many of us at Landed, I am concerned about wealth inequality in America and how this compounds over generations. I was impressed by the high EQ of our team, the diversity of our backgrounds, and our commitment to bravely confronting gnarly problems. I am moved by our company’s commitment to essential professionals and our unique business model. To me, the real unicorns of Silicon Valley are not companies that blow the caps off on scale, no matter the cost. The unicorns of Silicon Valley are companies like Landed that stitch visions of equity and service into the core of their business models, while still pursuing impressive returns.
What is your management style? Do you have a philosophy?
In the spirit of Marie Kondo, the thing that sparks the most joy in my life is believing in people. I know that transformation is possible; I have experienced it firsthand! I collaborate with each of our engineers to define what growth looks like for them, and then I align myself fully to helping them achieve their dreams. This, of course, includes supporting them in their work at Landed, but also more broadly on their arc of growth as engineers and human beings. I honestly can’t imagine a more rewarding way to spend my time.
I draw a lot of inspiration from the Agile framework, because at its core is a trust in the power of autonomous teams pursuing greatness. In Donella Meadows’ book, Thinking in Systems, she shares that self-organization is a defining feature of many complex, self-healing systems. An engineering team is a system, and I hold Meadows’ research front and center as I look for ways to support the emergent processes our team explores week after week. Getting out of their way when they are flowing, collaborating when things get stuck, looking out ahead to spec projects more clearly so we can hit the ground running. Together we are co-creating the evolution of our team.
Tell us about Landed’s engineering team.
I know I’m biased, but our team is awesome! We collaborate. We challenge each other’s thinking so that we can grow stronger. We pair program. We help each other out. We are building the team we always wished we could be a part of.
We also have a deep belief in leveraging our diverse perspectives. Each member of our team brings to the table experiences from other companies, research teams, cultural heritages, and personal ruminations, and we challenge one another to consider practices we’ve learned to be effective. We often use the phrase “best practice” in our field, but our team seeks a more nuanced way of discussing practices in terms of their relative utility for our team, our product, and where we are in our team and company evolution. We don’t defer to authority, but press for clarity and lean into hearty dialogue.
Our stack is definitely starting to gel, yet we are not dogmatic about the tools we use. We explore tradeoffs and keep our ears to the ground on new developments in the field. We are gearing to build more customer-facing products that will challenge many of the assumptions we’ve made with our internal tooling, and we will continue to learn together as we build out these new surfaces.
We sprint hard. We laugh a lot. We play Mahjong. We spend time getting to know each other and team members beyond our engineering team. We debate algorithms and emerging technologies. For example, the other day one of our engineers, Andrew Ho, led the team through an exploration of universal design. It included a memorable demonstration of what happens when we fail to use semantic HTML tags, which I’ll never forget.
And we’re growing! We are opening up several roles on our engineering team this year, and we are excited to see how we adapt our processes in response to the insights, questions, and unique perspective of the team members we have not yet met. For more information, visit our careers page.