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01 September 2022 | Topics: , ,

Carlos Guzman: My Very Fast Journey From Individual Contributor to Engineering Manager

 

I want to help build this culture.”

Carlos Guzman
Photo by Natalie Fong Malis

Carlos Guzman joined Datavant in May 2022 and transitioned from software engineer to Engineering Manager within three months. Below, Carlos shares some of his experience joining the Datavant Engineering team and its high-growth, high-learning culture.

What did you do before joining Datavant?

I worked on several teams driving the direction of technology at Bloomberg in New York. I had multiple roles, but two official ones: a software engineer in an application team doing real-time pricing of derivatives (called MARS ML) to speed up valuations and delivery of risk analytics in a flexible manner for quants, and working on modeling solutions. I also worked as an Engineering Champion (approximately equivalent to staff level engineer) where I led a group of top engineers to build tools and solutions at the department or company-wide level.

How did you find your way to Datavant?

I decided to consider other options from my previous job for a combination of reasons. My career and personal growth had become stagnant, it was hard to get things done in that particular company culture, and I wanted more flexibility and autonomy. At the end of the day it’s all about trade-offs, so I was looking for the best intersection of career growth, personal growth, flexibility, compensation, and mission. I was also considering some hedge funds, which perhaps are not known to have the best company culture, but tend to compensate better. In general, this means there’s a greater incentive to work hard and possibly find greater personal and career growth. I agreed to interview at Datavant with the expectation that it might have a better culture but probably much lower pay. During the first interview and the virtual onsite at Datavant, everyone fit the values praised by the culture, something I had not seen anywhere else in any of my other experiences with other companies. The offer Datavant made was competitive (although it was hard to value the trade-offs of cash vs RSUs, options, and cash), so in the end it seemed like Datavant had the best package to offer. Before accepting the offer, I asked to talk to more people within Datavant and the pattern of people fitting the cultural values held strong. It almost felt like the trade-offs were fading away into a place where each aspect could be maximized, so I accepted the offer.

Datavant prioritizes placing new hires on real projects with real responsibility from Day 1. Tell us about your experience joining Datavant.

I joined Datavant as part of the Match Pod, a Datavant term used to describe an engineering sub-team, led by Ben Podgursky. Because of our rapid growth, that team has since split into two Pods. The objective for the Pod is to use machine learning to do PPRL (Privacy-Preserving Record Linkage), matching de-identified records for a single individual taking into account changes in records that result from changes in name, address, and phone number, or even due to typos. My first project was to set up a model inference Python service in lieu of the in-process Java implementations that historically demanded manual translation from the Python code the modelers (data scientists) wrote to Java. This project decoupled the models from Java so that no translation would be needed, which had the added benefit of being able to update the models dynamically and seamlessly.

After the initial design and some work on it, I became a manager for the De-identified Match Pod so there was less time to code directly on the project, but I wanted to offer opportunities for the team to get more involved in it for their own growth. We’re still working on the project, so “my first project” at Datavant has become my team’s project. And if that’s not a story of the dynamic growth and collaboration you get at Datavant, I don’t know what is.

“The intentionality behind this culture amazes me.”

How was this experience different from joining other companies?

Impact. In past experiences, onboarding was mainly about learning the internal tools and C++ in depth, only to join a team a couple months later and have to review again many of the concepts. This is a much slower process. At Datavant, the experience of joining the team was more similar to the experience of internships I had in the past where the learning was more hands-on. This situation also had the added benefit of a great deal of autonomy and flexibility in my schedule so that I was genuinely happy while learning, and found plenty of support wherever I looked. Personally, it was a bit hard at the beginning because I went from having all the answers at Bloomberg because of my knowledge of the internal tools to having to ask about everything at Datavant. With all this learning and a culture founded in trust, the onboarding process seamlessly merged into being comfortable with the tools and systems because I had already been working with them rather than being taught like in a classroom.

What was an early “wow” moment after joining Datavant?

My first “wow” moments were during my first couple weeks at Datavant. I kept meeting people who all fit the “smart, nice, get things done” culture. The intentionality behind this culture amazes me and I want this to be the next model for companies to aspire to. After coming back from the Seattle offsite, I told my manager I wanted to help build this culture in a managerial role in the future. (From past experience, this process could take at least a year, so I figured I’d mention it early.) To emphasize my “wowness” in this interest, I would point out that I actively did not want to be an engineering manager when I joined, but was looking to be a very senior individual contributor instead. It took two weeks for Datavant to change my mind because of the trust in others I could have. And here we are: I am now the manager of the De-identified Match Pod.

Because of the intentionality in Datavant’s hiring process, our Pod is made up of great engineers who make it easy to be a manager. Since every member of the team already has a bias for action, my two primary objectives are to remove any hurdles for the team, or to help them jump higher and further. This way, our team gets things done and we all grow together to the best of our technical, personal, and professional abilities. Since we have a diverse set of experiences, we’re constantly learning from each other while delivering the best possible product.

Carlos Guzman has a background in mathematics and computer science and joined Datavant in May 2022. Connect with Carlos via Linkedin.

Many thanks to Carlos for taking the time for this interview. Interview compiled/edited by Nicholas DeMaison.