Employee Spotlight: Sam Toffler
Next up in our Employee Spotlight series is founding engineer Sam Toffler, whose appetite for writing code knows no bounds.
You might say Sam Toffler is a puzzle fanatic. Give him a riddle to solve or a logic problem to work through, and his mind won’t rest until he does (just ask his girlfriend). It’s an affinity that led him to study computer science, then to a job at Amazon Web Services, and, ultimately, to Finch. Recently, we caught up with Sam to talk about his engineering career, his next road trip, and the satisfaction that comes when something finally “clicks.”
Where are you from and how did it lead you here?
I was born and raised in South Florida and went to a really competitive high school. I think that shaped my work ethic, honestly. And it brought me to Duke, where I majored in computer science.
How did you choose your major?
I took comp-sci 101 in my first semester and it was instantaneous love. The course was basically solving puzzles and riddles, which I’ve always been obsessed with.
What did you do after college?
I took a summer off, and then I started working at Amazon Web Services on a team called Fargate. I was a software engineer there for two and a half years.
Tell us about Fargate.
Fargate is in the serverless space. I worked primarily on what we called region builds–so, expanding the service to different Amazon data centers throughout the world. For context, Amazon is present in approximately 20 locations. When Fargate launched, it was only in one location. When I joined, it was in eight, and by the time I left, it was deployed to all AWS regions.
Why did you decide to look for another opportunity?
One of the big reasons I left Amazon is because of how little coding I was doing–which some people find surprising. It was also extremely slow paced. Even a single line change could take a full week to deploy. That gets frustrating after a while. So, I was looking for an opportunity to code more, move faster, and have a larger impact on the team. That’s when I started thinking about startups.
What was it about Finch, in particular, that appealed to you?
I really liked what Finch is doing. It's a really valuable product that’s ripe for explosion. Coming from Amazon, I was a little nervous about going somewhere small, but I realized that I am at a point in my life where I can afford to take a chance and do something outside my comfort zone. And I am really happy that I did.
What does the day in the life of a Finch founding engineer look like?
Thankfully, it’s a lot of coding. I would say 60 to 70% of my time is coding–maybe not hands-on-keyboard, but I am at least thinking about my own code that often. The rest of my time is spent reviewing other people's code, conducting technical interviews for job applicants, and attending assorted meetings like sprint planning sessions and sprint retrospectives.
What is it about coding that you’re so fond of?
I think it’s the balancing act between form and function. There are a million ways you can code something, but, at the end of the day, you want to make your code as clear and concise as possible. To me, there's a lot of enjoyment in trying to make it perfect, so that people who read my code understand exactly what it is I was trying to do. The same thing happens to me when I’m writing an email or, in the past, when I took creative writing classes. It’s like trying to figure out the ideal way to craft a sentence or a paragraph. When I find the best way to say what’s in my head, it’s very satisfying.
What have you learned since starting at Finch?
I’ve learned to take more ownership. There's a lot of opportunity at Finch for my voice to be heard, and having strong convictions goes a long way because if I can make a case for what I want, people will give me the room to do it. But it’s also more than that. If I start something in one area of the company, it might spread. That’s what I find really fulfilling: when I can see the impact of what I’m contributing, and I get positive feedback that what I’m doing is beneficial.
What do you like most about working at Finch?
The people. Everybody is super friendly, smart, and respectful. When we had our in-person offsite last year in October, it was the first time I had met any of my coworkers in real life, and it felt like a weekend with close friends. We all stayed in a house in L.A., and we got along so well. I am really excited for our next one just because of how good of a time we had.
Describe Finch in one word.
Fast-paced. We're getting so many new customers, and all of our new customers want new things, and we're always getting new team members. The nature of everything is really quick, which I like.
How do you spend your time outside of work?
My girlfriend and I got a puppy over the summer. So, that's been taking up a lot of our time. I also enjoy skiing. We're actually taking a month-long skiing road trip to Salt Lake City, Park City, Alta, Snowbird, Aspen, Beaver Creek, and maybe Sun Valley. I would say golfing, reading, chess, and video games round out my downtime interests.
What are you passionate about?
The feeling of learning something and having it click. I'll give you an example. Recently, I changed my keyboard from a standard Qwerty layout, because I had read that you can make your keyboard more ergonomic and efficient by putting more popular letters closer to your pointer and middle fingers. That required relearning where all the keys are, which took practice–about 20 minutes a day for two weeks. When I got to the point that I could type 40 words per minute, I made the switch full time. Now, I type just as fast as I did on a Qwerty. The whole thing was really rewarding for me, because it was an opportunity to scratch that itch of getting good at something new.
Interested in joining Finch? We’re hiring! Check out our open positions.