What’s your role at Gilt?
I’m a software engineer who specializes in front-end technologies. I work with designers of the visual and UX varieties to sculpt an idea for a product, then I implement the front-end of that product. My weeks are always different, depending on the phase of the product.
Tell us how you got here.
In 2011, I was contacted by a recruiter via LinkedIn. I had never heard of Gilt and didn’t know anything about the company, but the recruiter described some of the projects being worked on here and it sounded pretty exciting. I thought, ‘I should talk to these guys.’
I went through Gilt’s incredibly rigorous interview process–four phone calls and a five-hour interview during which I talked to at least four engineers plus [SVP Engineering and Product Strategy John] Quinn. Five hour-long conversations about everything from databases to API development.
Before you came to Gilt, you moved around a bit. Where did you live?
I was born in Arkansas, then moved to Michigan, then back to Arkansas, where I went to college. Then I moved to China for a year, Florida one year, then to New Orleans. I became a Hurricane Katrina refugee and went back to China from 2006 to 2009, then moved to New York City.
What did you do in China?
The first two years I taught English. Then a friend who’d moved to Nanjing started a school that offered high school-level courses needed a computer teacher. I was promoted to chair of the ICT department and worked there for three years. Then I came here.
China is a great place to visit and live for a while, but it’s difficult to make a life for yourself as a foreigner. New York City is a liberating place fashion-wise–it’s easy to express yourself.
Speaking of fashion: When did you start wearing suits to work?
It started when I lived in China. I have a body shape that isn’t conducive to the Chinese clothing market, so I had to rely on tailors for a lot of things: shirts, ties, vests. Having clothing tailored in China was quite easy. Also, the school where I worked had a dress code, so for the first time in my professional life I had to wear a collar and tie. I thought I’d embrace it.
Would you still dress up for work even if you telecommuted?
I would have to put on something–construct an outfit before I could get myself into a mental state for work. I think I’ve always been this way–in high school I was very into punk rock, chains, safety pins and dyed hair, then grunge before that. I’ve always made choices about my appearance.
For whatever reason I no longer feel comfortable working in T-shirts and jeans. I feel like I can’t get into a mindset of crafting something, can’t pour my heart into something, wearing T-shirts and jeans.
How has working at a fashion-conscious company influenced your personal style?
Working at Gilt gives me inspiration that I didn’t have at previous jobs. It’s a great opportunity.
Fashion really is about expressing yourself. Some people view that as a sort of an elitist or undemocratic stance, but every human expresses themselves through the clothing that they wear. Some people have more privileged choices than others, of course.
What are some of your favorite brands featured on Gilt?
Alexander Olch is one I definitely keep coming back to–their ties, pocket squares and other things are beautiful. Recently I’ve been enjoying Sebastian Grey out of Chicago. I discovered them through Gilt City and have been back to them several times. I’m wearing their suit right now, actually.
And Martin Greenfield?
Martin Greenfield is America’s finest living tailor, hands-down.
Most people assume I have way more suits than I do, but a man doesn’t need that many suits–two or three will do. At most, I’ve maybe had five at one time. Manhattan closets aren’t forgiving enough to accommodate lots of suits. You need shirts and accessories–that’s the expression part. Rather than trying to pull off a loud suit every day I prefer a good suit with lots of accessories.
What is your approach to accessorizing?
To my mind, you can’t really build an outfit without starting with your shoes, at least in Manhattan. It’s the first fashion choice you should make in the morning. My favorites from Gilt are Maurizi, Two Boot, Grenson. My favorite Gilt purchase of late is a pair of blue brogue Antonio Maurizi shoes that is just fantastic. I’m not sure what magic Italians apply to shoes, but they’re just so good.
Wingtip Clothiers have some very exciting pocket squares, ties, and accessories. And J. Crew–I love everything they do. Cannot get enough of them.
Worth & Worth in Manhattan–their hats are made here. And the JJ Hat Center on 5th Avenue is also good. Worth & Worth has had a factory in Manhattan for almost 100 years.
How is your approach to fashion similar to your approach to engineering and design?
I try to approach my work holistically, and give consideration to history and convention. Then I look for ways to twist it and surprise and delight in the details. As far as what I do every day, I try to push the envelope and sort of get away from established methods.
You’ve initiated some projects to help reduce the distance between design and engineering. Tell us about those.
I feel that that distance between design and engineering is too great. We have these two disciplines that need to work in total balance to produce. In 2012 I put together an eight-week summer course called “Web Literacy” that was targeted toward our visual and UX designers. The class met for two hours every Monday evening.
What was the result of that course?
One thing was that it led me to teach at Parsons, the New School for Design. This past semester I was a part-time instructor for a 15-week, sophomore-level course called “Core Interaction Design.” I taught the lab component; there was also a studio component.
What do you enjoy most about working at Gilt?
It’s refreshing to A., not have someone checking up on you every hour to see what you’re doing, and B., not be given explicit directions, which means there’s a lot of freedom to make your own choices and mistakes. A lot of companies say, 'we hire great people and trust them,’ but I actually feel that here. Everybody here is super-great at what they do. Everyone’s smarter than I am, and that’s a great place to be.
Where do you see us shining the most?
We could play an important role in advancing Scala and the Play framework. Our distribution is cutting-edge, our customer service is incredible. We’re investing a lot into personalization. When we really hit it home with personalization, I think no one can touch us.