Quantcast engineers get to immerse themselves in large-scale, real-time data processing and analysis, solving a diverse number of challenging problems. It’s a unique and exciting environment, where one person can have a significant impact on a daily basis and deliver real value for our customers. Today, we’re shining the spotlight on Brittni Gustaf, Staff Software Engineer, to find out what sparked her interest in engineering, what she loves about working with big data, and what advice she would offer to aspiring engineers.
1) How did you become interested in engineering?
I actually loved everything STEM starting from a pretty early age. I enjoyed trying out different science experiments, reading STEM-related encyclopedias, and (weirdly enough) solving math equations for fun. I think my interest in engineering specifically, though, started with trying to fix broken toys. My family didn’t have much money growing up, so if something I liked broke, it wasn’t likely we could replace it with something new. I still remember the excitement and pride I felt after successfully fixing my first toy. That initial success gave me the confidence to branch out and repair one of my best friends’ toys. After that second success, I felt like I could fix anything! I was hooked. I became that kid who wanted to see how things worked, so I could gain more complex skills. I started opening things up and disassembling them to learn how they worked, then attempting to put them back together. This ended up being almost as fun as fixing things. I think that was the beginning of me wanting to be an engineer, although I didn’t realize it at the time. At that point, I aspired to be a “rock climbing geologist!”
Eventually, I decided I would combine my love of all things STEM and study biomedical engineering in college. I entered the University of Michigan’s School of Engineering and in my very first semester, while taking my first engineering course, I fell in love with programming. This proved very fortunate as I quickly learned I did not have the scholarly tenacity needed to ever consider going to medical school. I switched from biomedical engineering to software engineering, and never looked back. I still love coding as much as I did back then. It’s amazing how software engineers can create almost anything out of nothing.
2) What drew you to Quantcast? And what has kept you here for more than eight years?
I first encountered Quantcast at my university’s career fair and was amazed by the amount of data that Quantcast worked with on the daily. I had previously interned at a company that worked with “big data,” but that data had been a tiny fraction of the amount that Quantcast dealt with. I’m a huge stats nerd who loves compelling data visualizations and finding interesting insights from data, so working at a company that dealt with that much data sounded really exciting. I also discovered that Quantcast was headquartered in SF, where I was hoping to escape to from the midwest after college. I decided to try Quantcast out, and participated in the coding challenge they put on for this career fair. Surprisingly, I ended up coming in first place in that competition and winning an iPad, which was really exciting for a poor college student. After I had my onsite interview, it was game over. I experienced a slice of the awesome culture and met so many of the amazing people that worked here. I was sold.
The reason I have stayed at Quantcast for so long is because I feel like I continue to learn and grow here, even after all these years. I love the amount of impact I have had on all the projects I’ve worked on and how much Quantcast has challenged me all this time. I also love how Quantcast has often let me choose what projects I wanted to work on. Every time we would do project planning, my manager would ask me which projects, and specifically which portion of the project, I was most excited to work on. If I got tired of writing frontend code, I could switch to backend or infrastructure for a while. Quantcast has really shown me that they prioritize keeping their engineers engaged and excited.
“Quantcast has really shown me that they prioritize keeping their engineers engaged and excited.”
3) What have been some exciting challenges you’ve come across in your role and how have they shaped you?
One of the biggest challenges I faced at Quantcast was when I was working on the “tiger team” to create our consent management platform (now known as Quantcast Choice) before the introduction of GDPR in the EU. This project was particularly challenging because my team was created only six months before the law went into effect. At that point, there was no consensus in the industry as to how consent should be shared between the publisher and the relevant third parties; and we had a hard deadline that could cost us and our customers a lot of money if we didn’t have a workable solution in time. My team successfully came up with a solution for sharing consent, and we worked with the IAB to eventually turn our proposed solution into the industry standard for collecting and sharing consent. It was a success, but it was also a stressful whirlwind of a ride. It made me a better software developer by teaching me how to take charge and be decisive. It also really tested and honed my ability to quickly create MVPs (minimum viable products) and then completely discard that hard work when requirements changed or when it was no longer the correct solution. Working late hours to create something, only to later throw it away, was remarkably mentally taxing initially. Learning how to easily let code go is a skill that is very useful as a software engineer, and one that I’m glad to have learned during this time.
4) What has been one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
Since those days, my favorite projects have been those that have challenged me to learn the most. Another standout occurred in 2017. Before starting a massive project to rewrite and redesign our entire Measure website, I reevaluated which frontend libraries would be most effective and useful for our needs. This evaluation led me to lead the charge in transitioning Quantcast from being an Angular house, to being a React house. My findings gave me a deep understanding of how these technologies worked behind the scenes and allowed me to convince my fellow engineers that React was a better fit for our needs. It has been amazing to have had such a huge impact on development at Quantcast.
5) What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an engineer?
My first piece of advice to any aspiring engineer would be not to let others, even yourself, discourage you from pursuing your dream of being an engineer. It’s so easy to feel as if you are not smart enough or good enough to be an engineer. Even amazing engineers struggle with feeling inadequate and experience imposter syndrome. The amount of knowledge needed to be any kind of engineer is vast, and it is impossible for one person to know it all. Those that seem to know it all are often over-selling their knowledge and overconfident about things they are not experts in. Instead of trying to know it all, learn to question everything and know the best way to find and analyze the information you need when you need it. Often novices questioning experts can lead to better solutions because they bring in a fresh perspective.
This leads to my second piece of advice, which is to constantly challenge yourself in problem solving. I believe that that is one of the main traits needed to be an amazing engineer. The best engineers may not know how to solve something when they are initially given a problem, but they are confident that they can find a good solution eventually. Finding that solution might take time because you have to gather knowledge of something you are unfamiliar with, and weigh the pros and cons of each solution, but having the confidence that your final solution is the best it can be, with the current information available, makes for the best engineers. That’s what being an engineer is all about in the end: finding optimal solutions to hard (or sometimes impossible-seeming) problems.
For more information on engineering careers at Quantcast, click here. You can also read our employee spotlight on a senior engineering manager as well as three engineers who took unique career pathways to their current roles. To delve deeper into some of our challenges, learn how we optimize our AI and machine learning engine by running roaring bitmaps on ARM and why our engineering team grew to love bitmaps to handle web-scale digital advertising. And if you’d like to join our team, we’re hiring!