Geek of the Week: Redfin CTO Bridget Frey aims to make buying or selling a home easier through technology

Redfin CTO Bridget Frey is a vocal advocate of workplace equity. (Redfin Photo)

Bridget Frey, Redfin CTO. (Via Redfin)

When Bridget Frey moved from Boston to Seattle in 2008, the U.S. was in the midst of a major recession. Eight years later, Frey works for a real estate technology company that is playing a direct role in trying to help people navigate Seattle’s red-hot market, and markets across the country.

Frey, who serves as chief technology officer at Redfin, is our latest Geek of the Week.

A computer science graduate at Harvard, Frey said she’s spent her whole career at high-growth startups, and found that she loves helping teams scale. After working as a software developer at an enterprise startup called Plumtree, Frey joined Redfin five years ago to found the analytics engineering team. She took over the CTO role last year.

The strength of Seattle’s tech community was a huge factor in Frey’s decision to come west to Seattle eight years ago. At Redfin, she’s proud of the work the company is doing to help people find the right place to live.

“As both a technology company and a real estate company, Redfin has a role to play in the conversation about making sure our great city of Seattle remains a livable one, even as it grows and changes,” said Frey, who has two sons, ages 9 and 7. “Our research team is continually reporting on market trends in Seattle, such as whether more or less tech workers are moving to Seattle from the Bay Area. We’ve also invested in tools like Walk Score, Transit Score and Opportunity Score to help people find areas with easy access to grocery stores, transit and jobs that are within a 30 minute car ride from home.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Bridget Frey:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “Redfin’s mission is to redefine real estate in the consumer’s favor. As engineers, we break down every part of the real estate process and ask, how can technology make this better? There’s a ton of data in real estate, and one of our challenges is to help home buyers and sellers access and understand all this data, and then use it to make more informed decisions. We also try to make real estate easier for our customers through features like Book It Now, which lets customers schedule a home tour on-demand right from our website or apps. And then we build software for our real estate team that saves them time and helps them keep in touch with their customers.

“The software engineer in me loves that we get to work with open source software and big data algorithms to bring these features to light. But my favorite part of the job is hearing from customers about how Redfin agents and technology supported them through the sometimes harrowing process of buying or selling a home.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Many people ask whether Redfin is a technology company or a real estate company — and the answer is, we’re both. We build better software when our agents and our engineers work together closely and improve our ideas together.

“One example is when we were developing our Listings Matchmaker feature, which uses big data to predict what homes a customer might like, and then gives that information to our real estate agents. It was a compelling feature but, in the first version, we didn’t have any way for our agents to add their own recommendations to the list. As engineers, we’d relied too much on big data, and had forgotten to make room for our real estate agents, who know their neighborhoods better than any algorithm ever could. So we work hard to make sure we’re considering all of these perspectives when we build software.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “I feel lucky that I get to work closely with customers and real estate agents who are counting on our engineers to make their lives easier. They are a source of inspiration, and it’s incredibly exciting to see how the software we are building really makes a difference.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Google docs, especially its collaboration features. It’s changed the way we develop our strategic thinking.”

Bridget Frey’s workspace.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I have everything I need: coffee, water, notebook, and four screens!”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I have a passion for efficiency, and I’m ruthless about optimizing how I spend my time. For example, I manage my work through a one-page to-do list because if it gets longer than that, I find I start dropping balls.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac, though I’ve used Windows and Linux heavily in the past.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I met Leonard Nimoy once, but Spock isn’t one of the choices!”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter, so I could travel the world. Time machines and cloaks of invisibility would add a layer of complexity that I probably don’t need!”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “First find one or two amazing people to join me in founding the company. Many startups change ideas a few times, so that core founding team is the most important piece.”

I once waited in line to … “Do a video test for the ‘Survivor’ reality show.”

Your role models: “One of my role models is Professor Margo Seltzer, who taught my introductory computer science class at Harvard. When I was an undergraduate, she was teaching incredibly popular classes, doing cutting-edge research, working at a startup she founded, and making time to really connect with her students and her family. I have so much respect for her as an academic and as a person.”

Greatest game in history: “Settlers of Catan. It’s compelling because generally every player believes she really has a chance to win until the minute she doesn’t.”

Best gadget ever: “We have two programmable robots from Wonder Workshop, and it’s been fun to help my kids figure out how to make them solve mazes or act like a magic eight ball.”

First computer: “My dad brought home an Apple IIe when I was 5. Neither one of us had any idea how to use it, so we got a few books and learned how to program together.”

Current phone: “iPhone 6s.”

Favorite app: “Slack, which has been great for our culture of collaboration in engineering.”

Favorite cause: “I love FamilyWorks, which provides community services like food banks and career coaching.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Augmented reality. I’ve been fascinated with the technology behind Pokémon Go, the first killer app in the AR space. They found a compelling way to combine mapping technology with gaming dynamics and fitness goals, and I’m excited to see the tech industry will build on these ideas.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Driver assist technology. Self-driving cars may still be far away, but we’ll start to see technology that improves driving go mainstream.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “This advice is especially true for engineers who are early in their careers, but find something that you can really own. Whether it’s a line of code, a technical area, a whole project — find something that you can be the expert on, that you can own over a period of years not weeks, something where you set the vision and then make it happen.”

Website: Redfin

Twitter: @SVBridget

LinkedIn: Bridget Frey