Todd Fasullo has seen it all at Smartsheet. He joined the engineering team at the project and work management technology company in 2006, just prior to the launch of their first product. More than a decade later, he said it’s really fun to see the fruits of many years of hard work.
Fasullo, who is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week, is now director of engineering, and he dedicates his time to scaling Smartsheet’s application to ensure a seamless experience for each of the company’s 100,000 customers.
“Early on at any startup there are so many things that need to be done,” Fasullo said. “At this stage the biggest challenge is prioritizing intelligently and coming up with good but not perfect solutions.”
Fasullo said that moving fast can mean occasionally going down the wrong path, and that Smartsheet was entirely rebuilt from the ground up about two years into the business.
“We had a lot of good ideas initially but it was too complicated and had too many concepts to understand,” he said. “By refocusing on a core set of functionality we greatly simplified the initial user experience and that is when our growth really took off. It took us about four years to get to this point so don’t always expect an overnight hit.”
And like his peers at other successful companies, Fasullo has learned that crediting a great team is also part of the mix.
“We look for great people and have a high bar for culture fit. I’m hoping everyone we hire has the same great experience working here that I have had for the past 10 years,” Fasullo said. “One of the top three things I’m proudest of is that while building a successful business Smartsheet has also won a number of best-place-to-work awards and is one of the highest-rated cloud computing companies to work for on Glassdoor. Howard Schultz put it well when he said, ‘Success is empty if you arrive at the finish line alone. The best reward is to get there surrounded by winners.'”
When not improving the Smartsheet infrastructure, Fasullo can be found me tooling around the Pacific Northwest mountains with his family by bike, skis, or on foot.
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Todd Fasullo:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I love building software people use every day to make their lives better. As Smartsheet’s director of engineering, I get to focus on all of the different aspects of building our product — writing it, building it, testing it, deploying it, monitoring it, and troubleshooting. About a year ago, I heard an Elon Musk quote that really resonated with me. He shared that one of the most important things he learned in 2016 was ‘what really matters is the machine that builds the machine, — the factory. And that is at least two orders of magnitude harder than the vehicle itself.’ All of these elements make up our ‘factory’ and scaling the factory can be a bigger challenge than the product itself. You can’t build a product without the factory, and you have to think about all of the different pieces to help realize that vision. That’s what I love, focusing on both how our software rolls out and how it runs and how it solves problems for our customers. Every day, I get to dive into how we build, architect, integrate, and scale our product to millions of users.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “I strongly believe in the community we have here locally — it can be a complete game changer for your career in terms of you leverage and participate in the network that we have here in the Northwest. A couple of times a month you can find me attending meetups and other events around the Seattle area. We have a TON of great events and associations here, and the ecosystem is only getting stronger.
“Just as important as it is to participate when you’re getting started is giving back to the community once you have your feet under you and your career is more established.
“I used our network really heavily when I was getting started, and now I get to spend more time giving back and helping others get their foot in the door.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “I’ve always tried to focus on finding people I can learn from and am really excited to work with — because you’ll spend a LOT of time with them. To me this means people who are smarter than you are, have a passion for what they are doing, and the focus and determination to make it happen. When you have people who are honest, authentic, driven, innovative, and supportive surrounding you each day, working on hard problems that are really interesting and need to be solved, that’s where I find my inspiration.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “SaaS tools, hands down. I move around so much during the day, or log on from home when I need to, and being able to access my work easily, wherever I go, is something I can’t imagine living without.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I’ve been using a standup desk since we founded Smartsheet in 2006 — it’s taken various shapes and sizes and some creative uses of cardboard boxes. Today it looks a little more conventional. I love having large monitors, it helps my productivity a ton. Other than that, though, I’ve learned over the years not to spend too much time configuring my workspace. These days, I spend about 50 percent of my time on my computer at my desk, 25 percent at my computer at home, and other than that I’m in and out of meetings. So the less specific my workspace is, the easier it is for me to jump into work wherever I am.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Find your own approach to balancing it all, it’s going to be different for everyone. For example, my wife really relies on writing things down — you can find little to-do lists on paper all around our house. Some people really love doing that same thing with an app on their phones. For anything I’m collaborating on with others Smartsheet is my go-to tool. We use it quite heavily for everything from team to-do lists, bug tracking, project requirements, checklists, resource management, prioritization meetings, etc. When I’m writing code I also tend to check in my documentation and my to-do list as comments in my code. As I complete items I mark them off but leave them in place as a breadcrumb for both myself and others about the areas that were considered and why some of the design approaches were taken.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “I’m split between Linux (for my office desktop), Mac (I use a MacBook when I’m on-the-go), and tmux sessions on Linux servers.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I think it would be dishonest to say that I would pick any of them — I’m not a huge ‘Star Trek’ fan. Chewbacca or R2D2, though, that’s a different story. Any ‘Star Wars’ character other than Luke.
Transporter, time machine or cloak of invisibility? “Time Machine, it’s the ultimate form of travel and adventure. There are so many moments in history I’d love to see first hand.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “I would put the money back into Smartsheet. This company is my startup — I’ve grown along with it for the past 10+ years, from our original operations in a little yellow house on the Kirkland waterfront to our offices today in Bellevue. I think if my reaction was to want to put the money elsewhere … it would be a sign I should be doing that instead. Honestly, if I have spare time to work on something, it’ll be something for Smartsheet. It may be a little clichè, but it’s true: find something to do that you love and it will never feel like work.”
I once waited in line for … “There is not much I’ll wait in line for — I usually do my best to avoid lines. One of the few exceptions is waiting in a ski lift line on a powder day. You can often find me skiing chair 2 at Alpental on winter weekends with my son.”
Your role models: “I take a lot of inspiration from the people around me. I’m lucky enough to work with many people I can call role models and learn from — both technically and ethically. There are also traits you pick up from others that you especially envy. One that comes to mind for me is Jiro Ono (from Jiro Dreams of Sushi). I could not help but be struck by his approach continuous improvement — coming to work every day looking to do his job better than the prior day. And his drive to impart his passion to his family and employees.”
Greatest game in history: “Not a big gamer — but my kids know I’m pretty easy to beat when we play Settlers of Catan.”
Best gadget ever: “Not sure most people would consider it a “gadget” but I built a wood fired pizza oven in my backyard a few years ago. We fire it up ~20 times a year and you’ll often find my family and friends hanging out on Sunday evenings in the summer cooking pizza, roasting vegetables, baking bread, etc. It is amazing how the same ingredients I try to cook in our indoor oven come out tasting so much better when cooked at ~800 degrees.”
First computer: “My father was an engineer and a big believer that computer literacy would be an important future skill. When I was 10 they purchased an Apple II+ with 48k of memory. Lots of fond memories playing Space Invaders, Castle Wolfenstein, and programming my first app in BASIC. Apparently it was at least somewhat effective — I recall my parents being surprised when my sixth grade school teacher started calling me up on weekends asking questions about how to fix issues on the new classroom computers.”
Current phone: “Google Nexus 5X running the Android beta program, but I’m keeping my eye out for the Pixel 2 launch. Here’s hoping it will include waterproofing this time.”
Favorite app: “I commute daily by bicycle and ride recreationally on weekends, so I am a big fan of Strava. It’s great for creating some internal competition to see if I can climb a hill a little faster than I did in the past or keep track of how I’m doing towards my yearly mileage goal.”
Favorite cause: My appreciation for paid journalism has really grown this year. I’ve been a long time supporter for PBS and NPR, and paid subscriber of NY Times. I’m really glad there are people passionate about doing investigative reporting and ensuring we have a well informed society.”
Most important technology of 2016: “I firmly believe containers (Docker, etc) are going to be an important technical shift in how we develop, roll out, and manage our distributed systems. We have been early adopters of containers at Smartsheet and heavily use it to manage our development and test environments. Early on at the company, our test server was an old desktop PC one of our parents had donated. At one point we had 8 distinct Smartsheet test environments running on this old machine. This PC lasted a surprisingly long time, but as Smartsheet’s technology stack has evolved from a simple monolithic application to a distributed set of applications and micro-services, containers quickly became instrumental in how we manage the complexity of building, versioning, testing, and deploying our environments. We now run our test environments on a cluster of cloud servers with hundreds of CPUs, a TB of memory, and hundreds of containers. I think the next few years the market will continue to evolve and eventually instead of managing virtual machines we will be deploying/scaling containers across container clusters using tools like Kubernetes.”
Most important technology of 2018: “It may be a bit self-serving but I think we are still early in the migration to the cloud and to SaaS applications. When I came to Smartsheet in 2006, working in the SaaS space was one of my primary goals. We called it Web 2.0 back then and IE 6 was the dominant browser. The industry has come quite a long way in the past 11 years but I think we have even more transformation to come. In the early Smartsheet days I remember having to manage our internal on-premise corporate email server and bring our backup drive home every night — what startup does that today? I think we will continue to see an evolution as our computers do more of the monotonous work for us, we will collaborate with our co-workers and peers regardless of who our employers are and where we live geographically.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “I think the greater Seattle area has a fantastic tech ecosystem — make sure you leverage it! Make sure you are aware of all the great mailing lists (like STS), local meetups, and other great resources we have in the community. These are great places to learn from others and it is a great way to give back by talking about something interesting you have been working on. It’s growing and only gets better when we all participate. See you at the next Meetup!”
LinkedIn: Todd Fasullo