The simple meaning behind this over-dramatic title is this. I have retired from work. My official last day as a Senior Engineering Manager at Klaviyo was July 5. I had shared my plans with my boss back in April. The Google-consensus seemed to be that retirement required a longer lead time than the plain old “I’m leaving” kind of quitting. I’m pleased with my approach, as it really did allow the company, and my co-workers, time to prepare while also giving me the space to disconnect in good order. I made my exit secure in knowing nothing had been left undone, and that I had conveyed to my colleagues and my management everything that needed to be conveyed.
There was even time in mid-June for a retirement party, which for me was no less than epic:
There were *two kinds* of sliders, a charcuterie board that could have doubled as a Spartan shield, a pastries board of similar grandeur, plus 3 bottles (in addition to our on-tap wines and beers) of wonderful Riojas, courtesy of my boss Greg. With such a great setup it was only natural that the conversation was engaging, enlightening, and fun. The picture above shows only a portion of the team I worked with, so many of our newer members working remote from Boston.
I suppose a few lines about what my job actually was are in order; after all, there will be no need to speak much of it in the future. Klaviyo is a late-stage startup with a digital-marketing SaaS product. Klaviyo’s customers are e-commerce companies who want to grow their own businesses, with analytics that show insights and patterns, and with communications via email, SMS and push message to promote their products and services. The part of Klaviyo where I worked is called Channel Infrastructure. The team provides the direct capabilities to format and transmit messages, on all the channels the company supports.
A large part of what I did was help the engineering team grow. When I joined in Sept. 2021 my team was 9 people. When I departed the teams I managed or had started comprised ~30 people. This pace may seem fast, but it’s in line with the trajectory of similar companies, like HubSpot or Shopify, had when they were the “same age” as Klaviyo is now. Those familiar with the inner workings of startups will understand the picture. In the startup’s early days you can make ultra-fast progress with a small team; the original Klaviyo was created by <= 10 engineers. The core capabilities of the software need to be good and hopefully distinctive, but they don’t need to have tons of options, be super-scalable or have perfect quality. But as your startup acquires customers, the stakes of what you do get much, much bigger. Today it is not uncommon for Klaviyo customers to send email campaign mailings to 5 million recipients. Such a campaign might be expected to drive $100,000 in revenue for the sender. If the campaign doesn’t go out, that’s $100K the customer will not get and they will not be happy. So more engineers are needed to scale things, test things, enrich the capabilities, and to respond 24 x 7 when things go wrong.
Another aspect of my work had to do with improving the Klaviyo system itself. Again, as the startup-savvy are well aware, the priority for startups in the beginning is features, creating them as fast as possible and then iterating on them, elaborating on what works with customers and dumping that which doesn’t. Unfortunately such a process repeated over years tends to make the system codebase – to use the engineering euphemism – “sub-optimal”. The sort of problems you see include: appearance of hard-to-foresee and hard-to-fix bugs when adding new features; or, newly added features that should support multiple areas of the system are mysteriously only active for one part of the system. Over time the code had developed so many pervasive and non-obvious dependencies that in order to add one thing, you had to touch everything. Anyway to get the code going back in the right direction, I led a few initiatives, the most significant of which was Domain Decomposition, a project to detangle those dependencies and to organize the system into separate areas that could each evolve and grow independently, without requiring major changes everywhere else.
So this last act (fingers crossed!) of my working life was great, helping to grow a dynamic and promising company, while solving some tough technical problems at the same time. Most people I know in the tech industry would sign up for that any time.
Great as it was, all that is now in the rear-view and receding. What’s next?
Certainly I’ll be doing lots of typical boomer retirement stuff, like golf: not just playing it but systematically trying to get better. And Kim and I have a number of long put-off trips we want to take, like (again, fingers crossed) next Spring to Milan and Florence. And there’s relatives and family, both old and young, to visit.
But the biggest thing I’m looking forward to is applying myself to my fiction writing. This has been a background pursuit of mine since 2009 or so when I attended the Ultimate SF Writing Workshop, taught by Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner. Soon after I started the first story in what would eventually be published as FRACTURED SYMMETRY in 2017. While I’ve self-published a few things beyond F-S, I really want to tell more stories about the characters from it, Blair MacAlister and Terendurr the Black Stone. And so since 2018 or so I’ve been working on a trilogy, that I call Only’s End. This is the story of Blair and Terendurr’s battles with master-criminal Bandal the Only. As a trilogy should attempt, the scope is vast, including many worlds and no less than seven alien races all contained in a setting I call CivSpace. Some of the new characters you will meet there:
- Hwhorrin, Player-King of the Entertainers, a band of actor/assassins.
- Kirk Teurjarian, anthropologist and popularizer of folktales; also a lieutenant to Bandal.
- Nico del Barra, a Kopardi of lowest possible caste, due to his function of draining negative emotions from others.
- Astranche, a flamboyant Phair assassin who serves Bandal, his weapons are throwing knives guided by a radar-enabled brain-computer interface.
- Tullath O’Brian, a Terran intelligence agent who helps Blair investigate the murder of her brother, Ian.
- Manuel Alvarez, a mercenary who fancies narco-corrido ballads; his weapon is a high-tech version of an AK-47.
- Kastus Hel, a Dann-al-thi intelligence agent who doubts the existence of free will.
I’m actually about 2 and 1/3 books done with the main writing. But what edits, updates of re-writes will be needed, that is hard to say. Certainly I will want to enlist beta-readers, but that will be for another post. For now let me close with a short bit from the first book, BANDAL THE ONLY. Blair has encountered, and been rescued by, the Entertainers. She knows they can tell her about what is really happening, but Hwhorrin refuses to answer:
The King turned back to me. “We Entertainers are ruled by law, foremost of which is: We never explain our art to those not of the troupe. The world is our audience, and it must construe on its own. We can tell you nothing.”
Then, he whirled with agility to strike a dramatic pose. “Unless!” he called out. “Unless we take you on. The apprenticeship is lengthy, but the rewards are great. I nominate you for membership! She has the token already – show!”
Without thinking I unclasped my hand. The troupe of Phair rushed forward to look, oohing and ahhing over the warrior statue I held.
“Who will second the nomination?” the King asked. Bylo-By spoke up.
“I do second. Myself I saw her, she stood before Red Flary weaponless, but defiant. It was a moving scene.” He paused, shuffling his feet, then went on. “She does sometimes flail and saw at the air ungracefully, but I am sure such can be mended, with study.”
The King spoke again. “A fair second and a fair critique, good Bylo-By. Now, do any oppose? What of you Belager? Alas I forget – you will not speak! A shame, else you might have thwarted my will.” At this the sulking Belager turned and stalked away into the darkness.
He turned to me. “It is now up to you to accept, or no. Understand, to join the troupe means to follow the law: Never to divulge to outsiders the secrets of our art; To aid and defend your fellow Entertainers; To follow the direction of your King and to take the occasional note; and lastly, To never upstage a fellow Entertainer, unless it buttons the scene. Embrace our offer, follow the law, and you shall know all that I know.”
It is my hope that, before long, all who are interested can know all there is to know about Bandal the Only. Till next time …