Interview with Alex Omeyer
CEO, Stepsize - Tracking issues linked to code.
What is Stepsize? Why did you build it?
Stepsize is the engineer’s hub for code-based health and technical debt. We started as the engineer’s front end to issue trackers and our goal is to improve or even replace terrible engineering backlogs in tools like JIRA.
Any generalist project management tool that you can think of has the same problem - everyone knows that they’re more like graveyards where codebase issues go to die. We’re helping engineers finally find the right balance between the need to ship features and the need to maintain a healthy codebase, so that engineers can be productive, ship quality code and have satisfying work.
We have adopted an editor-first approach where engineers can select any collection of code straight from their editor and create an issue that will remain linked to that code. It sounds innocuous, but it’s important. Some of our users call Stepsize a “WTF” button for their code base, but it offers so much more, because our customers managed to track and fix more issues than they ever dreamed possible.
For example, one of our customers, Arcane, managed to fix 50% of all the issues they ever tracked in Stepsize, and another, Prescryptive, has fixed 60%. These numbers are unheard of for any engineering backlogs. It means that they’re continuously improving their codebase and fighting technical debt while shipping features for the first time ever.
For example, we have customers who use GitHub Issues and essentially, their GitHub Issues becomes our backend for Stepsize. What we focus on is all the magic that you can build from having the link between the issue and the code. Being able to surface the subset of issues that is relevant for the code engineers are looking at right now is very powerful. Contrast this with a backlog in GitHub Issues that have hundreds, if not thousands of them totally divorced from the code they relate to.
Engineers can now sit down with their product counterpart to understand that, next sprint, they will be shipping features A, B, and C. They know this will involve working with code X, Y, and Z, so they can use Stepsize to filter the issues that live in this code. They then know what’s in the way of the stuff that is important to them as a company.
Thanks to the link between the issue and the code, we’re able to display each issue inline in your editor next to the code that it relates to. Since Stepsize issues are linked to code, we can integrate with third-party tools like Datadog, Code Climate, Logz.io, even LaunchDarkly and many more to bring only the data that’s relevant to the code that the engineer’s looking at right in their workflow.
At Stepsize we say developer-first equals editor-first. VS Code has taken over, but add to the mix JetBrains and Visual Studio, and these represent over 90% of the editors that modern engineers use. These are all editors that you can enhance and improve using third-party integrations. It’s a new trend that’s going to change the way developers work.
What does a “day in the life” look like for you?
I’m one of these weirdos who doesn’t eat breakfast or lunch. I’m a one meal a day guy. So I just get up, go for a walk. I walk around the block as if I were walking my dog to get a bit of sun. Then do a bit of stretching and a quick meditation. I usually have some key tasks that I prioritized the previous day, which I take care of before I open my inbox or get too distracted by Slack.
These days, I spend a lot of time working on all things related to Growth at Stepsize. Typically this involves sales and marketing. We’re a small team of nine, so these things span the whole spectrum, which is one of the things I love about building a company. I don’t get to code anymore, but that’s probably a good thing. I used to write bad code in the early days of Stepsize that someone else would later refactor. Since then, we’ve hired professionals.
What is the team structure around Stepsize?
I have three co-founders. There’s my brother, Nick Omeyer, who takes care of the product. Matthieu Louis who is our CTO, and Jared Burgess who ships code and design. They spend a lot of time working with our team of three engineers to deliver on every aspect of the product. I work on all things growth-related with our two growth marketers.
Our engineers get to comment and participate in all the decisions we make about how to build the product or how to distribute it. Everyone at Stepsize has some degree of technical know-how.
How did you first get into software development?
I come from a non-technical background. I studied Business in all its variations, but when we came up with our first projects, we all got our hands dirty to build our prototypes. The next thing to do and the best way to contribute was to learn to code. Fast forward a few years, my role naturally evolved from there into the responsibilities that I have now at Stepsize as CEO.
What is the most interesting development challenge you’ve faced working on Stepsize?
The most interesting are the development challenges that relate to the softer side of building software in a team. We’ve gone deep into figuring out the best ways for teams to balance the need to ship features at pace with the need to maintain a healthy codebase and avoid technical debt accumulating.
It’s an incredibly deep and complex problem for a lot of organizations. The bigger you get, the more complexity there is. You can think of technical debt as the result of entropy in the codebase. If you leave it unchecked, it’s going to cause lots of problems, but it’s also a resource that you can use for extra leverage, just like financial debt. Provided it’s taken on deliberately and prudently, maybe it allows you to go faster, provided you have a plan to pay it back. These are the kinds of topics that I love to geek out about with our customers.
The key is to balance the need for shipping features and maintenance work. I would recommend that people prioritize maintenance work that is in the way of key priorities for the business.
If you’ve decided to ship some new features as part of a new initiative, it’s probably time to go pay down some of the technical debt that’s in your way in that code. Not only will it serve you in the long term, but it’ll also make this work higher quality, faster, and everyone who’s working on it will be a lot happier for it. That would be my key piece of advice. It’s very hard to do with a general backlog, which is why we built Stepsize
What is the most interesting tech tool or product you are playing around with at the moment?
Like a lot of companies, we went remote during the pandemic, but being remote in a pandemic is different to being remote in normal times.
We planned on getting together on a regular basis but the pandemic obviously lasted much longer than we thought so that didn’t work out and we started looking for solutions to improve the remote experience at Stepsize.
We’ve been having a lot of fun with a product called Around, which is a tool for video calls that works well for live brainstorms, or even just to chat and hang out and play games. It’s the tool we use to have our colleagues’ heads floating around when we’re working on some design together or pair programming, or just riffing about the product or some strategy.
Describe your computer hardware setup
I’m not much of a hardware guy, but I have ended up with a nice setup over the years. I have a standing desk that goes up and down. It’s one of these adjustable ones because I’m fidgety and need to move to be able to think. With that, I have a couple of Asus screens that are propped up by a stand holding onto the desk, and a desk keyboard with a Razer mouse.
Describe your computer software setup
OS: I switch between Windows and Mac.
Chat: Slack & Zoom.
IDE: VS Code.
Source control: GitHub.
Daytime or nighttime? Nighttime.
Tea or coffee? Decaf coffee.
Silence or music? Silence.
What non-tech activities do you like to do?
I’m into weightlifting which I do five times a week. It’s one of my outlets to make sure I don’t go nuts. I do a lot of walks and hikes as well, and try to make meditation a regular practice.
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