A bike chained to a street sign in West Philadelphia spurred Nick McAvoy’s latest career change. Seriously.
After a particularly stressful commute from a teaching job in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, seeing the bike spurred McAvoy’s dream of a 10-minute cycling ride to a job in the city. So, in 2009, he left teaching for software engineering.
Now, McAvoy is an engineering manager at Crossbeam, a Center City-based partner ecosystem platform that helps businesses collaborate with each other by tracking their overlapping contacts and prospects while keeping the rest of their data secure.
“Crossbeam was the best of both worlds because it was a company that I wanted to work for using the programming language, Clojure, that I was passionate about, and I was able to come back home to do it,” McAvoy said.
He was the third engineer hired to help build Crossbeam’s data escrow platform in 2018, the year the company was founded. A few months ago, he was promoted to manage the “Pinto Beams,” a self-named team of five engineers spread across the country.
McAvoy isn’t traditionally trained in software development, but he gained programming experience as a physics major (like Crossbeam Engineering Manager Dan Singer) at the University of Pennsylvania. McAvoy also had a soft spot for the specialty since his father was a programmer.
Before landing at Crossbeam, McAvoy dedicated time to travel. Inspired by a Korean history class at Penn, McAvoy visited South Korea and other areas of East Asia. Back in the States, he was settled down in central Texas for a time.
“I just thought of myself as a kid from Pennsylvania,” said McAvoy, who is from Chester County. “It was a little overwhelming at college when people came from all over. Many people were bilingual and had intersecting identities culturally. Traveling was my attempt to walk those footsteps in reverse and experience and learn from the variety of cultures in the world.”
A growing family of his own pushed McAvoy to settle back in the Philadelphia region, eventually leading to his career at Crossbeam.
The company has expanded, doubling its team since March 2020. McAvoy said it has been exciting to participate in Crossbeam’s success from the beginning.
“There’s a little bit of pinching yourself,” he added. “You wonder, ‘Is this actually the success story that’s really happening in my backyard in Philadelphia?’”
McAvoy dishes more about what it’s like to be part of Crossbeam’s team for Technical.ly.
What excites you about your work at Crossbeam?
I get to use a programming language that I’m passionate about. The main language that we’ve built Crossbeam on is Clojure. It is really not a mainstream language that you find a ton of companies using, but it’s really our secret advantage. Not only does the language have a lot of inherent benefits when compared to many others because of the way it’s designed, but it’s also built on learning from mistakes.
We don’t expect people to know Clojure when they’re applying. But if learning this language motivates a candidate, that’s a tremendous signal.
What was it like transitioning into a leadership role as an engineering manager?
It was very natural for me to aspire to some kind of leadership at Crossbeam. We want to be a place not just where we can get code out of engineers, but where people can grow. I mentioned that I had some interest in moving into this kind of role, and Crossbeam looks for opportunities to realize the goals that their employees have.
How do you foster a positive team spirit amongst the engineers you manage?
For collaboration, we have a virtual team stand-up daily. We could have one major initiative or everybody could be working on something different. As manager of the team, I make sure our engineers have the resources and information they need to be successful. On any given day, I’m spending time with my team and other leaders at the company to remove roadblocks and create high-quality software. Google Calendar and Slack are my not-so-secret weapons.
The team spirit comes from having a collaborative and transparent company culture, a culture where we celebrate people’s successes and are happy to toot one another’s horns. It comes back to this culture of trust and fun and equity.
What sort of person does well at Crossbeam?
I was one of the first hires on the engineering team, and definitely early in the life of a startup, you are looking for what we call a T-shaped generalist. This is somebody who has some specialization (that’s the deep part of the T), but then you want people who are able to pick up different things and don’t mind playing a more horizontal role when the need arises (that’s the bar on the top). So from day one, there has been the need for employees to explore and learn new things.
Want to hear more from Nick?
Check out his session “Why We Bet Our Startup on Clojure” at the free, virtual Technical.ly Developers Conference next Tuesday, May 11. Register here, and learn more about the other speakers and hiring companies here.
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