Product at Prolific: A Tale of Two Software Engineers

At Prolific our goal is to build the most powerful and trusted platform for behavioural research. This is no simple task, and we have an incredibly talented, thoughtful, and intelligent team who are up for the challenge. I interviewed two of our amazing software engineers - Clem (backend) and Andrew (frontend) - to learn about their experiences and what they're doing to help change how research on the internet is done.

Clem joined Prolific in early 2020 after being attracted by our company values. She told me: "There was a good vibe coming from Prolific. It was clear they cared about the product and people." Andrew, on the other hand, was one of Prolific's first employees, joining in 2016. He said he was interested in joining an early-stage startup and thought that Prolific seemed an interesting and worthwhile project. At the time he was one of only a handful of employees.

Q: How has your role changed since you started working at Prolific?

C: "When I joined Prolific I spent the first couple months understanding the codebase" said Clem. After getting comfortable with the codebase, Clem decided to work more cross-functionally. "I started meeting with Charley [Participant Support Analyst] and realized how I as a developer can try to make her job easier." Now, Clem and Charley meet regularly to discuss any problems participants are experiencing on the platform and brainstorm how to fix those problems with code. Clem grinned, "Charley and I also video call each other during lunch and play video games. It's a lot of fun."

A: "A lot has changed since I started at Prolific four years ago" said Andrew. "Obviously the team has grown in size, but we're more metrics-driven now and have a clearer picture of what our goals are - it delivers a better product." And now, because we have a larger team "we have more iteration on prototypes and time to work in the exploratory phase." The Product Team now has a squad model with task-based cross-functional teams. He continued, "I like having a block of time to think about a certain problem and work with different people." Andrew now manages a team of four!

Q: What's your most exciting upcoming project?

C: "We are looking to update the payment and invoicing system, which will make things easier for both users and the team." Clem noted the complexity of this task and acknowledged that it is "an interesting challenge." She is a big fan of working in squads, saying that "I like the idea that we focus on a problem and we can come up with lots of solutions to fix that problem." She also mentioned that "it feels less robotic. We're not just writing code for the sake of it - we have a problem we're solving!"

A: Without hesitating, Andrew told me, "the rebrand." Prolific is completely overhauling our website to "have a consistent theme and design system." Keep an eye out for upcoming changes!

Q: How would you define Prolific's culture?

C: With a smile, Clem told me that "it's a place where people are genuinely caring and kind. It makes you want to do a good job because you're surrounded by those who you care about." She feels supported by everyone in her "career, learning, and life in general." Transparency and trust are big parts of our culture, meaning that "you always receive genuine feedback… It feels like you have a voice and people listen to what you have to say. It's also a place to learn and grow." Clem is excited to go to work every day: "It feels like more than a job. You aren't just put into someone else's plan - you're making a difference."

A: "I've always felt like I've had autonomy and trust since day one" said Andrew. He applauded our leadership team for pushing work-life balance and prioritizing health. "And on top of the values, we have an amazing and diverse team to bounce ideas off of." He continued, "And we have so many amazing ideas you'll never run out of interesting stuff to work on."

Sitting in Toronto, talking to Clem in Glasgow and Andrew in Oxford, it somehow didn’t feel like we were thousands of miles apart. Our remote team at Prolific is connected by the desire to make science more accessible and data-driven decisions more commonplace. That connection is strengthened by the challenges we face together. Though Clem, Andrew, and I have different roles, different daily routines, and work on different sides of the company, let alone different sides of the Atlantic Ocean, we all need each other to collaborate with, learn from, and, sometimes, just to talk to.

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