Engineering Impact: Grant’s Solo Role in the Virtual World of RealWork Labs

Get to Know Grant Isom

Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Grant’s journey into computer science began with a high school project, igniting a passion for software development. After freelancing and interning during college at KU, he ventured into the startup world. Grant is creating a huge impact on RealWork Labs’ software as the Lead Mobile engineer. Beyond work, Grant enjoys tennis, beer leagues, snobbish coffee, and quality time with his dog and wife. 

Did you study computer science at KU? How did you get interested in wanting to study CS?

“I had no idea what I wanted to do. In my senior year, my high school had a senior project; it was my mom who came up with the idea that I should make an app for my high school. That was the thing at the time, and the app store was big right then. I ended up loving it. 

I came into college still wanting to do something different for Computer Science, like electrical engineering or computer engineering, but a professor I had at KU was like, “No, you want to do software, do computer science,” so I decided to go in that direction.”

What inspired your decision to pursue this profession further? Did you have specific career goals?

“That’s a good question; I’m a big Apple fanboy, so I always thought I wanted to work there. But then, in my sophomore year of college, I’d been programming for a while, just always had side projects for fun, trying to build something, and I started freelancing on the side and interning in the summer with a company and then a startup. 

I just felt like there were a lot of opportunities at the time for me, and I could use these skills I was learning immediately and not have to have a classic summer job anymore.

So, it became a way for me to do that. It was a cool experience, too, because making anything you could think of entices me.”

How'd you get into the startup world?

“Yeah, that was the most fun internship I ever had was for a company called Knoda. And it was before gambling apps were legal, so you would make a bet or a wager and people would pick a side with you. So there’s no money involved, and it did not survive a year after I had left. It was fun because there’s five people in the company that did everything, and I thought that was really cool. 

Then I went to work for a huge 25,000 person software company here in KC that had a lot of benefits there. Then I started at Real Work Labs which similar to my previous jub have both been startups, and I really love the vibe and culture and just the way things get done. There’s not a partner for everything, not a perfect person for everything; you just have to do new things out of necessity, which has always been something I really enjoy or look out for. 

There’s skin in the game. Your work really matters in the short term and long term. Everybody has to be doing the best they can for this to work. So I think people always say startups are riskier. Being at a big organization, you are so much less in control over your own destiny, you know what I mean?”

What does a typical day look like for you?

“That’s a good question. I wake up, sometimes play tennis in the morning, and then get started on things for the day. I go through Jira and see what’s in flight for current projects. Since I’m a bit different than the rest of the team, a lot of my work is just a bit more solo; I’ll just pick up where I left off the day before after standup. 

I’ll have a couple of one-on-ones every once in a while, but a lot of it is working on our new product features and then peeking at our logging tool to see what technical issues users are having and watching the Ask Product Slack channel to see if there’s anything I can help answer.”

Can you talk a little bit more about working in your solo position and what that's like for you?

“It was an adjustment at first, but it’s been really great this past year. Morton, our Chief Product Officer, and I started tag-teaming to build out our new app, Crux, a little over a year ago. Then, eventually, he got called back up to focus on his other responsibilities. 

It’s been great to get back to focusing and sharpening my engineering skills since I was still coding in my previous role, but I was doing a lot of people stuff, too. 

What’s interesting about my role being kind of a little bit of a solo thing is that there’s nobody else to figure out some of the issues, which I’ve really enjoyed just because it’s like, “Hey, there’s some issue” and so I’m just like, “alright, today I’m going to go see what I can learn about whether it’s location services or camera stuff and see what I can do.” 

Everyone on my team is super supportive of me; the whole engineering team, as well as the product team, is able to help me when needed. But I had to push myself and constantly seek ways to add to our app and stay on top of trends.”

Not only are you kind of a team of one, but you're also virtual, RealWork Labs has a very in-office culture, what’s that like for you not being here in person?

“I do miss just the messing around and camaraderie of being in office, but it’s totally outweighed by getting the work for a company like Real Work Labs. I  just had to change how I approach things. I’ve got to be more active on Slack and think of creative ways to stay in touch with people. Coming down to Austin has been a really great avenue to get to know people better, whether it’s planning for bigger-picture projects or just catching up with people I’ve been virtually interacting with every day. It’s good to just put a name to a face and see what’s new in their life since the last time I came into town.”

My next question is what do you like the most specifically about the work we do here?

“I’ve always been super fascinated by our product and the overall vision behind it. It’s also cool that we’ve found a niche in an industry that hasn’t been flooded with software already. Home Service Businesses (HSBs) are left to play Legos with a bunch of software made for different industries, so it’s really cool to build something custom-fit for plumbers, contractors, roofers, etc. 

There are also so many things we can do on top of what we’ve built so far. I just saw this month’s town hall slides and the work we will be doing this year. It’s so cool because a lot of other startups are trying to reinvent something already established where there are a few players in our field, which is super awesome.”

What is one thing that surprised you the most about your current role?

“It’s pretty surprising how much we’ve done. I was just thinking about this year, doing my annual review, and I was blown away by the amount of things we have built and redone, the speed at which research and development, and how the company as a whole has moved. We’ve made many huge changes within just a year. No other place I’ve worked at has moved at this speed and has worked as well as everyone does here. 

There’s no drama in the team. Everyone focuses on the work, and our leaders do a great job keeping distractions and things at bay. I feel like I can put a hundred percent of my energy into what I’m supposed to do.”

How does real Work Labs culture differ from other places you’ve worked at?

“I always struggled with what things could be better from a cultural perspective because there are just a lot of interpersonal challenges and issues at other companies. At other places I’ve been, leadership has hesitated to change and make hard calls. Here, we’ve seen that our whole leadership team is ahead of things the company is facing and willing to do challenging things themselves. 

As a virtual person, just the way people treat each other here is really awesome. Even when there are disagreements or arguments, the way they’re handled is always very professional. Everyone’s so nice when I come in; I always love coming to town because people from all different teams come up to catch up with me. 

I feel like everybody’s in the same boat. We’re all working towards the same thing. I feel like here at RealWork Labs, I have the tools and support I need to do my job. I feel like I work with talented, smart people, and it just makes life so much easier.”

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

“That’s a good question. I’m most proud of my time here at RealWorks, getting our app, Crux, out was awesome. I didn’t think we were going to do it in the timeframe we did. 

I just always want to learn and stay ahead of the curve. I think this is probably for all careers, but I think it’s easy to get stuck in what you like. So, even though I’ve done a lot of mobile computing using the technology we use here, this was the first time I had used it, at least not professionally. So, it was cool to learn how to be okay with doing things differently.”

Do you have any hobbies or interests?

“I play a lot of tennis, and I’m in some beer leagues with some buddies. That’s my excuse for exercise. And I’ve got the most dramatic dog ever. My wife and I are obsessed with our dog. So those are my two big hobbies. And then there’s going to KU and living in Kansas City; I’ve got a good group of college friends that I still get into shenanigans with. I love it. 

I’m also a big coffee snob; I’m always looking for new coffee to try out. There’s a cool service called Fellow where they text you interesting bags of coffee from all over the US or world, and you can text them back how many bags you want to order.”