June 30, 2023

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Allie Pasinski chimes in as one of Seed Vault’s architects on startup life, remote work, and trans-supportive culture

OSOM’s Allie Pasinski is part of the team that built and maintains OSOM’s well-known Seed Vault feature. Being a software engineer on such an integral part of our work introduces its own difficulties, but in today’s Employee Spotlight interview, she’s found it an enjoyable challenge — and having OSOM’s back as a trans-supportive company hasn’t hurt, either.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Allie! I know we were both hired around the same time, though we work in different departments — you’re over with the software team. What was your background before you came to OSOM? How did you get here? Did you work with any of the Essential team?

No, actually. So I was working in a completely different field of computer science, at a company that did liquid handling robotics. I worked on management software so lab technicians could use them for automating lab processes such as liquid pipetting and sample mixing. This was used for applications in developing medicines, vaccines — stuff like that. 

I moved to OSOM on the recommendation of a friend. I had been looking for something new, and specifically looking for a supportive environment and company. A friend of mine that knew Jason (OSOM’s CEO) said that the company was hiring and was a very supportive place to work. I had never worked in smartphones or a startup environment before, so I thought it would be a really interesting opportunity. I wanted to give it a shot. 

I’m glad you did! I like to think this is a very supportive environment. From the inside looking out, it can be hard to tell if you've just drank the Kool-Aid or if you genuinely like where you are. But I love my job and my coworkers, I think it’s absolutely rad working here. I have to assume you like it here too. 

Oh, definitely!

Tell me a little bit about your responsibilities. You know how it is at a startup; people do a lot of different stuff. What things have you gotten to work on so far that you’re particularly proud of?

I started out mainly working on the Android side of our Seed Vault system. This is the system that allows customers to store their Solana Seeds securely on their devices in what is essentially a built-in hardware wallet. I did have to learn the ropes of Android development a little. Outside of a few projects in school, I hadn’t worked in it as much as other environments. It was pretty easy to pick up, though, since I had worked in .NET development with Windows apps in the past — Android isn’t as big a jump as I thought it might have been, and so many things thankfully carried over. 

I focused on UI work for the first month or two while working on the Android side. Then we needed help on the other side of Seed Vault. This was the secure system, which is separate from Android, and which holds the software for securely storing and accessing the Seed. I was asked if I wanted to join there, and I’ve been working on that side ever since. It was quite different from working on the Android side. I was still doing UI work but in an entirely unique environment and software stack. It also happened to be written mostly in C code, which I did have a good amount of experience in. Still, it was a very different ecosystem. While that definitely made the switch challenging, it is also enjoyable.

Seed Vault is one of Saga’s most important features, and it’s something we spent a lot of time working on. I know the team is really proud having accomplished it, especially working fully remotely with our developers literally all across the world. Your last job wasn’t fully remote right, was this your first time doing fully remote work?

Yeah, it is. So the last job I had, I spent most of those years in the office. During Covid we switched to a hybrid model temporarily. I really was hoping to find a remote job to see what it would be like to work remotely full-time. The days I was at home, I was far more productive than I was at the office. I like to have a little more control of my working environment — including the noise level, as that can be really distracting. For me, the benefits of being able to walk up to my coworkers’ desks to talk with them didn’t make up for that.

But OSOM has been remote since the beginning, and so the process of getting set up for remote work here was faster and easier; I was productive right out the gate. Now that I’m at home, I can keep my space optimized for focusing on the work. (And I don’t have a daily commute, which is probably my favorite part.) We’ve had regular in-person get-togethers which have been really helpful for getting to know everyone. I get pretty much the same amount of communication as I did before in person — setting up meetings is even easier and people are just as, if not more, responsive and communicative.

The common refrain is that you can’t get that level of collaboration in person, but I think the people who claim that have never worked with someone like Keats when he gets a new idea. It gives so much more flexibility in where and how you can get work done with less overhead. And, like you said, people here mesh so well and so easily.  

I think the only thing I miss is the ease of drawing on a whiteboard; though, I have a drawing tablet and can do almost the same thing over Zoom. And the flexibility is great. My last job wasn’t flexible at all

I confess, I took a meeting last week from my kayak. [Both laugh.] It was calendared at the last minute!

It’s been fun seeing all the different locations people call in from for meetings, like the team sync. Sometimes Nick (OSOM’s Head of Camera), or someone else, is in a completely new location or country. 

Nick should not be allowed to have a self-driving car! [Both laugh.]

Going into this job, I had heard a lot of negative things about startups and startup culture, that they destroy your work-life balance, and I really didn’t want that. I asked every person I interviewed with about the work-life balance, can we actually take time off, what happens when employees get burnt out, and got really good responses. One of the managers told me that they would work 60 hours themselves before ever asking their team to come in for overtime. No one here is expected to crunch non-stop — outside Nick, anyway, but he does that to himself. He is his own meme. 

I was also worried about stability: Startups often fail. That’s the number one thing they do, right? But we had already been around for two years when I joined, past the point that most don’t make it, and we just had our three-year anniversary. We’ve weathered the storms so well, and I have a ton of confidence in our ability to keep going. 

And I love the flexibility. I have to take time off for things like doctor’s appointments regularly, and I don’t have to worry too much about when I schedule those. I can split my time up during the day, move it between days, and still do my job. My supervisor is just like, “no worries, put it on the calendar.”

I know one of the things you and I discussed bringing up in this call is what it’s like working for a trans-supportive company. How has that journey been for you here at OSOM?

Before I worked at OSOM, it was difficult. Supportive companies are the norm in, like, big tech — FAANG, that sort of thing — but older companies, less tech-focused companies, and startups can be a little harder to find support in. Unfortunately, while I did find support from coworkers, I struggled to find support, and often found rejection, in company policy in my previous positions. So, that was a big thing I was looking for when I came to OSOM, and I was very happy to find it here. 

Right out of the gate, I had trans-supportive health insurance, and while there’s still the inevitable uphill battle of dealing with an insurance company, I know that OSOM has my back. I can get my medicines, I can get my checkups, I can get my treatments, and it’s wonderful. 

Coming out to anyone in this world is a very difficult challenge, especially people you work with every day and the superiors that can dictate whether you even have a job or not. I carried some of that anxiety coming into OSOM — I wasn’t hiding it, but I wasn’t, like, talking to everyone about it. But I brought it up at our meetup last December, and it was great how kindly everyone responded and how often people cared to check in with me to ensure I’m still doing okay. 

You specifically have tried to work with me for things like Trans Day of Visibility and Trans Day of Remembrance to make sure that we put out supportive messages as a company. Jason has personally reached out to me multiple times to make sure I’m doing okay, especially in regards to a lot of the negative and harmful legislation that’s being passed in the US these days, and he gets that it has an impact on my mental health — and so many other people throughout this entire country. But I know that all of my coworkers, my supervisor, and my CEO have my back. It’s been so wonderful. 

One last question for you, Allie — and I ask everyone this one. What’s your favorite Saga feature?

I could almost say Seed Vault, because I worked on it, but I actually have to give it to Nick and the camera. It’s such good camera software, and he worked night and day on it. 

Night, day, and weekends! Oh, Nick. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Allie, I had fun.