The Asana Engineering team: Meet Justin Churchill

Justin Churchill

From individual contributors to managers and program leads, every engineer at Asana is encouraged to pursue a path to success that leads them to be most successful in their role. To give you a look into our engineering team, we’ve put together a series of blog posts to help you get to know our teammates. They’ll focus on people in different roles, from different backgrounds, and with different perspectives. We hope you enjoy meeting a few members of our team!

Meet Justin, a member of the Client Infrastructure team. He joined Asana in 2016.

How did you decide to become a software engineer?

I actually started out as an Electrical and Computer Engineering major at Cornell. I realized that my favorite classes were often either math-heavy, or were ones where I got opportunities to write code—not so much the electrical engineering ones. I decided that set of interests was much better aligned with a career in software engineering and shifted my course load to reflect that.

Because of that, I came into my career with some experience in computer science, but I didn’t have the same path as some my friends who knew they wanted to do CS for a long time. I think that made me enter the job market slightly differently than a lot of my peers.

What are you passionate about working on?

Over the first four years of my career, I found a lot of passion working on performance issues. It’s the type of work where you have to understand everything about the system in order to notice opportunities for improvement, which I love doing. You end up learning a lot about software engineering that way.

I also really like thinking about the developer experience: What does it feel like to take ideas and express them as code? How natural does that feel? How does the environment you’re in, the frameworks you’re using, and the language you choose affect that? I try to notice what makes writing code really fun for me and bring more of that quality to all the systems I touch.

What made you apply to join Asana’s engineering team?

It was kind fortunate—well, for me, maybe not for our customers at the time—that Asana was working on performance when I started my job search. I felt like I’d be able to almost immediately have a real impact on the work that was being done here.

When I was doing research on different companies before interviewing, I ended up reading a lot about Asana’s engineering team and culture. The way Asana described their thoughts on culture and collaboration felt like a perfect paraphrasing of my own opinions. Finally, I wanted to be convinced that the people here were smart and doing interesting engineering things. So I read about some of the things Asana was doing, and I liked what I found. I’m happy to say it has fully lived up to my expectations.

What do you do at Asana now?

First and foremost I’m an engineer on the Client Infrastructure team—we’re basically the web framework team. We think about the core architecture of the front-end of the application—everything that’s running on the browser, and the abstractions around how it communicates with the server. We primarily focus on performance and the developer experience.

I’m also the Program Lead (PL) of the Client Infrastructure team. This involves managing the planning process and team dynamics. For planning, I do a lot of the same type of problem-solving that I do as an IC, just one level up. PLs decide how things are going to work more broadly at the systems level. Beyond planning, I get to focus on team motivation. I think a lot about what makes me excited to come into work every day as an IC and how to replicate that for everyone on my team. I also work to make sure that no one is falling behind or unhappy about their work.

Finally, I’m an engineering manager, which means I coach engineers who aren’t necessarily staffed on my program. I seek out opportunities that fit them best and help plan their growth. My approach to managing is to think back to all the times I received helpful coaching, was really well-supported, or someone helped me find something I was really passionate about. Then I try to replicate that for my reports.

Sounds like you have a few different roles. Why haven’t you given up your individual engineering work as you’ve become a PL and manager?

My IC work is something I really care about continuing to do because it’s important to me to keep practicing the type of craftsmanship where you get to think about all the details. As a PL, I do a lot of directing, which is nice because in a sense I’m forming plans and people are executing them. But sometimes it just feels really good to take a plan that you know will work, and then make it happen—and it’s hard to give that up. I could see that potentially changing further into the future, but for now it’s something I really still care about.

Why are you excited to come to work every day?

Working at Asana, I realized how impactful it is to work on a product where I can imagine myself as the user. It’s even better: I am the user!

How teams collaborate effectively is an interesting topic that everyone has opinions on. As an engineer who also cares about the way teams work together, it’s exciting to be building software that impacts collaboration so deeply. This translates to having no shortage of things I wish I could get to if I had extra time. Being an active user of the product myself goes a long way towards connecting me to everything that’s going on across the company.

How has using Asana changed how you work?

The transparency that our product provides is huge. In my past experience, a lot of work was done through in-person conversations or emails, so there wasn’t much visibility. Asana is the opposite: if I want to see what’s going on with some aspect of engineering, there’s usually a project in Asana where I can see what people are excited about doing next. This sparks more creativity and conversation and keeps me feeling very involved in my work.

Using Asana has also helped me feel the impact I’m having on the product and business. It’s really easy to collect information on what the most valuable thing for me to do is, given all of my options, because I have visibility into the bigger picture. Our culture of constant feedback and transparency lets me see the results of the work I’m doing and make sure that what I’m doing is leveraged.

What are you looking forward to learning?

I usually think about my areas of growth as two pretty separate divisions: technical and non-technical. Technically, I’m excited to keep taking on harder and harder problems, making decisions that have a larger impact, and learning from my coworkers.

Non-technically, I’m excited about getting better at one-on-ones and navigating difficult management situations. I’d also like to get better at delivering difficult feedback—but of course, hope I don’t need to very often! At Asana, we think a lot about interpersonal communication, so I feel like there’s a huge opportunity for me to grow in this dimension.

Does Justin seem like someone you’d like to work with? Have a look at our open engineering positions to see how you might fit into our team.

Special thanks to Justin Churchill

Would you recommend this article? Yes / No