This blog series is dedicated to celebrating our Black, Latinx, and Women Engineers who are making an impact in the lives of our Gusties and Gustomers (Gusto customers) every day.
Today, we're spotlighting Shawn Stewart, who has been with Gusto for 2 years. He is currently the Head of Engineering for the Payroll Experiences group, leveraging 20+ years of enterprise engineering experience, to help scale Gusto’s delightful experience up-market to serve larger and more complex businesses.
Our interviewers are Jeff Dunn and Kim Nguyen. Jeff works on Gusto’s Invite Team to hire software engineering talent, while Kim builds features to improve the partner developer experience as part of Gusto Embedded.
Jeff: How did you join Gusto?
Shawn: I joined Gusto two years ago, and I’m the Head of Engineering for the Payroll Experiences group, responsible for a large surface area of payroll, including time tracking, at Gusto.
I worked in a number of industries, but all with a focus on helping people transform their lives through work. That journey took me to Fidelity investments, where I supported their 401k financial products. It also brought me to LinkedIn, a truly great resource for helping people find opportunities. I cut my teeth in enterprise payroll at Ultimate Software, and finally I arrived at Gusto to tackle payroll for small businesses.
Jeff: In your role here at Gusto, what has been one of your proudest accomplishments/impacts you have had on the SMB customers we serve?
Shawn: I joined Gusto in the height of the pandemic. At that time, the work landscape was shifting more to remote work, and people were finding that they needed to get their employees registered in the states that they lived in. We quickly responded and launched a state registration project so businesses could properly register their employees and remain compliant within the tax codes. I’m really proud of how we were able to execute on that and deliver value to our customers in an unprecedented time.
Jeff: What makes you excited about the work you do to serve SMB customers here at Gusto?
Shawn: Every single day, our customers are at the forefront of our minds. We’re constantly getting feedback directly from our customers, and cycling that into our roadmap. I love that we get to maintain that type of relationship with our customers where we can co-author Gusto’s features together.
I remember a case in particular, where a customer using a CSV download feature in one of our reports wanted to have the data organized and formatted for better compatibility with Excel and Google spreadsheets. An engineer on our team was able to quickly respond to that request, and we worked together with the customer to fine-tune the organization and formatting – it quickly became one of the most used features shortly after.
Small businesses are central to the American economy and prosperity, accounting for over 99% of all firms with paid employees. I am proud to play a role in supporting their growth through Gusto.
Jeff: What advice would you give to someone looking to break into engineering or are just getting started?
Shawn: There’s a lot of advice out there about the different skills people should acquire or the technologies they should learn. But my advice is to dig into how you approach problems. My unique trait is my solutions perspective and the way that I see problems. If you can hone in on improving how you see problems, it’s going to make the biggest difference in your career.
For example, when I think about how a Payroll Admin might use Gusto, I don't just think about how they might use the features and tools in the product we're building. I think about all of the pre-work a Payroll Admin might need to do before they even log into Gusto. This perspective helps me better understand how to solve for how our customers approach the product, not just the utility of the product.
Kim: What does your typical day at Gusto look like? What are your favorite parts of the day?
Shawn: Haha, I have no idea what a typical day is! Or even a typical week! That’s because I’ve seen a lot of interesting challenges crop up every day at work. I rarely see the same problems twice!
But if I could break it down, part of my day is spent taking care of my teams – I am a big part of an even larger team, with folks working all over the world. That means checking in, connecting, celebrating their triumphs, collaborating through the challenges or being involved in standups. Sometimes my role is to keep things light-hearted and tell some jokes, and to find out what’s going on in people’s lives. Other times my role is to find ways to help support my teams, specifically with what they’re having difficulty with, and deepening our relationships with cross-functional partners.
The other portion of my day is spent getting a sense of what’s going on in the economy and with our customers, and bringing those holistic insights back to our roadmap to see how we can make sense of it strategically. This required a lot of data analysis on how well our features in the product and the business are doing overall, and sometimes talking directly to customers to better understand the sentiment behind the data.
Kim: What's something that working at Gusto has taught you that you will continue to take with you in your career as you grow?
Shawn: I think leaning into the business value and the customer impact in everything that we’re doing is something I’m learning a great deal about at Gusto. Previously in my career as an engineering leader, I’ve been concerned with unlocking business value through engineering efforts. But here at Gusto, the acute focus and empathy we have for our customers is what I’m learning is one of Gusto’s key differentiators.
Kim: What are some resources you've learned from? Any particular role models?
Shawn: I grew up in South Florida, which wasn’t at the time known as a big tech hub or tech scene. So LinkedIn has been a big resource for me to reach out to folks and stay connected. The majority of my learnings at this phase of my career is based within the relationships I build and understanding what the tech landscape is, all of which I can do on LinkedIn.
As for role models, I’ve had the fortune of having worked directly with some wonderful leaders. Joanne Rodhe, and my current manager at Gusto, Rohini Pradeep, have been extraordinary.
Kim: How do you support and inspire early career Black engineers?
Shawn: I’ve made it a commitment to make the annual pilgrimage to AfroTech. When I went to my first AfroTech, it was held at a small conference hall at a mall. And now it’s evolved into this massive global event! I try to stay as active and involved in official and unofficial black tech organizations. I continue to serve as a member of /dev/color since the early days, and that organization has been one of the most instrumental in helping me serve the black engineering community through mentorship and fellowship. Beyond that, I do weekly, monthly, and casual chats with former and current co-workers, and folks I’ve networked with. I spend a lot of time between the South Florida and San Francisco area, and staying in touch with these groups is something I spend a lot of time on while I’m there.
Kim: What advice would you give to a senior engineer on how to start operating at the Staff+ level here at Gusto?
Shawn: I absolutely love this question. I always tell this story about the renaissance artists Bernini and Michaelangelo. You’ll find Bernini’s fingerprints all over Italy, across many works of art. Bernini was extremely productive – he could run circles around Michaelangelo in the volume of work he could produce. But whenever Michaelangelo produced art, he would move art forward. So I would say to strong productive engineers, it’s more about asking yourself the question, “given my experience, how can I move this art forward?” That would be my advice for folks to have the most impact.
For the love of our craft, I hope the answer to this question is different for everyone.
Kim: How would you describe the culture/work environment at Gusto and how it might differ from other companies you are familiar with?
Shawn: Gusto is the first place where I feel completely safe to bring my true self to work everyday and that can be celebrated across the board. It really shines through not just in our policies, but in the way we talk about product development and interact with our customers. We’ve made a lot of difficult decisions that not a lot of companies would make because we keep a people-first mentality. We will forever celebrate and protect humanity, diversity and integrity – through our work, service and product.
Kim: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!
Shawn: Yes of course! Appreciate you for having me.