Meet Nick Rabinowitz, a one-time English major turned H3 enthusiast who serves as a senior staff software engineer at Foursquare. Check out our Q&A below to learn more about how Nick came to Foursquare, how his career has grown since joining our team, and why he thinks a local cemetery is the perfect place to relax.
Can you tell us a little about your role and responsibilities at Foursquare?
I’m a senior staff engineer and I work on the Unfolded team. I came on to the Foursquare team when Unfolded joined Foursquare, and I’m mostly working on different aspects of the Unfolded product. Prior to joining Unfolded, I was part of the H3 team at Uber. Today, I work on the hexagon grid technology in the Unfolded product. (Side note: not sure what H3 is or why it’s important to Foursquare’s tech? Check out Nick’s blog post on the subject here.)
When employees join Foursquare, they’re asked to share a fun fact with a company. What would your fun fact be?
My fun fact was that I started geocaching over the pandemic. Geocaching is a large community of people who hide things, post their coordinates, and then give you clues about where to find them. It’s a fun way to decide where you’re going to take your next hike.
What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on right now?
The most exciting project I’m working on is something that we haven’t formally launched yet, but it will have a significant impact on our Unfolded product’s capabilities and (we hope!) the mapping/geospatial analysis space as a whole. It’s something unique to Foursquare and Unfolded, and I’ve been working on it for over nine months now. We’re getting very close to launching publicly.
What was your very first job?
I was an intern at a graphic design firm in college, back when knowing a little bit of HTML was enough to qualify you as a programmer. In retrospect, I knew almost nothing at the time, but it was a great way to learn. That internship also gave me a longstanding respect for designers and the work they do, which is not necessarily shared by all engineers.
What was your career journey like leading up to Foursquare?
I often tell people that I am a secret English major, because I didn’t start off with a technical background. I started playing around with websites in college, and then had a long string of jobs where I worked with the web. At that time I called myself a web developer, and a lot of that work was in the nonprofit and NGO space. I ended up going back to school and got a master’s at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, which is a very multi-disciplinary school–not just computer science, but also sociology, law, and policy.
At UC Berkeley, I started a big project where I worked with a UN agency doing research and information management work. I was helping them figure out how to share information between different agencies in disasters, and that was super interesting and certainly an education. After that, I went into a data analytics startup, working on web-based visualization tools, and I’ve been doing that kind of data analysis engineering ever since. I worked on that startup for three years and then switched to Uber, where I worked for about five years. At that point, many of my favorite people at Uber had gone on to found Unfolded – so, when it was time for a career change, I ended up joining them. I’ve been at Unfolded (and now Foursquare) ever since, working on a lot of super interesting and innovative mapping projects.
What advice would you give to employees looking to grow within Foursquare?
Make a lot of connections. Talk to other people outside your own team. Find out what other people do, and be curious about other parts of the business. Other people are always doing lots of interesting things. Being curious about that and looking for places where you can add value is a good way to get involved outside your own little space.
What makes you excited to come to work each day?
The people – I really like who I work with. It’s really important to me to work with interesting, kind and respectful people on an everyday basis – and also people who I can learn from. I also really enjoy the specific projects that I’m working on. We’re doing technically innovative work. You’re not going to go out and search the internet for the answers to what we’re trying to do, because no one’s done it before.
When you take the time to put together a new technology, the daily challenges are really interesting. For example, how do I make this particular piece of code faster? How do I make the overall architecture more efficient, or easier to manage and maintain? How do I make sure that the code that I’m writing works well in the context of the code that everyone else is writing? How do I set things up so that the rest of my team can succeed using the things that I’m building? Those are just some of the interesting problems that I like handling on a daily basis.
Why is diversity equity and inclusion important to you, and how do you feel that the Foursquare culture embodies these?
Foursquare is doing a really good job of putting a strong emphasis on diversity. I think it’s really valuable to have people with diverse backgrounds coming in with different perspectives. You need diversity to make better technical and design decisions. Especially for product decisions, a diverse group of people can think more broadly about who your potential users might be, what they might need, and what’s going to be important to them. That’s very hard to do without a variety of perspectives.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve definitely had people to tell me to be more curious, and that’s served me pretty well. Curiosity leads you to interesting places, and it’s a less stressful way to approach things: if your goal is to break down and fix the next problem, instead of slamming your head against it, take a position of curiosity and ask, Why does this problem exist? Is it even a problem at all? What is the root cause?
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have three kids, so I don’t actually have spare time at the moment! But, my kids are at that perfect age where I can play video games and call it parenting.
What is a local hidden gem that you would recommend to people visiting your area?
Mountain View Cemetery right near where I live, which is a semi-famous cemetery in Oakland. It has a few famous people buried there, but it’s also just a great place to walk around. It’s really beautiful and has these great views of the bay. A lot of locals go there to take a walk, or go for a jog. While it might be slightly odd to recommend a cemetery, I do think it’s a hidden gem.