Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kiva’s Review and Translation Program Interviews Some of Kiva’s All-Star Staff! (Part 3)

Written by Staci Chirchick, Review and Translation Program Intern.

Every month, Kiva’s Review and Translation Program (RTP) produces an informative newsletter for its volunteers. It is full of stories and updates about Kiva’s many programs, staff and volunteers. In recognition of Kiva’s 6th birthday, the newsletter recently featured interviews of some our long-term staff members who talked about their involvement with RTP. We’ve decided to share the interviews with our blog community because we think they provide unique insights into the world of Kiva! We’ll be posting one interview a week for three weeks. We invite you to follow along as we get to know:

Sam Mankiewicz - Chief Technical Officer (Part 3)

Here’s Part 3!

Sam Mankiewicz - Chief Technical Officer

Sam Mankiewicz

1. How did you first get involved with Kiva, and what different hats have you worn since then?

I knew Matt Flannery from college, and the summer after senior year we were interns together at the same start-up. After that, we went our own way for a few years. At the end of 2006, I was offered a job back in the Bay Area, so I moved back. Somewhere around December I got word about Kiva and tried connecting with Matt to see if he needed any volunteer engineers to help out every now and again on the website. However, as I was waiting to hear back from him, the company I was working for was imploding from within. So I decided to ask Matt about joining the team full time instead of just helping out on the side. At that time, I was joining a tech team of only three people, and now it has reached 35.

I've worn a *lot* of "hats" during my time with Kiva. The first big challenge was taking the huge momentum from lenders and backing that up on the engineering side. I think one of my most lasting impacts has been setting up the two-week release cycle for the website. At the time that I started, the team was in the middle of a major overhaul, and as software projects are wont to do, it was going a little longer than scheduled. It took us about six to eight weeks to clean everything up and get the new version deployed. Since then (over four years ago), there has almost always been a new version of the website deployed every two weeks.

2. What one thing at Kiva still makes your heart race?

I continue to be impressed, amazed, and inspired by the collective passion and talent of the people that come on board. Kiva seems to attract Renaissance people who are multi-dimensional. These people have not only multiple interests, but also are incredibly strong in those different areas. This serves us well because Kiva is not a pure microfinance company, nor is it a pure international development company, nor is it a pure technology company; it is a little bit of all of the above. This makes for a much richer and more dynamic team that is able to work cross-functionally. In other words, our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.

3. What has been one of the most challenging things you have had to overcome at Kiva?

Kiva is not nearly as simple as it may look from the outside. What that means for engineering on a day-to-day basis is that we have to find ways to wrangle that complexity. We have to be able to package it in an easy-to-use way for our lenders, borrowers, and field partners. But at the same time, everything starts off at a certain degree of complexity, so it can be really tempting to add even more complexity. Even simple things, for example star ratings for field partners. There are so many pieces of data that go into the rating. For instance: how do you know if the rating is fair or not? What is the right data to collect? How do you balance that information across the entire portfolio? The biggest challenge is keeping all of the information we put out simple and manageable.

4. How have the volunteers affected your role at Kiva?

I have a very long history with Viva [Kiva’s editing and translating platform]. Because of that the volunteer editors and translators have never been very far from my mind. Whether it was the early days when it was still called the Volunteer Management System (VMS), to the year-plus it took to build and launch Viva, to the day that we launched Take 5 [a self-serve editing/translation system] , the volunteers have never been far from my mind. I remember when Naomi and I decided to add the stats page to Viva; it was amazing how such a simple thing could be so motivating for the volunteers. I have been involved with Viva through its entire life cycle and even though it's no longer a part of my main responsibilities, I always somehow come back to it.

If you are interested in volunteering with RTP, check out their page on our website!