Inside HqO: Jacob Farlow, App Release Engineer | HqO

Inside HqO: Jacob Farlow

Jacob Farlow

App Release Engineer at HqO

Jacob has been with HqO for just over a year, and focuses on executing app releases for our workplace experience product. When there isn’t an active release underway, Jacob assists the rest of the Engineering team on the company’s integrations and whitelabel services. This means he also enables vendor partnerships, assesses building technology ecosystems, and conducts necessary testing for HqO clients.

Inside HqO: Jacob Farlow, App Release Engineer | HqO

Why did you apply to HqO?

I was really interested in what the product meant. I didn’t fully understand what HqO did until after I’d already been here for a while, but I was mostly interested in how software could be applied to commercial real estate in a truly meaningful way. I had actually already applied for a standard Software Engineer role, however they had just created this App Release Engineer position and thought I could be a good fit for that role — so they asked if I’d be interested in interviewing for it instead. It’s a bit of a blend, so I’m not writing code all the time.

How did that interview process go?

It was an interesting blend of ‘normal’ questions combined with the standard software engineering technical interview for the position to prove that I actually could write code. Anna Kassaraba was the one who ran my evaluation. I think about five minutes in, I went from being super anxious to just being really calm. That’s how good of an interviewer she was. 

I wrote an email to her afterwards and I told her at the end of it: ‘Listen, if you offered me a job right now, I will take it.’ In fact, everyone I interviewed with was amazing. I knew that if they were indicative of what the rest of the company was like, I’d be in good hands. Spoiler alert: it is, and I am.  

That’s amazing, I felt similarly when I interviewed for HqO! Now that you’re here, what does your day-to-day look like?

My day-to-day is probably the least structured of anybody on the Engineering side. This is because my job here, as the App Release Engineer, is for when HqO has an app release. And, obviously, we don’t do those every day. They are more like every couple of weeks. So, in the interim, I do a lot of whatever is needed. Most of my work is focused on anything touching the whitelabels.

And how does that process work?

So, my colleague Kathleen does the initial whitelabel creation, from getting ready to build it for the very first time through to it becoming a tangible product. Anything beyond that process that needs to be done to the whitelabel goes to me. I handle subsequent app releases — new features, bug fixes, performance enhancements, and the like.

So, if we need to enable a mobile access integration, that’s something that I’ll take care of. We leverage a form of single sign-on called SAML, or Security Assertion Markup Language. It is set up with HqO’s vendors who have their own ecosystem — usually through their own websites that allow users to log in. We can integrate all of that into our apps. As we authenticate users when they log in, we don’t need a user to subsequently log in with the vendor in order for them to access that content within our app. Somebody can simply click a utility button and we send their email address along. The vendor can decrypt the package, and then they can verify that user email within their own user database. The end result is the user is seamlessly logged in to that service, right from one place. This is very similar to the ‘log in with Google’ experience.

I get that structure set up alongside the vendor, add new buildings to a service when I need to, and conduct the necessary testing required to ensure a good user experience.

Can we talk a little more about SAML and how it helps our customers?

Absolutely. Basically, it’s a way for authentication partners to work with each other. It’s basically saying, ‘Hey, we’ve authenticated this user. We can guarantee that we’ve got all of our certificates and regulations in order.’ It passes along the user’s credentials, and we encrypt that. We package it and send it over to the vendor, and then they can take that information and check it against their database.

If that user already exists in their database, we’ll go ahead and log them in because the vendor has given us the metaphorical ‘thumbs up,’ which allows the person to proceed directly to the content. If not, we have a couple different options. The vendor can either send them an error message for the user to contact support, grant them a unique login, or ask the user to register.

It’s incredible that all of those security features occur behind the scenes. I’d imagine there is a ton of collaboration on your end.

Kathleen and I collaborate a lot, since we’re attached to delivering the product. However, we’re not really in the same sphere of delivery as our other engineers who are focused on delivering the code. Regardless, our Engineering, Product, and Design teams work together to align our work with the customer side of things, while our Delivery Managers help oversee the internal side of the engineers completing the work.

We all have morning standups, which is an engineering-focused daily meeting. This helps us give an overall status check and aligns us with what we’re working on. I’m on the Mobile Development team, but I also sit in on the Mobile Access team. The difference between the two is that the Mobile Development team does everything that’s related to the user side of our mobile product — except for mobile access. This includes the interactions, the features, the bugs that are getting fixed, and so on. The Mobile Access team handles only, well, mobile access — so features and projects related to our partners like HID, Openpath, and STiD.

Why do you think there is such a heavy focus on mobile access?

Mobile access is typically difficult to handle on the technology side, and HqO also offers more than one integration. If we had just one partner, then it could be just an offshoot of the Mobile Development team. However, what we want to do is provide an actual quality, reliable experience. And since we’re servicing both Android and iOS devices, across multiple versions, and across multiple partners, we need a team that can handle integrating this all together.

Mobile access is probably one of our most commonly used features as well.

Yes. Fun fact: I have a friend who is a multi-property community manager. One day, she was crunching the numbers on what her company was spending on physical access cards, including the human hours devoted to if somebody loses a card — having to invalidate lost cards, get new cards, et cetera. All of that stuff combined was more expensive than the cost of an HqO contract. 

So, the annual spend on access cards alone across the properties she managed cost that company more money than it would have been for an annual contract with us across the same properties — which includes far more than just mobile access. That’s part of why mobile access is such a great feature, because people loose cards. People don’t really lose phones. And if they lose a phone, it’s on the person who lost it to replace it.

I agree, digital utilitarian functions are so, so important in the workplace.

Yes, it’s an even better thing if you don’t have to think about it — if the product just works. I think besides our dedicated Mobile Access team, having an Access Lab in our Boston headquarters shows how seriously we take that user experience.

Is there a project that you worked on in particular that was either most exciting or the most challenging for you?

I would say the one ongoing project that is the most important to me — and the one that I think is going to have the biggest impact on customers — is our digital accessibility work. Since February of last year, I’ve been the primary driving force behind that within Engineering.

I’ve organized testing to get results in, to find out what our accessibility gaps are. This way, we can identify them, get them ticketed, schedule fixes, and resolve them. I also try to sound the horn on building an accessible feature from the start, so that we don’t have to make retroactive fixes. I want accessibility to be top of mind for people; it’s really important to me.

Where does your passion for accessibility come from?

Accessibility is not like a test. It’s not like something that you do, and then it’s done and complete. It’s something that’s ongoing. And you don’t have to be perfect at it. You just have to always be improving, iterating, and getting better at it. We, as a company, measure success by how many users we have and how long and how often they come back and use the product. So if our product is not accessible we’re excluding certain humans by default, which means we’re failing from the outset.

From a moral standpoint, prioritizing accessibility is the right thing to do. We can see a lot of disabilities that people have and the struggles with interacting with the world around them. We can also see the accessible technology that they use to navigate: glasses, crutches, wheelchairs, automatic door openers, that kind of thing. Because we can make these casual observations, it’s easier to keep it in mind when designing for the physical world. Software is opaque. The user is obfuscated from us. So, it takes a lot more focus and persistence and dedication to make sure we are building something that’s accessible and that we continue to improve upon that. Just because we can’t see the user and the accessibility tools they leverage, doesn’t mean they aren’t important and valued.

I have the unique opportunity to rally to a cause, to be doing something that’s important to me. It’s also going to have a high impact on people that I will never see and never interact with. And in general, improved accessibility for people who need it actually makes a better experience for people who don’t need it as well.

Inside HqO: Jacob Farlow, App Release Engineer | HqO

I love that your work is so personal to you. What is the most important thing that you’ve learned from an HqO client?

I don’t work directly with clients in the sense that I’m not in the conversations with the clients, but clients definitely impact the work that we’re doing. I would say the thing that I’ve learned specifically from being here is that we have clients who are really good partners. What that means isn’t that they tell us everything’s hunky-dory. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t ask anything of us. Instead, it means that they have the highest expectation from us — but they communicate regularly. They give us great metrics, real-field experience, and quality feedback. 

These are the people who push us the hardest to be the best version of ourselves. We can push ourselves internally all we want, thinking that we’re doing the right thing. And then suddenly, it may be untenable in the real world. That’s why we’re lucky to have customers who are willing to invest the time in us, especially the ones who came with us early on in our product when we didn’t have the robust functionality that we do now.

Is there something really innovative, interesting, or exciting that a client is doing right now that you’d like to call attention to? 

I like the general shift that I’m seeing for clients being focused on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices in their buildings. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical. And if we want to be successful as human society, we need to be able to be inclusive. And the more diverse your opinions and the workforce and the people that you have around you are, the more ideas you have — that just makes sense.

But for me, I would say the most important thing is the environmental factor. We can do all the best practices personally. At our home level, we’re doing the right shopping, we’re using the reusable bags, we’ve cut down our own waste. Then, we get into the office and we forget about those conscientious decisions. Food waste is through the roof. Energy usage is incredibly wasteful. 

And that’s just on an office level. So, what I’m really excited for is to see how different companies — whether it’s corporate real estate or down to the small ten person dev shop — are challenging and overcoming these obstacles. It doesn’t matter how much money or how good the economy is working if we don’t have a good, safe, sustainable place to live. I also think that it’s not a mutually exclusive thing. We can do both. We can make lots of money by being environmentally responsible. It’s just a shift in priority. And I’m very, very excited to see how not only can it be done, but how it’s being done already.

How is workplace experience technology shaping the future of the commercial real estate industry?

Well, we’re moving from tenant experience to workplace experience. I personally am a big fan of that, because it is a continuing shift in the trend we started with the tenant experience. It’s a power transition from the people who make the decisions to all the people who execute on the decisions and occupy the space.

It’s giving people a voice. In a time both in our lives and our parents’ lives — when everything has been about all the perks that the executives and the managers get — now this whole concept is focused on the end-user. And it doesn’t discriminate based on title. It’s saying, ‘Are you the person in this building? Or do you work for a company who has space in this building? You’re going to get value from this.’

So, shifting to focusing on the workplace experience is really important. HqO is at the forefront of an industry that is driving the ability for people to reprioritize their focus.

What else excites you about working at HqO?

The people, 100%. It’s always the people. I am perpetually impressed with everyone that I’m working with and have conversations with. I think our recruiting team does an outstanding job bringing excellence into the company. It’s almost impossible to have a business-focus conversation and not walk away going, ‘That person is very, very smart and knows what they’re doing and comes at it from an interesting perspective.’

I think that we are a company of people who are solution finders. I can’t even count once or twice on my hand when we ever tried to find someone to blame for something. It’s always that we over-index on ownership. We’re doing it ourselves. We’re saying, ‘I screwed up, this is my fault. And here’s how we can fix it.’

This proves to me that our LET’S GO values are not just an interview tactic. They are things that we actually try to live ourselves, and we have plenty of opportunities for shout-outs to the company at large to highlight the work that our colleagues are doing related to them. By picking values that actually make sense, and aligning with them frequently, it allows people to feel valued and seen. And that’s a thing that is often lost at companies. Here, we take every chance we get to let the goodness shine.

Inside HqO pulls back the curtain and introduces you to the people who make HqO the undisputed leader in workplace experience technology. For more information on HqO, click here. If you’re interested in joining Jacob and the HqO team, check out all of our current openings here.