This is the second in the series of upcoming posts highlighting the important stories and contributions of female leaders at Chipper.
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”Angela Lee Duckworth
Erin Fusaro’s life philosophy is about resilience — resilience to change, failure, to the unexpected, and as a woman in technology, to rejection and bias. And that’s obvious in how she’s approached her career.
A competitive horseback rider, Erin started her career as a tech analyst. “I worked in several industries — eCommerce, marketing, finance, healthcare, and insurance. Those analyst roles gave me broad exposure to many types of problems, and I learned a lot about business, data, and people,” she says.
Navigating the exciting and ever-changing world of technology
In 2014, as big data rode into a new age on the coattails of Hadoop and MapReduce, Erin joined Travelers (a global insurance giant) as Data Engineering Manager, making the jump from analytics to engineering software.
“I wanted to be a part of abstracting the complexity of Hadoop from business users, but still harness the power of it. And so, I dived headfirst into being one of two software engineers that developed an internal product that made Travelers’ giant data lake actionable for the business users that didn’t want to learn how to use the command line,” she explains.
She adds, “I was promoted to Director of Big Data Engineering at the Travelers, where I developed a bit of a reputation as a wild card for my tendency to challenge the status quo and push for progress or innovation where conservative companies tended to shy away. I realized I enjoyed inspiring people and bringing out the best in them and wanted the opportunity to do that on a greater scale.”
Mailchimp came calling three years later.
Erin had just had her daughter. But Mailchimp’s mission of democratizing marketing technology to small businesses was a hard one to ignore. It resonated with Erin as her parents had both been small business owners.
Plus, moving to Georgia (Mailchimp’s offices) meant she wouldn’t have to bother about shovelling snow for a while. So, in October 2017, Erin picked up her husband, her 6-month-old daughter, and her miniature dachshund and moved to Georgia to join Mailchimp.
“I started with a single data team responsible for mostly streaming data. I tend to have big aspirations, though, and that data team grew to 4 separate teams as did the overall vision and roadmap for data and analytics at Mailchimp,” Erin says.
“When I arrived, the way a person got data was by sending an email to an inbox and eventually something would be emailed back. By the time I left, we had centralized all the data into the cloud, stood up the Mailchimp Analytics Platform and the Data Service Fabric. Both services powered our business analytics and visualization services, as well as the machine learning features in the product that are still used today,” she continues with a chuckle.
But as everyone says, the reward for great work is often…more work.
In 2020, Erin moved on from Mailchimp to Greenlight Financial as its VP of Engineering. The fintech company’s mission to help families raise financially intelligent kids won Erin over. However, Erin was about to get her first taste of remote work.
“My first day in the office at Greenlight was the last, as Covid locked everything down early in 2020. I learned a lot about the remote culture and how what works for leading co-located teams does not necessarily work for fully remote teams,” she says.
Within one year, Erin had grown the Engineering team from a department solely focused on platform engineering to one responsible for Engineering Operations, Data Science, Analytics, and Platform Engineering.
And then we came calling.
Working at Chipper; more than just a workplace
Erin leads the entire engineering organization at Chipper, and in her words, “I do my best to make sure we’re working on the right things for our customers.”
She continues, “I chose to work for Chipper primarily because I felt strongly about how impactful our mission is to the world. As a leader, you often want to impact a company; that’s a given. But this was an opportunity to help be a part of something that was making a global impact, and that was deeply compelling.”
Erin describes meeting with the founders as the icing on the cake. “They were the kind of people I felt good about working with and helping scale their company. I think much of the tech industry these days want to work for people they feel are ethical and genuinely good, as well as brilliant and visionary. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive. I know they aren’t, and that’s why I’m here.”
Building for the next billion for Erin means building a platform that doesn’t just meet the basic needs of Chipper’s customers but propels them further than they thought was possible.
“I take very seriously the importance of this platform and product we’re building. Chipper isn’t a nice-to-have app on someone’s phone. It’s a critical service that millions of people depend on. Building for the next billion means ensuring our software remains safe, secure, reliable, and delightful to use for our current customers as well as the next billion that are getting ready to join us,” she explains.
Life outside work
Erin loves horses. And as we mentioned earlier, she’s a competitive horseback rider. But that’s not the only reason she loves her horse. “Horses are honest and provide immediate feedback. Sometimes that feedback comes in the manner of dumping you into the dirt,” she explains.
She’s also an unabashed TikTok fan. And so, most of the songs you’ll find her dancing to at any point in time are trending somewhere on TikTok.
But since joining Chipper, she’s fallen in love with Burna Boy’s Own It. “That’s my most listened to song right now in recent times.”
What’s next: building for the future
Erin is passionate about improving the culture of technology. “My journey through tech was not easy. And I have seen up close how technology can bring about great good in the world, as well as great evil. I am deeply and irrevocably passionate about increasing the good, both for the users of technology and the builders of it.”
“I think I’d be satisfied with my career if I knew I helped make engineering a little more welcoming, a little less scary, and a little more human when I’m finally done. My goals are to build teams that resemble the diversity of the users that we build software for. To make tech more inclusive, more ethical, and available to more people,” she continues.
For anyone starting a career path similar to hers, Erin says, “keep an open mind, maintain a thick skin, take opportunities and be courageous even when you’re scared. Know what your values are and your unique leadership style, and then don’t let anyone change that. Your differences are what make you effective. It’s your competitive advantage. Embrace your lived experience and journey and how that has made you the kind of leader you are. Blazing new trails encourages others to do the same. When it gets hard, keep going.”
So, what’s next?
“I don’t know what’s next for me. I go into every day and every phase of my career open to endless possibilities; I like to go where I am needed most. Right now, that’s here at Chipper, and that’s enough for me,” Erin says.