From designing the next generation of modular farms to optimizing farmer workflow through a centralized dashboard, our engineers create innovative solutions that touch every area of our business. But for software engineers, a career in urban agriculture is pretty unique. To learn more about our tech team’s career paths, we talked to Annie Nero and Dave Pimentel, two Square Roots engineers.
How have your interests and skills come together to shape your career?
Annie: I didn't even know agtech existed until I saw the job posting in the Northeastern career database. So, it really took me seeing that to even think it was a possibility. Before then, I was really interested in sustainability, and I love food and cooking, but my professional skill set was very separate. I was a computer science major, so I never really pictured those things coming together. But I saw the job posting and I said, “Oh my God, this is something I’d love to do!”
Dave: Well, I also went to Northeastern and went through the same co-op internship program that brought Annie here, but my co-op experience was mostly in mobile app development. I worked at Foursquare. They were helping people find good restaurants, which was cool, but I started getting a bit dissatisfied working on the same app over and over again. I just had a desire to use my skills for something that meant more to me. I came across this opportunity because I went to school with Paul, our head of engineering, and he told me all about what was going on at Square Roots, and it really sparked my interest. Specifically, healthy eating and climate are two things I care a lot about and I thought, “Oh man, I could potentially apply my skills to this and have an impact.” So when the next engineering position opened, I applied. I just found that on the technical side, there’s so much room for innovation. The problem space is incredibly interesting and personally, I think it’s more interesting than working on an app. I thought it was a good opportunity to break out of just software and start interfacing with hardware and even plants! (laughs)
When you started school, did you have any idea what you wanted to do as a career?
Annie: Growing up, I didn’t have a good idea of what software engineers do, because I didn’t know anyone with that job. In my senior year of high school, I took a software engineering class, and I just enjoyed it a lot more than my other classes. But even when I chose my major, I didn’t really know where it would lead careerwise. I think I had the mentality that work would just be work and that I might not necessarily care that much about what I was doing. So, I was definitely picturing something more boring than this. (laughs)
Annie, you started with us through Northeastern University's cooperative education program. What was it like going from the co-op program to full-time employee
Annie: Well, I think when I started as a co-op intern, I didn’t fully understand the scope of what was going on here. Most of what I knew about farming was from documentaries, which is very different from Square Roots. So it was great to get down in the farms to help with seeding, transplanting, and harvesting, and actually learn about what we do here. I also have come to really appreciate that we’re full stack developers, which means that we get to do a lot. Before coming to Square Roots, my previous co-op was in mobile development, which like Dave said, is a lot of the same, so it’s pretty exciting to be able to own the entirety of a feature, not just display it to people, but to actually think through the logic of getting it to work. As far as the transition to full time, I had to leave for a semester to finish school, but now that I'm back, I feel like I never left!
The engineering team at Square Roots is so innovative, creating new products and advancing our technology all the time. What projects have you been particularly excited about?
Dave: I think what I’m most excited about is the ability to control the farm remotely through the Toolbelt, which is our farming software. Once we’re able to control the farm, there are just so many things we can do. And seeing it have a direct impact on the company and farm operations is amazing. Especially as a software engineer, it's always really cool when your code affects a physical thing. It's not often that you get to control a piece of hardware like that.
Annie: To go off of what Dave said, I think it was in my last week here during my co-op and Dave and I were working on the remote controlling, and we were still in the very early stages of it. I think all we did was flip a switch to remotely turn on a light, and it was just so exciting. So much work had gone into it and even though it seemed pretty minor, the implications were so huge.
You mentioned Square Root’s Farmer Toolbelt software. How would you describe the Toolbelt now, and where do you see it going?
Dave: As it is now, the Toolbelt is a web application. It’s the backbone of operations at Square Roots. It allows us to schedule farm tasks, record when events happen, and record our yield. In the future, as we expand to different campuses and start collecting vast amounts of data, we see it as a place to synthesize that data and even leverage machine learning to derive deeper insights. That way, we can grow plants more efficiently and more sustainably.
Annie: I think also as we have more and more campuses, the Toolbelt will become a great tool for making the opening of a new campus a more seamless process, where a new farm manager who hasn’t necessarily worked in a Square Roots farm can come in and easily understand the cadence of operations.
In one word (or a few), what are you most looking forward to for the future Square Roots?
Dave: Innovation, sustainability, and scale. But if I had to pick one, I think I would say innovation, but you can pick any of those. (laughs)
Annie: Okay. I thought that ‘growth’ was a really good one. (laughs)
Interested in joining the Square Roots engineering team? Check out our open positions.