Meet a Gilt Technologist: Nabila Yusaf, Software Engineer

6 min Read Time


What’s your role at Gilt?

I’m a software engineer who focuses mostly on front-end development, but as time goes on I’m becoming more of a full-stack engineer. My passion is front-end engineering, though–I’m most comfortable working in JavaScript and CSS.

I’m very focused on the visual side–it’s what I like to do. I’m not the type who figures out how to design a database. I’m more interested in the interactive, “what people see” part.

How did you arrive at Gilt?

I’d been a member and shopped on the site for a while. I knew that Gilt’s Tech team was well respected, so when a recruiter contacted me I came in and interviewed, and that was that. That was in May 2010–right around the time that we started migrating our services from Ruby to Java.

When did you become interested in technology?

I studied computer science in college, but it was mostly all theory. When I came home one summer, I started making a website for myself. It was old-school: black with stars, and with that “under construction” gif of the man who makes the digging motion. The concept of online guest books was still somewhat new, and I found one that you could really customize; I found images of 3-D comic book characters and made it so that guests could pick one of the characters as their avatar. It was a big hit with people. That was my first foray into theming and changing things.

What was the focus of the website?

It was about me–teenager stuff, music I listened to. Nothing I’d want to publicize now!

How did you learn front-end development?

On my own. Around the time I graduated from college in 2000, I became really interested in CSS–it was just emerging. Right out of school, I started working at Razorfish as an associate technologist, using mostly Java. Even then, I found that I was more interested in trying to make things look pretty than in the straight coding part.

And then the tech industry tanked.

Yes, and there were no jobs to be found, especially for new college grads. I thought, ‘what should I do so that I can always have a job? Maybe I’ll become a doctor.’ I started taking pre-med classes and even got accepted into medical school, but then the tech industry started to bounce back, and I was able to find a job. That was at Wiley, and was my first front-end position.

How did you bring yourself up to speed for that job?

Lots of practicing at home, and mostly learning on the job. I Googled my way through it. I had the confidence because it was the passion that drove me. I loved doing front-end development, and felt like I could do it.

Also, JavaScript applies a lot of the same programming concepts as Java, so adapting was mainly a matter of learning the new syntax and some best practices. By the time I got to Gilt, I was much more advanced.

How has working at Gilt shaped your knowledge and expertise?

It’s a very challenging environment. In any other company, people might take the easy way. Here, we do things the challenging way. We’re very stringent on coding practices: For example, people will hound you if you use a double quote instead of a single quote.

I’ve been pushed intellectually here. When I first arrived, I hadn’t programmed in Java for years, but for one of my first Gilt projects I had to dive in and write a Java dispatcher. I was like, “what?” But I had to do it, so I just did it.

How much of your work involves Scala?

I’m doing some Scala programming, but not much. I took the free Scala course here and know very basic Scala syntax–though enough to know that it’s definitely prettier and more concise than Java. Functional programming is not what I studied in college, but I feel I should dive in and do it–so I have been, more and more. I’ve been getting lots of code reviews and corrections. You just have to use your peers as guides to learn new things.

Recently you and your team lead [Lead Software Engineer Kristen McGregor] spent an intensive few weeks at Mobile Bootcamp, learning iOS programming with our Mobile team. How did you get chosen for that?

I volunteered! I asked Kristen if I could do it, and we both did it.

What was it like to work with a different team?

It was very easy, actually. The team did a one-day orientation for us, and Evan [Maloney, Mobile Principal Software Engineer] gave a presentation on what mobile is, and how to develop for it.

What did you learn at Bootcamp?

Well, first of all, I gained a new appreciation of how iOS development is completely different from web development. It reminds me in some ways of 1990s-era web development! I learned how our apps are created, and more about the proprietary issues involved in iOS. Since Bootcamp ended I’ve begun a side project with Ruxy [Staicut, mobile software engineer], who’s become my mentor. It’s an app that uses our API. I’m learning a lot that way.

How does your mentoring relationship with Ruxy work?

We’ve been having weekly, one-hour meetings. At first, we mainly talked about my app and which steps to take, but last week we started coding together; it was very hands-on, and worked really well. She’ll give me tips and show me where to find things like Objective-C tutorials.

What are your goals for the next few months?

I recently decided that I want to be more involved in Mobile, which coincides with our shifting focus to mobile. A few weeks ago I attended the An Event Apart conference, which was all about “mobile first”–and it sold me on the idea. That conference used to be more about front-end development, but now it’s pretty UX-focused. My takeaway was that multi-device compatibility is the wave of the future; you should be able to see a website on any device.

By going to Mobile Bootcamp, by having an iOS developer as my mentor, and by working on this responsive design project, I’m hoping to help get Gilt on the road to Mobile First and to inspire other engineers to join me.

What are some of your hobbies?

Videography, photography … I like to photograph people.

Street fashion?

A few years ago I did it a lot. Not so much anymore.

You’re a fashion aficionado. How has working at Gilt changed your approach to style?

Nowadays I am concerned with classic pieces that will last–quality over quantity. I like 3.1 Philip Lim and Rag & Bone, and recently bought a pair of Elizabeth and James shoes and an Antik Batik dress that are my current favorites. I like that in this office you can wear fancy things and people don’t look at you funny. I like dressing up for work!

HBC Tech

We power the website and mobile experiences for Saks, Saks Off Fifth, Gilt, Lord & Taylor and The Bay.