Cam Pedersen

Cam Pedersen

Director of engineering

Who are you?

My name is Cam. I spend a lot of time with my dog and wife. We go on a lot of hikes, and I just recently got into photography, so I get to take a lot of pictures of my dog.

I actually just got a Canon R5. I got it for video, actually, since it has 8k downsampled to 4k, and I’m hoping to make some educational videos. I’m really excited about Ethereum right now, so I’m thinking about doing YouTube in my spare time.

What do you do at Vanilla?

I’m the director of engineering, so I am primarily an engineer. I’ve been in a lot of startups before, so I’m trying to lay tracks in front of our codebase so that we can scale the team and move quickly as we grow.

We build the product. We work really closely with the product team, design team, and ops team to make sure that everybody’s happy and we are building the right thing for our customers.

“Through a design-first approach, we are changing this legacy industry.”

Our entire goal is to make estate planning software suck less, and we are hopefully directly responsible for that. Through a design-first approach, we are changing this legacy industry. I think it’s actually really cool to make people swear at their computers less and hopefully make people’s days better through estate planning software.

“We just come to work every day to make a good product.”

We just come to work every day to make a good product. As an engineer, I don’t really have any opinions on how an advisor should do their job. We’re just trying to make it easy for them. What I do have opinions on is how infrastructure should be deployed, and I think that’s maybe closer to pure engineering. We are able to move really efficiently as a team because of that. People just want to show up and build a good product.

What is your daily life like at Vanilla?

I do a lot of coding and code review and talking to other people about architecture, as well as answering any questions or pairing with people on code-related questions.

The product and design teams work really closely. They have a great product sense, and they work ahead of us a little bit. It works out really well because everything is really thought out by the time we get there. Usually, when we’re done building a feature, we move on to the next one, which is already designed and specced out with user stories and everything. We are able to move really quickly because the entire time that we’re building, they are already working on the next feature.

“We try to work on what we’re excited about.”

Then we, as an engineering team, break that up and decide how to split up the work. We have a team of generalists, so it’s pretty easy. We also have some people with really deep knowledge, so some people are more attuned to different tasks than others. We try to work on what we’re excited about.

I like working on the back end a lot more, so I’ll usually take more back-end tasks, and other folks like working on the front end more. If we spot something that isn’t going to work with the designs, we’ll just talk with the designer and make changes. It’s a really quick feedback loop.

I really like our stack. We use React with TypesScript on the front end and Rails on the back end. We’re starting to do some really interesting things with AI and OCR on the back end, as well as using Kubernetes and some advanced infrastructure stuff on the front end. We are starting to do more really fun visualization with D3 and maybe even some 3D stuff someday. I think as an engineer coming into the company, you are able to work on anything. We have a lot of work to do, so if you prefer working on D3 or Kubernetes, then there’s definitely something for you.

What role do you see design playing in estate planning?

“I think design is our secret weapon.”

I think design is our secret weapon. Design is, I think, how people interact with the product, and that’s the core of what we do. The reason that we exist is to make estate planning software better. And our design team is literally trying to answer that question. And so, as an engineering team, we are able to implement that and effect change, but they’re really the people answering the hard questions. It’s also good to start with a design-first approach because if we thought of things from an engineering-first approach, we’re gonna end up with this same answer that every other company has in estate planning for the last 20 years. And so, I feel like we’re doing something different and exciting, which is something to say for estate planning.

How did you end up in estate planning?

I was consulting for a few years before I joined Vanilla, and I worked with Vanilla for about a year, and I actually just really liked the team. I loved working with everyone and decided to do it full-time. I think honestly, the most important thing that I learned was how nice the people are. It’s the reason I joined the company and the reason I’m gonna stick around. I haven’t met a group of people that are so nice but also so talented at the same time, and it works really well.

“To make the whole process easier, hopefully it helps people at not the best time in their life.”

I also saw on a personal level how important estate planning can be. My dad died this year, and his will was on the back of a napkin. If he’d had any estate planning done, it would’ve made the process a lot easier. It’s a tough time in anybody’s life and so having any plan is better than nothing. To make the whole process easier, hopefully it helps people at not the best time in their life.

What do you see in the future of estate planning?

I think we are really nailing our core product here at Vanilla, and we can really polish it and start to expand into other ways to make advisors and their clients’ lives better. I’m really excited about Ethereum and Web3, Crypto, and I think it has a huge potential to change finance and help people use the internet. I’d like to concentrate on those things in the future.

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