Welcome to our AlumNY Spotlight blog series! This November, we’ll be profiling some hackNY AlumNY who have continued to do great things at the startup where they spent their hackNY Fellows summer.

In this post we interview Emmett Butler (Class of 2012), who worked at Parse.ly as a hackNY Fellow and has helped it grow into one of NYC’s hottest startups. Parse.ly provides an analytics platform for digital publishers, helping them to act on audience insights with a data-driven approach. Emmett is a great contributor to open source projects, and develops games when he’s not working. He also has great advice for applicants to our incoming hackNY class!

Emmett at his home workstation, where he works remotely as a software engineer at Parse.ly

Emmett at his home workstation, where he works remotely as a software engineer at Parse.ly

Andrew Montalenti, Emmett’s CTO at Parse.ly, remembers Emmet’s pivotal summer as a hackNY Fellow and his contributions since then. He says, “From the first week on his internship, Emmett was already contributing useful code into our core product. He taught himself Python to a level of working knowledge before the internship began, and by the end of it, he not only knew Python comfortably, but also learned Git, Django, JavaScript, MongoDB, and many other important technologies we use on our stack.

Emmett did such great work during his internship at Parse.ly that we hired him as a full-time employee when he graduated from NYU. He has watched our company grow from a lean 7-person startup discovering its own product/market fit in 2012, to a 40+-employee firm with hundreds of top-tier media companies as customers around the world — and all of this just three years later! In short, he’s grown into a top-notch software engineer and continues to contribute directly to our company’s success.”

Here’s our interview with Emmett:

What are you up to at Parse.ly these days?
Recently, the project I’ve been focusing on the most at Parse.ly has been PyKafka, a python client for Apache Kafka. Maintaining an open source project as part of my day job is really rewarding. Aside from PyKafka, I recently implemented Parse.ly’s integration with Optimizely, which allows customers to set up Optimizely A/B tests directly from inside the Parse.ly dashboard.

What did you work on when you were a hackNY Fellow there?
My favorite projects during my HackNY fellowship were the iOS and Android mobile SDKs. The project allowed me to take a concept from de-risking to specification to implementation to release to maintenance, and I am actually still the primary maintainer of these libraries to this day. I got to practice a number of different skills I wanted to develop, including mobile development, open source project maintenance, python server design, and wire protocol design. Other favorites include the initial implementation of “pinned graphs” in the dashboard’s frontpage, client libraries for the Parse.ly API in multiple languages, and schema.to.

Emmett as a hackNY Fellow, at a company retreat with Parse.ly.

Emmett as a hackNY Fellow, at a company retreat with Parse.ly.

What was your favorite part of being a hackNY Fellow?
During the fellowship, I made a lot of friends that I’ve maintained until now. The connections I made during that summer have proven to be really beneficial from a personal and professional standpoint. I also really enjoyed the chance to practice my skills in a setting where I had a dedicated mentor, and I loved giving workshops.

How has Parse.ly grown or changed since your hackNY summer?
When I started at Parse.ly as an intern, the company consisted of five engineers, one businessperson, and me, all working out of some subleased space in a VC’s office. Today Parse.ly just welcomed its 42nd employee. I witnessed a period during which the company was determining the right product/market fit and had pivoted several times in the recent past – I actually participated in the initial launch of the current flagship product, the Parse.ly analytics dashboard. It’s amazing to see how the company has grown and how excited customers are about the platform Parse.ly offers.

Emmett's growing collection of desk characters encourages him to stay focused through each workday.

Emmett’s growing collection of desk characters encourages him to stay focused through each workday.

What do you love about New York?
I’m the only one of my siblings who didn’t do a foreign exchange after high school – I was so set on the idea of living in NYC that I never really entertained the idea. I joke now that my exchange took me from suburban PA to the “foreign country” of Manhattan. It was such a complete change of pace for me – I met a ton of new people and was constantly learning new things about the world. The HackNY experience in particular would have been quite different if it weren’t in New York – having physical access to the offices of well-known companies and the people who ran them was eye-opening. That’s not to mention the community I became a part of during that time – it’s hard to imagine another city hosting a group of hackers with such a diverse set of skills, backgrounds, and interests. I also found some fairly niche communities in NYC in the chipmusic and indie games scenes, both of which have provided many long-lasting friendships and work relationships.

What do you enjoy doing away from the keyboard?
If we’re talking truly “away from the keyboard”, I love to play Magic: the Gathering (particularly the limited format). I practice regularly and enjoy trying to maximize my win percentage at local tournaments. I’ve found it’s a great way to occupy my brain in a way that feels nothing like work, which I find is important for the maintenance of my sanity, and I’ve met a lot of close friends through the game. Aside from work-related programming, I’ve been working on a few video games recently with a small team on the weekends.

Emmett presenting "Heads Up! Hot Dogs," his first video game, at the New York Tech Meetup.

Emmett presenting “Heads Up! Hot Dogs,” his first video game, at the New York Tech Meetup.

Tell us more about your work on video games.
For me, making video games has always been an reason to experiment with code. The first big project I did was Heads Up! Hot Dogs, a game about putting hot dogs on people that I worked on with a friend on weekends. I’ve also done a lot of game jams, mostly with my partner Nina, making autobiographical vignette games about her life. We’re currently wrapping up our biggest project yet, Cibele, which is an autobiographical narrative game exploring a romantic relationship in an online game (out on Steam this week). When we work together, I get to focus on the technical requirements that the design necessitates and practice building systems that Nina can use to add content to the game. We’ll often start with something that sounds either impossible or very difficult and slowly work through how we could turn that idea into a real, working system. I really enjoy that iterative process, and maintaining code that stays usable for months or years as it grows.

Applications for the Class of 2016 hackNY Fellows are now open! Do you have any advice for hackers who are applying?
I wrote a blog post as I was leaving my internship giving advice to future interns, and I think it still applies today. As far as the application process itself goes, applicants should be as thoroughly themselves as possible. My favorite aspect of the HackNY community is the vast range of experiences and interests I found in the people I met during my fellowship (and mentorship). I’ve learned a ton about technology, programming, and the world by being in the company of these people, and that atmosphere continues to exist only if applicants are willing to let their quirks and interests show during the application process.