Meet the Herd: Engineering Manager Paul Hurlock-Dick

Paul shares his thoughts on the secret to shipping great product experiences and reveals how a serendipitous meeting with an old friend inspired him to join Bison Trails

Meet the Herd: Engineering Manager Paul Hurlock-Dick

By Bison Trails · Aug 6 2020

Each profile in Bison Trails’ Meet the Herd series is the story of a member’s professional path: how they started their career and made their way to the world of blockchain. Interview by Mark Forscher.

Q: How did you get into blockchain?

A: I was crypto/blockchain curious for a while but didn’t dive deep into it until I joined Bison Trails. I first heard about bitcoin in 2010 and thought it was an interesting idea for money, especially with the 2008 financial crisis still very fresh. However, I didn’t see how it would ever grow beyond the Hacker News crowd because it had a poor UX, requiring users to be familiar with the command line to use it.

In hindsight, I was very short-sighted since smart people did what smart people tend to do and they grew a nascent technology by innovating and building things like Silk Road, Mt Gox, Ethereum, The DAO, etc. Those projects kept my attention until I was presented with the great opportunity to join Bison Trails.

Q: You’ve known Bison Trails’ co-founders—Joe and Aaron—a long time. What’s the story of how you decided to join Bison Trails?

A: It was actually serendipitous in a couple of ways. I was walking in my neighborhood and ran into Aaron, who lives about a mile away. He knew I was starting the search for my next opportunity and he pitched me on joining Bison Trails. I took a couple of days to think about it and I joined the next week. For context, Aaron and I have been close friends since we were 14; Joe and I have been close friends since freshman year of college. So when Aaron presented the opportunity to join Bison Trails, I reflected on a few things:

  • 1. Did I think there was a viable business [in blockchain]?
    My answer here was yes and thinking about the previous endeavors of Aaron and Joe I knew that they had a knack for timing the hype-cycle growth of technology well.
  • 2. Would this be an opportunity to grow?
    Most definitely. This opportunity was the first time since college where I’d be entering a job with only minimal knowledge of both the industry and technology. This fact alone has made my time at Bison Trails amazing, as I’m learning about blockchain and modernizing my cloud knowledge.
  • 3. Did I think the founders were capable of minimizing operational risk so that day-to-day challenges would primarily be about the business domain?
    Having the luxury of knowing Aaron and Joe as well as I did, and even having lived with Joe as they started the process of selling a company, the answer was a resounding yes. Fun sidenote: I actually called my mom and told her what I was thinking and her response was "Aaron? I love Aaron, why wouldn't you?"

Q: What do you do at Bison Trails? How would you describe your team’s focus?

A: The first part is easy. I’m an engineering manager at Bison Trails. Since we’re a startup, the second part is a little more difficult to answer. A few months ago, I was on the platform team. It was kind of like the middle layer between our users and our blockchain support, so when users interacted with our app(s), the work my team performed would interface with the work of our protocol team to get our users up and running on a blockchain network. However, needs changed and currently my team is protocol-focused, adding platform support for quite a few new networks. In addition, we’re adding operational tooling/processes for recently launched networks.

Q: Tell us about your volunteer and mentorship experience? Why is mentorship important?

A: Growing up I was super fortunate to have a lot of extracurricular opportunities in STEM. I was encouraged (and supported) to participate in science, math, and, most formatively, robotics competitions. These activities helped me get into technology, and a significant reason for that was the volunteers who gave their expertise and time.

When I got to college, I recognized that I was lucky to have access to the people I did and how that helped give me a leg up on how to think about technical problems and also gave me comfort because I had people I could ask for help if necessary. With that in mind, I volunteer with CodeNation, an organization to teach HS students how to code. In today’s world coding is such a vital skill. I believe coding can be life changing when put in the hands of the underrepresented and so it’s important that I do what I can to help make it more accessible to students.

Paul Hurlock-Dick
Paul Hurlock-Dick

Q: What are the secrets of shipping great product experiences?

A: I think the best products come from providing value to the user and the best experiences happen as a result of empathizing with your users. With that in mind I think a path to a great product experience involves a feedback loop of:

  • Research: Looking at problems worth solving and technologies that can help you solve them. This research stage is when we get to hypothesize if we can provide a product/solution that’s significantly more valuable than what currently exists and figure out why a problem hasn’t already been solved.
  • Development: Taking the time to use the research within the operational teams to actually implement the solution from above.
  • Dog-fooding: Testing the product internally as a first line test of correctness and usefulness.
  • User Testing: Putting the product in front of trusted users with domain experience who are willing to give critical feedback.
  • Refinement: A second development pass that incorporates the feedback from testing to create a final polished product.
  • Iteration: Frequently shipping updates to the user that incorporate the results of the previous steps and then keeping the cycle going to stay aligned with new needs and technology to help your users.

Q: Which upcoming network launch are you most excited about? Why?

A: There are a lot of interesting networks launching soon and I’m excited for what they can all do for the blockchain space, but the one that stands out the most to me is Flow.

Flow is launching with a premiere partner—the NBA—along with a consumer-focused use case. This, to me, means they have a chance of bringing significant new interest to crypto / blockchain. I think a successful Flow / NBA launch will spur other large institutions to think about how they can leverage blockchain technology to bring experiences to their customers which in turn will help the community as a whole.

Q: What are some of your other interests outside of work?

A: I love music, and in the pre-Covid world, I was a pretty avid concert goer; at my peak I was going to at least one concert a week. Now that I’m inside a lot more I’ve upped my consumption of E-sports, watching all the StarCraft tournaments I can. I’m also rowing on the erg regularly. And I like sneakers a lot. I’ve maxed out my closet space so now, I pick up interesting drops when I can.

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