What’s the story behind your nickname, Ice Weasel?
Well, as someone with the last name Wiesen, the nickname “Weasel” was something that both my brothers and I shared. The “Ice” part was actually added on in college. My roommates and I encountered the term “Ice Weasel” because someone had written the phrase “The Ice Weasels are coming” onto a desk in one of our lecture halls. They were referring this quotation by Matt Groening: Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come. We had never heard of an ice weasel before and thought it was pretty funny, and over the next few months Weasel became Ice Weasel and now, 20 years later, it clearly has stuck!
Tell us something about your background.
I was born in New York, just north of the city, and lived there until I was 7. My family moved out to California (Marin County) and I have lived in the Bay Area ever since. I studied computer science at Stanford and have been a professional engineer since graduating in 1999. Most of my experience has been in small to medium sized startups. The only exception was a 3 year stint at Google. One of the highlights of my professional career was recruiting and onboarding an engineering team in Hyderabad, India. I lived there for 7 months in 2006-2007.
What led you to co-found Nextdoor?
I left Google in 2008 to join a small and ambitious sports startup called Fanbase. After 2.5 years of trying to be successful, we decided that we didn’t have a successful product and that we should do something else. About half of the Fanbase team stuck around in the summer of 2010 and began brainstorming the next great idea.
For much of the summer, we had the inkling that there was a great platform around hyper-local communication that hadn’t been built. After thinking about the problem from a few different angles, we decided to build what was essentially a neighborhood-focused social network. Despite the proliferation of social networks, and many people asking “does the world really need another one?” we felt that the world truly did. We released the first version of what would become Nextdoor to a neighborhood in Menlo Park, CA in October of 2010 and haven’t looked back.
How was the experience of building and launching Nextdoor?
The experience has been almost exclusively wonderful. Every idea comes with predictions and aspirations about how people will use it, and almost from the beginning, people used our product in a manner that was very consistent with how we hoped they would. In addition, we naturally hoped that people would continue to communicate with each other on Nextdoor and not get fatigued and stop using it. This has also turned out to be true in most cases. Nearly all of our first neighborhoods that have been using Nextdoor for 4-5 years now are still among our most active.
What was the most interesting technical challenge that you worked on at Nextdoor?
I have had the privilege to work on a number of projects that have been both technically challenging and important for the company. Some of the highlights have been:
- Creating both v1 and v2 of our e-mail infrastructure which includes the generation and sending millions of e-mails a day.
- Implementing the Nearby Neighborhoods feature which, for the first time, allowed our users to communicate more broadly than just to their specific neighborhood
- Leading the team that implemented GAIA which is our geospatial database and APIs that our applications use to conduct any geospatial operations. As part of creating this, we also had to migrate all our geospatial “on-the-fly” from the old database to the new one.
- Helping implement our Agency platform which enables municipal agencies such as police departments and city halls to have a presence on our platform and send targeted messages to a whole city, a specific set of neighborhoods, or a set of geographic areas defined by the agency itself.
What’s your favorite Nextdoor moment?
There have been so many wonderful moments in the past 5 years, both concerning Nextdoor itself, and also the usage of our product. I will force myself to pick one of each:
My favorite moment involving a member was a story that happened in Orlando, Florida in early 2014. In short, a woman had let her yard fall into disrepair and one of her neighbors called the city to complain. The woman posted an emotional and somewhat angry message on Nextdoor explaining that she had been suffering from cancer and had no money/energy to spend on her yard, and that her husband was filing for a divorce. Instead of her neighbors fighting her on the issue, they instead banded together (without being asked) to help her with her yard work and other chores. The Orlando Sentinel covered the story here.
My favorite internal Nextdoor moment was in the summer of 2013. We were getting ready to announce a partnership with Mayor Bloomberg and the city of New York, and the Mayor was going to come visit our office to meet the team. In the week before this announcement, we realized that the Nextdoor experience for members in New York was not as good as it could have been. There was room for improvement with neighborhood boundaries. The result was a HUGE cross-functional effort to redefine all our neighborhoods, and make some changes to the product for NYC users to make Nextdoor better for them. While staying in the office until 3-4AM every night wasn’t exactly fun, it was a great bonding experience and really showed the passion and commitment of the team.
What do you like most about Nextdoor’s engineering culture?
We have built a team of engineers who do great work without a lot of ego and who constantly strive to get better. The result is an environment where feedback is shared openly through code reviews and other forums. In addition, we have a culture of generosity where help is freely given from one person to another, even on different teams. I often spend time here and there helping other engineers on other teams with issues they are facing, and I often get the same in return. It feels like we are really a team in the most basic sense of the word. We all want to help each other and see Nextdoor succeed.
What are your favorite things to do outside work?
I love to travel, eat delicious food, and take road trips with my wife and two dogs. In addition, I am an avid curler. After first being introduced to the sport during the 2010 Winter Olympics, I have been fairly obsessed with it ever since, and curl regularly here with the San Francisco Bay Area Curling Club, as well as traveling 5-6 times a year to events outside the state.
If you want to join the fun, we’re hiring!
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I don’t have a website (but know the basics of building one). I’d like to help if you want a volunteer who’s a VERY young 70 and might have some insight to an older group of people.