How Ribbon’s New VP of Engineering Set Her Team Up for Long-Term Success

At the company, there’s no time wasted.
Written by Kelly O'Halloran
January 29, 2021Updated: February 4, 2021

Ribbon’s VP of Engineering Sarah Walker didn’t join the real estate financing platform at the beginning of a major build — she joined during the final weeks of one. 

It’s the second time in Walker’s career that her leadership has been sought after to guide an engineering team through the final stages of development. Yet, Walker still expressed concern that her new team would be apprehensive to change.

“When you come in as a leader and introduce new practices, the hardest thing is to be met with resistance,” Walker said. 

Instead, Walker’s team responded with eagerness. “This team is hungry to learn and try new things,” Walker said.

They embraced Walker’s restructuring of the team, which included focused pods with clear metrics as well as company-wide postmortems. Both changes happened just weeks before the beta release of Ribbon’s new offers platform, an extension of the company’s real estate cash offering that helps agents craft the best offer during the bidding process.

Next, the leader looks to add 25 engineers in 2021 as her team continues to iterate on Ribbon’s offers solution. Before she does though, we asked Walker to share the processes that helped Ribbon through its latest launch. 
 

Sarah Walker
VP of Engineering

You’ve held executive-level engineering positions at other companies prior to Ribbon. What processes and practices from these experiences did you introduce to Ribbon?

I aimed to instill a culture of cross-functional collaboration across the engineering, product and design teams and our go-to-market counterparts by organizing ourselves for long-term success. I set up the team so that they can easily have focus with a clear mission and set of goals and metrics for the business. One group focuses on Ribbon’s real estate listing experience, another group focuses on the buying experience and the third is dedicated to our financial products that help make homeownership more achievable. 

Also, Ribbon is entering a growth phase. With hiring, it’s important to not compromise on culture or diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I’ve introduced engineering hiring practices, like structured interviewing processes, that speak to our operating approach and values and that help DEI by making sure we’re evaluating candidates fairly.
 

Inside Ribbon’s new offers solution

Ready to buy a house, you secure financing through Ribbon’s platform that helps you appear as a cash offer. Now, to help ensure that your offer is the most attractive, Ribbon’s offers solution connects buyers agents with sellers agents to transact together and recognize what looks best to both parties.

 

What was the biggest challenge you had joining the team toward the end of the development lifecycle? How'd you overcome it? 

My biggest challenge was in helping the teams prioritize and scope the final mile of production. That’s when you start to realize that in order to hit this milestone, we have to shift focuses. I quickly swarmed the team to help with stability and quality in the system, added a QA engineer and dropped some items from our scope so that we could ensure a greater user experience in time for the homebuying season, which starts at the end of January. I was excited to see that this team was engaged and willing to step aside from what they were working on to support these areas.

 

ribbon
ribbon

 

How did you directly support your team through the ‘final mile’?

I offered help as a coach and mentor to our engineering managers, who are all first-time managers. In my 20-year career, I’ve gotten hundreds of releases out the door, so I provided advice and recommendations and acted as a support system to them as they needed it. 

 

Walker’s Move to Ribbon

Walker previously led the engineering organizations at White Ops, a cybersecurity company that prevents bot and malware fraud, and at Thorn, a nonprofit focused on eliminating online child sexual exploitation. When it came to her next move, Walker said it was important to find another mission-focused company. “The mission to make homeownership achievable and create opportunities for families was compelling to me,” she said.

 

What have you noticed most about your team since joining in October?

Everyone is passionate about the mission and there is a high degree of flexibility and adaptability. It’s been awesome to see their eagerness to work through solutions together and learn from each other. We introduced postmortems recently that we’ve been sharing with the rest of the company, which can be nerve-wracking — who wants to speak publicly about their mistakes? But our team has really embraced this practice and seems to be getting a ton of value from it. 

 

 

What’s next for your team and Ribbon’s platform?

We’re a young team. As we grow to 40 engineers, we’re looking to bring on senior talent who can help us go from a monolith to microservices architecture, bring DevOps practices to Ribbon and be a good mentor to our existing engineers. 

With our platform, each time Ribbon enters a new real estate market, we have to engineer the system to accommodate for the different set of rules, documentation and disclosures based on that state. This year, we’re focused on building a powerful platform that makes entering new markets a seamless process without a lot of engineering lift each time. We’re also looking into offer intelligence, which crafts the best offer to win that home, dynamic pricing, which makes our products more affordable, and lastly, expanded financial offerings to continue to provide more opportunities for homebuyers. 

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