After a mutual friend introduced Stephanie Liu to Ethos in January 2019, she kept the burgeoning company on her radar. “I kept tabs on the company because I thought Ethos had a very interesting value proposition,” the software engineer says. “I was starting my own journey into adulthood and was figuring out what type of insurance I needed for the first time, so I became more interested in the life insurance industry.” As she delved deeper in her research, both for personal and professional reasons, Steph was inspired by the prospect of growing along with a new company that was providing an essential service. “Ethos offered a lot of growth potential — both within a role and horizontally,” she says. “I came in for an interview and was blown away by the quality of the people I met and decided to join.” Here’s a bit more about what makes Steph tick, including the invaluable lessons she’s learned on the job and in the dance studio.
What drew you to the career of software engineering and what other careers did you consider before you decided on this one?
I love the variety of problems that software engineers get to solve and how I'm always being challenged in different ways. A lot of people think software engineering is mechanical in the way computers are. But for me, software engineering is actually about people. Some days, I'm reviewing designs and user flows and providing insight into ways that our users can have the best experience given technical constraints. Other days, I'm working through difficult project implementations across many teams and timezones and articulating tradeoffs to stakeholders. Prior to becoming a software engineer, I had considered more user-focused career paths, but after learning about how much users were affected by the decisions that software engineers make, I realized software engineering perfectly fit my passion for building products that ultimately serve others.
Where are you from originally and what are your thoughts on San Francisco?
I grew up in Tucson, Arizona and went to college in Princeton, New Jersey. San Francisco has been the first large city that I've lived in, and I've loved the diversity and accessibility of events the city has to offer.
You did quite a bit of dance during your time at Princeton — what role does dance have in your current life and what do you love about it?
I love how expressive dance is and how it's a language that's universally understood. Dance has taught me many valuable lessons on the importance of fostering perseverance, community, and creativity, and I apply those lessons to my ethos at work (pun intended). Though I no longer perform, I take dance classes whenever I can, primarily at City Dance and Alvin Ailey, and it feels so good to move my body after a day of sitting at a desk! I also make sure to support the local art scene as an audience member; I go to almost every program during the SFBallet Season, and frequent the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, and A.C.T. Theater.
What was it about Ethos specifically that set it apart from other companies you were considering during your job hunt?
I was incredibly impressed by the quality of the people I met here at Ethos. As someone just starting my career, I wanted to optimize for opportunities for growth. In order to do so, it was important to find people who would support my growth and be willing to give me honest feedback to help me grow even faster. From just the interview process by itself, I realized Ethos was a team I wanted to be part of.I was also impressed by the interview process that focused on the quality of the people despite how quickly we were scaling . Everyone I met was humble and set aside time to understand my interests, strengths, and growth areas. Even though the company was already 80-90 large, leadership took time to get to know me and foster a relationship. I think that is something that is unique to startups. It offers a huge learning potential that wouldn’t be offered elsewhere.
How would you describe Ethos in a few words?
Humble, mission-driven, ruthless prioritization, open-feedback.
What excites you about your work?
The most exciting part of my work is that everyday I get paid to learn something new. There’s a new challenge in front of me daily and I am surrounded by people that are pushing me to find the best solution. Oftentimes, when no one has a solution, everyone is very eager to find one. One of my exciting parts of being an engineer is the ability to build something from scratch and here at Ethos, that’s exactly what we are doing.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned so far in your role at Ethos?
Most influential person might not be the person who knows most, but the person who thinks about feedback and past experiments the most critically. Everyone at meetings is super attentive, but the person with the best solutions is the listener.
What do you feel is the most unique part of the Ethos work culture that sets it apart from the other places you've worked?
The people. I am constantly in awe of how incredible the people I get to work with are and I'm learning from them every day.
What is your idea of an absolutely perfect Sunday, from a.m. to p.m.?
Morning run through Golden Gate Park, a matinee show at SFBallet, and then cooking dinner with my roommates and friends in the evening.