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Spotlight Series: A Conversation with Tony Robinson

Spotlight Series
March 27, 2024

In the PayNearMe Spotlight Series, we shine a light on the people that make our company thrive. In this month’s interview, we sat down with Tony Robinson, VP of Engineering – Apps, to chat about his role in the company, why he loves working at PayNearMe and how he’s been able to build a strong team of engineers.

Q: Can you tell us about your career journey and what led you to PayNearMe? 

Tony Robinson: I majored in electrical engineering in college and pivoted to software development after graduation. What I love about engineering is it’s always changing; there’s always something new to learn. The industry continues to evolve and you have to keep learning to stay relevant, so that keeps my career engaging.

I moved to Silicon Valley in the early 90s to work on what was then called “pen computing.” I found myself working in the same building as PayNearMe’s future Founder and CEO, Danny Shader.

Fast forward a few decades later, I was at the end of one job and about to move on to the next and I serendipitously ran into Danny at a local farmer’s market. We chatted, caught up and he told me I should come out and meet PayNearMe’s engineering team. I was really impressed by that group of people, and fortunately, they offered me an opportunity to join them and the rest is history! I’ve been with PayNearMe ever since.  

Q: Have you always wanted to pursue a career in Engineering?

TR: I’ve always been interested in computers, so a career in software engineering was a byproduct of that interest. I wouldn’t say I made a conscious choice to become a software engineer; I just happened to join a software startup after graduating.  I found it fun and interesting to work with the evolving technology and never looked back!

Q: How has PayNearMe helped you in your career development?

TR: Prior to joining PayNearMe, my career was predominantly focused on developing consumer-facing products, especially in the mobile sector. At PayNearMe, I transitioned to working on back-end, server-side projects, which has been a valuable technical learning experience.

More significantly, PayNearMe has fostered my career growth by providing leadership opportunities. I’ve gained skills in team building, mentoring and navigating professional advancement alongside the company’s growth. This experience has been both challenging and rewarding, greatly benefiting my career development.

Q: What are some of your favorite things about working at PayNearMe?

TR: My favorite thing about PayNearMe is the people! At PayNearMe, the people are wonderful and the culture is strong. Everyone works together to solve problems, and that creates a rewarding work environment.

Q: PayNearMe’s Core Values are Together, Do the Right Thing, Results-Driven, Transparent, Flexible and Respectful. Which one most resonates with you and why?

TR: I believe they all work in concert to create PayNearMe’s culture. However, I’d say ‘Do the right thing’ really resonates with me. At PayNearMe, we all work together to do the right thing—for our clients, our company and individually for professional growth. It makes it a joy to come to work because you know that you’re going to spend your time each day helping people succeed. Whether we’re helping our customers succeed or employees grow and develop.

Q: Let’s shift the focus to your role. What does a day in the life of a VP of Engineering look like?

TR: Every day involves meeting with multiple people on and outside my team to make sure we’re all connected and working toward the same goals. Each day is a little different, some days are focused on supporting the team and helping troubleshoot or advise on technical issues.  Others are split among multiple tasks, including working with other groups to make sure we are all aligned, assessing and sharing status of current projects, planning for future projects including hiring and staffing, and release management.

Q: Let’s talk about remote work. How are you able to stay connected with your team virtually?

TR: Video conferencing is really important to my team and I. I find it important to see and hear people—facial expressions and body language all contribute to how we stay connected and communicate with each other. I take as many opportunities as I can to move conversations that may be stalled from email or chat to video. I find that so many problems can be solved by simply having a brief conversation.

Then, of course, my team and I have regular 1:1s, team meetings, daily stand ups and cross-functional meetings with peers as well. We use these meetings to ensure we’re aligned and working toward the same goals.

Q: What are three things you have to have on your desk each day for a productive workday?

TR: I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to note taking, so I always have a pen and paper. And of course my phone—or as I like to refer to it, my multi factor-authentication device 🙂.   

Q: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself while working at PayNearMe?

TR: Since I joined PayNearMe, I’ve learned how to work remotely by building and growing connections with people without going to an office. I’ve also learned how to embrace change. Since I joined the company, we’ve experienced substantial growth and that comes with a lot of change, but it’s all been in the very best way. I’m typically a pretty structured individual, so I would have thought that all the change would be difficult for me, but with the support of my peers and leadership, I’m really enjoying it, and I’m looking forward to our next phase of company growth! 

Q: So what about you—what kinds of activities or hobbies are you interested in outside of work?

TR: I have a 17-year old daughter, so the last decade has been more about her activities! 

I enjoy hiking around the Bay Area, and that’s exposed me to podcasts, which I enjoy. My family and I consider ourselves foodies, so we enjoy grilling and cooking. 

Q: If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?

TR: Well, any other job sounds like a job, so I don’t know that I’d choose any other career! I would love to be a musician, but I can’t play anything, so I guess that’s off the table!

Q: I recently talked to Harper Evans, and asked her the same question. She said she would want to do your job for the day and expressed how much respect she has for you. You obviously have built a really great relationship with your direct reports. Can you share some of what you do on a daily basis to build such a strong team culture?

TR: Wow, that’s really flattering! I just support and empower my team to focus on their individual roles. It’s important to give my team ownership and autonomy of their role and tasks, and then to do my best to support them and give them the tools and resources they need to succeed. I’m always there to listen and to help out in any way that I can.

On a more personal level, it’s also important to recognize that people have lives outside of work, so they need flexibility, support and grace. I genuinely care and like them as individuals! It’s really all about building a strong rapport, and supporting my team in the same way that I desire to be supported by my management team. 

Q: Do you participate in any volunteer work or have any organizations you’d like to shine a light on?

TR: I participate in a program in the Bay Area called iMentor. It connects first-generation students with a college-educated mentor to help guide and champion them to graduate high school, enroll and succeed in college and ultimately, reach their full potential. 

My family is also involved in the American Exchange Project. It’s an organization that sends high school seniors on a week-long trip to a hometown that is culturally different from their own. For example, they may send a student from a larger city to a rural town. The program aims to break down barriers so the kids get an opportunity to learn from families and communities with different backgrounds. It gives the students a chance to learn more about their country and their fellow citizens. 

It’s a really incredible program and I encourage anyone with high school-aged kids to look into the organization.