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Coast engineering culture

We often get asked about the engineering culture at Coast. CTO Anton Maximov shares his perspective.

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I get asked a lot by engineering candidates interviewing with Coast – what is Coast engineering culture like? It is a natural question to ask, but not an easy question to answer with just a few sentences that are not platitudes. So in the spirit of writing things down and following our company values of Rigor and Transparency, below is my own exhaustive answer that helped me organize my thoughts. It is good for “offline” reading, whereas during conversations I pick a few points most relevant to the audience and focus on those.

How do I define culture?

Of course, the term “culture” is too amorphous due to overuse, but I find it useful to tether it to our engineering organization and use concrete examples.

In brief, culture is what we reward, culture is how we do things.

I prefer to think of culture as a set of principles or guidelines that we use everywhere in our daily work. We invoke them when we celebrate accomplishments, we use them when we debate, we call each other out when we fall short of it.

Examples bring these principles to life; they become stories that we refer back to. The stories accumulate into shared experiences and patterns of behavior.


There are inputs into the culture, the preconditions, if you will, that were in place early on and set the tone:

  • We  have done this before – our founder and CEO as well as early hires, including engineering, have done this before. We know what’s around the corner as the company grows, we learned from making and observing past mistakes. It also means that we have lives outside Coast. Yes, we are a startup, and we work hard, but we do not want anyone to burn out, since it is a marathon, not a sprint. No one sleeps under their desks and no one habitually works nights and weekends
  • We are office-first – and we treat it as a competitive advantage. This informs how we communicate with each other, how we make decisions, how we onboard and train new hires. We optimize for those hires that work best in this mode
  • We build for the long run – we proved that there is a business opportunity, we have a product/market fit, we have a lot of existing customers to take care of
  • We are deliberate – we are working in a complex, regulated, audited financial industry, where we deal with money and payments. Moving fast and breaking things is not an option. We are intentionally a grown-up company that is here to stay


Values is a useful lens through which we can call out aspects of our culture that are important to us and might be different from other companies.

It took us about a year to come up with our values as a company, we reflected on how we worked, what was important to us, and we came up with a list. It is documenting the status quo and it is also aspirational.

There is an official company version of these that we use during various company gatherings, but below is my interpretation that is relevant to the Coast engineering organization:


  • Debates make us better, we disagree and commit, we admit mistakes openly and we show humility
  • Software is a team sport – we have two pairs of eyes on designs, on PR reviews, on changes to prod; and we move in small increments to get meaningful feedback early
  • We treat being in-office as a competitive advantage and we capitalize on it – we make decisions quickly, we use whiteboards, we ask others to look over our shoulder, we onboard quickly, and we welcome serendipity that is created

Obsession with customers

  • We pull knowledge about our customers and the industries they are in – we read, we exchange information, we watch interviews, listen to customer calls
  • We drop everything and help if they are in need
  • We are curious how our newly launched features are doing, so we ensure we have metrics that we review regularly
  • We are serious about on-call


  • Continuous small improvements compound over time, and it is a culture of ownership that drives us to find these improvements and get them done. This process includes the culture itself
  • We hold each other accountable – it is easy to let things slip, to lower the bar. Sometimes you are just tired and you do not want to fight that particular battle or make an extra effort. I expect my colleagues to spot me in those moments and not let things go


  • As a startup we need to be resourceful, creative when it comes to getting stuff done with limited resources. That is an extra challenge, but this constraint ignites creativity


  • Blameless post-mortems are a good example of our culture of continuous improvement. We also know that bad news do not age well, so we would rather hear about them early and then work on figuring out things together
  • Our KPIs, metrics, runway, and other information is confidential, but we review them with the whole company on regular basis
  • Even our calendars are public within the company, a small but telling detail


  • We work hard – it is not a lifestyle company where we choose to work just enough. We are ambitious, we want to build a transformative business
  • We are curious – cargo-culting to solve a problem and moving on just to get things done is not going to fly here; we also are curious about our clients – how they work, what makes them tick, what they care about; we are curious about what our colleague has to say in the debate – we listen to understand, not to respond; we are curious about other departments outside of engineering, because in a startup we all wear multiple hats and in a complex business like ours, it takes multiple teams to launch a product feature


  • We write design docs for anything non-trivial – this helps us think better, and it is as important as writing code
  • We are informed by data – all significant product features have metrics that help us reason about their adoption over time and their success
  • We avoid ”undifferentiated heavy lifting” – we are not reinventing project/product/people management or devising novel low-level infrastructure 
  • There is no technology “silver bullet” – the complexity and the true innovation for us is in building a transformative product for real clients


  • We ship, we get stuff done, we have grit, and we drive things to completion

An attentive reader would notice that some of these are at odds with each other. It is intentional, since values truly come to life when they are creating tension with each other – finding the right balance for the situation on hand is the challenge and the reward.

What kind of person would succeed at Coast?

This is another helpful lens to use, and coincidentally a common question that gets asked. I usually pick a few bullets from the ones below:

  • Wear multiple hats – unlike a large enterprise, an engineer at Coast is not attached to the same tiny sliver of product for years. It is expected to help out across the org over time, and collaborate with those outside of engineering. And of course, by definition of a startup, things will change quickly and the role and responsibilities will change
  • Growth mindset – it means expecting and embracing change, it means adapting to it, it means learning and seeking feedback to improve – both personally as well as improving Coast product and company itself
  • Strong sense of ownership and commitment – one is not just taking tasks and checking them off, clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5. One is actively pulling things in, not letting anything drop. Sometimes it takes grit and extra effort to get stuff done, and there is joy in meeting that extra challenge
  • Highly collaborative – one is not precious about their code or their ideas, one is eagerly seeking feedback and is grateful for it
  • Pragmatic and scrappy – we do not have huge enterprise resources that can build out platforms on top of platforms to enable teams, equally we cannot buy all the SaaS vendor tools out there. Getting stuff done in this situation requires understanding of the larger context which allows one to find creative solutions. Things also won’t be perfect, whether it is our office setup, or some of our processes, and it is fine – if it matters, we will address it, and until then we’ll be OK
  • Working fast with tight feedback loops – the failure in my book is having someone run super-fast in the wrong direction, alone, for a long period of time. So raw coding speed in itself might actually be counterproductive

In conclusion, it would be useful to mention that we do not follow the growth mantra of “hire fast, fire fast” – we interview quickly, but we do not compromise on our process and bar for talent.

For example, our founder is still involved in hiring each person, which is a commitment to the culture he wants to see in the company.

If this culture resonates, and you would like to work this way, perhaps you should join us: https://coastpay.com/careers