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Behind the scenes at Couchsurfing: Max Edmands

Part of an ongoing series where we interview members of the CouchSurfing staff about the work that’s going on behind the scenes. Previously: Andrew Geweke and Tony Espinoza. This week: Max Edmands, Web Developer.
Max Edmands

Meredith Hutcheson: What’s your role on the CouchSurfing team?

Max Edmands: I am a web developer. So basically that means that when there are new features to be added around the site I’m one of the people who work on it. I’ve been working here since January, but I’ve been a CouchSurfer since right after college, when I took a huge road trip around the US, and realized how much cooler traveling is when you see places the way that locals do, instead of as a tourist. I personally love CouchSurfing because I am a huge environmentalist. Not only is using CouchSurfing a super sustainable way to travel, but the genuine human connections that it creates are, to me, a wonderful solution for many of the world’s problems. So when I got contacted about joining the team, I jumped at the chance.

MH: What’s a typical day for you?

ME: I come into the office and usually there’s a morning meeting where we discuss all the things that have to be done for the rest of the day. Once it’s been discussed we buckle down and work on it, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in groups of three, usually just on our own. Usually there’s enough stuff for us all to work on separately that it takes the whole day, but then when there are issues we connect and talk about it more.

MH: So obviously you work with other developers. What other teams or roles do you interact with regularly?

ME: Right now we are working pretty closely with the designers, because what we’re building is all new. We communicate with them a lot because they’re coming up with new ideas, better ways of organizing and presenting information on the site. And as we work on stuff, then they see what we’ve worked on and they revise their ideas based on actually seeing something that we’ve built that works.

MH: Can you explain what you’re working on right now?

ME: Right now we are working on a brand-spankin’ new version of the site, something a lot faster and cleaner and prettier than the version of the site that everyone’s using right now. I’m pretty excited about it.

MH: What do you mean by “new”, exactly? I know that’s a strange question but I think it can mean a lot of different things.

ME: Right. Basically we’re going through all the stuff we already have and rebuilding it from the ground up. It’s going to be new code, so that’s a big deal and it’s going to make a big difference in how it runs. And it’s also got a new design to it. And there will be new features, too. But all of this should run together really smoothly for users. As we’re moving over each thing to the new code, we’re looking at it all the way through. So it’s not just, rewrite this feature on the new site. It’s looking at how to bring over the functionality in a way that works better on all different levels.

MH: What’s that process going to be like? I think in the past we’ve done a lot of background work on one feature, then we launch that, then we move on to something else. This is going to be different.

ME: Right, it is. We’re going to be very slowly integrating it into what we already have. So when we complete something that already exists we will replace the old feature with the new feature, and then as things get better then we’ll just replace more and more of the old site until it’s all new and fast and better.

MH: Why is it such a long process?

ME: The hard work isn’t in building the features, the problem is making stuff that will work with the edge cases. Like when there’s inconsistent or incorrect data, when there’s content in other languages, when there’s three hundred people trying to do the same thing at the same time — these are big questions and we have to try and think of all the possibilities because if we don’t then there will be errors. The site will crash, or it will be painfully slow. So we have to do this really methodically to do it right, and we have to take the time to go back and rework features as we go along, as we see people using them.

MH: Right now, to get specific, you guys are working on bringing together local information in a better way. So for example instead of having to go to one place to see the group for San Francisco, and another place for surfers looking for a couch in San Francisco, etc, bringing all of that into one place.

ME: Yeah, that’s what we are working on right now. It’s a good place to begin because it’s an area where there’s a lot of room for improvement but it also doesn’t directly impact hosting and surfing, which are core to who we are. So we have a chance to learn from it. Launching stuff that’s essential to hosting and surfing first thing would be riskier because if there are problems, those are big problems.

MH: That said, you’re primarily a host yourself. What do you think will be cool for hosts in the first new parts of the site?

ME: It’s going to be much simpler for surfers to find out what there is to do wherever they are. I think that’s the coolest thing. As a host on the site right now, when you stay with me I’m going to give you the best recommendations I can about what there is to do nearby, and that’s pretty much all the information you have. But if you’re looking at one of the new group pages, all the information is nicely organized and easy to understand, then all of a sudden you’re going to have so much better of an idea of what you want to do in my town, because you’re getting lots of wonderful suggestions from all of the CouchSurfers who live here or who have visited, not just from me.

MH: Anything else you want to add?

ME: I’m really excited about what we’re creating. I think that it’s going to be better and a lot easier to understand — new CouchSurfers won’t need to figure out an interface that’s really slow and clunky and looks like it’s from 1995. The internet moves really fast. We have a lot of catching up to do. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of spending four hours browsing the site trying to look for someone to meet, the site let you find what you’re looking for right away, so that you can get off the Internet and start making awesome connections and having great experiences?

I think our site is always going to be really quirky and lovable, and it will still be really easy to connect with all the same people that you’ve been hanging out with on CouchSurfing before. The community, the real offline stuff that makes us who we are, that will always be the same. We’re just making the support structure easier, faster, and better.

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