Music is a rise and fall of sound that eclipses language to reflect the power of a shared story. It’s a universal art form that’s also intensely personal; music colors our most joyous moments and comforts us in our darkest hours.
Music streaming services sit at the intersection of music and technology, where they offer curated playlists that appeal both to the masses and the individual. For the last 11 years, Pandora has been a leader in the digital world, creating algorithms and refining databases to craft the perfect flow of songs for every listener’s tastes and moods.
At the heart of these algorithms, however, are regular people – Pandora employees who listen to every single song in the program’s database. Every. Single. One. These music analysts assign each song any number of characteristics, weighted on a scale from zero to five, to create a unique “genetic makeup” for each title. And the program’s software takes it from there.
As a senior software engineer at Pandora, Andrew “Drew” Rodman ’14 knows something about this elaborate balance between man and machine, between personal touch and seamless algorithm. Working in Core Services for Pandora One, the streaming station’s ad-free subscription-based service, Rodman coordinates with multiple departments to design and implement features, systems and functional elements that give customers a great experience while also meeting the company’s financial, marketing and legal obligations.
The job is perfect for Rodman, who admits he likes being in the thick of things and knowing where Pandora’s tech is heading next. “I’m kind of nosey in that regard,” he says. “I like to get involved in lots of stuff.”
Rodman has long walked the line between self-professed tech nerd and laid-back millennial. During his college years, he worked at the King Street Apple Store, voraciously studying Apple products, easily interfacing with customers and making himself so indispensable that, over the three years of his Apple tenure, the store could only spare him for about a week and a half per year.
In his limited free time as a computer science major, Rodman played ultimate Frisbee with his team The Palmetto Bums and spent three summers interning for a Google program called Summer of Code. He talks about both experiences fondly, making the tug between his recreational pursuits and his technological endeavors seem like an easy equilibrium.
His experience with Google’s Summer of Code, in particular, prepared him for life on the periphery of Silicon Valley. (Oakland, where Pandora is headquartered, is not considered part of the Valley.)
“Because I got to work with my Summer of Code mentors and go to Google offices, I had a good idea of what this culture would be like,” Rodman explains. “Pandora is less corporate than Google, but it’s a similar environment. It’s been nothing but a pleasant surprise all around. Broadly, the job is what I was expecting, but on a granular level, I’ve been surprised all over the place.”
Indeed, “corporate” is far from how anyone would describe Pandora’s office environment. With multiple stocked kitchens on each of the company’s eight floors, a floor-to-ceiling shelf bulging with board games like Risk and Settlers of Catan and a stadium-style seating area for presentations, the vibe is more like your best friend’s cool loft (if your best friend has 300 hobbies).
“That’s my desk over there next to the container of Nerf darts,” Rodman says, gesturing to an open seating-style desk with an impressive view of Oakland.
Despite the 101 ways to get distracted from work, Rodman finds himself working beyond 9 to 5, often into the night. In a day full of fun little breaks and conversations with smart, friendly colleagues, he insists that a few hours of extra work is worth it. Because for Rodman, it all comes back to the same thing: balance.