This post is part of a weekly series in which we get to know Sifties.
Nick Hurlburt is an Engineering Manager who has been with Sift Science for two and a half years. If he could eat only one food for the rest of his life, it would be mangoes because it’s hard to think of not being able to eat them. If he could eat mangoes with sticky rice, that would be perfect.
If you could pick only 4 words to describe your life, what would they be?
“There and back again.” I have traveled to different countries and had experiences that changed my worldview, and when I came back home, I felt that I had a different perspective.
What skill would you love to learn?
I played piano as a kid, but haven’t much as an adult. I would love to be good enough to play piano in a blues band. I love blues music because it’s repetitive but always different and new at the same time.
What was your first job?
I grew up in rural Wisconsin farming country, and during high school I worked for my dad, who’s been a land surveyor for the past 45 years. Land surveyors can have varying responsibilities, but my dad would measure property, create boundaries, create a legal description of where it is, and produce maps.
I really enjoyed working for him because it was a balance of outdoor and indoor time — I would carry surveying equipment through the woods some days, and others I would be in the office doing map drawing and computer work. Now, terrain permitting, my dad drives an ATV around on a site instead of carrying all of his gear.
How did you get interested in software design?
My parents bought me a Commodore 64 computer (named because it has 64k of memory) for Christmas when I was five years old. Initially, I mostly played games – but then I discovered that it came with a programming manual.
When I was about seven, I started learning very basic programming. The boys in my neighborhood had made up an army, and I wrote a “database” of people in the army with their names and ranks. In high school, I told people that I wanted to build Skynet, which is the super computer in Terminator movies that turned evil and attacked humanity. People looked at me differently after that.
You spent almost seven years doing humanitarian work. What was your experience like?
I primarily worked with a group in southeast Asia and another in South Sudan. In Asia, I helped train people in areas of conflict on how to do basic medical relief (but I can barely apply a band-aid), as well as human rights reporting and documentation.
I’ve always had an interest in areas of conflict and vulnerable people, and I knew that I wanted to do something to help. I enjoyed the challenge of designing a system that people could use when they speak twelve different languages, in an area with limited electricity, where most things are done on foot, and the average user is someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience with technology.