Rob von Behren is our new lead engineer in our San Francisco office. In our Q&A below, Rob shares his take on mobile commerce and some other fun facts. What he won’t tell you is that he co-founded Google Wallet and was an engineer at Square. Everything else, we’ll leave up to him.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I've loved and been fascinated by computers ever since I was a kid. (Anyone else still remember waiting eons for the cassette drive on their vic 20 to load up a game? :-)) I've also always loved building things, so it was a tremendous epiphany when I realized that I could use my computer to build really elaborate virtual things. In the later parts of high school and then in college, I realized that when you create software that solves a problem, you empower yourself to do so much more. Kind of like being able to design and build your own super powers.... Ever since, I've really enjoyed creating software that frees both me and others from routine work and allows more time for being creative.
The payments space is really exciting right now. So much of what people do today is based on very old technology and the possibilities for building more robust and interesting payment systems are enormous. It's a lot of fun to be in a space where things are changing really fast - with lots of room for building cool new solutions and coming up with creative ways to solve problems.
More specifically about Braintree, I'm really impressed with how the company is positioned in mobile e-commerce. That, coupled with a robust existing e-commerce business, makes for a great platform for launching interesting new products. Additionally, I've been really impressed with the Braintree team. At the end of the day, the people you work with have the biggest impact on your day-to-day job satisfaction.
What do you hope to achieve at Braintree?
As corny as it sounds, what motivates me the most is the idea that my work will help to advance society in some way or another. (It's always great to be able to tell your kids that you are helping to make the world they are going to inherit a more interesting and functional place.) At Braintree, I'm looking forward to helping bring better technology into the commerce world. Since commerce touches everyone every day, having more flexible platforms and stronger competition in this space has a deep impact on people's lives. In its best form, a commerce platform should disappear into the background to let merchants and their customers focus on the exchange of meaningful goods and services. I'm excited to help Braintree make this a reality.
What do you envision as the future of mobile payments?
I expect that in 10 years, a majority of people on the planet will use some form of mobile, network-connected computing device for nearly all of their purchases. First, devices like this are useful for so many things, so their ubiquity seems inevitable. There are already well over one billion smartphones in active use worldwide, so more than 15 percent of the world population is Internet accessible most of the time. Secondly, these devices are fundamentally personal, which means they provide a fantastic way of creating a secure digital identity. Given that a challenge in payments is verifying that the buyer really does intend to give money to the seller, solving the identity problem means you've solved the crux of the payment problem. In a nutshell, mobile payments will eventually become ubiquitous because your mobile device (be it a phone, a watch, or a pair of funky glasses) will be the digital representation of you. Once that happens, it simply won't make sense to pay any other way.
That said, exactly how this happens and what technologies and platforms wind up dominating this new world order is anybody's guess. There are a lot of interesting technical and business challenges to overcome before mobile payments can really work for everything. However, innovation is happening quickly, so it’s only a matter of time. I naturally have my personal hunches about which players are most likely to succeed here. :)
What is the coolest thing you’ve developed?
In terms of pure geek-appeal, I really enjoyed putting together custom lock-free data structures for doing low-cost sharing between threads in Google's network stack. Not the kind of thing that's fun to talk to your mom about, but it was interesting (if hairy) stuff. In terms of cool-to-non-geeks, I had a lot of fun a few years ago helping my son write a program to find an optimal strategy for mancala so he could beat his Grandmother every time they played. (Ok, maybe that's also geeky, but it was fun to talk about at family gatherings.)
Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
I'm fascinated by finding fun ways to demonstrate surprising science facts to my kids. For example, if you've never tried dropping a neodymium magnet through a copper pipe, you're really missing out. What’s a better way to demonstrate the power of sunlight than by burning the zinc from inside a modern penny with a 1M^2 Fresnel lens? And of course, since I'm working in payments a caveat is in order: I only burn my own money, nobody else's. :)
We’re hiring! Check out our openings at braintreepayments.com/company/careers.