Meet the people behind the product: Payments Engineer, Fiona Manzella



Here at Patreon, we’re committed to building the best product possible for our creators, and we have a talented team who drives us toward that goal every day. In this series, we’ll interview our Engineering, Product, and Design teammates to learn more about what they do and why they do it.

Meet Fiona, a Software Engineer on our Payments Engineering team in San Francisco. Read on to learn why Fiona calls Payments the ultimate cross-functional engineering team, how she’s improving the member checkout experience, and why, even after three and a half years, Patreon’s mission is more exciting than ever. 

Tell me about the journey that landed you at Patreon. What made you excited about joining the team?

I was actually introduced to Patreon via a creator named Scout who runs a feminist-genderqueer group in San Francisco. I heard about Patreon from them in 2015 but was still in the process of teaching myself engineering. So even though I was so excited about Patreon’s mission, I wasn’t quite ready to join the team. 

A few years later when I felt ready, I made a deal with my friend who is a comic artist and oil painter. I said, “if I can land an engineering role at Patreon, then you have to launch a Patreon for your art.” Well, it turns out that we came through on the deal!  

Wow, that’s such a fun story! How did Patreon work out for your friend?

It’s been so great for them. Within six months she was using her earnings to rent out a painting studio. In the past year, especially with the pandemic, Patreon has been a crucial source of income from her. It’s been amazing to see the work and thought that my friend puts into her membership and to know that my daily work is powering her art. It really lends a sense of urgency and importance to what I’m doing. Ideally everything is so smooth that my friend doesn’t notice anything, but if something goes wrong on our side, my friend can’t make her rent. That’s a big deal. 

At Patreon we love creators and admire their grit, creative process, and connection with their audiences. How does creativity show up in your work at Patreon? What does your process of building look like? 

Payments tends to be a risk-averse space by nature. If there’s a new hot technology or a different way to do something, we have to vet it very carefully because stability and reliability are crucial qualities of our payments systems. What this means is that creativity becomes part of the process. 

Creativity shows up in the way the whole tripod of Engineering, Product, and Design work together. We’re creative in exploring all the possibilities when it comes to understanding our users and figuring out what they need — whether that’s sitting in on creator interviews, making sure we have time to whiteboard, or taking time to get deep into the details during product review meetings. 

How do you work together with your team and other teams here at Patreon?

I work really closely with the engineers on my team, as well as Data Science, Design, Product, and the Infrastructure Team. Payments is such an integrated and cross-functional product area. We have to think about the hard regulatory requirements, user experience, finance needs, and mobile needs. There are so many different sides to it. 

It’s an amazing team to be on if you want to work across the whole organization. I also feel like we have one of the best engineering cultures I’ve encountered or heard about.

There’s such a high level of empathy, and people truly care about both the product we’re building and each other as teammates. 

You’ve been at Patreon and worked in the payments space for a few years now. What kind of things are you learning in your role today?

Right now, I’m learning a lot about how to collaborate effectively. As we’ve grown our teams in New York and Dublin, there’s been this really dynamic process of figuring out how to collaborate well across three time zones to launch a product and make it really good. It’s made me realize that so many people think of engineering as sitting down, writing code, and shipping things, but that’s actually such a small part of it. Engineering at its core is a communication job. Yes, it’s making computers communicate with each other, but it’s also making sure that computers are communicating with the users in a way that they understand. 

Technically speaking, I’ve been learning a lot about dealing with legacy code. We’re cleaning up our checkout code at the moment and it’s one of the most gnarly legacy flows. There are a ton of different third-party services and callbacks, and for every payment method we support, there’s a different integration. It’s too complex. 

Since checkout flow is the part of the product that actually gets creators paid, it requires a lot of care. So as we untangle the code, we have to be very intentional and thoughtful, rewriting it in a way that improves its performance and structure without harming any payment attempts. 

What’s been surprising you lately?

I’ve been surprised by how quickly things are changing in the creator economy. When my creator friends are painting, they’re not also checking HackerNews or staying on top of new payment regulations. They’re just trying to do art. The rules of the game and the technologies available keep changing for creators, and I have a lot of empathy for them. It really motivates me to build something that’s super reliable and robust so that creators don’t feel like they need to constantly keep an eye on it and can focus on making their art. 

What’s different about building for creators? 

This answer is a bit touchy-feely but stay with me here. At Patreon we’re building for people who have chosen the path less traveled. When people go full time on Patreon, or even invest in it more fully, they’re quitting their day jobs and moving into the uncharted territory of the creator economy. Funding your art on Patreon is so personal — it’s not just your job, it’s really tied to who you are and to your identity.

Building a product for folks who care that deeply is really meaningful. It’s a lot more personal and the stakes are really high.

What would you say to a future teammate considering joining Patreon? 

We’re in a really exciting phase right now. It’s funny, I feel like I’ve been saying that for the past three years, but I’m particularly excited about the chapter we’re in at the moment. We’re revisiting core components of the product and reexamining our core assumptions. We’re recommitting to building a really good, high-quality product, and it’s so exciting to see us investing in that. 

Outside of work, how do you spend your time?

I’ve been getting into running again. It’s something I’ve loved but have never been good at, so now I’m working on improving. I also have been baking a bunch and kayaking in Point Reyes and in some of the National Forests that are near the Bay Area. 

Who’s your favorite creator on Patreon? 

Of course, I have to mention my friend Bex who I made the deal with when I joined. She’s a comic artist and painter. 

Are you interested in working with Fiona? Check out opportunities to join our engineering team. We have open roles in San Francisco, New York City, and Dublin, Ireland.