Get to know Jake Moffatt, Engineering Manager on the Alto Assistant Team

Jul 28, 2022


Alto Pharmacy

When Jake Moffatt says he loves building things, he means it — sometimes literally. A construction project manager turned engineer, Jake has spent the past decade building software at mission-driven organizations. Today, as Engineering Manager of Alto Assistant, he leads the team that’s bringing wizard-like support to Alto’s customer-facing app.
Below, Jake chats with fellow engineering manager Mike Riess and recruiter Braden Hanlon about the work ahead for Alto Assistant.

I’d love to learn more about your background to get us started. How did you end up in software engineering?

When I was twelve, I started learning to code in QBASIC because I wanted to make video games. Once I wrote my first program, I was hooked! I loved computers and the creative power they gave to anyone willing to invest the time and energy to learn. Since then, I’ve built games, personal tools and projects, desktop software, and a number of apps and services — I love building things. My career has gone back and forth between construction and software engineering, but it’s been firmly in the software industry for the last ten years or so.

My favorite place to be in a company is working on something new that has a big impact or addresses an important problem. In a previous role, I built an app that helped people find roommates in a city where housing is prohibitively expensive. At that same company, I led the team responsible for creating a new vertical that eventually split off into its own company.

What are you working on at Alto?

The goal of Alto Assistant is to help customers help themselves before reaching out to support. Our first project is introducing a wizard-like support “assistant” (hence the team name!) that guides the customer through a series of questions to narrow down the area of support. We’ve already identified a few tasks the assistant can help customers complete on their own, including making changes to upcoming deliveries or scheduling new orders.

In cases where we can’t help them just yet, our new tool generates data to help us to learn exactly what customers need help with. It’s a top priority to bake analytics into every new feature we build; even though we have years of experience supporting our customers — and we know intuitively which problems they frequently experience — we don’t have conclusive data to draw upon just yet.

We plan to start with a couple of frequent use cases and measure how often customers reach out to us for support. Then, we’ll chip away at the problem until we’ve seen a substantial improvement in the user experience. From there, we’ll move on to the next biggest problem and repeat the cycle. There’s a reason “Chip away it” is an Alto value: It’s the playbook that we’ve used to automate other critical parts of the pharmacy value stream like intake, billing, and fulfillment.

What opportunities are you most excited about?

Support drives much of the cost of every shipment today, so this is a high-impact area for our business. A year from now, it would be a stellar outcome if the Assistant team could reduce the number of issues that customers need support on by half.

We’re also thinking about the user experience beyond the app. We plan to improve the tooling that our care specialists use to provide support as well. We’ve already discussed some promising ideas like creating the concept of a conversation in support communications rather than an infinite stream of messages and building out enriched communications. We also intend to develop a custom tool that can expedite a customer’s prescription when they need their medication ASAP.

The possibilities are many, and it will take a team of determined, passionate, empathetic people to solve these challenging problems. I’m super excited to see what the Assistant team will do together.

Any lessons learned from previous experience that you’re applying to your role at Alto?

There’s always the temptation to tackle everything at once with new business initiatives. My experience leading new verticals at Apartment List and Snapdocs taught me the importance of being laser-focused on one or two key metrics instead of trying to build out a fully-realized product from the beginning. That’s exactly what we’re doing on the Alto Assistant Team with our clear focus on reducing communications per shipment — how often customers reach out for help because they could not find what they needed in our app.

It’s also important to recognize that we won’t have all the answers right out of the gate! I like to think of product development as a three-step sequence: learning, growth, and maintenance. Alto Assistant is so young that we’re very much still in the learning phase. We maintain a tight iteration loop with everything we ship: launch, measure the impact, and use the results to iterate and refine our hypotheses about what our users want. Our final product could be anything from a customer support wizard to an AI chatbot to a ticketing system — we have to rely on our key metric of communications per shipment, experimentation, and user feedback to shape the direction.

What got you excited to join Alto? What would you pass on to an engineer thinking about applying to the company?

I was impressed by the Altoids I met during the interview process. I knew I would be working with people from whom I could learn a lot, like Elnaz, who started as an individual contributor and went on to become Director of Engineering and, now, Alto’s first Head of Strategy & Operations. I was also impressed by the quality of the interview process itself — a good sign that the company was well-organized internally. Finally, the pitch for the role was extremely clear, with already-established key metrics that would directly contribute to the company’s bottom line and help Alto become more profitable.

For engineers, I think Alto is a great place for both technical challenges and career growth. We’re still small enough that every individual gets exposure to a broad portfolio of high-impact projects. It’s also a great environment for learning about how a business works — the Product & Technology organization does a great job of sharing information and presenting problems in a way that gets to the root business problem we’re trying to solve. There’s a clear line between any project a team is working on and a foundational business metric. Most importantly, we’re a company that makes a truly positive impact on our users’ lives.

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