Posh’s Head of Engineering Derek Caneja builds solid products out of nebulous visions and if the rules get in the way of getting it done, he’s more than willing to break them. Sounds pretty intense, right? From speedrunning Mario Bros as a kid to his late-night coding binges as an adult, Derek has always maintained a fierce commitment to realizing his visions, no matter how much effort it takes.
Derek has made a habit of surrounding himself with people who are committed to their vision of shooting for big goals in small teams. He is unafraid to build the product up and break it down where it needs to be.
“Posh is where I fit in. I can work through whatever problem there is, and I want to do it in a place where I can see other people doing that.”
It all started in the Mesozoic Era. Young Derek, like many eight year olds, was so enthralled by the movie Jurassic Park that he decided very early on that he wanted to be a Paleontologist. While his dreams of digging in the dirt for dino bones weren’t everlasting, Derek’s young imagination was so activated by the movie that he quickly developed an obsession with prehistoric lizard life. “I started, like Ross from Friends, collecting little dinosaur figurines and was just really into dinosaurs.”
But there wasn’t much wiggle room for Jurassic Park style experimentation in the real world, and young Derek was more driven to tinker with items that made him curious, rather than read about them. Derek’s focus transitioned to a pursuit that would allow him to get creative, including building Lego sets with his brother.
“I remember once we put working lights and switches in a Lego castle set. That’s what coding is all about. Taking basic building blocks and making something new with them,” Derek said.
Derek’s early penchant for going deep on his interests coupled with his love of free-form building soon crystallized within a new hobby. One that would push him toward developing a career in coding.
Derek’s interests shifted with age and changed his mindset with the addition of a Nintendo NES to his gadgets.
“I had an NES and all I wanted to do was to play Mario.” Casually perfecting his game, he set a goal to speed-run the game eight times in one sitting. The endeavor took five hours, and unwilling to go another time, he decided he instead wanted to build a video game.
With no knowledge of how games were built, 12-year-old Derek was determined to learn and create for himself.
“I just kind of assumed that someone had to have built these games, so I wanted to see how they did that,” he said.
Derek reverse-engineered the games he loved to play the most, both to satiate his own curiosity about how they were made and to achieve his own ends in-game. Through his time learning, Derek discovered how the code he used for playtime actually worked. Through modifying video games, his drive to achieve reached beyond any instruction manual.
“That’s probably what solidified my determined way of going through work. I had a task to do, I knew I wanted to do it, there’s information out there that will tell me how to do it, and now I’m going to do everything in my power to get it done.”
Derek’s interest in coding grew with age, only to help inform his future. While college wasn’t his chosen path, he took a semester of college to solidify it just wasn’t for him.
Derek set about forging his own way. Creating a new map to success can be intimidating, but Derek was practiced at this. Since the days of Lego building and game modding, Derek possessed an affinity for throwing out the rulebook and doing his own thing.
“If the rules don’t get the job done, then I’m going to have to break them,” he said.
Equipped with his skillset and a vision, Derek and his friends were looking to create a startup, and they found fertile ground to do so in Kansas City, Missouri.
With two-thousand dollars in the bank and a dream, Derek drove down to Kansas City to start his career in tech. After living in Kansas City for a time, Derek and his friends entered and won a year in a rent-free apartment through an investor-run startup competition. Derek and his young team were set up to do exactly what they wanted to do.
"What it taught me was how to find the information that I needed and how to deal with eight hours straight [of little to no progress without being demoralized] when it comes to solving a really difficult issue," he said.
This experience was not without its challenges.
“Not having anyone to tell me what to do was a very difficult thing that taught me a lot about my own mental health and motivation,” Derek noted.
While Derek had the ability to focus completely on his interests with no distractions, he also learned how to balance those goals with his overall health, how to become more independently disciplined and how to effectively handle uncertainty. Essentially, Derek was building his leadership skills as he continued to hone his coding knowledge.
With the experience of growing a start-up under his belt in just his early twenties, Derek was prepared for the tech world. Derek landed jobs as an individual contributor at midsize startups like Dispatch and Jobcase. With Derek’s ability to learn quickly on the job, he was able to rise through the ranks at both companies, building a reputation for getting work done efficiently, even when the work didn’t include tasks he necessarily knew how to tackle right away.
“I wanted to get back into an early-stage startup. In a small company you get to see your contributions really matter. You get to see things change,” he said. “You’re constantly seeing new problems.”
That’s how Derek found Posh, but it wasn’t just the smaller environment that attracted him to work here. He also felt a kinship with the people and the product.
“I saw that Posh was made up of intelligent, hungry people trying to make something happen. They’re extremely intelligent but they’re also humble,” he said. “They’re looking for outside information and perspectives to make their decisions. And the business itself had great product-market fit. I’m excited to help Posh scale and to be here as we continue to grow.”
Posh was a great fit–the team was malleable and adaptable to change. Derek’s a strong believer that his engineering team should have space to ask questions, experiment with fresh ideas and learn as they go.
“I strongly believe that you should lead by example. When I stepped into a leadership position that was absolutely key. I value teaching people what I know,” Derek said. “But learning is continuous and I hold myself accountable to that as well.”
Derek is an advocate of different perspectives and bringing people onto his team with diverse backgrounds. Interested in joining Posh and bringing your unique point of view to the Engineering team? Apply here.