3 Ways to Build Engaging Forms


The Input form is an essential element of our web application and is widely used to gather key information to build personalized features for the user. And in many cases, it represents the key engagement driver for our conversion points.


Build engaging forms that drive conversion.


Add personality

Most of the times web forms are completed by users without any human guidance. So, it is essential we are communicating our personality and being relatable. Thus making the process more enjoyable and human. With our most recent form, we have approached the language to be more colloquial with the effort of making it more of a conversation style with a financial advisor. We have presented the form with a chart background to make it more contextual and demonstrate how the form data affects the chart.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 4.53.58 AM

Our next level would be to add some quirkiness and make it more fun. Turbotax seems to do this quite well with a very casual style for form labels and every user input evoking a quirky/fun response :) For example, check out the responses in gray text below each input in the following screenshot.

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 4.51.28 AM

Add interactivity

In general, people want to interact with elements that feel alive and look familiar. The key to make the form alive is by providing instant feedback as user interacts with the form. And we have achieved this in most recent effort by illustrating how each component of the end-feature is built as the user progresses through the form. With this, the user should be able to relate how the inputs they have provided have helped us build the feature rather than overwhelm the user with asking bunch of inputs and present the feature at the end. This should also educate user as to what they need to adjust to have the desired effect on the end goal.

Other forms of interaction that we have used is providing context based helpful hints and tips, smart defaults,  avoid unnecessary inputs and minimizing number of inputs by deriving them based on provided data and instant validations. Using appropriate input controls also helps a long way to make the form more interactive. For eg: using a slider for how much you save input vs using a text input for retirement age.

Take a look at this short video to see how these all come together.

Personal Capital is uniquely positioned to suggest values for most of the financial data based on financial accounts that a user has aggregated with, thus making it one less entry for user, but more importantly, one less mental calculation that user needs to perform. Instead we use data science to more accurately calculate these values. This will be discussed at length in a different post.


Break up the forms

Last year, we ran a A/B test with a long form vs short form variation. The long form had all the inputs up front and had a chart that would update based on the provided inputs. The short form grouped inputs into smaller set (2-4 questions in one set) and presented as a sequence of steps and at the end of each step updated the chart as an instant feedback to the user inputs.

The results of the test were that the long form was more engaging and the short form converted better. We have learned that breaking up forms into bite-sized chunks and building a sense that user is completing steps and working towards the end goal is better for conversion and drives users to the next level.

So, when we built our most recent feature, we used these findings to build two different experiences for a first time user and an engaged user. For users coming to the feature for the first time, we take them through a short form variation while an engaged (returning) user would see the long form.

This has proved very successful for us in building a complex feature that requires a fair amount of data and present it in a way that is engaging, interactive and provides a path to completion towards the end goal.




Tips for Interns from a Former Intern

This blog post would be better suited if I wrote it in the beginning of the summer but whoops. I’ve been working full-time at Personal Capital for over two months now. Last summer I interned here and in this post I’d like to share to all current and future interns some tips to maximize their internship experience.

tl;dr Summary:

  1. This is your time to shine. Show them what you got!
  2. Always be eager to learn and ask how to improve.
  3. Seek out help if you need it.
  4. Dabble in different things.
  5. Go out to lunch.
  6. If you’re interested in returning, let them know!

1- This is your time to shine. Show them what you got!
Congrats! You made it past the interviews, offered an internship, and now spending the next couple of months working for them. This is an audition for both sides. They’re trying to further evaluate your skills and how you interact with others. From your perspective you want to see if this is a company that you see yourself working for after college.

2- Always be eager to learn and ask how to improve.
You’re probably the youngest person in the company. You’re surrounded by people with years of experience who have been through a lot. You can learn so much from them! Also soliciting feedback on the work you’re doing is very helpful in developing you, the professional.

3- Seek out help if you need it.
If you’re stuck on something or just don’t understand the task/problem at hand be sure to ask questions. There’s no such thing as asking too many questions. You might spend a lot of time on something that was not needed or wrong. I’m sure your supervisor would rather take a little time in the beginning to ensure you don’t spend unnecessary time down the road.

4- Dabble in different things.
This is your opportunity to try out something you don’t really know about. Some companies will differ in how much you can explore outside what you’re brought into do, so your mileage may vary on this one. Every company has many projects happening or want to happen, and this is your chance to see if it’s what your passionate about.

5- Go out to lunch.
You’re surrounded by many fascinating people, all with different backgrounds and journeys they took to get where they are today. Unfortunately in the office we’re just so focused on the task at hand that we really don’t get to know the people we work with. Grabbing lunch is an excellent opportunity to really get to know about them. Be it one-on-one or a group; I know I really enjoyed “Lunch Crew” when I was an intern.

6- If you’re interested in returning, let them know!
Lastly if you are interested in working there in the future, communicate that towards the end of your internship. After having a great time last summer I spoke with our Ehsan, our VP of Engineering, and was fortunate to be offered a full-time position after graduating. I’m not alone. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2015 survey, employers converted 51.7 percent of their interns into full-time hires. You can be a part of the majority!

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this post and find it useful!!

Striking a Balance Between Moving Fast and Incurring Technical Debt

I had a great time as an intern here at Personal Capital. I worked as a member of Personal Capital’s Data Team, getting my hands dirty in a range of projects, from data validation, to daily monitoring, to expanding/updating our ETL process into Amazon Redshift. One of my biggest takeaways was the paramount importance of not allowing the fast pace of the company to erode the use of best practices. Specifically, I grew to appreciate how important it is to write solid tests of all new code, keep good documentation of all changes to the database, and always keep security in the back of your mind.




The Personal Capital codebase is primarily written in Java, allowing us to write solid unit tests through a Spring framework. We hold ourselves to a high standard, mandating that our unit tests must touch a significant portion of all new code.  One of the larger tests that I wrote used Mockito to mock large portions of data through which to test our transformation, allowing me to better focus the test as well as maximize its robustness. This test operated on most of the tables in our most important schemas in Redshift, and I wrote it in such a way that it would be as easy as possible to add new tables to the test/amend it to accommodate changes to our Redshift schemas. Coupled with extensive logging, these tests allow us to pinpoint bugs when they are introduced into the codebase.




During my time here, I was part of an ongoing effort to create a general-purpose data warehouse on Amazon Redshift, a single source on which all data exists, thus greatly improving the ease of analysis. By consolidating our data on Redshift, we can now run queries in seconds, queries that would previously take hours. As one might expect, throughout the process, it’s typical for fields to become deprecated, and for fields to be created with ambiguous meaning. Part of my job at Personal Capital was aimed at addressing this problem, through a unified data dictionary that resolves discrepancies in the definitions understood by different teams, as well as consolidates the documentation. This is still a work in progress, but it will ultimately make analysis of Personal Capital’s data much more meaningful. In addition, throughout my time here, I did work that involved deprecating/adding many new fields in existing tables, as well as adding new tables, and I made sure to bolster Personal Capital’s documentation by documenting my changes thoroughly.




I was really impressed by the security measures put in place at Personal Capital. Shortly after I began working here, I was given a rundown of the security practices used by Personal Capital as well as information about how to avoid introducing vulnerabilities in the code. The engineers here always keep security in mind when writing new code, something that can be easy to forget in the effort to move quickly. In addition, all new code goes through a rigorous review process before release.




I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work at a startup quickly establishing itself in the financial technology sector. While it is a very fast-moving company, I’m glad that the engineers here don’t lose sight of the long-term picture, always meticulously subscribing to best practices that will greatly improve our outlook years down the road.

A High-Level Look at NSURLSession

Though Apple introduced NSURLSession in 2013, NSURLConnection has served as such a strong networking infrastructure that there really hasn’t been a need to update it. With the upcoming release of watchOS 2 and iOS 9 in September, refreshing Personal Capital’s tech stacks seem appropriate so we can take full advantage of Apple’s latest technology offerings.

The NSURLSession API comprises of the same components as NSURLConnection (NSURLRequest, NSURLResponse, NSHTTPCookieStorage, NSURLCache and NSURLProtocol) but replaces NSURLConnection with NSURLSession, NSURLSessionConfiguration, and NSURLSessionTask.


NSURLSession: divide and conquer

NSURLSession introduces the concept of configuring cache, cookie, credential, and protocol policies into sessions instead of sharing these policies throughout the app. This allows you to separate network tasks into appropriate sessions as needed so changes to protocols, credentials, cookie storage, or cache storage can be localized to only the tasks in that session. This is done by initializing an NSURLSession with an NSURLSessionConfiguration. After initialization, you cannot change a session’s configuration. If you feel a need to do so, this probably means the network request or task belongs in a different session. If needed, you can override HTTP header values set in the HTTPAdditionalHeaders property of a session’s configuration by setting them in the NSURLRequest.


NSURLSessionConfiguration: persist/share, private, and background

NSURLSessionConfiguration has 3 types of constructors.
+ defaultSessionConfiguration returns the default configuration and defaults to using the same shared cache, cookie, and credentials storage that are familiar with NSURLConnection.
+ ephemeralSessionConfiguration returns a configuration that uses no persistent storage for cache, cookie, and credentials. This configuration would be used if you wanted to create a feature similar to private browsing.
+ backgroundSessionConfigurationWithIdentifier: returns a configuration that allows HTTP and HTTPS uploads and downloads while the app is in the background. If an upload or download is interrupted because the app is terminated by the system, the upload or download can be resumed by creating a new NSURLSessionConfiguration with the same identifier that was used for the interrupted configuration and passing that to a new NSURLSession. Interrupted tasks cannot be resumed if the app was terminated by the user.


NSURLSessionTask: reminds me of NSURLConnection with a completionHandler … and background support!

NSURLSessionTask is analogous to NSURLConnection because it’s the base class for handling requests for data as well as the uploading and downloading of files. NSURLSessionTask consists of three different subclasses.

  • NSURLSessionDataTask is used for making HTTP and HTTPS requests and return the server’s response as NSData in memory. An NSURLSessionTask can be constructed by providing an NSURL object or an NSURLRequest. These tasks are only supported in default and ephemeral sessions.
  • NSURLSessionUploadTask is a subclass of NSURLSessionDataTask but these tasks provide an easier way to upload content. For example, you can create an NSURLSessionUploadTask by passing an NSURLRequest with either NSData representing the body data of the request or an NSURL object for the URL of the file to upload. These tasks are allowed in background sessions and provide callbacks to the session’s delegate as data is uploading. Since these tasks are allowed in background sessions, you can technically create an NSURLSessionUploadTask (pass nil for the body data) instead of an NSURLSessionDataTask if you really require the task to continue in the background.
  • NSURLSessionDownloadTask is a task that directly writes the server’s response data to a temporary file. After completion, the app needs to move the temporary file to an appropriate place. These tasks can run in any type of session.

Instead of allocating an NSURLSessionTask on it’s own, tasks are instantiated by an NSURLSession object. An NSURLSessionTask can be constructed with and without a completionHandler. If a completionHandler is provided, it will be executed after the request is completed on the delegate queue. For NSURLSessionDataTask and NSURLSessionUploadTask tasks, the completionHandler will return the NSData and NSURLResponse object returned by the server or an NSError object if an error occurred. The completionHandler for an NSURLSessionDownloadTask task returns the location of the downloaded file as an NSURL object, the NSURLResponse from the server, or an NSError object if an error occurred.


Delegates: why to not construct with a completionHandler

You may be wondering why you would ever create an NSURLSessionTask without a completionHandler. If you require finer control over the progress of an NSURLSessionTask, you need to provide a delegate. If you provide a delegate and also provide a completionHandler, you will notice that none of the callbacks related to progress are called. (You will still get URLSession:task:didReceiveChallenge:completionHandler:.) If you want to receive all of the callbacks, you need to construct your task without a completionHandler. The combination of NSURLSessionDelegate, NSURLSessionTaskDelegate, NSURLSessionDataDelegate, and NSURLDataDownloadDelegate cover the delegate methods that NSURLConnectionDelegate and NSURLConnectionDataDelegate provided for NSURLConnection. Each of these delegates are well documented so there’s no need to go over them in this article. One thing to note, though, is that both NSURLSessionDelegate and NSURLSessionTaskDelegate provide callbacks for authentication challenges. The callback for NSURLSessionDelegate handles authentication challenges at the connection level (NSURLAuthenticationMethodNTLM, NSURLAuthenticationMethodNegotiate, NSURLAuthenticationMethodClientCertificate, and NSURLAuthenticationMethodServerTrust). If URLSession:didReceiveChallenge:completionHandler: is not implemented at the session level, the callback at the task level is called. URLSession:task:didReceiveChallenge:completionHandler: will additionally handle authentication challenges at the request level.


Further reading

All of the information mentioned in this article can be further studied in the NSURLSession Class Reference from the iOS Developer Library (https://developer.apple.com/library/ios/documentation/Foundation/Reference/NSURLSession_class/).

We are Growing our Engineering Team!

This is your opportunity to be a disruptor in the financial industry while creating a service that serves families and improves lives.

What sets us apart is the way we use both data aggregation and machine learning technologies along with certified financial advisors to model a family’s financial life. No one has ever had the data, the technology and the people to do what we do: combine the power of an abstract computer model with the expertise of certified financial advisors to help families understand their current financial situation and help them optimize it for the next stages of their lives.

The amazing thing about working at Personal Capital is that when I leave the office each evening, I’m pumped with more energy, enthusiasm and optimism than when I came in. And that’s because I get to build a noble service with great people; it can’t get any better than that. Every day I work with the most talented engineers that I have ever worked with, building sophisticated services that empower thousands of American families to take control of their finances.

We are looking for curious engineers. We are looking for thinkers and doers. You need to be smart and build smart products. You need to be ambitious. This is not an easy job. You will need to wear multiple hats, work with many unknowns, travel many unpaved roads to tackle large-scale problems. But it will be your finest work and creation, and an amazing engineering team is here to collaborate with you and support you.

Here are our current open positions: