4 Boston devs dish on what makes their team awesome — and their favorite projects

by Justine Hofherr
October 24, 2018
dev teams
photo via toast

Whether they’re launching car-shopping websites in Italy or rewriting code for restaurant-facing apps, one thing is certain: developers are the backbone of any tech company. With that in mind, we caught up with four local engineers and engineering leads who shared what makes their teams so special. While their job descriptions may look similar, the projects they’re working on couldn’t be more different.

 

Ben Alman
Principal Front-End Engineer

At restaurant management platform Toast, Principal Front-end Engineer Ben Alman said his team’s passion for the web and mentorship make them a stand-out squad.

 

What makes your dev team unique (and awesome)?

My team — affectionately known as Web 2.0 — is responsible for moving the front end forward at Toast. We’re super passionate about the web, and our main responsibility is to be a force multiplier for other teams inside the company by helping mentor, teach and establish best practices around front-end development. It’s really exciting stuff!

 

What’s the most interesting project your dev team is working on, and what tools are they using to tackle it?

My team is currently working on both establishing a new front-end development stack for all of Toast single-page apps and using that stack to rewrite significant portions of our restaurant and diner-facing apps. I’ve heard from engineers all across Toast about how excited they are to be able to use technologies like ES6, React and Redux on their projects. I’m personally interested in how this work is already helping us better test our code, iterate on features and have a more consistent development workflow.

 

What was your team’s biggest win this year?

We just wrapped up the first phase of our “SPA extraction” project. This work enables us to move all of our single-page apps out of our legacy monolithic codebase and into separate repositories, each with its own dedicated build process and release schedule. This work required collaborating with many other teams at Toast, and will empower every team that maintains an app to iterate, release and learn quickly and efficiently, by continuously deploying new code and experiments. And now that the infrastructural work and core documentation is done, we’re in the process of actually extracting them.

 

Jasper Rosenberg
SVP of emerging product development

Car-shopping website CarGurus is hard at work launching their services all over the world, and their dev team is largely to thank for that accomplishment. Jasper Rosenberg, SVP of emerging product development, said what sets their engineers apart from the pack is their hunger for ownership over ideas and projects.

 

What makes your dev team unique (and awesome)?

We don’t just hire smart, experienced engineers who play well with others, but we also look for devs who want to understand the product and help define its future. There are no specification documents thrown over a wall at CarGurus, and that leads to a real engineering culture of ownership.

 

What’s the most interesting project your dev team is working on, and what tools are they using to tackle it?

We recently completed the first phase of re-architecting our core listing search product for mobile performance and easier future enhancement. As part of this effort, we moved to React and Redux on the client side and rebuilt our back-end search services to stream results while supporting the additional load of server-side filtering. We have a lengthy queue of future optimizations planned, including additional PWA techniques, such as service workers, and server-side rendering.

 

What was your team’s biggest win this year?

Internationalization in the car market is not a cookie-cutter process due to every country requiring different partner integrations, having different car ontologies and even different ways of uniquely identifying listings. Despite these challenges, the international-focused dev team always thought about how each difference could be framed in a way that makes the next country easier to launch, and that effort paid off in spades when we were able to turn on CarGurus in both Italy and Spain this year.

 

Rob Hickey
VP of Engineering

At DataRobot, a machine learning platform for data scientists to build and deploy accurate predictive models, Executive VP of Engineering Rob Hickey said engineers at any level can make business decisions.

 

What makes your dev team unique (and awesome)?

First and foremost, every developer, and everyone else in the company, is empowered to make decisions. If there is something that can be done better, you are rewarded for taking initiative and championing the effort to improve it. We also have a unique system for recognizing our teammates who go above and beyond by giving each other “Wows.” Anyone can submit a Wow anonymously to honor an outstanding colleague. These Wows are read aloud in front of the whole company during the weekly company meeting!

 

What’s the most interesting project your dev team is working on, and what tools are they using to tackle it?

One of the most interesting projects we are working on is building a comprehensive data infrastructure from our internal R&D systems used by engineers to analyze the productivity of development teams, identify trends and measure the success of improvement projects. We are able to use this data to build smarter automation to help our developers, whether it’s informing them of a test failing or automatically detecting and re-triggering flaky tests.

 

What was your team’s biggest win this year?

We released a new feature to automate the process of time-series modeling. This product can make extremely accurate predictions from time-dependent data and automate much of the manual effort that was typically done to extract pertinent features from the data to help people better capture temporal trends. Our customers have already seen improved operational efficiencies and reduced costs from the feature.

 

Panorama Education offers a SaaS platform to help educators monitor how their students are doing. Engineer Jess Sartin said working on their engineering team is unique because it’s 35 percent female. This near gender balance has established a culture of respect and shared responsibility for all voices and perspectives to be heard, she said.

 

What makes your dev team unique (and awesome)?

The first standout aspect of how our team works is that everyone has an opportunity to make decisions and make real, radical changes to our product. For example, the squad I’m part of was created around the time I started about five months ago because a teammate noticed there was a need to focus full time on solving a particular problem. This wasn’t an executive decision; it was an engineering decision — I appreciate that level of autonomy and trust.

Another example of this bottom-up approach to decision-making is the co-op program we’re running for the first time this year. I had been active in hiring and coaching Northeastern engineering co-ops at my last company and was really interested in introducing the program to Panorama. I made a compelling proposal for why this would be a great investment for us and now we have two co-op engineers joining the team in January.

 

What’s the most interesting project your dev team is working on, and what tools are they using to tackle it?

We’re working on a huge undertaking that will ultimately unify two apps that serve different client needs. The problems we’re solving are a mix of user-facing improvements so the clients can seamlessly navigate as if the two apps were one, as well as unifying data in order to show a complete view of a student in one place.

 

What was your team’s biggest win this year?

I’ve been at Panorama for five months, and in my limited time here, we’ve accomplished some really important stuff. The first epic update that my squad released allowed our main points of contact to manage users in their district for both apps in the same place. This process used to be manual, which caused delays at critical moments, particularly during training sessions at customer sites. Now, our training leads can add users in real time in those sessions and those users can participate. Additionally, school administrators can add any new teachers and adjust access at any time without having to ask our support team for help.

 

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