CrunchTime! describes its restaurant management platform as the “back-of-house guts that powers the front-of-house glory.” Does that make the engineers working behind the scenes on this product … line cooks? Not quite.
“We’re kind of like cowboys,” said Tim Callaghan, VP of Technology. “We can fix things fast. We’re small, we’re agile.”
Whatever CrunchTime’s integration engineers choose to call themselves (cowboys, ninjas, “pessimistic coders” or plumbers — yes, that’s correct), one thing is certain. They’re working hard to make sure their company’s restaurant management software is unmatched.
We spoke with four members of the engineering team to learn about their work with emerging technologies, their team’s growth and what it’s like to watch their customer base swell so rapidly.
CRUNCHTIME! AT A GLANCE
EMPLOYEES: 175 employees internationally; 115 in Boston.
WHAT THEY DO: CrunchTime provides a cloud-based enterprise restaurant management platform that helps restaurants and hospitality companies all over the world improve customer experience and cut costs.
WHERE THEY DO IT: 129 Portland Street, a stone’s throw from the North End.
CONNEX: CrunchTime’s cloud-based point-of-sale integration tool, ConneX, is designed to seamlessly pass information between a restaurant’s POS and the CrunchTime back office platform.
IDEAL CANDIDATE: Engineers with diverse tech backgrounds and proven experience working at different stages of the software development lifecycle.
FIVE GUYS, THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY, JERSEY MIKE'S SUBS: Just three of the tens of thousands of restaurants CrunchTime works with worldwide.
What does CrunchTime’s engineering team do?
Scott Morra, ConneX support engineer: We’re responsible for integrating with our clients’ point-of-sales (POS) systems at the restaurants.
Sam Chowdhury, ConneX support engineer: Not all POS systems were created equal. So we deal with temperaments and different structures and intricacies of POS systems, like whether they’re cloud-based or not. We’re the data migrators between POS systems and our CrunchTime software.
What does CrunchTime look for in engineers?
Chris DiMaio, lead ConneX platform engineer: We look for a breadth of knowledge, really. We’re not looking for individual specialists. We like a willingness to hit the ground running in a fast-paced environment, and a willingness to learn.
Callaghan: We’re here to satisfy a business need, so we need engineers who are agnostic to the language they’re working in. If you come here as a Python person, you’re going to have to do some Java and C#. We’re also pessimistic coders. That means every line of code we write, we expect to fail. Everything we do has to be repeatable and self-maintaining so that we’re not up in the middle of the night because data got missed or lost along the way.
Can you give me an example of an idea you've accelerated, or a problem you've solved?
Chowdhury: One thing we’re working on now is setting standards. When you’re in the startup environment, you need to set standards for onboarding clients, having questions and templates ready for them. That’s the key to innovation — standardizing and simplifying processes so you can be quicker in the future.
What is the single most innovative thing is about CrunchTime's technology?
Morra: How adaptable it is to all the different POS systems our clients use. Some clients use old legacy POS systems that have been around for 30 years, and others use cloud-based POS systems. We’ve seen everything in between and we have to make it all adaptable.
What is the typical breakdown of a developer's day? How much time do you spend on coding, and how much is spent on support, troubleshooting or analyzing requirements?
DiMaio: We deal with a lot of integration issues on a day-to-day basis. We also handle clients’ internet outages and human error. From an engineering perspective, we work on scaling issues, research and documentation.
Callaghan: There’s no standardization for POS systems, so when we integrate with a client, we have to learn everything about that POS system. They’re infinitely customizable so every integration is the opportunity to look at something with fresh eyes. We’re like plumbers. We have all these fixtures on the truck, but it’s never the same plumbing twice.
You’re in the process of doubling your team. How are you handling that scale?
Callaghan: Everyone here is still capable of jumping into every line of code and understanding what we’ve built. Our roadmap is actually simplification. A college grad should be able to jump in. Sam isn’t an engineer by trade and she can write code. Everyone working here can contribute to the product.
How do you deal with the pressure of working with huge clients like Disney and Dunkin’ Donuts?
Chowdhury: The easiest way to work with any client is to be transparent, tell them what we do and set expectations from there. Sometimes, a client doesn’t know what ConneX does and we have to educate them. It’s important to know what the expectation is on both sides. Getting on the phone with them and building a good rapport from the beginning encourages them to keep giving you the time of day.
Callaghan: The other rule we follow in supporting clients is that no matter how large they are, we practice transparency. If something goes wrong, technology is not magic. We find the problem and fix it.
Any engineering team traditions?
Callaghan: We often get lunch at Regina’s. We also offer a $20 bounty when we meet up with a new customer. Employees who take selfies with new clients get $20 of my money.
What’s the training like for new hires?
DiMaio: Hands on. You get right in the mix. You’ll have a mentor but it’s fast-paced and real-world work.
Chowdhury: I had a couple of ConneX training sessions with the support staff from CrunchTime! and then most of my training came from Scott and Chris. By the second week, I was reading code and solving actual problems.
What’s the best part of working here?
Chowdhury: You’ll be frustrated sometimes but never bored. With this team especially because we are still developing the product, which is ConneX. Developing a product allows you room to grow and gives you the chance to build something valuable for the company. You learn new technical skills, but soft skills, too, by working with clients.
Morra: You’re learning new technologies all the time. Maybe you’re solving the same problems for all of our clients, but each POS presents a different way to solve those problems, which is neat. Getting to see the technologies used by the people who built the POS system is always intriguing.
Callaghan: The other unique thing about our team is that we’re not wide, but we’re narrow and deep, which means we get to do everything. Sometimes, you feel like a gymnast and you fall flat on your face. But we’re all testers. No one is spoonfeeding us requirements or timelines. There’s no plan or script for how to pull some of this stuff off.