Inside 4 of Boston’s most innovative dev teams

by Justine Hofherr
April 26, 2018

While their projects, team culture and overall company mission vary greatly, the following three dev teams have one thing in common: They’re innovative. Whether they’re transforming the restaurant tech industry, or revolutionizing healthcare for senior citizens, these four engineering squads are the engines driving their companies forward in their respective fields. Here’s what it’s like to work with them.

 

toast
Photo via Toast

Jessica Sanford, left, is an engineer on Toast's Android Platform team. She said one of the most exciting things her team is doing in 2018 is learning a new programming language, kotlin.

 

What’s the most interesting project your team is tackling?

One of our overall goals in the next couple of quarters is to scale up our ability to handle restaurants with larger volumes of orders per night. As the Android Platform team, it is our job to isolate and improve performance inhibitors in our app. A lot of fun refactoring projects were born out of this, and it has offered us the chance to reevaluate a lot of the design patterns that we have employed.

 

What is the most helpful thing you’ve learned from a fellow member of your dev team?

I am now learning kotlin, a relatively new programming language that runs on the JVM. In general, learning kotlin has been a wide team effort, and a good practice in teaching the values of immutability and null-safety. My team lead Frank has been specifically helpful in this. The other day he helped me take an entire java class, which was mostly boilerplate code, and bring it down to one line of kotlin. One line! I was beside myself.

 

What is one tool you’ve found indispensable?

I tend to be more of a bare-bones type of developer, so I don’t have an fancy GUI based tools to offer. One cool little thing I use every once in while is the git add patch command. Simply type git add -p, and it takes you through a prompt so you can decide in “patches” what changes in your working directory you want to stage. It’s good for times where I’ve gotten carried away and neglected to commit in short, coherent chunks. Definitely not something you want to use all the time — I think every commit should build successfully — but it’s helpful on occasion.

 

What’s different about this dev team than any other team you’ve worked on?

The Android Platform team is one of our architecture teams here at Toast, and I joined this team at an opportune time for any developer: When the code base is established, but still has challenges that need to be solved. On this team I’ve had the opportunity to take part in architectural decisions and development, rather than just implementing features and bug fixes. My experience on other dev teams usually started after the teams and product were well established, and a lot of the hard problems had already been solved.

 

datarobot
Photo via Datarobot

Ulises Reyes is the VP of engineering at DataRobot. He said the collaboration across teams is what sets the Boston startup a part from other tech companies.

 

What's the most interesting project your team is tackling?

One of the most interesting project our team is tackling is for a customer called Zidisha. Zidisha promotes crowdfunding of micro-loans for people in some of the poorest countries in the world to start and grow a business or fund their education. Zidisha incorporated DataRobot into their loan application process, successfully reducing fraud and loan defaults through the introduction of machine learning technologies into the loan application process. This project was really inspiring and motivational for our team as we could be part of an example of machine learning contributing to the well-being of thousands of people. 

 

What is the most helpful thing you've learned from a fellow member of your dev team?

This is a hard one to answer, as I learn a lot — both technical and non-technical — from my team every day. One thing that a few individuals have taught me that stands out as being particularly helpful is the lesson that there is always a way to fight the status quo. Even when things seem hopelessly complex and tied together, it’s always possible to keep moving forward and improving the core of our systems. This can have positive short- and long-term impacts on our ability to support future needs of our customers and our development teams.

 

What's different about this dev team than any other team you've worked on?

The DataRobot development team is unique in that the entire team is collaborative. We have incredibly talented people working here who are also incredibly supportive of one another. One of the key tenets at DataRobot is to ensure the happiness and productivity of your colleagues. This creates an environment where the team works collectively toward a common goal. Another unique aspect of DataRobot is the open organization structure.

 

At DataRobot, the development squads are empowered to drive feature delivery with minimal overhead from management. This creates a culture of ownership and accountability while providing an opportunity for individuals to take on people, technical and project leadership roles. Everyone who comes to work at DataRobot is struck by how supportive everyone is and how quickly they can have an impact on the decision-making process.

 

shyft analytics
Photo via SHYFT Analytics

Adam Hilliker, a software engineer who works on SHYFT Analytics' platform, said the camaraderie among the company's engineers is rare. Also, their facial hair game is quite strong.

 

What's the most interesting project your team is tackling?

We get to build interfaces and systems that handle the creation and display of complicated webs of variable data structures. It’s fun!

 

What is the most helpful thing you've learned from a fellow member of your dev team?

I think one of the most helpful things I’ve learned is to take on tasks outside my comfort zone knowing that I have the support of my team to complete them. Then I learn stuff and become more useful to everybody.

 

What is one tool you've found indispensable?

The tool I think it would be hardest to do my job without would be Chrome Dev Tools.  It is useful not just for front end debugging, but it’s also great for inspecting and troubleshooting data handling as structures are sent back and forth from our API.  A close second would be coffee.

 

What's different about this dev team than any other team you've worked on?

The level of trust, mutual respect and camaraderie at every level of this team is unique and wonderful. And the facial hair game is stronger than I’ve seen elsewhere.

 

 

devoted health
Photo via Devoted Health

Gabriel Burt, head of technology development at Devoted Health, said the company, which works with seniors to guide them through the healthcare system, is launching a next-gen healthcare delivery company “from a blank sheet of paper.”

 

What's the most interesting project your team is tackling?

Devoted's engineering team is helping launch a next-generation healthcare-delivery company from a blank sheet of paper.  Right now we're researching and experimenting with how we can deliver amazing customer experience. We'll do it with a combination of incredible service staff, fast and integrated access to information, and modern technologies that recede into the background and empower real, personal connections.

 

What is one tool you've found indispensable?

We use Go on the backend and TypeScript on the frontend.  Vim's support for putting your cursor on a variable or type and hitting ctrl-[ to 'go to definition' is incredibly handy!

I also really like Go in general (except its lack of generics).  And we've fallen in love with higher-order-components in React, in particular using Apollo to handle fetching (and mutating) data for us and keeping our components pure.

 

What is your team's biggest win in the past year?

We are a small but growing team.  One of our primary objectives is to maintain and increase our per-engineer leverage, and I think that is going well!

We have opted to constrain ourselves in certain ways to free us up in others.  We use strongly-typed languages, we have a monorepo, and as we solve problems we generalize the solutions so that we don't repeat ourselves.  A huge percentage of our code is generated from .proto files — from the database layer to Graphql to the frontend.

 

What's different about this dev team than any other team you've worked on?

We have a team of incredibly high-octane, high-EQ engineers who have been around the block enough times to know how to make excellent tradeoffs and decisions.  We care deeply about our company's mission to deliver healthcare like we'd want it for ourselves and our families, and we know that excellent engineering can help make that a reality.

 

 

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