by Justine Hofherr
October 28, 2016

Whether you’re trying to order food for an intimate client meeting or a company-wide party, Boston’s ezCater has become the go-to platform for businesses across the country.

The online ordering system allows companies to instantly find caterers serving their address and to filter by food type and budget before placing an order in just a matter of minutes.

Behind the scenes of ezCater's easy-to-use interface is a team of engineers working to constantly improve the product. We caught up with Joe McCormick (below), a software engineer who has been with ezCater since graduating from Harvard University, to find out more about his role at the fast-growing company.

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How did you get your job at ezCater?

It’s kind of an interesting story. I started in July of 2014 and it was my first job out of college. I fell into it in a way. I went to Harvard for my undergraduate degree in computer science and did internships for two summers at Leaf (an information technology company). I was supposed to start full time with them the summer of 2014 after graduating but a few days before starting, they asked me to come into the office to discuss my role and they told me I didn’t have a job. It was a shock. It didn’t uproot my life or anything, but basically I was on the job hunt from that point forward. I found ezCater through Harvard and had a phone interview the day after applying. A week later, I was hired.  

What is the first thing you do when you come into the office every day?

The first thing I like to do is review the code requests from the day before. I like to make sure the code is solid, that its quality meets business and tech requirements. I like to keep my finger on the pulse of the company and the pulse of the code base.

On a day to day basis, what are your responsibilities and priorities?

At ezCater, our dev team breaks itself into smaller project-focused teams. I’m on our platform team. That team works on the backend system behind our website, so if you go to ezCater.com, you see the consumer facing side, but there’s a whole other world. On the backend of the website, I make sure tools have high performance. I’m currently expanding our system to have alphanumerical order numbers.

What is the engineering team culture like at ezCater? Any traditions?

The culture is one of openness and transparency. Everyone on the team is very nice and very approachable. If you have any questions, it’s totally normal to walk over to someone and talk about it. People usually walk over and talk to each other rather than using Slack from six feet away. It’s easy to hang out with them inside and out of work. We do lunches together constantly and have a monthly board game night, which just started but is soon to become a tradition.

How does the engineering team collaborate with other teams within the company?

It depends on which team you’re broken into, but the platform team interfaces monthly with the customer service team and the caterer sales team. For some projects we might have weekly meetings with supervisors of customer service and some of the regular customer service workers. Depending on what your project is, it’s pretty easy to walk over and talk to other teams. Everyone wants to help you, which isn’t necessarily the case at other companies.

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Any big projects or goals you’re currently working on?

I think one of our biggest goals on the whole is to grow the business, so on my team, we are working to make sure everything on the website can scale with that growth. We have to make sure things like our caterer search results (that worked on the site two years ago when we had less people using it) still work when a lot more people are using it.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned while working at ezCater?

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned here is one of our mottos, “Try it, track it, grow it.” Rather than guessing what our users might like or do, we go implement something and track the results. If we’re right, we go with that solution and if not, we pivot and try something else. Sometimes, we will try different messaging or highlight popular menu items at the top of customer checkout, and see whether it helps or hinders people. Sometimes, we switch one little thing and people start flowing in the door.

Trying to guess what customers want beforehand often just leads to speculation.

Any big personal wins at ezCater?

My biggest personal win was working with our CTO to rewrite our order management system. It was the equivalent of taking out the beating heart of ezCater’s system and replacing it with a brand new beating heart. Our old system didn’t scale process-wise. We flipped the whole system on its head. Basically, we assigned people to very small specific tasks on catering orders, rather than having one person be assigned to a whole order’s lifecycle to keep track of. At that point, there were not a ton of engineers and working with the CTO on a six-month project culminated with a lot of success. The heart of the company continued to beat and move forward and continues to beat today.
What is the last thing you do before leaving the office?

I don’t have as much routine when leaving the office. I live up on the North Shore so I usually jot down notes about what I’m working on to pick up in the morning.

How do you unwind from work?

I have an hour commute home that I enjoy for decompression. I listen to podcasts and once I’m home, I like to sit on the couch and watch TV.

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