Peek inside the culture of 4 Chicago developer teams

Andreas Rekdal
by Andreas Rekdal
April 30, 2018

Engineers love taking on big challenges, but finding the right people to work alongside can be equally important. So what sets stellar engineering teams apart? We asked developers from four Chicago tech companies to weigh in.


spothero chicago tech company
image via spothero

SpotHero’s parking reservation technology lets drivers book discounted spots in thousands of lots and garages across the United States and Canada. According to senior engineer Brian Drelling, a desire to help others excel at coding is a big part of what makes the SpotHero engineering team special.

We're fortunate to have a really passionate group of engineers who are always willing to lend their knowledge and talent.”

What sets SpotHero’s developer team apart?

Members of the SpotHero engineering team are extremely generous with their time, both in and outside the office. We're fortunate to have a really passionate group of engineers who are always willing to lend their knowledge and talent to their colleagues, as well as to the larger tech community. In the past year, we've hosted several meetups at our office, such as NSCoder and Chicago Kubernetes. We've also had students come to the SpotHero office to learn more about engineering, and many of our engineers volunteer at coding workshops and nonprofit organizations centered around the tech industry, like CoderDojoChi.


What is your favorite team tradition?

We pick a theme for our sprints and work through the alphabet in picking titles for each one. When we make it through the alphabet, we pick a new theme and repeat the process. Our current theme is movies about animals, which has included “Air Bud,” “Homeward Bound 2: Lost In San Francisco” and “Jurassic Shark.” Most of us have the Wikipedia list of films about animals saved to our bookmark bars. It's the part of our scrum ceremonies that we enjoy the most, and it guarantees that we end the meeting in laughter and start our sprint on a fun note.


narrative science chicago tech company
image via narrative science

Narrative Science uses artificial intelligence to translate data into natural language, helping companies automate efforts like reporting and data analysis. Director of Software Development Matt Trahan said what sets his team apart is its ability to take on open-ended challenges in stride.

I haven't seen this level of thinking and problem solving anywhere else.”

What sets Narrative Science’s developer team apart?

My team has to tackle a lot of difficult, open-ended problems. They do an incredible job leveraging existing solutions where possible and coming up with elegant, novel solutions when they have to solve something new. As a group, I haven't seen this level of thinking and problem solving anywhere else.


What is your favorite team tradition?

Once a year, the team takes three days away from their normal day-to-day responsibilities to have a hackathon. People organize into small groups to build the best demos they can in three days for a project idea they have. The results are always fantastic. Everyone is blown away and many of the projects end up being integrated into our products or transitioned into longer-running incubation projects. One of the projects that came out of a hackathon was doing machine learning on customers' documents to learn their styles of language.

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uptake engineering team chicago software company
Image via Uptake

Uptake makes data analytics tools used by major industrial organizations to increase productivity and safety, and to reduce environmental impact. According to Matilda Jayakar, engineering manager for Uptake’s data science platform, teamwork and passion help the Uptake team stand out from groups she's worked with in the past.

We genuinely enjoy working as a team.”

What sets Uptake’s developer team apart?

Our team is very passionate about the problem we are solving, which is building a robust and highly scalable data science platform. This passion manifests in the quality and speed to deliver we put forth. We genuinely enjoy working as a team.


What is your favorite team tradition?

We take team walks along the river to get coffee when the weather is nice.


snapsheet chicago tech company
image via snapsheet

Snapsheet’s white-label software lets consumers submit car insurance claims directly from their mobile devices. For software engineer Susannah Go, who taught math at a community college before joining Snapsheet, the team’s defining characteristic is a willingness to help each other out — and a marked shortage of drama.

It’s very collaborative, and everyone is willing to help you.”

What sets Snapsheet’s developer team apart?

I love my team. And when I say that, I mean both my team, the data team and the whole tech team which consists of 40-something people now. It’s very collaborative, and everyone is willing to help you. Everyone comes in and they do their work. No drama, no toxicity.

When I was hired, the tech team was 20 people and since then it has doubled in size. Even with more people, we have been able maintain the original authenticity of the team. We’re really careful about who we hire. I also love my work, to the point where I’m sad to be going on maternity leave.

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