It’s an exciting time at TransLoc. Not only are we changing the way the world views public transportation, but our parent company Ford Mobility recently acquired Journey Holding Corporation, creating a newly-formed organization along with TransLoc. This is going to enable us to support more customers, more riders, and change more lives.
With the joining of these two companies, we expect to continue growing to scale up our operations nationwide. Because of this, we sat down with our Director of Engineering, Jamie Howard, to give you the inside scoop on what his team seeks during the hiring process.
Here’s what he had to say.
Question: Tell us about your background. How did you get into software engineering?
Answer: I wanted to make video games, and I enlisted in the Army to pay for a computer science degree. After college I worked in video games for a short while, then a variety of other industries and teams. I fell in love with agile product development and how it aligned with what I’d learned about leading combat teams in the infantry. I’ve spent the last six years focused on creating and maintaining environments where engineers can impact people’s lives through solving fundamental problems with software.
Q: What originally interested you in TransLoc?
A: TransLoc is mission-based. If I’m going to spend time and energy on solving problems, I want to do so with a focus on making the world a better place. Transit has so many far-reaching impacts for the quality of life of so many people: time, safety, socioeconomic mobility, and environmental impacts. What we provide is opportunity, and I think that’s pretty amazing.
Q: What are the main things you look for in candidates for your team?
A: We start by looking for three things, in this order: attitude, aptitude, and ability. Simply put, if you have the right attitude about teams and agile development, and the aptitude to learn quickly and deeply, you’ll gain whatever ability you need to do your job well. In practice, this means that beyond the technical capabilities, we look for engineers who want to solve real-world problems, who want to deliver meaningful solutions, and who want to see the impact of their work in the world around them. We believe cross-functional teams are the atomic unit of our organization and we focus on practicing Manifesto Agile as the core values and principles that lead to empowered, self-organizing teams.
Q: What qualities make employees the most successful on your team?
A: The things that really show up are the same skills you use in peer leadership, or influence management, and the kind of things that lead to what the military refers to as a “force multiplier.” In addition to wanting to be better as an individual, if you can make everyone around you 10% better, that’s a massive improvement for the team. Never being too good to do a task is also important. Focusing on what the team needs from each individual to achieve the objective. Engaging in active trust. For example, both, trusting others but also expecting that trust, being vulnerable, and taking those risks with your team. That leads to stronger teams, and stronger teams provide more value. It always comes down to trust for me.
Q: Tell us about the value diversity and inclusion brings to your team.
A: I’m extremely grateful to the people in this company, and specifically in my department, who broke barriers and stereotypes in order to allow for space for others to come in behind them. Getting to a point where we have a department that covers such a wide array of backgrounds, leads to us being well-equipped to consider a variety of points of view when solving a problem. For example, how we might think of safety for after-hours riders because of our team’s backgrounds, or how we are differently affected by privilege. Transit needs are definitely affected by that. Having people from a variety of backgrounds and identities allows us to come together to have a deeper understanding of the problem we’re trying to solve, which is core to any engineering process. That’s key to coming up with better and better solutions.
Q: What kind of projects are your teams working on?
A: The longest running work that we’ve done has been around fixed-route transportation offerings. That is, scheduled buses running on specific points on the map, when they’re going to be there, and how we help agencies and riders use and operate systems that become more and more effective for users. We also know that in certain areas, population density makes it so that fixed route isn’t always the best option. Demand-response transportation is a really cool way for agencies to provide flexibility for less dense areas and for riders who have a variety of needs. We deliver products in that space as well to allow agencies to do point-to-point rides and to get people connected to other transit systems. Lastly, you can’t get better systems if you can’t get a good understanding of those systems. Because of that, we also offer a free product that makes it much easier for agencies to plan their systems and publish that information so people can better utilize their systems. I’m particularly proud of that. It was the first product I got to be a part of from the beginning, and it’s the first product that we built end-to-end while practicing agile.
Q: What are your thoughts on the agile philosophy?
A: I have been a big believer in agile values and principles for a long time now, having seen how simple and effective they are. While difficult to apply, when practiced well, they increase both value delivery and job satisfaction. I find that frameworks can be useful for practicing, but I genuinely care most about the Agile Manifesto. That’s where my heuristics for making these decisions about organizational design, hiring, professional growth, and so on, come from. I genuinely believe agile is a formulation of how humans default to working in small teams. Agile helps us remember how to stay true to a highly effective, simple way of working, that lets teams deeply understand the problem at hand and own the delivery of valuable solutions.
Q: What interesting technologies are the engineering team using?
A: We try to make the best choice to solve the problems in front of us, with an eye towards which choices we’ve made in the past, but also what new technology can enable us to do. Our dominant language is Python 3, after upgrading from Python 2. We use Go for the heavy lifting on the back end. We use React and Material-UI on the front end. We use Kubernetes for cloud orchestration. We’ve also recently added Istio and Opencensus for monitoring. We use Swift for iOS development, Kotlin for Android, and we deploy via GCP. We’re constantly evaluating technology choices and while we can’t rewrite everything every two years, we want to make sure we’re taking advantage of what’s available.
Q: How do you envision the team in 5 years?
A: We’ll be getting better at understanding our own system and delivery better. Getting to this point has largely been about developing our solutions, but we have the ability now to start maturing them and gaining the ability to understand our own work and products and how we can be better and more efficient. Now, as a multi-site company, we’re going to have to get better at working with remote development and remote teams, which will inevitably lead to allowing team members even more flexibility around where they work. The next few years will be about heavily integrating the product offerings of the three companies, taking the best from all of them, and becoming the experts in all of the areas we discussed earlier.
Q: What kind of room for growth is available on your team?
A: For starters, we hire full stack engineers intentionally to allow for career flexibility. We have a great foundation that we want to build on to support our cross functional squads. For people developing their careers here at TransLoc, we advance engineers along a five-level competency model. Over the past year, we’ve hired towards the lower end of that model to ensure that people have room to learn and grow their careers here. It also allows for a technical track for growth for those that aren’t interested in people management as opposed to purely technical leadership.
Q: Any final thoughts that you would want candidates to know before applying?
A: I think a lot of companies talk about culture and agile, and it’s easy to become desensitized towards that as a sales pitch when it’s so often just talk. I would point candidates towards the high rate of internal referrals that have influenced our hiring. We’ve also talked a decent amount about soft skills and culture. It’s worth mentioning that while I believe a healthy agile environment makes engineers happy and provides enjoyable work, agile is not easier work. Agile is simple and simplicity is actually harder more often than not. We ask more of our engineers than others because of our culture, but I think it’s orders of magnitude more satisfying. We offer much more control over what you can do with your talents and your gifts. At the end of the day, I think the question is: “How much do you value the kind of impact you can have on the world, on users, on our company, and on your team?”
Interested in joining a mission-driven team that values diversity, team work, and your personal growth? Check out TransLoc’s Careers Page! We have new roles opening regularly!
Find out how an agile mindset produces real-world results by downloading our RideKC case study today!