Inside Smartcar: What I learned about building a great team

Ashwin Kumar Subramanian

Staff Software Engineer

My name is Ashwin Subramanian, a Staff Software Engineer who’s been a part of the Smartcar team for a little over two years now. I hope to share some of my learnings on creating a collaborative work environment through great teamwork. If you’re looking for ideas on what goes into a strong team, I hope this post helps!

The first time I heard about Smartcar was during a hackathon I attended in early 2019 where they were one of the main sponsors. I was a fairly regular attendee of hackathons in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I found this to be one of the most unique ones.  

Not every day would I see live cars parked, ready to interact with APIs programmatically. It was also not a common occurrence for me to have a detailed conversation with the CEO and Lead Engineer of a sponsoring company — Smartcar’s very own, Sahas Katta.

Believe in the mission

All my interactions with the Smartcar team showed a visible passion for building a very niche product. It motivated me to add an item to my never-ending list of yearly goals — I wanted to build a library for them in the programming language of my expertise as my little way of contributing to the product’s usability. I had a habit of doing this to keep in touch with any interesting APIs or services I would encounter during hackathons.

Eventually, I finished building the library and sent it over to the lovely folks at Smartcar. What followed was a welcome surprise. I woke up to a tweet by Sahas, which progressed into another casual conversation. The purpose of writing this library was for me to contribute to an interesting product. But that eventually led to me interviewing at Smartcar.

Smartcar's culture is driven by four core values, which include empowerment and respect.

The gesture shown to me was an example of how the team at Smartcar practices these values regularly. Now tell me...how could I deny the opportunity to work for a company like this?

Put people before technology

Weeks passed and now I was on the other side of the interview process. I was shadowing my manager to learn more about how interviews were conducted, and there I learned my next lesson:

Technology can be taught, but attitude and passion come from within.

One would imagine that a startup moves so fast that it would make more sense to hire someone who already has a handle on the technology. On the contrary, Smartcar puts a lot of emphasis on passion and a penchant for learning. The scale is tipped towards how a candidate solves a problem rather than just the end result. There is also a huge focus on cultural values every step of the way. This approach seems to be working really well as we scale up our headcount fast!

So, you hired great talent. What comes next?

Just like code, building a team is not enough; maintaining it is equally important.

Through my one-on-one sessions with my manager, I began to realize that my personal goals often aligned with company goals. For instance, one of my aspirations upon joining the team was to know more about the inner workings of the API language and framework as I was relatively new to the technology stack. I did this by navigating through code and laying the groundwork for our new error handling measures, which were eventually released as a part of our API 2.0 (read more about it here). My goals doubled as a contribution to Smartcar’s goal of providing as much useful and reliable information as we can to developers.

This gives me a sense of purpose in everything I’m doing at Smartcar.

I was always given the opportunity to pursue any idea I had to improve how the team functions, be it on the technical side or at a process level. Initiatives are welcomed, encouraged, and discussed with great zeal. This keeps my job interesting and exciting on a daily basis.

Many interesting brainstorming sessions end up turning into great collaborative ventures. Needless to say, it is not just Fridays that are happy for us at Smartcar!

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy!

Generally, working at a startup comes with new challenges. But working at a startup like Smartcar, a company that does something so unique, comes with problems that have never been solved.

While this keeps everyone invested, it is also very demanding in its own way. Luckily, Smartcar ensures that balance is always maintained. We have flexible PTO, quarterly organization-wide events, frequent team gatherings, and many more surprise events that keep us energized.

Even during the toughest times of the pandemic, we had interesting events like remote escape rooms and gaming sessions (yes, we did play "Among Us"!) which end up being a great way to keep in touch and relieve fatigue despite not seeing each other.

At Smartcar we are dealing with the uncharted territories of standardizing connected vehicle APIs. Every day we work with the satisfaction and awareness that we are shaping the future of the connected vehicle space. We always keep our mission in mind: Empowering developers to build the future of mobility.

Does any of this sound interesting to you? Do you want to be part of an awesome team that is pioneering an industry?  If so, you are in luck because we’re hiring! 🚀 Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.

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