Nestled within the window-lined walls of Vistar Media’s new office at 400 Market St., the company’s software engineers are hard at work. The seven-year-old adtech startup offers its company-hoodie-clad engineers an open floor plan that facilitates a collaborative environment. Vistar Media’s Product and Business teams are located in New York or other satellite locations, leaving engineers to enjoy the Philly office all to themselves.
The quiet workspace is filled mostly with the sound of tapping keyboards as engineers work their way through the day’s tickets, coupled with team members offering suggestions and answering each other’s questions. Conference rooms named after landmark Philly waterways like the Schuylkill River and Pennypack Creek allow employees to take calls in private or buckle down to work distraction free.
Despite the word “quiet” being a dominant adjective for describing Vistar Media’s culture, the company is obsessed with languages. Engineers are fluent in coding languages from Java and Go to TypeScript and Python, while books like Seven Languages in Seven Weeks dot the communal bookshelf for anyone looking to pick up a new skill — or hone an existing one.
Job candidates can expect a phone interview, then a take-home coding puzzle meant to showcase their creative problem-solving and decision-making skills. From there, candidates tackle a final technical interview. Vistar Media is a fast-paced engineering shop, but if you’re willing to learn — a major quality Vistar Media looks for in applicants — the company and your coworkers will champion each person’s skills and work-life balance.
“The management team has been phenomenal in helping me reach the goals that I have set for myself by helping me to get to conferences and pairing me with other engineers who have more experience. You're going to be challenged in a way that’s going to help you grow, but you’re also going to feel appreciated every step of the way.”Michaela White Software Engineer
“I don’t think I could learn as fast anywhere else other than Vistar Media because everyone helps you learn. If you want to expand your skills as a programmer, this is the company to work for. If you want to grow as a software engineer, if you want to learn industry precedents, new technologies, best practices, this is the company you’re looking for.”Christian Bouwense Software Engineer
"This is the longest that I've ever worked anywhere. I’m proud of the technical infrastructure that we’ve made, and over time, we’ve really built this culture of engineering that is about simplicity."Derek Mansen Senior Software Engineer
“The kind of work I’m getting here is really exciting. It is interesting and difficult for all the good reasons — it challenges you and I like that. People working here are smart; we have really great talent. We also get free lunches twice a week and you get unlimited snacks and drinks. A well-fed engineer can do wonders.”Shubham Munot Software Engineer
"I would describe the energy here as exciting and fast paced, in a good way. At the same time it's relaxed — there's a friendly and open culture here."Alex Manning Software Engineer
“Everyone here just wants to be coding. I think that’s because the work we are doing here is interesting enough and varied enough. People get engrossed in it and they want to get it done. We give people a lot of autonomy.”Tom Fleischer VP of Engineering
How would you describe Vistar Media’s office culture?
Everybody's so talented and passionate about their work, and it's really motivating to be surrounded by that kind of energy. It's obviously pretty quiet, given that it's all engineers, but it's definitely a productive environment. Everyone's very friendly and always willing to lend a hand or point you in the right direction if you have questions. We have catered lunches from popular local spots like HipCityVeg and Han Dynasty twice a week, and regular happy hours and outings. Everyone's extremely friendly, but at the same time it's very focused.
How do Vistar Media employees get involved in the community?
We sponsor conferences every year, like LibertyJS and the Women in Tech Summit. This year we're also sponsoring Philly ETE. We get involved with local meetups as well. Normally it's just paying for beer or pizza and having a couple of team members go, but this year we're trying to host more events. We're hosting an event with Code for Philly in April that we're really excited about. A lot of the staff on their own time go to different tech events in the city — even the ones that we're not sponsoring.
Are there any special Vistar Media traditions?
We recently started doing an annual company off-site event. The past two years it was in New York, but it's probably going to be in Philly next year. That's when we fly in everybody from around the world who is a Vistar employee and we all get together for about two days to hear all the company updates, plans and the vision for the year. Then, after a day of presentations, we have a company outing. This year we went to a place called Spin in New York, which is a ping-pong bar. Each summer each of the offices will have a summer party, so, for example, the New York office does a beach day.
Are there any fun events for new hires when they come on board?
On their first day or within their first two weeks our new hires will go up to the New York office for a full day of onboarding and meeting the directors of all the different teams. They learn what they do, and then there's a happy hour event. In their individual offices, they'll do a group outing with their respective team.
How do the remote teams work together?
We have regular meetings two to three times a week over Google Hangouts, and then we're always IMing each other over GChat. Luckily, we don't really have any problems with it. If anything ever has to be moved, it's easy enough. We've gotten the hang of it at this point. We also encourage engineers to go up to the New York office occasionally to interact with members of other teams.
What would you say are the major qualities you look for in applicants?
Somebody who craves learning. Someone who has a true passion for engineering. Most of the time, the people on our team have their own personal projects that they're working on outside of work. They just show that true passion for coding. Definitely being humble. Not afraid to ask questions, not afraid to admit if they don't know something rather than just trying to “fake it 'til you make it.” Technically, we look for well-rounded full-stack engineers who might not necessarily have experience with every single tool that we use, but who could come in and pick up our codebase pretty quickly.
Do you look for candidates who specialize in a certain language?
How do coworkers work together throughout the day?
There’s a lot of collaboration. If people have questions they will just get up and go to somebody's desk, so you'll see people huddled around a computer or in a conference room trying to solve a problem throughout the day.
What is the workflow like?
Mondays are spent in planning for the most part. We work in weekly sprints, so throughout the week we have standup every day around noon. Then people are just picking up tickets and working based on priority. On Friday around 4 o’clock, everyone will gather around and do presentations about what they worked on during the week. Vistar Media’s “Code Review” is an important part of the daily tech workflow. Every line of code is reviewed by at least two people before being cut, an impressive feat considering that Vistar Media has a one-week development cycle. That means almost every week, employees are working on a new set of code or new product.
How does Vistar Media view hiring recent graduates?
In the past couple years we've had a lot of luck hiring pretty junior engineers who have either come right out of school or have only been out of school for a year or two. For them, coming in and working with our more senior developers has been really helpful. We've seen these younger people come in and really quickly rise to be some of our top performers.
How does Vistar exemplify long-term growth and success in the ad tech industry?
Our founders and top leadership know this industry inside and out. They are at the point where they can anticipate problems and solve them before they even come up. They are super open with the rest of us, both with our successes and if we are having any kind of setbacks or certain departments are struggling to meet a goal. We have monthly company updates with a Q&A portion, and people can anonymously submit questions. Our CEO is usually the one answering them live, and there's really nothing that's off limits. They're very open and they're not shy to talk about any concerns.
What’s at the core of Vistar Media’s business model?
From analytics to product, and across all support teams, we put technology first. Vistar’s end-to-end programmatic ecosystem provides unrivaled scale, built for the complexities of OOH media. Using advanced movement data analysis, we provide targeting, seamless activation and measurement of audience-based buying across out-of-home and mobile media.
In the past seven years, Vistar engineers have developed software solutions in a multitude of coding languages (our team is 'agnostic to tools' and will learn any language necessary for the task at hand), addressing the needs of both the buy side and sell side of digital out-of-home media. From refining our geotemporal data analysis to improving our programmatic ad exchange, Vistar’s engineers are constantly tackling new challenges.
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