Nestled within the window-lined walls of Vistar Media’s office at 400 Market St., the company’s software engineers are hard at work. The nearly ten-year-old adtech startup offers its company-hoodie-clad engineers a collaborative environment. Vistar Media maintains a hybrid workplace for its Philly and New York City based employees, giving workers the option to come into the office a few days a week, then work remotely for the other days. Fully remote opportunities are also available on a case by case basis.
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 fact that the office is quiet when it’s work/focus time — people often break for communal lunches and socialize around demos — 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.
"Being able to build things using a variety of technologies is interesting to me. I’ve used a lot of jobs in the past that were stuck in using one programming language. We have a variety of things so I like that."Craig Ceremuga Senior Software Engineer
"Quality takes a front seat. Given the choice between getting something done quickly and taking a little longer to make sure it’s really solid, we’ll always go with the second option."Kyle Gehmlich Software Engineer
"The fun thing about Vistar is everybody has a chance to be assigned to a project or technology you’re not familiar with. It’s a bit challenging, but I like having a chance to learn new stuff."Weiting Chang Senior 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 Senior 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 CTO
“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.”Derek Mansen Senior Software Engineer
How would you describe Vistar Media’s engineering culture?
Everybody's so talented and passionate about their work, and it's really motivating to be surrounded by that kind of energy. Everyone's always willing to lend a hand or point you in the right direction if you have questions. We have a comfortable and fully stocked office, and regular happy hours and outings/meetups. Everyone's extremely friendly, but at the same time it's very focused.
Are there any special Vistar Media traditions?
We recently started doing an annual company off-site event. 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. Each summer, each of the offices will have a summer party, so, for example, the New York office does a beach day. We also have a remote hackathon in January to experiment with interesting tech, and incorporate that into what we do daily. Other activities include meetups in the park, visiting Independence Beer Garden, attending Phillies games, and social events for remote team members too.
Are there any fun events for new hires when they come on board?
Within their first few weeks, our new hires go through a full day of onboarding and meeting the directors of all the different teams. They learn what they do, and in their individual offices, they'll do a group outing with their respective team. We also have a buddy program to pair new employees with other team members to help them settle in.
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. We always had remote teams and collaboration, and that has expanded with COVID.
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?
Not really. In fact, the freedom of language choice and coding ability is a compelling plus to working at Vistar. Most of the time, the bare minimum that people need to be well-versed in would be at least one compiled and one interpreted language eg) Go and Python. Right now, we are kind of keeping our eyes peeled for somebody who has extensive experience with Go or React.
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. Then people are working on projects and picking up tickets based on priority. On Friday around 4 o’clock, everyone will gather around and do presentations about what they worked on during the week, giving an opportunity to showcase work or review interesting bugs they ran into, and share tips with the team. It’s very collaborative. 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 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 early career hires come in and really quickly rise to be some of our top performers. Overall, we prioritize a well-balanced workforce with both early and experienced team members to allow mentorship and learning opportunities.
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 industry-leading technology allows the world’s largest brands and agencies to autonomously transact with media owners, and bring targeted advertising to the physical world in a privacy safe way. And its enterprise software solutions for media owners gives digital signage operators full control of their network from device management to monetization.
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.