Inside the culture at Azavea
Azavea is on the map for the company’s mobile and web geospatial data applications. Employees say the client-based and internal projects are the most challenging they’ve ever taken on. It’s not surprising; Azavea has taken on projects with the U.S. Department of Energy, The World Bank and NASA.
The 65-person company doesn’t view “company culture” as ping pong tables and happy hours, though both have a place in its office in the Callowhill neighborhood of Philadelphia. Instead, “culture” is a reflection of the values the company already has. When the company was established in 2001, founders Robert Cheetham and Rachel Cheetham-Richard considered forming a nonprofit company but came to the conclusion that it’s possible to be a for profit company that’s not only for profit. B Corp certified, Azavea is committed to improving the world. The commitment is reflected in projects like NYC TreesCount! for NYC Parks, GoPhillyGo for the Clean Air Council or OpenDataPhilly. If it harms communities or the environment, they’ll pass, even when evaluating new business opportunities.
The growing company treats its employees with the same respect. In addition to a generous set of benefits, team members successfully balance hobbies, family and friends — and take their vacation days. Azavea’s culture is democratic throughout the hiring process and allocation of profits — at least 2 percent a year — to nonprofit organizations. Every team member has a voice at the table.
The office itself is as open-minded and inclusive as the company. Meetings are held in the expansive kitchen or smaller rooms named after cities. Visitors may find Azaveans tucked in the library nook or collaborating in the open floor plan. Employees often stop to talk around the healthy snacks selection (an idea submitted during Azavea’s annual meeting to solicit feedback from employees) on the kitchen island.
How can a prospective hire impress Azavea?
A prospective hire can impress Azavea by contributing to its open source projects like Raster Foundry, OpenTreeMap and GeoTrellis that are available on Github, along with code for many other software solutions. Or reach out to Azavea with a question or comment on one of their technical blog posts.
Why are open source contributions important to Azavea?
Open source tools are key components in all of Azavea’s projects, and employees have made substantial contributions to the ecosystems around open data, geospatial data processing and operations tooling.
What are a few examples of Azavea's open source contributions?
- A managed instance of CKAN that powers OpenDataPhilly.
- GeoTrellis: A Scala based geospatial data processing library for Spark.
- SFCurve: A Scala based library for creating, transforming, and querying space-filling curves.
- Various open source modules and container images for Ansible, Terraform and Docker.
In other cases, Azavea has open sourced entire products:
- OpenTreeMap: A collaborative platform for crowdsourced tree inventories.
- Raster Foundry: A platform that aids in combing and analyzing earth imagery at any scale.
How does Azavea invest in Philadelphia’s communities?
Azavea supports the local community, and not only in donations. The company offers the office as a space for local events, meetings and hackathons. Employees receive paid time off to vote and volunteer, and many participate in mentoring young people through programs like Girl Develop It’s Summer of Open Source and Azavea's own Summer of Maps and Software Engineering Open Source Fellowship programs.
How does Azavea promote learning?
From an official tuition reimbursement benefit to a monthly speaker-led Brown Bag Lunch, Azavea encourages employees to learn and try new things. New employees choose 5 books to add to their personal library and are welcome to request more for the company’s library, which is located in a cozy lounge next to the kitchen. The company encourages employees to use 10 percent of their time for learning and research on a project or topic that really interests them. Past research projects have included: user experience design experiments with Google Glass; application of the OpenCV computer vision framework to recognize trees in Google Street View; better PostGIS import tools; Emacs integration with Django; and an exploration of machine learning algorithms for space-time risk forecasting. While not all of these projects result in measurable commercial success, they are an important part of the culture at Azavea and result in many long-term positive consequences. Azavea's open source work began as part of a 10 percent time research project.
What does Azavea's B Corporation status mean?
Certified B Corporations meet rigorous benchmarks for social and environmental accountability and transparency. In addition to giving back through donations and volunteering, contributing to open source projects and communities, and choosing customers with the potential for positive civic, social and environmental impact, being a B Corp is part of every-day operations. Azavea employees recycle, compost, track greenhouse gas emissions for work-related travel, and heavily utilize the company’s public transit and bicycle commuting benefits. Staying aware of environmental impact encourages employees to make responsible choices.
Hector CastroVice President of EngineeringHector is a Vice President of Engineering at Azavea. The Temple grad was previously a Developer Advocate at Basho Technologies. Read More »
"Every project has elements of social good and lowering barriers. I grew up in North Philly, and I didn’t have a lot of opportunities or access. Those are key reasons for why I decided to work at Azavea, or else I wouldn’t be here."
Matt WilliamsUser Experience Design LeadPreviously a two-time entrepreneur, the Rowan University grad enjoys biking, snowboarding and playing video games with friends. Read More »
"I learn things here I never thought existed. It’s these things that I would have never thought about in school or at my old job that have put me past what I thought were my limits. I’ve grown a lot more since starting at Azavea."
Kathryn KillebrewSoftware EngineerThe Code for Philly volunteer has been developing software, building websites, and designing databases for over six years. Read More »
“We’re more of a medium-sized company. We’re not looking for a big exit. I love the people and the social mission. I enjoy how open and democratic processes are. It’s what inspires me to get up in the morning and work every day."
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