Inspire's team of 'Avengers' is helping bring smart energy to the masses - Technical.ly Philly

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Aug. 27, 2018 12:34 pm

Inspire’s team of ‘Avengers’ is helping bring smart energy to the masses

Meet the startup that thinks of its people as superheroes.

In the Inspire offices. (Courtesy Photo)

Inspire’s mission is simple: to make every home a smart home powered by renewable energy. Achieving that, though, requires a team of superheroes, internally referred to as “Avengers” (inspired by Marvel’s “mightiest heroes”) who collaborate to continually innovate and solve problems — combining superpowers if you will.

Inspire recently released its smart-home energy subscription plan, which includes an Android and iOS-friendly application for users to control lights, climate, receive notifications and alerts, and see energy performance and climate impact in real-time.

We talked with Senior Director of Product John Kim, who is based out of Inspire’s Santa Monica office, and Brian Wyant, a full-stack developer at Inspire’s Philadelphia office, about their roles building Inspire’s clean energy subscription and beyond.

Inspire is hiring

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Technically Talent: What does it mean to you to be an “Avenger”?

Brian Wyant: In one word, I’d say ambition.

John Kim: We’re really empowered to take the company where we think it should go. We all have the same mission, but how we get there is wide open. There’s a lot of high aspiration. We’re all pushing for the same goal and work collaboratively and cross-functionally to get there.

TT: What are the primary responsibilities of your role?

BW: I’ve been spending my time mostly working on the Android and iOS versions of our smartphone app. It’s designed to serve as the focal point and most frequent touchpoint for Inspire Home. I’ve worked on little bits of everything, though, which is pretty common here. Our CTO and all of our managers take an intentional approach, giving developers opportunities to work with products, and exposure to different parts of the business.

JK: I was brought on board to help build out our Smart Energy product offerings — everything from creating smarter climate control to energy management technology that automatically increases the home’s performance when you are not around. The Product team at Inspire is involved in a lot of the aspects of the organization, and I’ve already had the chance to work on the tech support side, quality assurance and building our inventory management system. The diverse set of projects you get to work on as part of the Product team is what makes Inspire unique.

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Brian Wyant, full stack developer at Inspire. (Photo by Juliet Shen)

Brian Wyant, full stack developer at Inspire. (Photo by Juliet Shen)

TT: What is a typical day like?

BW: I tend to wake up at 6:45 a.m. I read for half an hour before I work out and meditate. I bike to work (hands up for Indego!). Once I get here, my day often varies. Overall, I spend about 70 percent of my time coding, and 30 percent in meetings and working sessions. On Wednesdays, the tech team promotes a “flow day”, where we avoid scheduling meetings with other teams so we can focus on digging deep into key issues. This really helps us when we need a large block of time to understand and make progress on a specific effort.

JK: I typically wake up at 6 a.m., and I have a one-year-old son who is always up at the same time so I’ll eat with him and play with him for a bit. I’ll check my email and Slack and then take the train to work. Once I’m in the office, I’ll juggle meetings with working with our team on finding solutions to tough problems. But it varies — every day, there’s something different.

TT: How do you collaborate on a daily basis?

BW: That’s constantly evolving. There’s certainly a lot of Slack messages. The company has many channels, including a “Philly Water Cooler” and “Santa Monica Water Cooler” for general announcements in the two office locations and other channels devoted to specific projects.

JK: I’ve found here at Inspire everyone has a really collaborative attitude. I have a lot of crazy ideas and they are always met with support and a bias towards action from our team at Inspire.

BW: Yes, there’s definitely a lot of that going on, a lot of “Do we want to do it? OK, let’s dig in!”

TT: What recent project allowed you to develop a new skill?

BW: On the Smart Home app, I didn’t have a ton of experience  with the Angular framework before so I was learning both that and Ionic — which allows us to develop one codebase to develop for both platforms.  Learning both at the same time was awesome.

Every developer has their own personal flair for how much research they want to do before jumping in on something. I pretty much like to make changes as soon as possible; I want to just look at the code and see if I can make sense of it before asking questions.

TT: What role do cross-functional teams play in developing innovative products?

JK: It creates diversity of opinion. A lot of times if you’re in your functional group then you may begin to all think the same way — You have the same pain points. But when you’re with other people, you can hear their perspective. For product managers, that’s a really good skill to have — to empathize and be able to capture and consider different viewpoints — because that’s how you build out a product that serves customers who are also diverse.

John Kim, senior director of product at Inspire. (Courtesy photo)

John Kim, senior director of product at Inspire. (Courtesy photo)

TT: How would you describe the culture at Inspire?

JK: Our culture is a huge competitive advantage. Even when I was interviewing, [the culture] really shined through with everyone I met. Doing good for the planet is a big reason why people are here, and that’s pretty cool.

BW: Here, we do things together. For example, we often eat lunch together, away from our desks. Having that open social time where we eat together or someone leads a yoga class for the rest of us — that helps build our collaborative atmosphere. We’re focused on building a positive identity of Avenger culture so everyone feels they have a say in the company and our culture.

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