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A Day In The Life Of A Rover Engineer: Allison Northrop, Software Engineer

Below is an article originally written by Brianne Killinger at PowerToFly Partner Rover, and published on October 5, 2018. Go to Rover's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

This is the fourth post in a series of interviews with our team of engineers at Rover. We'll introduce you to one of our Rover engineers, share their daily work and give you a peek into what it's like to work for Rover. If you're interested in an engineering career at Rover, check out our PowerToFly page.

As a full-stack engineer on the Rover engineering team, Allison Northrop creates operations efficiencies by working with internal groups at Rover that often work directly with customers.

What do you do as a Rover engineer?

Northrop: I work with internal teams at Rover such as customer experience and our booking assurance team. Our goal is to create tools to fix things on the site so that they can do their job faster and for Rover to scale efficiently. For example, if our customer experience team receives a flurry of calls about one particular problem or there's a lack of functionality, we work to find them a solution to ensure they're not getting bombarded. We work closely with our product manager to prioritize their needs and analyze what's the most plausible to address now versus later.

How long have you been at Rover?

Northrop: I've been with Rover for a little over a year. I started as an intern through Ada Developers Academy, a program funded by technology companies with a goal to encourage women and non-binary people to start careers in software development. Rover has been a sponsor of Ada and we have quite a few Ada grads working here currently.

What's an example of how you help these teams?

Northrop: Previously, once a stay was booked, you couldn't personally edit the stay. If your flight was delayed or you had to come back early, you would have to call customer experience to get it changed. It wasn't addressed for a while because it was very complicated to fix on the backend. Addressing this issue required five engineers, including me, over the course of three to four months.

What's your favorite thing about working at Rover?

Northrop: There's so many things that I love! Apart from loving to work with dogs, I love the product. I love that my role as a software engineer here actually makes a difference in people's (and pet's) lives. A friend of mine recently posted on social media that she started sitting with Rover and I know she's a parent and she wanted a more flexible schedule. It's great that I work on a product that helps people and helps dogs. I love the people who I work with and the mentorship I've received in my career.

How do you feel you make an impact in your role? What excites you?

Northrop: Even though everyone on my team has more years of experience in software development, my tenure at Rover is the longest. It's been rewarding to be able to answer questions and contribute a lot. I did a lot of ZenDesk integration work early on in my time at Rover and now I can help people with code related to that. I've also done a lot of customization and performance work in our admin tool, which is Django's built-in admin, so I help bring people up to speed on tickets related to that.

In terms of what excites me, I really love working for teams within Rover, while also impacting our customer base. I think it's satisfying to make people's jobs less of a hassle through the things that we roll out.

What's it like working across teams at Rover?

Northrop: Our product managers are incredible because they make working across teams really seamless. I think that it's important to have engineers interface with people that they're making solutions for and Rover's done a great job ensuring that happens. For example, when I was an intern, I had the opportunity to work with the quality assurance team who vet and approve our sitter profiles. I was able to sit with them, learn about the tasks they handle on a daily basis and listen to their suggestions on how their tools could be better. I was partnering with a product manager and she worked closely with me to prioritize solutions for them.

Tell me about a recent project you worked on that impacted Rover's customers or your team?

Northrop: When we were about to start the project to enable sitters to edit a booked stay, my mom called me and told me one of her friends needed a cat sitter and they did it through Rover. They booked it and plans changed. Her friend was really frustrated that she couldn't change the booked stay on her own and I thought 'if one of my mom's friends is having this issue, it's clearly widespread.' Working on that project goes back to the commitment that Rover has to make it easier to own a pet. Now that we've enabled the option to edit a booked stay, we've seen a dramatic 30% decrease in tickets related to that issue.

What's a technology you are especially excited about and why?

Northrop: Not sure if this counts, but since I use it every day I'm going to give a shout out to my IDE. I love PyCharm because it makes it so much easier to navigate through a large code base and helps me keep up good code quality. Some people use Atom, Visual Studio, or something else. There are so many options and here you don't have to use one in particular. Rover is really flexible in what IDE you choose.

What's your favorite meeting at Rover?

Northrop: I really love Tech & Treats! It's a meeting we have once a week where people across the tech org present on things they've worked on, how to fix performance issues, how to use tools we have, etc. You get to see so many things that people are working on or little tricks that people have learned. It's expensive to have all engineers in a meeting for an hour and it's nice that Rover is willing to invest that time. It's a great place for knowledge sharing.

Favorite spot in the office?

Northrop: Wherever Fondue or Freya can be found! I'm a big Bernese fan. I also am a big fan of my office space buddy Willie, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

Are you a mentor or mentee?

Northrop: I just love how much mentorship happens on the tech team. I have been mentored by tons of people not just on my team but across the organization. One example that comes to mind is a ticket that was much more search-related, but it touched one thing on my team and we ended up getting the ticket. Search is not what I've worked on so I messaged someone on the team asking them questions. They came over and paired with me for 15 minutes and explained how it works and reviewed my code once I submitted. It probably would have been faster if someone on the search team took that ticket but they were willing to invest time to teach me about it. And now I can talk a little bit about our search filters!

Something also unique at Rover is that we also have "office hours" that different platform teams hold on a regular basis. I also took advantage of a weekly introductory React class that Rover hosted over four weeks. It was great that they created this curriculum – not every company will do that.

What are some of your passions outside of the office?

Northrop: I love to climb. There's actually a Rover climbing community on Slack. I'm not nearly as intense as most people and I just go to Vertical World. Whenever I go there, I always run into someone from Rover! I also like going to tech meet-ups like PyLadies and PuPPY and I'm still fairly involved with Ada through tutoring folks currently going through the program. I also have a orange tabby cat named Vincent. I'm happy that Rover is giving cats their rightful space in the codebase and that "cat" soon will not be listed as a type of dog breed.


Engineering Sustainability: An Interview With Uber’s Head Of Information Technology, Shobhana Ahluwalia

Below is an article originally written by Molly Vorwerck at PowerToFly Partner Uber, and published on November 6, 2018. Go to Uber's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Navigating hyper growth startups was standard for Shobhana Ahluwalia when she took the reins as Uber's Head of Information Technology in July 2015. Having led engineering teams at several rapidly growing technology companies over the past decade, she figured Uber would be much the same.

Once she came onboard, however, nothing could have prepared her for the whirlwind journey ahead as our company grew from 3,000 to 20,000 employees in less than three years. In her role directing IT strategy at Uber, Shobhana is responsible for leading the development and assessment of the technologies necessary to sustainably and efficiently grow our company at scale. And with operations in over 600 cities across the world—and counting—her team's role is ever more important.

We sat down with Shobhana to learn more about her journey to tech services, what she finds most challenging about her work at Uber, and how her team is setting the company up for success:

How did you first get interested in technology and engineering?

I grew up in India as the second female child in a very modest family. My father, amazingly, did not differentiate between my male siblings and me, and even four-plus decades ago, was an advocate of gender equality in a society that elevated men and limited opportunities for women. My dad was also very pro-education and always managed to fulfil all our education-related needs—books, tuition, etc.

Growing up, I was awkward and shy, and analytics just made a lot of sense to me. I liked when things fit well together, like in math and science, and my memory skills were pretty strong, so STEM was a good match.

Even though your family was supportive of your education, did you face any resistance as a woman in tech when you entered the working world?

No matter where you come from, it's always been an uphill battle for women in technology, but I've made amazing friends who have given me the support and guidance necessary to thrive. On the one hand, I found the industry very welcoming because I was fortunate enough to surround myself with peers who liked helping newcomers, and over the years, I've built up a strong network of really close friends and good mentors.

On the other side, obviously, there were some experiences that made me think twice. I haven't been the only woman in a meeting room in over a decade, but when I started working, that was very, very common. In my engineering school, 15 percent of students were women, and the school did not even have a women's dorm. Since I didn't study close to home, I had to find my own accommodation in a super-small and private (i.e. expensive) dorm. We've come a long way from there.

What are some of the best pieces of advice you received from mentors throughout your career?

I get a lot of leadership advice from my mentors, which is great. For the most part, their biggest takeaways are to be present and speak up.

In terms of fitting in, I have two strikes against me: I'm an immigrant and a woman. When I was growing up, I was too shy to verbalize my ideas and I had a very timid voice. One early manager in particular would consistently tell me to speak up. He told me that, although there was nothing wrong with my voice, that I could come across as being unsure of myself. He helped me develop my voice, find confidence, and learn to quickly process what other people were saying so that I could feel more sure of myself when I did speak up. His advice was not one-size-fits-all, and I'm not saying it should be, but it certainly helped me advance in my career.

I still keep in touch with my mentors from the past. We grab coffee and talk about our ambitions and work issue of the day. Sometimes you get so bogged down in the everyday that we forget the bigger picture. Such conversations are important to remind me of the big picture.

Before you came to Uber, you worked at Rocket Fuel, another high growth startup, and CBS. What are some of your key takeaways from growing the IT infrastructure of those types of companies versus a company like Uber?

There is no company like Uber. Now, when we interview people, we always make sure we don'tding people for not having that experience because honestly—and especially two and a half years ago—we were growing rapidly. I joined Uber from Rocket Fuel, which was a hot, fast-growing public company at the time, but it was no match for Uber's scale.

I came at a stage where we were growing fast, but we had stabilized. When I joined, Uber needed some structures, processes, and roadmaps for our IT strategy, but at the same time, we were still pivoting very quickly. For instance, if we were undergoing a data center migration—a process that takes most companies months—we would finish it in nine working days. It's a story worth telling when you brag at the end of the day with your peers over a mug of beer: "You took three months to do that? Well, we did it in nine days."

You took a break in your career to pursue an MBA at Wharton (the University of Pennsylvania). How do you apply this business education to your work leading an IT organization?

Pursuing an MBA was one of the better decisions I've made in my life. When you're getting started in your career, it's possible to become pigeonholed in one industry; in my case, technology is so broad but there's so much outside of it. Wharton actually helped me to think about different things, like how entire companies ran, how are all the cogs put in, and how they work together. So that was awesome for me because now I can see beyond engineering. For instance, when I talk to marketing, I understand what is important to them. When I talk to finance, I know what's important to them, but ten years ago, when I pursued my degree, that was all new to me. My MBA gave me the ability to put on different hats much easier than I would have otherwise. Despite the huge student loans, it was great fun.

Why did you decide to go into IT versus other areas of tech?

I did not necessarily choose that path, I think the path chose me. I started my career writing low level driver programs, which was pretty fun. Then, in the late 1990s, Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP) and via that, automation and optimization of internal corporate functions was on the rise. Oracle Applications was being used by several companies and I got interested in that and I started writing modules for them. That's how I started in IT and then I just grew into it there. IT is novel in the sense that every company needs IT to run efficiently so it is shielded from industry-specific recessions.

You joined Uber in July 2015. Why did you come aboard?

To be completely honest, the reason I joined Uber is complete vanity. I just really wanted to work for this brand name since it was growing so much. I didn't really understand what Uber was until I joined and spent some time with the products.

Only after I came to Uber—after I really understood it—did I realize how special it is to be a small cog in a large machine that has such a big impact. When you actually hear stories about customers who are able to put food on their table because of Uber, or get a ride to their doctor's appointment, you really get a sense of your impact. I talk a lot to our driver-partners and I hear so many amazing stories about women doing it because it affords them greater flexibility. They're caring for their home and kids and everything in between. It's very hard to get part-time jobs, especially part-time jobs where you own your schedule. If your child is home sick today, you don't have to go to work; you can just not turn on the driver app.

As I came to understand the depths of what this company does, it actually instilled a lot more pride and confidence in my decision to join.

What are some of the biggest IT challenges for Uber?

Scale is our biggest challenge, period. Because of our scale, we're not like any other tech company. We have over 600 offices right now and we're still growing. Just managing that scale is huge.

The rate at which Uber scales is also a key challenge for us. Even though we're bigger and more organized than when I first joined, speed is still critical because our growth is not slowing down. Creating efficient and sustainable technologies to support our employees is ten times more difficult when you're moving at the speed of light.

What is most rewarding about your work at Uber?

Definitely the people I work with. Most of my organization has been here as long as or longer than I have. We've grown together in the past three years. It's amazing to see my team grow and take on different roles. In my org, we've had especially smart engineers take on different roles or go into management, or we have developers who are amazingly technical, and they tend to go deep to create solutions on open source platforms which is rewarding for both Uber and the broader community. That's what makes my work interesting, and doing it with a group of people I respect and can learn from makes it that much better.

IT Engineering is responsible for building productivity tools and internal infrastructure to set our employees up for success. The better our IT, the better we can serve our customers. For instance, we built uChat to make communication at the company easier and more seamless. The Uber Kiosk, which was developed by our Innovation team, offers an alternative method of signing up to drive with Uber that both optimizes our efficiency and is engaging for consumers.

What are some of the bigger initiatives your organization is tackling in 2018?

My organization works on several internal solutions for the company. This year, we're focusing on building and fine-tuning our performance management tools, HR-related applications, and productivity applications. Another key focus is also compliance. As we grow and head towards IPO, we need to be ready to operate like a public company. The best way to approach compliance is to determine what the right thing to do is versus doing it just because it's written in the policy or procedure. All of this will play into how we grow our global offices and how we design our new campus' IT to make the workplace better and more efficient for employees.

You are a co-chair of Uber's Immigrants Employee Resource Group. What inspired you to take a leadership role in this group?

Our goal is to help build a more inclusive Uber by providing a welcoming forum for immigrants and to promote cross-cultural learnings. I came to this country 20 years ago. There are so many people in different phase of their immigration journey. Some are thriving, some are fraught with self-doubt and some are struggling to be successful in a different culture.

Several of us still go through that thought process of assimilation where we strive to become similar to masses here. But what are the boundaries of such assimilation? We might be a stronger nation if we find a balance between our immigrant culture and the new American way of living such that we bring out the best of both worlds.

We also answer basic questions like, how do I study for my citizenship exam? How might the political climate impact the immigration process for new hires or people waiting for their green cards? Or what should our financial savings strategy be? Where should we invest – here in America or also abroad? The immigrant community at Uber is big, and it's important to create an inclusive environment where we can talk about their concerns and problem solve. That's what we're trying to do.

What is the biggest piece of advice you'd give a young woman considering a career in technology?

Don't write off STEM without trying it first. In some groups, it might not be cool to study Math and Science, but I would encourage them to just try it to understand whether it interests them. It's the same thing you would do with anything else, right? You want to try snowboarding or skating etc to see for yourself how you like it. It's okay to not pursue a skill if you don't like it. But it's not okay to avoid a skill (like STEM) just because it's not cool.

Outside of your work at Uber, what drives you?

I do a little bit of a lot of things. I love TV. I draw strength from interesting stories. I am an avid fan of indoor cycling. I've wasted enough money on gym memberships over the years, but in the end, I think Peloton is what I've landed at. And in my opinion, it's actually a amazing piece of technology in the fitness industry.

If you look at life the right way, it will give you a lot of opportunities to be inspired. Sometimes, I'll be inspired by just seeing an amazing piece of art. Sometimes, I'll be inspired when I try to push my limits.

Yelp Inc.

All About Yelp Hackathon

Below is an article originally written by Alexandra Phillips, an Engineering Manager at PowerToFly Partner Yelp, and published on November 7, 2018. Go to Yelp's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

It's time for our fall Hackathon! At Yelp, Hackathons are two-day events that provide unstructured time for our engineering and product teams to work on whatever may scratch their creative itch! Hackathon truly embodies our company values of "Playing Well with Others" and "Being Unboring," as it invites us to participate in so many different ways.

Engineers have the liberty to work on projects related to or completely outside the box of the Yelp product. We've seen many types of projects over the years from music videos and new photo classification algorithms to baking workshops, custom video games, and so much more! It's a great outlet for collaboration and innovation that really helps foster teamwork and creativity.

Ready, set, hack!

For the past several weeks, we've been hard at work preparing for the final Hackathon of the year: number 27! This year will be our ninth year running, with each year traditionally hosting three hackathons. This pace enables the engineering team to have reliable and regular outlets for their creativity and to take advantage of several opportunities throughout their career to work on a variety of different project types.

We're particularly focused on the celebration of building something together, and in an effort to recognize that, have come up with six different awards: Useful, Funny, Cool, Hardcore, Unhack, and Spotlight. The Spotlight award in particular rotates its theme every Hackathon; Hackathon 27 we'll be spotlighting "Inclusion" which is an important facet of Yelp culture. We're hoping to this inspires a broad range of projects and activities bringing awareness to how important inclusion is in workplace culture.

Hackathon planning is a collaboration between our awesome Engineering, Engineering Event Planning, and Engineering Recruiting teams. There's a lot of orchestration involved in selecting the theme, arranging the catering, helping engineers find or evangelize their ideal projects, designing the swag, and of course, planning the Ridiculousness!

Plenty of hacking fuel!

In the true spirit of being unboring, Ridiculousness is the center of fun and games during Hackathon. Need a break from hacking? Come on by to paint, build, draw, or play interactive games with your fellow engineers! Team connectedness is something that transcends both our SF and Hamburg Engineering teams and is celebrated by sharing a Hackathon kickoff toast and awards ceremony.


I've had the amazing opportunity of seeing so many unique, creative projects that have been the product of hard work and collaboration of our engineering and product teams. I'd like to share just a few with you!

One of my favorite projects coming out of Hackathon is "AWE the Book." AWE is our Awesome Women in Engineering employee group at Yelp, who champions and facilitates initiatives to improve inclusion and diversity within Yelp Engineering. "AWE the Book" is a collection of interviews from over 60 women in Engineering and Product, with each page speaking to their childhood aspirations, what they love about Yelp, and their pathway into the tech industry. It was an amazing demonstration of people coming together to work on a project they're passionate about. Read more about it in this blog post!

One useful Hackathon project that's now embedded into Yelp culture is Yelp Love, an app that allows any employee to send kudos to one or several colleagues at a time. Yelp Love has become the defacto way to say "thank you" to a coworker that really went above and beyond, and it helps us all live by our "play well with others" value.

Hackathon Science Fair - Winner of the Hardcore award, Neon Incident Pager

One of the most hardcore projects was the "Neon Incident Pager project." This was a physical neon light and LED display that integrated with our incident paging system to create a bright and eye-catching display when an incident is triggered! This project took on a creative, fun, and yet hardcore challenge to produce something really remarkable!

Hackathon Science Fair

I grow more and more excited as we head into Hackathon 27 as I'm reminded of some of my favorite aspects of Hackathon at Yelp: meeting new people, learning new things, and building! Hack on!


Get Ready For An Awesome New Career At Stash

Below is an article originally written by Kahne Raja, Lead Engineer at PowerToFly Partner Stash, and published on March 26, 2018. Go to Stash's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

If you love clean code and you want to help disrupt the fintech industry, then look no further!

Recently, we here at Stash have upped our recruitment game. Over the past few months, I've seen the company double with an outstanding crew of new engineers who truly care about what they do and how they do it. We are dealing with scale issues on all fronts and we need your help!

The mission at Stash is clear. Build financial systems that work for everyone — not just the wealthy.

It's a big challenge and we have a long way to go. A big part of that is growing the team with the right people.

As an engineer at Stash myself, I regularly host technical interviews. Here are some of my notes on what it takes to pass our first stage code pairing challenge.

Back to basics.

Interview preparation takes weeks… even months. Do it in batches and do it well. Enjoy the nostalgia. Enjoy the beauty of math.

Your regular tech work life patterns and practices are important but quite often they are not so helpful when doing interviews. Here are some ideas to help you prepare for the engineering interview at Stash:

  • Read Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell.
  • Read Extreme Programming Explained by Kent Beck.
  • Watch as much Uncle Bob talking about SOLID principles as possible.
  • Ask a friend to test you at a whiteboard over lunch.
  • Choose a language and get comfortable with it (without an IDE).

Our first line of code.

When I sit down with you to pair online @coderpad, this is what I am looking for:

  • A focus on data structures and algorithms.
  • At least one passing unit test.
  • A simplification of complex ideas.

I want you to start by slicing off a single conditional in two to three lines of code. Something we can compile, run, test, and discuss.

Example challenge: Leap Year.

Problem statement: write a function that returns true or false depending on whether its input integer is a leap year or not.

If we can get to this place within a few minutes, that is a great start! We should then be able to complete a number of variations within 10 to 20 lines of code.

Try to avoid spending too much time on the following:

  • Web app / CRUD design patterns like Controllers and Repositories.
  • Database structures and persistence strategies.
  • Language comparisons and platform specific features.


After each interview, I assess candidates on the following metrics. Ability to think on your feet, communication, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, debugging, speed, management of competing priorities, organizational skills, and test driven.

Following this initial online code pairing session, you'll be invited in for a half day session with a number of colleagues.

At Stash, extreme programming and solid principles are at the heart of what we do. We move fast and embrace change.

Please don't hesitate to hit me up on twitter — @kahneraja. I'm always happy to help a candidate get ready for an awesome new career at Stash.