A company that is built around offering modern collaboration software needs to believe in the power of bringing people together.
Luckily, that's just what Quip is all about.
Their annual three-day hackathon Quiprupt is an example of what collaboration looks like not just as a product offering but also as a core tenet of company culture. We asked participants from Quiprupt 2021 to tell us about their experience coming together to ship cool stuff—and how Quip's culture sets them up to be able to find meaningful work while building better products.
Tips for planning committees on setting up the event to succeed
1, Build in intermixing from the start.
When Technical Program Manager Michael Lee volunteered to organize the hackathon, he knew he wanted to ensure that teams were of mixed compositions, with different people from around the company and not just staffed by people in the Engineering, Product, and Design (EPD) group.
"The hackathon really pushes for teams to work with other members outside of EPD," says Michael. "Everyone is welcome to work on projects they're interested in, so they get a chance to work with those they normally don't get to work with."
Event MC Meghna Purkayastha, a Growth Business Account Executive, was drawn to participate specifically because of the opportunity to connect her side of the business—sales—to the engineering teams. "Our business units have so many different ways in which we interact with our customers," she says. "Often EPD doesn't have insights into what customers are asking for or their common challenges, so it's so great to close the gap!"
2. Encourage creative ideas.
Project ideas for Quiprupt bubble up from people on the ground, explains Michael, and that's what lets people have ownership over their projects. "People are free to join and work on projects they're interested in. We hold pitch sessions and additional sessions to help teams recruit new members and answer questions about their project ideas," he says.
3. Brand it well!
Designer Kyle Tezak stepped outside of his normal day-to-day responsibilities to create an engaging theme and brand for Quiprupt 2021, and even though he was on the planning side and not on a hackathon team, he still got to plug into the collaborative spirit.
"The best part about collaborating on these projects is letting go and trusting your team," he says. "I think it's easy for designers to get possessive with projects and this is a fun, low-stakes way to experiment and pass things back and forth."
And beyond having fun, he also built something beautiful. "The work we've created gets people excited to participate," says Kyle.
His team landed on a "mid-century, retro science, research, and development theme"—not unlike the Dharma Initiative from Lost, added Michael—and produced graphic, web, and video content, including a fun promotional video for the hackathon.
Tips for engineering leaders on participating fully
4. Define project roles quickly.
When Quip Senior PM Melissa Chan was setting up her team for the hackathon, she was careful to pull from different parts of the business, in line with Michael's vision. "It's really important to get the perspective of our Sales and Go to Market (GTM) team," says Melissa, who worked with those members to "understand what customers were looking for but was currently missing in our product." She also pulled in Kevin Zhang, a friend from engineering, to serve as her tech lead, which "centralized a lot of technical decisions."
Once she had a team, Melissa quickly got them in sync on a project scope and responsibilities.
5. Construct your narrative around the customer.
Melissa's team ended up winning the Grand Prize at Quiprupt, and she credits their success to the "end-to-end" story they shared. "I knew who our customer was, what they wanted to do, and what features would help them achieve the goal," she says. "By having that narrative throughout the week, we could figure out how to descope parts of the project that were taking longer or make sure that we spent more time in areas that were critical."
"I think it's always important to keep the customer in mind and to be able to reflect on where we've fallen short of their expectations," she added.
6. Embrace remote collaboration.
Niccolò Zapponi, Senior Manager, Salesforce Anywhere Labs, who was a member of Melissa's winning team, says that they were able to work together so well because "everyone had their own remit."
"We had daily stand ups to discuss progress and priorities," he added, "and then got on with our work. Running something like a hackathon entirely remotely is definitely not easy, but we made it work and managed to keep everyone engaged throughout the week."
Tips for everyone on embracing collaboration
7. Recognize your unique strengths.
When Niccolò signed up for the team, he knew he wasn't going to be bringing in deep technical expertise. "I'm glad I could rely on the rest of the team [for that]," he says. He did know, though, that he could provide something super valuable: the customer perspective.
"My ability to understand customer needs and translate them into technology solutions is really where I shine and what I brought to the table for Quiprupt," says Niccolò.
Meghna agrees. "It truly takes a team! Each person regardless of role has a vision and idea that can help benefit a customer. All members are necessary."
8. You'll learn faster than you think.
Kyle was surprised by how quickly he was able to pick up new video editing skills as part of his branding work on the hackathon, and it's a lesson he thinks applies in general. "Learning a new skill often takes a lot less time than you'd expect. You're not going to become an expert overnight, but you can probably learn enough to accomplish a focused goal in a relatively short amount of time," he says.
9. Sign up to do more of it!
This year, Melissa participated in four different projects (!) during Quiprupt, and she plans on doing the same thing next year. "I think working across teams, solving new problems, and pitching it across the company make hackathons really fun," she says. "I think there's so many talented people with great ideas here at Quip."
While she'll go into next year confident, the capability of her coworkers is keeping her humble: "It's hard to say if we can defend the crown!"
Christina Xu has long been interested in accessible design. As the product manager for the Accessibility (A11y) team at real-time collaboration software company Quip, it's more than just a passing fascination—it's a key part of her job.
Because Quip makes collaboration tools that are designed to empower people to work effectively together, says Christina, it's vital that those tools are designed to be used by everyone. "If an employee can't use our tools, it affects their ability to do their jobs, to get updates, respond to coworkers, participate in projects, or share their ideas," says Christina.
"I'm constantly thinking about who technology empowers, who it disables, and who gets to make those decisions," she adds, sharing that accessibility became even more important to her when her partner was diagnosed with a chronic illness. "Basic computer interactions like sitting at a desktop and using a mouse, or tapping text messages out on a phone, [can be] very painful [for them]. Watching them explore different tools and assistive technologies to make those experiences a little easier is a constant reminder of the importance of this work."
Christina's team has worked on several accessibility projects over the last few months, including Dark/High Contrast mode, designed for low-vision users and also a popular feature in general. We interviewed Christina along with three product engineers she works with—Tommy Vo, Joyce Zhu, and Ben Cronin—about their experience on that project and what they've learned about accessible product design and engineering.
Impactful work that's intellectually challenging
Ben has a very close friend, Laura, who has been blind for most of her life. "Her story has really shaped my understanding of what it means for someone to be 'disabled,'" he explains. "The fact that she cannot see may profoundly change the way she experiences the world, but it does not make her incapable of participating in and contributing to it." Working on accessibility projects makes Ben feel like he's creating a more even playing field for people like Laura.
But Ben's not in this work just for that rewarding feeling (though he does enjoy it). He also finds engineering for accessibility an intellectually stimulating problem. "I like the challenge of developing different frameworks for conveying all the information and enabling all the functionality that someone needs to successfully interact with a complex app," he says.
Tommy, who has worked on A11y features at Quip for other projects like their Navigation Redesign and Message Composer, agrees: "Accessibility teaches me to tackle problems logically and helps me learn new things about the web and assistive technology every day," he says. "For example, nothing grinds my gears more than discovering different behavior of HTML elements across browsers, yet I love learning about caveats like that and could spend hours researching in my own time."
Tommy also likes how clear-cut the wins are in accessible design. "Versus other UX projects where it might be hard to define success, it is often easy for me to tell whether an accessibility feature is satisfactory or not," he says. "Can our customers use it? Does it pass the defined ARIA standard or not?"
Joyce is a big personal fan of Dark/High Contrast mode and long wished she could use it on the products she works on every day. "When we had enough engineers to staff a full-time accessibility team, I was eager to do a technical investigation into how to create robust dark and high-contrast themes," she says.
Christina maps out the steps towards making Dark/High Contrast mode a reality, highlighting the complex engineering and design problems that had to be carefully solved before bringing the much-requested feature to life:
- "Tommy had to implement semantic colors for all of Quip. This means that instead of designers specifying that a button is a certain shade of blue in the code, they would instead specify that a button is 'button-colored,' and we would then render a precise color based on whether Quip was in Light, Dark, or High Contrast mode.
- Then, our designers came up with a formula to translate colors into these two modes.
- After that, it took many eyes and a long time to painstakingly identify all the edge cases where that translation didn't look quite right and adjust it, sometimes with the help of other teams at Quip."
Ben highlights how accessibility best practices are well-aligned with engineering best practices. "Small, time-consuming changes tend to be more effective than large, quick ones. In that vein, one of the most satisfying (if least technically impressive) changes I worked on was making a few minor tweaks to the ARIA markup for the main navigation structure of Quip; from what I've heard, just those small changes made it much easier for screen reader users to understand the general layout of the app," he says.
Making accessibility a priority
When we interviewed the A11y team at Quip, we asked them what they wished other PMs, designers, and engineers knew about the importance of designing with accessibility in mind. They gave lots of great tips, and we've rounded those up in the next section for you. But there was one major takeaway that each of them kept coming back to: how vital it is that accessibility is part of a product roadmap from the very beginning.
"Always plan ahead when it comes to design with accessibility in mind, even before coding," says Tommy. "It usually reveals a pattern or behavior of your product that is easily overlooked and could be costly to address if realized later on."
"Accessible design and engineering is actually best and easiest when done at the beginning of the feature implementation process, instead of being bolted on as an additional launch readiness checklist item," agrees Joyce.
Try to see a focus on accessibility as an opportunity, says Christina. "If you view accessibility as a burden or a checklist that you have to slog through at the end of the project, it will feel that way. But if you treat accessibility as a core constraint to consider at the very beginning of your project, it can be such a clarifying and powerful tool," she says.
6 ways to make your product design more accessible
1. Make no assumptions.
"If a design assumes that someone is able to process information visually on different parts of the page at the same time, or that they can precisely maneuver a mouse cursor, there's a pretty good chance that most users will have a suboptimal experience," says Ben.
2. Try it out yourself.
Joyce suggests that other engineers try navigating their products the way that users with different impairments might in order to get a small taste of what they're solving for. "Try using only your keyboard to navigate your site, turning on one of the many browser extensions which emulate color-blind vision and trying to get around using a screenreader—no looking at your monitor! You might be surprised at what affordances you wish you were able to use."
3. Go beyond just being empathetic.
Christina learned something from her background in qualitative research that she thinks about constantly with her accessibility work: "Your own imagination is full of assumptions and biases that are almost certainly wrong."
"Our team works very closely with some wonderful accessibility consultants (Prime Access Consulting) who are blind and low-vision themselves, and their real lived experiences help check any well-intentioned but wrong instincts," she adds.
4. Create a framework for prioritizing features.
Christina asks four questions of potential accessibility projects before deciding which to start with:
- How severe is the issue for people who are impacted by it? Is it annoying, confusing/disorienting, or fully disabling?
- How widely used or fundamental is the feature or surface that the issue is occurring on?
- Is there a workaround to the issue or not?
- What size and complexity of project is my team realistically able to handle at the time?
5. Plan carefully.
This one is true for most engineering projects, but worth highlighting here. Tommy shares that he spent a full week not even coding but rather focusing on writing up a detailed roadmap as to how their team would deliver the Dark/High Contrast mode to their organization, company, and public users. "Setting up expectations early really helps me and my team understand the project's scope, making sure we're on top of things and avoiding potential crunch along the way," he says.
6. Recognize that there's a lack of documentation around accessible design best practices—and contribute to it when you can.
Ben has found that while some resources exist, nuanced conventions—"That 'aria-label' should only be used with certain types of elements, or that 'aria-disabled' works slightly differently from 'disabled' depending on the element it's applied to," he provides as an example—are hard to find. Their team has gotten around that by working with their consultants and doing a lot of trial and error, and they're working to document what they've learned. "That [way], the broader Quip team can get a better understanding of a11y do's and don't's that go beyond the specs," he says.
To learn more about Quip and their open roles, go here.
The pandemic's impact on collaborative software company Quip's technical recruiting team started slowly.
First, their roster of engineering interviewers started to dwindle as rising concerns about COVID-19 led some of them to start working from home in January and February, remembers technical recruiter Grace Kim. "We needed to rethink how we conducted our onsite interviews with a limited pool," she says.
Then, things came to a head in early March, when Quip—and their parent company Salesforce—went fully remote.
Alan Leung, Quip's senior manager of technical recruiting, was in Tahoe with his wife and two friends when he got the news. "We talked through our emotions, how anxious we felt, what we needed to stock up on, and what it would mean to be and feel safe this year," he says. "And then the recruiting team immediately communicated the news to our active candidates."
The rush to move onsite interviews online, cancel travel confirmations, and keep candidates informed throughout the process was a scramble, and Alan credits Quip's dedicated recruiting coordinator for finding a way of making it all happen.
But that was just the start of the challenges and adaptations Alan's team was headed towards.
During these last nine months, Quip's technical recruiting team has had to redesign itself and its workflows over and over again. First, they created an all-remote hiring process. Then, when hiring slowed down as the business determined its changing headcount needs, they figured out how to pause that process while preserving candidate experience. Later, they ramped hiring back up again to meet growing demand. And through it all, they invested in bettering their processes, like by cleaning up their data and stepping up their blog game, and in deepening their bench of skills, going so far as to lend their team members out to other business-critical projects.
Along the way, their recruiting team has figured out how to be an agile, adaptable team—and also gotten an up-close, expert look at what the future of virtual technical recruiting looks like. Here, we've gathered their top tips for technical interviewees so that candidates can benefit from their hard-earned knowledge.
9 tips from Quip's technical recruiters on having a good remote technical interview
1. Use your network. If you're eyeing a role at a specific company, go ahead and see if you know anyone who can help make an introduction, says Quip technical recruiter Stephen Gavney. "Referrals can be such a powerful tool, so if you know someone who knows someone at a company you are interested in...use them!"
Tooba Qadri, a Quip senior technical recruiter, agrees, and notes that it's a good idea to be networking even if your dream company doesn't have any open roles listed. "Even if a company you like isn't hiring right now, still connect with people there—you never know when a position might open up," she says.
2. Ask for what you need. Tooba highlighted the fact that Quip is offering to set up interviews over several days so that candidates can more easily balance the load (and the resultant Zoom fatigue). "We understand that lots of people currently have other things going on in their personal lives so it's hard for them to do back-to-back interviewing," she says, noting that the scheduling process is a good way to see if the company has a flexible approach to work-life balance.
3. Triple-check your setup. Alan suggests making sure your computer is fully updated several days before the interview so that no last-minute software updates derail you on the day of. He also recommends an external camera if you have one, since they provide better image quality, and plugged-in headphones versus wireless ones in case your connection drops.
4. Look sharp. "Even though we might not be in the office, still dress like you are going into the interview," reminds Tooba. Check with your recruiter ahead of time if the company has a specific dress code, and even if they say they're casual, don't show up in a t-shirt. Aim for a nice sweater or blouse instead.
5. Consider your body language. "There's no more firm handshake!" says Tooba. Instead, she recommends conveying confidence through direct eye contact.
6. Continue to ask questions. "Especially about how remote life has been for the people at the company," suggests Tooba. "Seeing what other people have to say will give you an idea into the company life and it will show that you are curious to learn more. Remember, even if we are interviewing you for the role, you should also be interviewing us to make sure it's a good fit!"
Alan notes that interviewees should be especially prepared for virtual interviews and come with meaningful questions. "Show that you have a thorough understanding of the company's mission, values, and culture and be prepared to speak to how your experience aligns with the team's goals," he says.
7. Take advantage of your surroundings. "While virtual interviewing does have its limitations, it also has its unique opportunities!" says Grace. "Feel free to pepper your screen with notes or prompts that you can refer to occasionally when you need a quick reminder, as long as it doesn't look like you're reading verbatim." If you're using your phone as a notes screen or timer, though, make sure you have the sound off, notes Alan.
8. Say thank you. Many candidates will send a thank-you email or card to their interviewers. But Stephen says that a note to your recruiter would be welcome, too! "I have gotten a couple of thank yous and it is really reassuring that the candidate knows and is appreciative of all your work behind the scenes," he says. Grace thinks you can get even more creative: "One of my coworkers received a cute cat photo from a candidate. I will never say no to receiving cute animal pics!"
9. Stay resilient. It's a tough job market, and not every interview will go well. Alan notes how important it is to find a way through it: "During these times, it's even easier to feel discouraged and unmotivated when you get a decline or a reject. Find ways that you can practice staying resilient, whether it be working out, meditating, crafting, or gratitude journaling. Figure out what works for you and stay true towards that purpose."
If you're interested in putting your technical interviewing skills to the test at Quip, check out their open roles and learn more about their company values here.
When the pandemic began in spring and her friends (and fellow Carnegie Mellon master's students) started to find out that their offers for summer internships were canceled, Mai Sha held her breath.
But then she got an email from the intern recruitment team at mobile productivity suite Quip and let out a sigh of relief. Her software engineering internship would still happen, albeit remotely, and she would still get a chance to be a part of the Quip team.
We interviewed Mai and her summer manager, Leslie Carr, a Senior Director of Engineering at Quip, to learn how Quip successfully took their internship program remote, how the Salesforce-owned cloud-based word processing app is maintaining its culture despite not working in the same building together, and what future interns can do to succeed.
Mai was first introduced to Quip at a Grace Hopper conference. "I thought it was impressive how they were bringing their customers a new way to work together," she remembers. She interviewed for a summer internship and during the process really connected with what she was seeing of Quip's company culture. "I could tell every interviewer was top-notch. They seemed pretty humble and extremely nice, and it felt like working with teammates at university, not like an interview," she says.
She liked the team, she liked the culture, and once she did her research, it turned out she liked the product, too: "I had some previous experience in version management in spreadsheets, so I know how much it can help, and Quip's product is an open workspace that also values privacy. It's a good balance."
Mai's summer boss, Leslie, joined Quip a couple of years prior for similar reasons. She'd actually first talked to the company three years before joining and remembers the team feeling "really, really welcoming," but she wasn't looking to make a move then. When she did, she did more due diligence and loved what she found. "I was actually pretty impressed by the number of women in the engineering management team," remembers Leslie. "It was really important to me to be at a place where I saw faces like mine. I also really liked their engineer-focused mindset; that aligned well with my values."
Getting to know a company remotely
It was tough for Leslie to transition that mindset and the culture she'd built on the engineering team to a remote environment. In the pre-pandemic times, she'd relied on informal social activities like boba runs, hallway check-ins, and walks around the park to check in on her team, including her summer interns. Without those touchpoints, she had to be much more deliberate about how to keep everyone engaged—particularly the interns, who would have only a couple of months to complete their projects and understand what it meant to work at Quip.
Leslie adapted her management style, moving from biweekly 1:1s that lasted an hour to weekly 30-minute check-ins with each person on her team and proactively setting up mentors and pairing sessions for interns like Mai.
And while those changes allowed Leslie to keep an eye on everyone and do her job, she notes that it was really Mai's proactive approach to remote work that allowed Mai to succeed even past her expectations.
"A lot of Mai's success was because she had such a good learning and growth mindset," explains Leslie. "She wasn't afraid to ask questions."
Mai kept a Quip document full of project updates that provided real-time transparency on where she was and what she was planning to do next. She reached out to her team members for help when she needed it and made sure to connect with people on projects unrelated to her own to learn more about the company culture. She worked with a small group of about 10 people and notes that she always felt part of the team. "I felt like I had a voice. The team always cultivated an environment that let us speak out and show off our work to everyone," she says.
"At Quip, it's a constructive process. Not only my manager and my mentor, but everyone else on the team helped me out. They didn't just teach me how to debug, but made sure that I totally understood it," explains Mai. That helpfulness extended to non-project tasks, too, she notes, like working on her interview or presentation skills.
While Mai ended up adapting quite well to a remote internship, she was nervous at first. "It was my first software engineering internship, and it's remote! I felt slow during the ramp-up period, and I doubted myself a bit, because sometimes I couldn't figure it out," she says. "But luckily, with work and help, by the end, I could even unblock others." By the end of the internship, she was even looking forward to Monday, she says, so that she could get back to work.
Advice for future interns
Leslie hopes Quip is back to in-person work and internships next year, but no matter where and how future internships happen, she's learned a few lessons from this summer's all-remote internship that she will apply in the future—and is happy to share with future Quip interns now.
"Don't be afraid to ask," she says. "There's still plenty of stuff that I have no idea about in engineering. But that's how we learn and grow." Mai, she notes, did a great job of asking for help when she needed it: "A couple of other interns who were afraid to ask questions were blocked for much longer than needed. Instead of being blocked for an hour, they were blocked for two days."
Mai takes that advice a step farther, sharing what worked for her. Aside from her doc of project updates, she had a separate doc of questions where she would tag her mentor so that they could go in and help her whenever they were free. She also made good use of the engineering team's chat channel, with its in-depth documentation of historical questions asked and answered, and stayed active in the intern chat room, too. She joined all the social events she could—from weekly coffee chats hosted by Salesforce to virtual escape room team events—to keep meeting new people, learning about different projects and ways of working at Quip, and practicing her communication skills.
"One of the biggest things I learned from this internship is to never stop learning!" says Mai, smiling. "There are so many things I don't understand, and I have a long way to go to become a great software engineer."
Leslie notes that it's that desire to constantly be learning that set Mai apart and that would serve future interns well, too. "Not only did Mai do a great job on her project and finish it ahead of schedule, but I was even more impressed with how she sort of joined like a normal team member afterward!" says Leslie, who explained that Mai jumped in to help another engineer write tests for his project. "We'd given her some feedback on getting better at testing before, and she took an area for improvement and turned it into a strength through being willing to just dive right in and explore that area. That was awesome."
Mai's final advice for future interns is simple: soak up as much as you can. "Stay curious," she says. "You can learn anything you want to here."
If you're interested in learning more about Quip, check out their PowerToFly profile here.