Updated below with full video of session.
While San Francisco might get all the attention for its engineering talent, Seattle is still a major engineering hub for companies based across the country. At the GeekWire Summit today, three engineering leaders spoke about what it’s like on the front lines of engineering in the Emerald City.
University of Washington computer science professor Ed Lazowska led a discussion with Redfin CTO Bridget Frey, Socrata CTO Deep Dhillon and Tim Prouty, head of Seattle software engineering at Uber.
The conversation kicked off with how, and why, companies hire in Seattle.
“The reason Uber is in Seattle is the same reason a lot of great companies have decided to open up engineering offices here and build teams here,” Uber’s Prouty said. “The talent is absolutely world-class. I feel privileged to get to be a part of it.”
Dhillon, who joined Socrata about 18 months ago, said the company uses its mission as a recruiting tool.
“As somebody who spent perhaps too many years building morally agnostic hammers, coming to Socrata was just a massive breath of fresh air,” he said. “At the end of the day, everyone at Socrata is here because we know the world is a lot better as we succeed.”
The group also talked about innovation in engineering. As the world has gone mobile, 10-year-old Redfin has had to learn how to turn their desktop legacy into mobile products.
“We’ve had to really reorganize the way our software engineering is done,” Frey said. “At first we had an iOS team that was charged with building the first version of our app and that worked for the very first version.”
But as time went on, they couldn’t build tools that would only work on mobile or the desktop and the teams shifted to focus on certain tools rather than certain platforms. That means Redfin teams have to know Android, iOS and web technologies to build their tools.
For Uber, the process was a lot different. While many people think of Uber’s mobile app at the outset, the company also has a robust web site.
“At Uber, we want to make transportation as reliable as running water for everyone everywhere,” Prouty said. So the company has to build across all platforms. They also build across web platforms for less consumer-focused products, like Uber for Business, which now has more than 50,000 users.
Socrata has different engineering challenges since their product is much less consumer centric. While moderator Lazowska wondered if interfacing with government was a challenge, Dhillon said his position actually exposes him to the most dedicated members of the public sector.
“People have this sense that government is this totally inefficient place,” he said. “I think at Socrata we have a very privileged position. That’s not what we see. I see these incredible change agents inside of government and they’re very much like entrepreneurs inside the government.”
In addition to building cohesive products despite engineering difficulties, these engineering leaders also have to worry about retaining talent.
“Folks like to try new things and be challenged in new ways.” Prouty said of the temptation to jump to new companies. “We’re lucky to have ample opportunity here in Seattle with such a vibrant community of engineers.”
“The industry has gotten a little tougher,” Frey said, “but we’ve gotten an opportunity to beef up our recruiting practices. We put a lot of time into our campus recruiting strategy, just having a multi-year presence at colleges.”
Redfin brings on many interns as sophomores, but sticks with them through graduations to hopefully bring on the most promising ones after matriculation. Smaller companies and startups might struggle to follow that model, but Frey said that they should advertise to interns who want to craft a story.
“[Startups] can promise you these great experiences,” she said. “I think that’s how smaller companies can provide a really great internship program.”
Update: Here’s the full video of the session.