Engineering Culture at Autotrader

We’ve just come away from the AutoTrader “Science Fair” and we’re full of thoughts, ideas and reflections and wanted to get them down somewhere.

We heard about the event at Barcamp Manchester last weekend, and decided to go along to get a better understanding of how AutoTrader works. I know AutoTrader as a customer – we bought the van off it – so it was interesting to understand how things work behind the scenes.

An open evening! Whoever thought of this mag-fucking-nificient idea should be knighted. What a great way to help people find out more about you in a low pressure, chilled way (with free drinks!).

It reminded us of school open evenings (in a good way) – lots of people, hands-on-activities and posters. It felt a bit cramped in places – there were some areas where we thought pushing the desks against the walls might have been a better use of space.

Clara is a developer, so whilst I would have found it fascinating to talk to their editorial team and learn more about their inbound marketing efforts, talking about technology is common ground to us both. So as we only had 45 minutes to spare, we decided to immerse ourselves in their ‘technical’ room.

AutoTrader organises its teams in ‘Squads’ – autonomous, cross functional product teams who take complete responsibility for an area of their business, which meant that when we asked one of their devops people who would be the best person to talk to about Front End, there wasn’t a clear functional stand. Each AutoTrader squad has design, product, marketing, development all together – creating user stories, picking them off one by one, and working through them. One of the things we found surprising about all this was that they don’t tend to have a purely front end function in their squads – it tends to be something that their Java developers have or develop on the job.

We had a great chat with Jan and Gareth in the Dealer Portal Squad, who were super helpful in filling us in on how the system works, and how their system’s AngularJS app works (with Flux, doing some cool sounding event based things!). We found it interesting how none of the squads we spoke to really seemed able to talk about how they handle their CSS – even “Do you use a CSS pre-processor?”. It’d be really interesting to understand more about Autotrader’s approach to the front end – especially since they seem to work in a cross functional way.

One of the recruitment tools we admire the most is two videos that Spotify’s engineering team put on YouTube. These two videos outline Spotify’s engineering approach, company structure, and explain how things get made and product gets shipped. All explained concisely & knowledgeably and beautifully illustrated. To an outsider, it’s dizzying to be introduced to AutoTrader’s two dozen or so squads on the floor of their office, without a clear understanding of how the company works, and how their development processes work within it. Before we saw the Spotify engineering videos, we didn’t have any feeling about Spotify’s tech team. Now we feel they have a great (yet modest) engineering culture that we’d try to be part of if the opportunity arose. Perhaps there’s something for AutoTrader to learn there.

To be honest, we’re inspired. Perhaps not to work at AutoTrader (sorry!), though we now know the company a lot better (yay!). We’re inspired to take this open evening approach and suggest it to the companies we work for, and the ones we know across Manchester. This seems like such a great way of getting people to understand what you do, that we wish they happened more frequently, in more companies.

Thanks for having us AutoTrader!

-@tdobson
-@czmj2

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