Engineering Spotlight: GasBuddy
Founded in 2000, GasBuddy has grown from a website to one of the top travel apps across iOS and Android. Their app helps users locate the best price for gas, review convenience stores, and with their newly launched, Pay with GasBuddy, save on gas by the gallon.
The GasBuddy Engineering Team keeps the tank full of ideas and is fueling the latest updates to their products. We caught up with GasBuddy's VP of Engineering Bob Breznak to learn more about the team, culture, the different technologies they get to use, and more.
Quick Hit Details
- Year Founded: 2000
- Number of employees: 131
- Number of engineers: 38
- Industry: Travel
Can you share a summary on what GasBuddy does?
GasBuddy connects drivers to their Perfect Pit Stop, and serves the full lifecycle of being on the road. We’ve had over 70 million lifetime downloads of our iOS and Android apps and have 12 million monthly unique visitors. We manage a database of more than 140,000 gas station convenience stores, including real-time fuel price information, station locations and offerings, along with ratings and reviews. We’ve expanded into offering a payments service, Pay with GasBuddy, that entitles drivers to save on every gallon of gas they pump.
What are some of the different technologies that the engineering team gets to work with and at what scale?
We run a pretty wide array of technologies. On the web we’re using React along with the standard suite of web tools. For the native apps they’re using Swift and Kotlin, with RxJava for iOS and Android respectively. For APIs we’re building mostly in Node. Much of our analytics and other data processing is done with Spark and Python. To handle the amount of traffic that we receive daily, we’ve orchestrated most of our backend with Kubernetes and live primarily within AWS. We rely pretty heavily on automated scaling and many layers of caching.
How is the work for the engineering team divided between the teams in Regina, Saskatchewan and Boston?
Geography plays a minor role in how we divide work, but it is a huge factor in how we execute work. Across the group we’re organized into a few teams, 3-5 engineers per team. We’ve found that allowing our teams to specialize around domains, a combination of technical and business needs, we’ve been able to pretty naturally segment the work. Teams run themselves pretty autonomously, so when there are members across both locations, they determine the best way to break things down given the context. Geography is a huge factor when it comes to communication and how we work together. We’ve invested pretty heavily in our remote conferencing tools (Zoom is amazing) and we constantly have a few team members visiting from out of town.
What are some of the interesting projects that the engineering team is tackling?
About two years ago, we started on an ambitious project to move from a monolithic C# app hosted in a colocated data center into a more service oriented architecture located in AWS. This would allow us to scale faster, increase our resilience and open up more parallel development. While this was underway, we also needed to continue to serve the needs of the business. We’ve started to hit the tail end of this conversion and it's very exciting to see how much the environment has matured. There’s still lots of work to do from improving our continuous delivery mechanisms and tying metrics to autonomous actions to revisiting early product assumptions and working out wholistic solutions with the design and product teams.
Does your engineering team have a chance to work on projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities? For example - skunk work projects, open source projects?
Absolutely. We love to open source whenever we can, check out our GitHub profile. Most employees have at least a few open source projects that they’ve thrown up and a few have maintained pretty active open source projects (Kraken being one of them). Additionally, there’s a few hardware hackers in the Boston office who are always ready to solder something together and a big area of interest, especially in the Regina office is VR / AR. We’ve had a few different games made and released by employees (check out Knife Club VR).
What is the culture like at GasBuddy for the engineering team?
Culture can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but for us it's a collection of values that we share and expect from each other. We value:
Autonomy - The more that we can enable each other to make decisions and move, the more we’re able to let the best ideas come to light. While we have process and plenty of collaboration, we see these as ways to ultimately help teams and individuals act autonomously.
Objectivity - We subscribe to the idea of having “strong opinions, which are weakly held”. Individuals should avoid being paralyzed by indecision and having a strong opinion helps pick a direction, it also sets the stage for others to formulate better arguments and for all to be more objective about the ultimate decision.
Introspection - Retrospectives, reviews, and other forms of feedback are pretty common here. We like to see how we’re doing and how we can improve. No process is set in stone, we like to evaluate and determine where we can do better and how to repeat the good things we’ve done.
Can you describe the type of background or experience that you generally look for when hiring for the engineering team?
We’re looking for individuals who have a few traits, but the biggest thing is an ability to execute, especially when the path wasn’t entirely certain. We’d rather see a few different projects in a GitHub profile then a polished resume. The more evidence that you jumped into something new, were challenged, and deliver something the better. Even people just starting out, show us some projects that you worked on and tell us where it was hard. We want to be confident that you’ll love delivering things with us.
How does the team stay sharp?
As a team we’re constantly looking for opportunities to improve. This includes pushing the team to external sources. Last year we sent more than 70% of the team to conferences. Additionally we sent team members to various classes to deep dive into a particular subject. We’re not just focused on technology, we also push training for our engineering managers to improve their teams.
Rapid Fire Q&A
What’s on tap?
Depends on the week but 6 taps with: Seltzer, Kombucha, Nitro Coffee, Ice Tea and Steel Rail.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
I’ll say Star Trek, but am personally hoping that Star Wars will gain more traction with the upcoming releases.
iPhone or Android?
We’ve got both and love how the platforms influence each other.
Coffee - hot or iced?
Usually iced nitro but a cold day in Canada will make anyone enjoy a hot drink.
Favorite employee perk?
Flexible working schedules and ability to be remote.
What music is playing in your office?
The Sonos is usually a battleground of 80’s synth pop, reggae, smooth jazz and any other genre.
Cleanest desk / Messiest desk (photos)
My Desk, usually pretty sparse
Messiest Desk: It's a tie between Jean-Charles Sisk and Jared Egan!