Building a Superhero Culture inside Engineering

Sidetrade Tech Hub
5 min readSep 10, 2020

R&D Superheroes

By Luke Hennerley, Lead Application Engineer at Sidetrade

Covid-19 forced many businesses to re-evaluate and understand how they can emerge in a position of strength in a post-pandemic world. As lockdowns forced cinemas to close across the globe, we all faced a summer without superheroes. But a software developer should think and do things differently.

American actor Aldis Hodge once said that superheroes should represent hope, opportunity, and strength for everybody. That’s why Sidetrade has built a superhero culture that helps our business, employees, and clients survive and thrive and in the digital world. Sure, we all have days like Iron Man Tony Stark, when we wish there weren’t twenty crises to deal with at once, but we are driven to make a difference for our business, people, and customers.

Superman said that a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure despite overwhelming obstacles. Although, you might find it corny, that quote perfectly describes our teams. Every one of our heroes has their own unique abilities.

All R&D employees can have secret identities…

Every one of our R&D heroes has their own unique abilities, but for practical purposes, they are each categorised into one of the disciplines shown above. Each tech discipline has a distinct purpose and the team member’s ‘superpowers’ fit the skills set needed to do the job. It’s important to note that our people are free to transfer from one discipline to another, if it makes sense for what they want to achieve in the future.

Also, although our people generally fall into one of these areas, many of them have cross-skills that we actively promote to diversity and enhance our talent. For example, our data scientists will have data engineering skills , and our data engineers understand the core principals of Machine Learning.

The hero squad — “All for one and one for all”

We also strongly believe in empowering people and teams to develop their own solutions. Some projects require R&D heroes in different disciplines to muck in and pull together. It’s crucial that we all share and adhere to the same technical vision when leveraging our chosen core technology. These are just a few reasons why R&D is organised into cross-functional squads.

Cross-functionality means being able to draw on the know-how of all the various R&D disciplines. Each squad is free to determine the blend of “superpowers” needed from different departments to get the job done. Squads are designed to be agile and scalable, like mini start-ups. They can move quickly on their own to innovate, without administrative hold-ups.

Collaboration should not be only trans-functional; it should be also transnational. Sidetrade has two technical hubs: one at French headquarters in Boulogne, and the other in Birmingham, UK. The two hubs work hand in hand. In this organisation, you count on your local team lead for ongoing guidance. For specialised support, you turn to your tech lead, who is often based on the other side of the Channel.

The Power of an “Open Source Mindset”

We encourage everyone in the organisation to share their opinions openly on the technologies we use. We’ve created a culture that values the voice of every employee, and where work is a reciprocal relationship.

For example, when the time came to choose the best cutting-edge technology to move forward with, we brought together teams from multiple offices for a 2-day hackathon to evaluate our next steps — a bit like Professor Xavier’s school in the X-men movies. The story behind how we switched away from Angular was the result of days of hard coding and vigorous debates- a model of agile work, in a corporate culture where diversity of thought is celebrated rather than feared.

Another example is how we developed our ‘starter packs’, which enable central governance and extensibility for any new app that we want to produce, and allow developers to start building straight away. The React starter pack has been used for four projects to date, including a new gamification feature, called Cash Target. Recently, one of the developers raised a ticket to move away from our initial decision of Redux to MobX — read this short wiki about how this was PR’d with the rationale, and approved.

The open mindset is an inherent part of Sidetrade’s organisational culture. Open source has become the cornerstone of most innovations in the software landscape. It’s why being a software engineer is currently one of the most exciting jobs in the world (unless you can be Batman; then always be Batman). — Openness is our mantra. It enables us to pivot and embrace change.

Leadership — the stuff of heroes

Leadership is not about hierarchy; it’s about inspiration and achievement of extraordinary goals. (BTW, there’s a famous book called The Stuff of heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership, which you might like to check-out). We think that “leader” is not a rank but a role: that of getting the best out of people.

Team leads and tech leads form a dynamic duo who ensure customer-centric workstreams.

The Team Lead supports the team member’s individual day-to-day needs for performance, recognition, and professional development, whereas the Tech lead provides the keys to handling specific challenges in the workstream. In terms of relationships, the Team Lead is with you for the long run, whereas your Tech lead may change if you move to a completely different workstream. Sidetraders are welcome to diversify. Variety is not just the “spice of life”; it is also a source of development (and fun)!

Could you be the next superhero? Join the squad!

Become a Sidetrader. We are a fast-growing AI company with openings in Engineering.



Sidetrade Tech Hub

Views from the software developers, data scientists and other tech experts at Sidetrade — the global AI-powered Order-To-Cash platform: