Hackathons and more: How the engineers at Edmunds keep their toolkit sharp

Written by Adam Calica
Published on Jul. 19, 2018
Hackathons and more: How the engineers at Edmunds keep their toolkit sharp

At Edmunds, there’s no shortage of opportunities to test out cutting-edge technologies. The company’s routine hackathons and conferences have explored everything from machine learning to augmented reality to the blockchain, ensuring that their team receives exposure to the technological vanguard.  

And the challenges that team tackles don’t only help engineers stay up to date on the latest technologies — they also spark inspiration and innovation across the company. We spoke with the Edmunds engineering team to learn more.   


Edmunds Office
Edmunds yellow lounge
Edmunds logo




WHAT THEY DO: Edmunds’ mission is to make car buying easier. They provide a platform that serves car shoppers, dealer partners and auto manufacturers throughout the entire auto-buying process.


IDEAL CANDIDATE: Edmunds looks for engineers who have an aptitude for and love of continuous learning and innovation — but who are also humble and confident. Potential teammates should also be open to using any technologies or tools needed to complete a task.

DATA REVOLUTION: From automated pipelines to machine learning models, Edmunds' executive director of technology sees data as the future of the company. Learn more

Edmunds is Hiring | View Los Angeles Jobs


Donnie at work

Donnie Portrait


Donnie Shilling, Technical Lead, Platform

Donnie Schilling manages a team of developers responsible for maintaining and improving the company’s A/B testing platform.

BEYOND WORK: Donnie loves taking portraits.


What problems are you solving with technology? How are you solving them?

Anytime a release for our website is deployed, our internal stakeholders ask questions surrounding the impact the change will have on the company. There needs to be a deterministic way to understand that impact on the overall health and vitality of our website.

The team I manage maintains the proprietary A/B test system that helps with those answers. The test allows our internal stakeholders to frequently make decisions and affect changes that bring the greatest positive impact to the company and our users.

What’s your tech stack? Why did you choose it?

We’re a Node.js, React.js and Redux stack team. There are a lot of other systems in place, but the majority of our product team uses those three. We chose that stack for a few reasons. First, it’s well known. Second, it’s all open-source, and there’s a large community of organizations and developers invested in maintenance and development. Finally, we wanted a system that would scale easily, be performant and allow for a low point of entry for new developers.


I’m at my best when I’m using the community of coworkers around me to refine my ideas, approaches and solutions.”


What's one thing you love about your job?

I love being presented with a creative problem and then working on a solution. That’s a high-level view of what tech leads do within Edmunds. I am constantly handed ideas and issues and am tasked with creating a solution that goes beyond the “acceptable.”

What I love about that requirement is that it means I’ll have to connect with others to accomplish the goal. I’m at my best when I’m using the community of coworkers around me to refine my ideas, approaches and solutions. I enjoy solving problems with the input of trusted, brilliant people.

Edmunds is Hiring | View Los Angeles Jobs


Denise table tennis

Denise Portrait


Denise Ngai, Technical Lead

Denise leads the engineers on the core research product team, which is responsible for Edmunds’ high-visibility, high-revenue and high-traffic web pages. She also acts as a liaison between the product team and the engineers.

BEYOND WORK: Denise is a former competitive table tennis athlete for the University of California, Berkeley, and still loves to play. She also practices Wushu, a Chinese martial art.


Does Edmunds organize any special training or events for the team?

I'm heavily involved in the planning committee for our on-site hackathons, training and various technology events. While I’ve never participated, I always find them inspiring. It's amazing to see the talent we have at the company.

Our most recent hackathon involved the theme of machine learning and artificial intelligence, which brought a level of complexity to the projects that participants had to bring to the table. It showcased how innovative our employees could be in addressing company goals and improving processes for our consumers. It made me want to become more involved in community events like this and expand my skills in machine learning and artificial intelligence.


It's amazing to see the talent we have at the company.”


What is a meaningful tradition your team observes?

The front-end engineering team has a tradition of celebrating team members' birthdays. It may seem like a small thing, but it makes a teammate feel special, facilitates team bonding and provides a break in the busy workday. I know I'm not alone when I say that celebrating a team member’s birthday is a highlight of the week.


If a developer came to you and said they were burnt out, what would you do?

I’d ask that person why they feel that way and have them break down their day and responsibilities. I would then try to find ways to balance their workload, whether that’s by slowing down progress on projects that aren’t a top priority, identifying areas that could be delegated to other folks or suggesting the developer take a day off to re-energize.

If it’s an ongoing issue, it's even more important to determine why and work with that person to determine a plan of action that would best suit them.

Edmunds is Hiring | View Los Angeles Jobs


Bonnie at work


Bonnie Han, Software Engineer

Bonnie Han is a back-end software engineer on the service engineering team at Edmunds. Her team is responsible for building and supporting the internal tools and APIs that power the company’s web content.

BEYOND WORK: Bonnie enjoys unplugging from life’s distractions and camping in her free time.


What problems are you solving with technology? 

Vehicle images play a critical role in the car research and buying process. One of the biggest challenges my team is tackling this year is how to provide faster load times for vehicle images. With a library of hundreds of millions of vehicle images, we needed a way to quickly convert each vehicle image into new aspect ratios and sizes.

We were able to accomplish this using a serverless solution orchestrated by AWS Lambdas and Amazon S3 for object storage. AWS Lambda allowed us to push solutions out more quickly without the overhead of maintaining and designing a traditional web application.


What’s your biggest technical challenge and how do you overcome it?

It’s always a challenge to stay current with new languages, frameworks and tools without any practical experiences. Fortunately, Edmunds provides plenty of learning opportunities. We often have internal brown bag sessions during which speakers share their knowledge and experience on a specific topic. Last year, I had the opportunity to attend QConSF. It also helps that our stack is constantly adapting and evolving to stay current with technology trends.


The [Edmunds technology] conference is...a forum for stimulating ideas, inspiring innovation and also to promote cross-functional team awareness.” 


We heard Edmunds hosts an in-house technology conference every year. Can you tell us more about that?

We rebooted our annual in-house technology conference. Edmunds Tech Conference is a day-long offsite event that features topics around emerging technologies, innovation and career growth.

The conference is a means of providing a forum for stimulating ideas, inspiring innovation and also to promote cross-functional team awareness. We make it a point to campaign for in-house speakers, moderators and panelists because it allows anyone who is interested to develop skills for public speaking. It also inspires those around them because it's easier to relate to someone you know.

Edmunds is Hiring | View Los Angeles Jobs


Khon Foosball

Khon Portrait


Khon Lieu, Senior Software Engineer

Khon Lieu builds out systems to help automate Edmunds’ ad creation and publishing process. His team is in the process of revamping the company’s ad platform.

BEYOND WORK: Khon volunteers with the nonprofit RedEye Inc. and recently built a custom reading software to help the children in the program read.


What’s your tech stack? Why did you choose it?

Each team has a lot of freedom to choose their own tech stacks. It gives engineering teams more control, which boosts engagement and allows us to solve problems with the best tools available.

My team uses Python as our primary language and AWS Lambda with a sprinkle of Databricks for our infrastructure. We chose Python because of its flexibility and speed of development. The system we’re currently working on is primarily tying systems together and performing data transformations.

What’s your biggest technical challenge and how do you overcome it?

We are designing and implementing a robust, automated way of auditing and verifying CPA ads prior to launch. We have systems in place that verify ads post-launch and systems for verifying ads pre-launch, but pre-launch verification is still a laborious process.

Given the sheer scale of our website and the complexities of how ads are delivered and served, designing a fully-continuous automated system is tricky. I’m evaluating our existing system and brainstorming some initial proposals, after which we’ll have more in-depth team discussions to refine and possibly come up with different solutions.


We are designing and implementing a robust, automated way of auditing and verifying CPA ads prior to launch.”


Have you attended any of Edmunds’ hackathons? What was your experience like?

Edmunds does a lot to encourage developer hackathons. One of my favorites was the augmented reality hackathon. We were given devices like the Google Tango and Microsoft Hololens to use.

We ended up building prototypes for both platforms that could measure the dimensions of a room, place a car in it and then with a gesture, see whether opening the hood, doors or trunk would cause a collision with the room. It wasn’t a must-have feature, but it was fun to explore different technologies and collaborate with co-workers on something novel.

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