“Many people join Ibotta for our culture, and that doesn’t just happen by accident.”
Senior Engineering Manager Minh Pham joined the company in 2018, and soon became an integral part of helping to “build, rebuild and scale the culture at Ibotta” through an annual series of events, called ‘CultureCon’.
“Culture doesn't just happen by accident.”
Pham, along with the rest of Ibotta’s engineering team, have worked together to produce CultureCon annually since 2018, when they recognized how large their team was growing. Scaling a team can create instability, so the group designed the week-long CultureCon to fortify psychological safety, improve communication and facilitate collaboration both within engineering and across the company.
“Ibotta was very lucky in its early years to have a high-quality culture,” Pham said. “But we knew to keep that strong culture, we needed to have active stewardship.”
While the event is hosted by the engineering team, every Ibotta employee is invited to attend the week of events, talks, workshops and activities. Since its inception, CultureCon has shifted from in-person to virtual and back to a hybrid setting, all while exploring topics that support the way the team works today — from living as a digital nomad to balancing the demands of being a working parent.
“A lot of the energy is people stepping outside of just the work and project confines of what they do and engaging with ideas like: How do we interact? How are we actually collaborating? How are we creating psychological safety for one another?” Pham said. “All of that investment makes the culture shine and continue throughout the rest of the year.”
Bringing CultureCon to Life
From the beginning, CultureCon was a hit.
“At the start, we had a magical confluence of empowered engineers recognizing that there is an interpersonal aspect to the job and our success as a company is depending on that,” Pham explained. “Supporting a strong culture is not just supporting quality of life — it also helps our business succeed.
“We knew this was important enough to continue every year,” he added.
The magic of CultureCon draws a strong team of engineers and partners from across the company to plan the annual event.
“Every year, we have fresh faces planning because people come in, experience CultureCon and feel passionate enough to join in planning the next year,” Pham said.
And that’s exactly what happened for Director of Engineering Alysia Palmer. When Palmer joined Ibotta a month after CultureCon, she heard over and over again about the sessions she had missed. So when planning season came around the next year, Palmer knew she wanted to volunteer.
“I wanted to join in that energy and excitement,” Palmer said. “It was inspiring to watch and fun to be a part of. Each year, different people step in to help, coordinate and plan; which brings a different flavor to the next event.”
For Vice President of Engineering Michael Chambliss, that energy is unleashed by getting to see and understand his colleagues in ways that aren’t encountered in everyday work.
“Some of the most energizing moments come from the vulnerability people show,” Chambliss said. “When people talk about past experiences or how they are approaching challenges, it creates the types of bonds you can’t always find at work. CultureCon is a foundation for building meaningful relationships, especially in a hybrid environment when we don’t always have the chance to connect.”
“Some of the most energizing moments come from the vulnerability people show.”
Among the myriad examples of sessions that helped build those relationships and foster psychological safety, one in particular stands out to Chambliss.
A senior engineer was curious about how he could share his own journey with earlier-career engineers. In a fireside chat, complete with a sweater and cozy backdrop, the engineer shared openly about his path, challenges he’d faced and moments of self-doubt along the way.
“We have these imposter syndrome moments in our careers, and he did such a great job of articulating what those felt like for him and how he worked through them,” Chambliss said.
That pattern of vulnerability and openness continues through the CultureCon schedule each year — and continues into the rest of the year at Ibotta.
“CultureCon is tangible proof that our culture is something we care about, and the engineers take that with them,” Palmer said. “The shared experience reenergizes, reinvigorates and gets everyone on the right track together.”
‘Culture Is a Verb’
When Palmer was tasked with offering the closing keynote for the most recent CultureCon, she knew she would finalize her closing remarks after attending the full week’s worth of sessions.
“At the end of the week, the feelings that stuck with me as I reflected was that sense of vulnerability,” she said. “You’re crying with people telling their stories, feeling so proud of your teammates and amazed at what people are bringing to the table, whether that’s leaning into sharing or elevating those around them.”
Leaning into empathy and inclusion isn’t isolated to the sessions, and ultimately is something that needs to be put into action each day at Ibotta.
“Culture is a verb,” Palmer said in summary of her keynote. “It’s about continuously evolving, growing, paying attention and giving care.”
“It’s about continuously evolving, growing, paying attention and giving care.”
The action of keeping culture alive at Ibotta is a balance — the team keeps things fun throughout CultureCon, as well. “When you’ve just come out of these sessions working through deep themes, it’s great to have an activity to carry that into your interactions,” Pham said.
Participants engage in activities including remote scavenger hunts, encryption challenges and less-formal discussion breakout sessions, but the highlight for many is CultureCon’s own take on the “Hot Ones” YouTube series.
As a group planned for an engineer to host a session with the team, the team explored different ways they could facilitate the discussion when the idea arose to talk over a platter of hot wings and even hotter sauces.
What started as an engineer answering questions over hot wings in a conference room has now grown and stuck around for CultureCon after CultureCon — and this year featured a full video production team highlighting two people enjoying extra-spicy wings while answering questions from a panel of participants.
“Suffering through spicy food while answering these questions brings us to a new level of vulnerability,” Pham said, chuckling at the memory.
And, just like CultureCon itself, the event has taken off and is sticking around.