Retreat Recap: Technical Teams Convene in Savannah
by Paul Lee
It was an early Wednesday morning, November 2021. My heart bursting with excitement, I got out of bed to check my phone. Thirty minutes until the Uber arrived to take me to Newark Airport. It was Day 1 of Enigma’s Engineering/Data Science team retreat in Savannah, GA.
I started my new job at Enigma Technologies as a Technical Recruiter mid-October, focused on scouting engineering and data science talent for the company. My own remote onboarding process meant I didn’t get the chance to meet my co-workers face to face, so I was thrilled to be participating in the retreat, one way Enigma was bringing employees together safely in a newly hybrid/remote environment.
“We are a remote-first company and we work extremely effectively as a remote team,” said Ryan Green, chief technology officer at Enigma. “However, I think it’s important for people’s wellbeing that we come together and have that face-to-face bonding time, working on problems together and having unstructured time for fun activities and getting to know each other.”
By the time the plane boarded, I had already met three of my coworkers: my supervisor, Brian; Moon, an engineer; and Jon, a data scientist. By the time we landed in Savannah, two more had joined, and our group of five headed to the hotel, our retreat headquarters.
IRL: Breaking the Ice
By afternoon everyone was checked into their rooms and we began meeting up in the hotel lobby lounge. In our group of 18, there were a lot of new faces, including mine, so Ryan suggested we do an ice breaker: guessing a person based on their three interesting facts. This worked. Even the slightest bit of awkwardness was completely gone by the time dinner rolled around. Everyone was talking and laughing, sparking up connections that just couldn’t happen talking remotely, screen to screen.
“As my first time in the US, coming from Morocco, I was expecting to have fun and good conversations with people. It was far better than I expected,” said engineer Said Mancouri. “Meeting my co-workers was one of the best things that happened for me this year.”
After a night of fun, good food and drinks, we all gathered the next morning for a strategy workshop. We brainstormed and pitched ideas on how to build awareness about Enigma and our engineering and data science teams, like hosting technical meet-ups or webinars with leaders of different data companies.
In the afternoon, we ventured out on a food tour of Savannah, visiting restaurants, speakeasies and local shops that told the history of the city through food, drinks and memorabilia. This was my first time visiting the South, and the vibrant culture and stunning architecture blew me away. Fun fact from the tour: the moss that hangs from trees in Savannah was named “Spanish moss” by French explorers because it reminded them of Spanish conquistadors’ long beards.
After the tour, everyone had a few hours to rest. Then the real fun — in my opinion — began.
Meeting my co-workers was one of the best things that happened for me this year.
–Said Mancouri, engineer
Competing in the “SMB Challenge”
Ryan created a game called “SMB (small to medium sized businesses) Challenge” — a scavenger hunt with a twist. We were divided into groups of four and we’d have one hour. The goal was to visit local shops, make a purchase to get a receipt for proof, then find out the shop’s revenues using Enigma’s API console. The team whose list of shops had the highest total revenues would win.
Once the clock began everyone was focused and ready to win. Some teams started with research first, opening Google Maps and Enigma’s Console to make a targeted route of high-revenue businesses. Other teams were quick to their feet, heading out to visit as many shops as they could.
This sparked a friendly competition between all of us, and in the end, the winning team’s list totaled more than $70 million in collected revenues, on average beating every other team by threefold.
Engineer Mikhail Pechagin was a member of the winning team. “I work on the Applied Tech team and focus on compliance solutions, so I do not get much time to interact with Enigma’s core product. It was nice to learn about it in action,” he said. “To hit the most revenue for the challenge, we checked for the most expensive looking places in the area, while spending as little as we could in each place. We assumed that an expensive looking place will require a lot of revenue to stay afloat.”
“The SMB Challenge opened up the perspective of how Enigma’s data could be used for consumer-focused use cases,” said engineer Osasu Eboh. “Like the way Google Maps gives you a complete overview of a business — Enigma’s data could be used to enrich that kind of summary.”
Competition was fierce but stayed friendly. What we gathered from this challenge was not only a deeper understanding of our own product, but a chance to practice teamwork and understand one another better.
“I believe collaboration, teamwork and support are our super powers here at Enigma, and we can operate so much more effectively because of this level of trust that we have,” Ryan said. “The vision for the Engineering and Data Science team is to build up the organization while keeping these pieces that make us extremely special.”
Carrying the Energy Home
I think retreat attendees would agree: the goal that Ryan set for this trip — to become closer as coworkers — was achieved. And that culture of collaboration and shared mission carries on once the team returns to working remotely.
“Engineering at Enigma focuses on long term impacts that our initiatives can make,” said engineer Moon Kang. “Through collaborations with stakeholders we constantly identify what customers look for and deliver with the highest quality of code.”
“Engineers here want to see each other succeed,” said Osasu Eboh. “There have been multiple occasions where engineers are providing feedback into other’s proposals and everyone is eager to help whenever someone is having issues.”
“The amount of autonomy provided to us at Enigma lets us make our own decisions and implement them, which is more than we get at other companies,” Mikhail Pechagin added. “Also, there is a great culture for work/life/health balance. Managers and leads look out for engineers by checking on how they are doing outside of meeting work goals.”
I boarded my flight early Friday morning feeling a little sad to be leaving, but excited knowing that there will be other fun company events in the near future. More importantly, I felt I had built closer relationships with my supervisor Brian, coworkers and Ryan.
And as a recruiter for Enigma, I can’t wait to help future Enigmites have a similar experience.
If this sounds like your kind of culture, check out our job openings. We’re always looking for talented engineers, data scientists, and more.
Engineers here want to see each other succeed. There have been multiple occasions where engineers are providing feedback into other’s proposals and everyone is eager to help whenever someone is having issues.
–Osasu Eboh, engineer