How Hacking Became Making a Salad at Lightstep
by Mike Neff
You might be thinking, “Salad bars? I don’t even like salad bars!” If you worked at Lightstep, you’d probably like them a lot more. More than a hack day, not as sleep-deprived as a hackathon, Salad Bar is our two-day quarterly hackathon where everyone is encouraged to participate, explore, and work on creative, unconstrained projects – no sleepover required.
We’ve invested in this dedicated time for innovative exploration to build a great company since Lightstep was a few engineers working out of an investor's office. As the company has grown and diversified, Salad Bar has evolved from engineering-focused efforts into an opportunity for anyone to contribute.
Everyone gets Salad Bar buttons.
Our recent Salad Bar projects included a better introductory experience for new customers, a Slack bot that automatically sets up cross-departmental coffee chats, and a design for posters to keep our values top of mind. Lightstep helps companies like Lyft, Twilio, and GitHub optimize app performance and improve developer productivity, so we also explored ideas for anomaly detection and automatically surfacing the causes of latency.
Salad Bar is a great opportunity to collaborate with folks that we don’t ordinarily see in our workday. As a designer, I frequently seek out an engineer I haven’t had a chance to work with, and the projects tend to be really creative and often very shippable.
I also work on many cross-functional projects. During the last Salad Bar, I worked with our office manager on ways for everyone to recognize each other as we continue to grow and there are more and more names and faces to learn. I also put together a group to ensure Salad Bar is repeatable, energetic, and supports our company values and goals.
Mike announcing the start of Salad Bar presentations.
After the work, comes the fun. We celebrated at a local place with some team ping pong, food, and drink, where we announced our winning team – everyone gets to vote. Engineers Kay Ousterhout and Arya Asemanfar got special versions of buttons we made for all participants, and we engraved their names and project on our Salad Bar Hall of Fame plaque. We found out that Arya is also a great ping pong player.
Arya and Kay presenting their winning project.
Salad Bar is just one of the things we do to bring folks together in a new setting and work on interesting projects and ideas. We also volunteer our time to the community for organizations such as the SF Marin Food Bank, Larkin Street Youth Services, and Enchanted Makeovers.