Salsa's Engineering Culture: Pursuing Excellence to Deliver Delightful Infrastructure

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February 21, 2023
5 mins

At Salsa, our engineering culture is built on the principles of intellectual humility and pursuing excellence to deliver great products. We believe in putting the team before individuals and constantly seeking ways to improve and exceed our customers' expectations. Let’s first explore what these mean to us and why we value them: 

Intellectual humility, team before individuals. From day one, the high density of talented and experienced payroll engineers at Salsa has required us to prioritize collaboration over personal attachments to ideas and to operate deliberately. With so much payroll engineering experience on the team (average = 8+ years in payroll), we knew our deep background in the space could either be a competitive advantage, or a source of endless debates hindering progress. We built Salsa for speed, so we decided that we have no space for big egos. We operate with a common goal in mind to ensure that the result is more than the sum of it's parts - and it's working.

Seek excellence as a means to deliver great products. Technical excellence is a means to build delightful infrastructure that solves a problem rather than an end goal. Everything we do is in service of creating technology that enables developers to build a payroll product that can compete with incumbents and enable our internal team to move with speed. Our repository has no space for shiny code looking for a solution, but instead, we have a backlog full of tough problems looking for clean and readable code.   

Why Engineering Excellence Matters at Salsa

By prioritizing intellectual humility and teamwork, we create an environment where everyone's ideas and contributions are valued and work together towards a common ideal: [.c-highlighted]Our goal is to make Salsa the most flexible and easiest-to-integrate platform on the market.[.c-highlighted]

Our pursuit of excellence is driven by a passion for creating great products that exceed our customers' needs. We know that delivering high-quality solutions requires us to learn and improve constantly, so we approach our work with a mindset of continuous improvement, experimentation, and bias for action.

At the same time, we recognize that being deliberate is critical to achieving our goals. This means thinking through our assumptions, testing our hypotheses, and making data-driven decisions. We're not afraid to take risks, but we do so deliberately and thoughtfully to minimize the potential for negative impact. This principle is fundamental because payroll is a mission-critical product. When something goes wrong in payroll, we will be impacting the ability of workers to get paid; people will be angry if they cannot post pictures on their favorite social network, but not receiving a salary on time when most people live paycheck to paycheck has a very different downside. Payroll is a highly complicated domain that brings trillions of dollars to millions of households. [.c-highlighted] In payroll, being deliberate and having high standards is non-negotiable.[.c-highlighted] 
In practice, these principles guide our engineering practices in many ways. For example, all our developers are called "product engineers" because that know the payroll domain deeply and collaborate closely with product managers and designers to ensure that we're building solutions that exceed our customers' expectations. We adopt proven practices that allow us to move with speed and high quality, like trunk-based development, CI/CD, and shift-left

Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration: Empowering Global Teams

Early in our journey, we decided to hire the best talent for the problem we were solving independently of their geographical location. We made this decision knowing the benefits of collaboration and taking into account our principle of intellectual humility and teamwork. The outcome was a distributed team with clusters around time zones. Today we have a pod in Europe and another in the US, which forces us to be conscious of how we architect and share information. 

For example, to ensure that everyone has access to knowledge and meeting notes, we use Notion to capture all information so that it is centralized and shared. This reinforces our commitment to being deliberate: open and transparent communication allows engineers to have the correct data to make the best possible decisions and allows our distributed team between the US and Europe to be fully aligned and informed. Similarly, our Slack etiquette guides team members to leverage public channels in favor of private messages to help make all information accessible to our entire team.

New hires are often surprised by how comprehensive and helpful our documentation and information are; it allows them to push their first commit in days and become effective contributors to the team much faster. We have a wiki with payroll concepts that enable us to maintain a ubiquitous language that facilitates the communication between product, engineering, and compliance.   

A global and diverse team brings different perspectives when solving problems and creates a melting pot of multiculturalism that makes work fun and exciting. We invite and expect each Salsa (our name for Salsa's employees :) to bring their best and full self to work every day to spice up the life of the many developers and workers we impact worldwide. A distributed team means we prioritize in-person time regularly through offsites in exciting places around the world - and we have a separate blog post about that!      

Building a World-Class Engineering Culture at Salsa

Our commitment to feedback and accountability further reinforces our culture of collaboration, continuous improvement, and customer focus. We're not afraid to make mistakes, as we view them as opportunities for learning and growth. We hold ourselves and each other to a high-quality standard and actively seek feedback and suggestions for improvement. We help each other grow while having fun.

Bottom line: our engineering culture is built on pursuing excellence through deliberation and teamwork. By prioritizing intellectual humility, pursuing excellence to deliver outstanding products, and being deliberate in our decision-making, we can build a culture of collaboration, continuous improvement, and customer focus that drives a world-class engineering team. Of course, there is more work to be done, but we are proud of the foundations we have set. 

If the way we work sounds interesting to you, and you enjoy the challenges of working in a complex domain that has the potential to impact more than 180 million workers in the US and Canada, do reach out and keep your eyes open for upcoming openings to join the team.

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