Evaluating a Team Through Side Projects

robertjchen —  February 27, 2014 — 3 Comments

Here at Expensify, our team is as diverse as they come. One thing we have in common is that we absolutely love what we do. So much so that we oftentimes find ourselves practicing our passion for building even when not using our powers to make users happy.

You know that phenomenon- the spillover of creative energies that is manifest in the form of side projects: those small unexpected products that arise from weekends of pleasurable hacking and challenge seeking.

The benefits of having such side projects are well established. The plethora of blog posts out there usually have these oft-repeated, but sound points:

  1. Staying on Top of New Ideas in the Industry, a.k.a Employability
  2. Refreshing old skills
  3. Participating in a community – Open Source, Non-profits
  4. ???
  5. Profit!

Indeed, given the rate of ideas coming forth in our fast paced industry, we should not find ourselves taking sledgehammers to our helpless workstations, like these Luddites:


Let’s switch the perspective a bit: Sure, personal, professional development is great, but what does all this mean for a team?

With those previous benefits in mind, I contend that the collective health and culture of a group can be accurately judged by the side projects of its members.

From the perspective of a prospective candidate, these projects provide windows through which they can evaluate the nature of the team that they are seeking to join, for they usually have the following questions:

  1. Do members of the team take the initiative to explore new ideas and better themselves?
  2. Do they play with and familiarize themselves to new ideas so that they are never disrupted by new technologies?
  3. Do they provide opportunities for one to learn from the team, and for one to be introduce to new ideas and networks?
  4. Are they fun? Do they express creativity and their personality through their work outside of work?
  5. Are they individuals who are passionate in what they do, and seek to solve problems outside of their main focus?

These are crucial questions that are answered in the affirmative by the team’s side projects. Evaluating those works help a candidate decide if the team is a cultural and professional fit. A group, with a vibrant culture that could hardly contain itself, shows its character through such avenues.

Below you’ll find a selection of side projects from our own awesome team.  Some coworkers are a bit shy, and many of us have unfinished projects hanging around, but the collection reveals a candid cross-section. Without further ado, here are a few things we’ve done:


http://www.whenopedia.org/ by Philip Sharp

This well-polished tool allows you to pull up snapshots of Wikipedia articles for a specific date and time. Now, you can read up on your shows without fear of spoilers!



http://appstore.com/giorgiocalderolla/samples by Giorgio Calderolla

An audio sampler for your iOS device…

Add sound effects, loops, mix samples into your music, and much, much more!


BPM Lover

http://bpmlover.com/ by Lois Di Qual

Tempo extraction technology right in your browser. The future is here!


CJK Typesetting

http://type.fernjager.net/ by Robert J Chen

Here’s a one-weekend experiment with Go and SQlite for a pastebin-type editor for East Asian characters.

CJK Typesetter

Fun with R

David Barrett, our CEO, has been tinkering with R with data from our massive dataset.

From this limited selection, one can see that we’re quite the motley crew of hackers, with diverse interests in music, media, and foreign languages! If you liked what you’ve seen here, come join our eclectic team: http://we.are.expensify.com/why-work-here

3 responses to Evaluating a Team Through Side Projects


    Do all of you work in California? Do you hire workers who live in other states?


    Hey there!

    Almost all of us live in San Francisco, but very few of us are actually from originally from California. We pride ourselves on being a diverse group from different parts of the world.

    We do have a couple people who live and work from out of state, but we prefer to have you in the office with us. There is so much unplanned collaboration and on-the-fly side conversations that happen here that we feel its more productive to have everyone in the same place as often as possible.

    There are always exceptions to the rule however, so we encourage you to apply. We’d love to talk to you!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Work Purposefully and Travel; The Best of Both Worlds « Expensify Blog - September 17, 2014

    […] so that we have deliverables that can drastically improve our product by the end of the trip. Think fWOW projects, but on a larger, more ground-shaking (in the product […]

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