“Working with your friends makes your day-to-day job much more fun.” — How (and why) to get a job at UrbanLogiq
Co-founder and CEO Mark Masongsong talks the origins of the company, the mission all staff share, and team retreats.
Mark Masongsong Is UrbanLogiq’s co-founder and CEO. Photo credit: UrbanLogiq
As layoffs mounted across the Vancouver tech community, we at Vancouver Tech Journal called on companies that were hiring to share any open roles with us. That way, we could come together to turn the recently laid off into the newly hired. I naively expected only a few responses to trickle in. Far from it: our inboxes have been flooded with job pages, meaning our list of companies hiring in Vancouver is around 40 strong at the time of writing.
One such business is UrbanLogiq, a software company that arms its clients (usually government) with ultra-specific data to help them make decisions on things like traffic or economic development. The company’s communications manager Luisa Alvarez even wondered if we would be open to talking to co-founder and CEO Mark Masongsong — and indeed we were. Here are the highlights from our conversation with him, as part of our How to get a job series.
This interview was condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
James Matthews: What are the origins of UrbanLogiq?
Mark Masongsong: I originally worked in government. I was drawn to government because I had this belief that the single institution that tends to impact society most is government. But, once I was in it, I grew frustrated. I had friends in Silicon Valley startups and the tools they had were eye-watering with how they could harness data, understand communities, and make better decisions. Governments collect an enormous amount of data. But the data revolution has left government behind. I think people would be shocked at how, even though government collects a lot of data, your individual public servant is starved of data when they're making decisions that will affect communities for generations. What ended up happening was me and some friends — a mix of government and private sector — we all just got together: ‘You quit your job, I’ll quit mine… What if we just tried to bring the best out of Silicon Valley and artificial intelligence into City Hall?’ That was the genesis of it.
JM: In your role as co-founder and CEO, how do you go about building the UrbanLogiq team?
MM: The main thing — we call it our North Star — is a very simple thesis: We build better communities with data. So, the single thing that we look for when it comes to building a team is people who get excited about that. People with the skill sets that we need can have their choice of jobs. So, it actually acts as a really good filter, which is, ‘you could work for any company, you could take any job you want, you're that smart or that hardworking…’ But if you're excited by the idea of using your talents to build better communities — the code you write is going to build a better community in Toronto or London or New York — if that excites you, it actually becomes a very clarifying recruitment call. And even though we have people from a diversity of backgrounds, everyone here has that common purpose that they all share. That forms the nucleus of our culture.
JM: Say I buy into that common purpose. How would I go about applying?
MM: We have a hiring page on our website where we have listed different jobs that we're actively recruiting for. Now, once that process kicks off, there is a hiring committee that represents not only the team that you'd work on, but also different teams within the company. Because it's a small team — there's only about 21 of us right now — even once you join, say, a data science team, the reality is we tend to work across the entire company. Any solution for the client requires involvement of different teams, so we want to make sure that the people that you'd be working with are excited to work with you, too. That hiring committee represents a cross-segment of the entire company.
Then, there is a phone screen, an in-person interview, and a skills test. [The test] mutually validates that you'd have the abilities to solve the problems that our clients need and, at the same time, the kind of work is what you'd want to do. You basically get a taste of it. Then, the final meeting is with myself. It's actually just a discussion: I share where the company is going and you can share what your career goals are. And then it just becomes very clarified whether there's alignment or not. So, that's the formal process.
The other thing I would suggest is just get to know or reach out to members of our team. There have been times where we weren't formally looking for a particular role. But we got to know someone, got very excited by them, and we realized that we should create a role for that person.
JM: Does the team predominantly work remote or in-person?
MM: Well, even before COVID, we trusted the team to decide for themselves where they needed to work to excel. Having said that, what you'll generally find is there's a strong preference amongst the team members to work together. It's a small, young team. I think one of the reasons why people join our team is because they were looking for an opportunity where they could collaborate, brainstorm, work with people, go to lunch together… I think what you would find is, culturally, people tend to prefer to be in the office at least a few days a week. But, that's something that is up to the individual and their team to decide.
JM: Macs or PCs? What about other workplace tools?
MM: Everyone chooses between Mac and PC for themselves. One of the first things we ask you when you get hired is what you prefer. Also, we live a lot on Slack. We use a lot of the Google Suite but also the Microsoft Office suite because a lot of what we do is with government. And then Sapling and Breezy for a lot of the recruiting and HR stuff.
JM: How are work hours managed?
MM: We trust the team to know what [hours] are best. Teams tend to self-organize around what we need to do and what other people are counting on each of us individually to be able to provide by any given time. Then, as long as you provide what our clients need, and as long as you're supporting your teammates, the rest really is up to you to decide what's best.
JM: Does the team get together outside of the office?
MM: One thing that we've been lucky with — I think really it’s an intangible benefit to anyone who's looking to join here — is it's a very tight knit team. Once a year, we take the team on a retreat. We’ve been to Barcelona or Hawaii. We take a vote on where the team wants to go. The reason for that is a conscious decision we made. We don’t like a firm separation between professional and personal. Working with your friends makes your day-to-day job much more fun. We get to work on something that we believe in. But if you can also work with people that you enjoy spending time with, then that really doesn't make it feel like work anymore. We go on hikes together, we go bowling together, some of us went to the [Deighton Cup] the other week. And also, we travel a lot, because we like to spend a lot of time with our clients and really experience their day-to-day reality. I think the fact that a lot of the team spent a lot of time on the road together also lends to a tight knit culture.