Bridging the Gap from Sofia to San Francisco: A Conversation with Engineering Manager Marin Dimitrov

Bridging the Gap from Sofia to San Francisco: A Conversation with Engineering Manager Marin Dimitrov

Facilitating transportation and food deliveries around the world involves a huge daily number of financial transactions, and when money flows, regulation follows. Uber’s engineering office in Sofia, Bulgaria, home of our tax and compliance engineering teams, has become expert in implementing systems to ensure all payments comply with tax regulations wherever they occur, a daunting task considering the 60-plus countries where we operate.

Marin DimitrovEngineering manager Marin Dimitrov works out of the Uber Sofia office, making sure his team meets the very important requirements of building systems to ensure tax law compliance. Prior to joining Uber Sofia, Marin earned his Master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence from Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, and spent many years working at Ontotext, a Bulgarian software company developing solutions for artificial intelligence, natural language processing, text mining, and knowledge graphs.

Managing teams in Uber’s Sofia office, Marin has seen how contributing to open source projects benefits the engineering community and Uber’s services. In this spirit, engineers in our Uber Sofia office will give back to the community by hosting the Uber Open Summit on April 20.

In addition to making these technical decisions, one of Marin’s chief challenges involves bridging the gap between Sofia and Uber’s offices in San Francisco, 6,500 miles and 10 hours apart.

We sat down with Marin to get his perspectives on open source software and global office management:

What is your role at Uber?

I’m one of the engineering managers on our team in Sofia. We focus on financial and tax reporting and compliance, areas which are super important for our driver-partners and restaurant-partners, and have a growing importance for new lines of business, like carriers and shippers using Uber Freight.

My main responsibilities involve growing the teams by attracting and hiring engineers and by accelerating my teammates’ career growth. I’m helping the teams become more productive and efficient, as well as learn lessons from the projects we complete. And, of course, a major responsibility is helping the teams to deliver business-critical initiatives on time.

As a manager, it’s important to think about the big picture and to help the team maintain a strategic focus. Not only do we want to hit our immediate milestones and targets, but we also need to ask ourselves, “What do we want to achieve in the next two years? What should we start doing tomorrow so that in two years, we will be where we want to be?”

On your management philosophy, what are the best strategies you have for motivating your team?

I think it’s important to help the team understand how they make a real difference, especially considering where they fit within the big picture of Uber’s approximately 4,000 engineers. I ask them to consider what wouldn’t succeed if we weren’t here. What key parts of Uber’s products and operations depend on us?

Of course, in our role of building tax compliance and reporting systems, we can actually see the impact. We know that individuals and businesses depend on us for compliance documents, invoices, and tax reports. If we didn’t do our job well and on time, someone might be fined by the local tax authorities or our business could be at risk of suspension. Issuing these types of documents is critical for compliance with local regulations. As a global company, our team understands that regulations are different everywhere, and they are constantly changing.

One way that we can understand this impact is by communicating with our city operations teams and customer support representatives around the world. They are in close contact with the drivers and restaurant-partners that depend on our reporting documents and can help us understand the local environment and needs.

Sofia is 10 hours ahead of Uber’s San Francisco offices. How do you coordinate your teams with headquarters given that time difference?

It’s quite impressive how respectful everyone in the U.S. is towards our time zone. For instance, people in the San Francisco office will set meetings for 7:00 AM their time, which would be 5:00 PM for us. But it also helps that Uber designs its engineering organization so that the distributed sites fully own their charters, making them fairly independent and self-sufficient. We don’t need to wait for three other offices to get online before deploying a new feature in production. Of course, there are always dependencies between teams, but we have established processes around aligning teams in advance, so remote communication and collaboration can be as efficient as possible.

How can headquarters make distributed sites feel more included?

We talk daily with many teams through video conferencing, but it’s quite important to meet people face-to-face. Having executive leadership take the time to visit Sofia also really helps in making us feel connected. Fortunately, this happens a lot at Uber.

Beyond travel, just being included in all company communications and discussions helps. There’s the weekly all-hands meeting, of course, for which we can submit questions in advance. Having them answered by the executive leadership helps us feel that we are an important part of the larger organization. There are other events as well, such as the regular internal Tech Talks on the Sofia, Business Intelligence, or the Engineering organization level, which help us share knowledge and exchange ideas across the teams at headquarters and the other distributed offices. This is a great way for our group to identify best practices and solutions from other teams that we can reuse and adopt in the near future.

What’s your vision for the Sofia office?

We want to significantly improve the areas of tax, compliance, and financial reporting by building more forward-looking platforms. Currently, we deliver value to the business in a timely manner, but with many new lines of business emerging every year, we’ve found a need to significantly redesign the systems we’ve been building for years. One of our goals would be to make our systems more future-proof so they can more effectively adapt to the needs of the new lines of business.

Open source software makes up a significant part of Uber’s tech stack. What are the most important open source projects used at Uber Sofia?

We are one of the earliest adopters of Marmaray, an open source data ingestion and dispersal platform developed at Uber. And, of course, when we find a need for new features in the open source platforms or frameworks that we use, we have a strong motivation to jump in and contribute to the improvements.

But open source’s importance goes beyond just the technologies that we use for our day-to-day work, and I encourage the team to think beyond our own tech stack. If one of our engineers has expertise related to some of Uber’s open source tools or platforms that we don’t currently use in Sofia, their contribution to its improvement will still be valuable for the other teams and users of these tools and platforms, and something they should definitely do.

It’s important for engineers to find projects they are really enthusiastic about, where their contributions can make an impact. The expertise they will gain by contributing to these open source projects will eventually pay off in our day-to-day work and the systems we’re building.

What is the attitude towards open source software among the Bulgarian engineering community?

There is actually a huge, annual open source event in Sofia called OpenFest, and it attracts more than 1,000 developers and enthusiasts. Last year, we were able to get engineers from Uber’s Observability team in New York to come out to Sofia and give a keynote at OpenFest on M3DB, our open source time series database designed to work with our M3 metrics platform.

However, OpenFest is about more than open source software, it also covers open technologies, open data, and open government. People come to OpenFest to discuss how we can share data and make it more accessible to help improve society and make governments more responsive and accountable. Uber began supporting the OpenFest initiative in 2016 and we’ve had regular speakers at the event.

We are also hosting the second Uber Open Summit in Sofia on April 20, 2019. The first one, Uber Open Summit 2018, was held in the San Francisco office last November. It was open to the public and included talks on many of Uber’s open source technologies. Our summit in Sofia will give open source enthusiasts from southeast Europe a chance to find out more about these open source technologies.

Love working with open source, and want to work at a company with global impact? Apply for a role at Uber.