In this monthly series, we feature a member of our driven, passionate team at Spacemaker. The interviews celebrate the talented people behind the scenes and our culture. This month, we chat with Ellis Herman, who joined Spacemaker in 2019 as a data scientist/researcher at the Boston office. We talk sustainability, the social culture at Spacemaker and the value in being the ‘new person’.
What’s your role at Spacemaker?
I’m a data scientist/researcher in the Boston office, now in the (new) Predictive Analysis Squad, where we focus on developing predictive and generative design techniques. I also spend a lot of time developing new sustainability features for the product, like the upcoming microclimate analysis.
Where are you working from currently?
Hybrid remote/in-office. Now that everyone in the Boston office is vaccinated, we’ve been going in at least one day a week.
What does your morning routine look like?
Wake up, make breakfast, eat while I catch up on email/Slack. Then I have a morning stand up with the Predictive Analysis squad – there are currently 7 of us in the team plus 2 summer interns.
Which projects are you working on right now?
I’ve spent the last few months in the Delta squad, working on our upcoming microclimate/thermal comfort implementation, which should come to fruition in the next couple of months. It’ll combine our sun, daylight, and wind analyses with local weather data to create a comprehensive “feels-like” temperature map of a site. I started working on it a couple of years ago and drove it through the discovery phase, so I’m very excited to see it in the product! In terms of research projects, we’re about to start working on the implementation of solar panel analysis, and are in the process of collaborating with Autodesk teams on operational and embodied carbon.
Tell us about how your Spacemaker journey started...
I graduated with my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering and found the Spacemaker job posting on LinkedIn. It appealed to me because it was advertised as a way to work across different areas with a multidisciplinary team - I was excited to join a company that was still startup-y enough that I could wear a few different hats. I also saw Spacemaker as a great way to improve sustainability in a historically unsustainable industry.
One of the main selling points of Spacemaker is that it helps users make informed changes at the beginning of the design process, when they can have the most impact for the least cost; this idea applies to sustainability concepts like thermal comfort and operational and embodied energy, too – I wanted to be a part of making early-stage evaluations like these standard in the construction industry. I was impressed with the fact that – even though Spacemaker didn’t bill itself as such at the time – it was already a sustainability product! We often focus entirely on more ‘traditional’ green areas like solar power and energy efficiency and forget that improving living conditions now is a crucial part of sustainability.
For my first week, I actually flew all the way to Oslo as it coincided with the biannual, company-wide planning week, which involves every employee in planning the strategy and operations for the next 6 months. So, it felt a bit like being thrown into the deep end. I was incredibly impressed by how eager people were for my input and ideas – being the ‘new person’ was actually seen as valuable – and how happy people were to push back on the way things were done and make rapid, iterative changes to their ways of working.
How have you experienced professional growth at Spacemaker?
I’ve become a much better coder. As mentioned, I don’t have a formal education in programming, but I’ve made a lot of progress in my time at Spacemaker. Still a ways to go, but it’s very satisfying to see the difference between now and a year or two ago.
I’ve also learned a lot about how to make office culture productive and comfortable. Our hiring process is both rigorous and fair, so we learn a lot about applicants without making them jump through unnecessary hoops; this process was something that impressed me when I was applying, and something we are repeatedly complimented on by new hires. All of these aspects of ‘management’ were new to me when I joined, but Spacemaker’s ideas about flat hierarchy and servant leadership have had a lot of influence on my opinions about effective management.
Can you tell us about your favorite challenge so far and how you solved it?
Hm, it’s difficult to pick a favorite challenge. There have been several difficult ones; in my two years at Spacemaker, we’ve had a couple reorganizations, which not everyone agreed with or was happy with (including myself!). But management was completely open with us, created regular meetings for discussion, and welcomed feedback and criticism, and they wound up being very positive experiences. We learned what worked, what didn’t, and were able to continue moving in the right direction.
What keeps you inspired outside work, and how does this influence your work at Spacemaker?
I’m passionate about making structural changes to fight climate change, so it’s extremely motivating to feel like I’m spending a lot of my time at work helping to change an industry with a lot of low-hanging fruit.
On a less serious note, I’m a very social person and I love that we have a very social office here in Boston and a social culture at Spacemaker in general. We make time for games and chit-chat; forming personal connections with my co-workers is a big part of what makes this job satisfying.
How do you wind down in the evening?
I love watching movies and sports, and playing cards, soccer, and basketball with my partner and friends.
What do you enjoy most about your work day?
Absolutely the people I work with! I’ve become very close with the people on my small team over the last couple years, and people at Spacemaker are incredibly kind and curious. I think Spacemakers do an incredible job of balancing motivation and the understanding that your job is one part of your life, and this balance makes for a very healthy culture.
Want to join our team?
Spacemaker is made up of all sorts of people - from data scientists and architects, to sailors, skiers, climbers, software engineers, designers and many more. What connects us is a strong belief that we can make a difference by improving the way we design our cities. Check out the positions we’re hiring for right now!