Behind the scenes with the STATION F tech team (19 year old inside)
Two years ago (that is, 12 months before STATION F opened its doors) the STATION F team, made of just 6 people at the time, gathered to decide what to implement in terms of tech for our 1,000 startup campus. And we hired Alex, just 19 years old at the time (yes, you read that right)and straight out of Ecole 42, as our intern and soon to become the Lead Developer at STATION F.
Now, the tech team at STATION F counts 5 full time developers and 1 freelancer (oh, yes, we’re hiring!). The team maintains an intranet supporting 1000+ unique requests per day and an internal network enabling 500+ MB/s.
How did we get there? Here’s the story.
Meet HAL, the STATION F intranet.
When drawing the first mockups of our intranet, it quickly seemed pretty obvious that using a third-party tool would be impossible. STATION F is a big startup campus with many different entities and each have different needs: our community counts over 30 startup programs, various partners, over 30 public services, over 30 funds in our investor community, over 1,000 startups, several thousand visitors per month, etc. And this community is continually growing and changing.
After a careful benchmark of existing solutions, we decided to internally-develop our intranet.
Wait, why “HAL” ?
We named our intranet “HAL” as a tribute to HAL-9000 from the movie (nay, masterpiece!) 2001, a Space Odyssey. But for those who have seen it, don’t worry our HAL is all nice and cooperative. HAL also happens to be a (not-so-obvious) reference to the STATION F building’s original name. We like our history.
When choosing technology, we opted for NodeJS (using the framework SailsJS) — it seemed that this framework showed the most potential (very light framework, MVC architecture, good security policies, websockets, ORM support multiple databases, etc.).
In terms of Front End, HAL is coded with AngularJS, although we’ll soon change for VueJS.The reason for that choice is that it was very light and easy to set up.
When building HAL and defining the various features, we always kept in mind first and foremost the priorities our startup founders. Based on numerous feedback sessions we have conducted with users, we quickly realized our top 2 priorities were:
- to have an all-inclusive tool that would make our residents’ life easier
- to leverage the power of our large community (1,000 startups and counting) with technology
Nowadays, HAL counts a number of key features available for residents, including an events calendar featuring upcoming workshops/conferences/parties, a directory featuring all the startups and residents with both personal and startup profiles (note: this feature is only accessible to residents), billing management, meeting room/guest management, a list of all special offers and discounts we provide through Perks, an interactive campus map, feedback and problem reporting tools and more.
We’ve also developed tools for our partners and program managers, including a management system for startups and startup desks within their program, as well as en events venue and booking system.
We also have many additional features that we will continue to roll-out as our community requests them.
The STATION F staff also uses HAL with additional internal features.
STATION F Stack
For certain features only, we decided it would be more relevant to opt for existing solutions providing powerful APIs.
- Our support ticketing system is powered by Zendesk
- Our email provider is Mailjet
- Our CRM is Hubspot
- Our community chat is Slack (there are over 5,000 people currently!)
- Our payment system is powered by Stripe
So far, all those tools have proven very useful and powerful, so: thanks to you all!
In addition, our team regularly uses a number of tools like Eventbrite, Typeform, Calendly or Zappier… They all show a very powerful integrations system which is very practical for our tasks.
STATION F IT infrastructure: our tech team’s #1 concern
STATION F’s tech team is not only made of web developers! Because we love homemade tools, we also built our very own IT infrastructure.
Let’s be honest here: maintaining a powerful Wi-Fi for a 34,000sq meters campus made of concrete, with 3,000 entrepreneurs connected to it, is a *huge* challenge, to say the least.
We implemented our own servers on-site (4 dell PowerEdge R630, 8x32 GO of RAM per server) and installed +100 switch throughout the campus.
In addition to the Internet connexion, the IT team is working on a variety of topics:
- Access control: yes, there is actually a lot of technology inside our resident’s badges! And this goes beyond simple authorizations. Our tech team also implemented a full visitors management system in HAL, connected with our gates with QR codes, so that any visitor who is invited can enter STATION F more easily.
Today, our QR code system has let 65,000 people enter the campus in less than a year!
- Printers: wait… people aren’t going full-digital? For the (few) people left who need to print, we do have a number of printers on campus. Again, the system is integrated in HAL and all residents can simply launch a task and use their badges on any printer to retrieve their paper.
- Security issues: the tech team is closely working with the Workplace team to implement a powerful and respectful security system revolving around surveillance cameras, alarms, and communications tools.
To infinity and beyond.
Now you know all about the *numerous* topics our tech team is working on. All the more impressive when you know it’s just a 5-people team! And yes, this team is *growing* so please take a look at our job openings here.
HAL will continue to evolve and grow with the needs and requests of our community — and we’ll keep you in the loop on what we have planned. For now, we’re planning to integrate functions for our coliving (coming soon!) as well as for our growing alumni community in the near future.