More than a paycheck: What 6 Chicago engineers really look for in a job

by Michael Hines
October 18, 2017

Engineers have no shortage of job opportunities, but finding the perfect fit can still be a challenge. Whether it’s the company’s mission, opportunities for professional growth or interesting tech challenges, everyone wants something different from their work.

Fortunately, Chicago tech companies have opportunities that meet all of those criteria. We spoke with local engineers about what drew them to the companies they work for, and what parts of their roles excite them the most.

 

Peak6 is a trading firm that has been using proprietary technology to make markets and manage risk since 1997. The company is headquartered in Chicago’s historic Board of Trade building, but an awesome office location isn’t why engineers Austin Farquhar and Patrick Wong decided to join the company.

What initially attracted you to Peak6?

Farquhar: The multi-faceted experience and the incredibly smart team immediately caught my eye.

Wong: My primary goal coming out of college was to join a smaller dev shop where I’d have the opportunity to work in many different areas. I also wanted to be in an environment where I could learn a lot while still creating meaningful software.

What makes your team’s culture unique?

Farquhar: Unlike many companies, Peak6 encourages engineers to take ownership and influence the direction of their projects.

Wong: My favorite aspect of our culture is the emphasis on moving on from mistakes and the emphasis placed on continually improving yourself. This is extremely beneficial for team morale and also promotes personal growth.

What challenges are you tackling right now?

Farquhar: One significant challenge I tackled was designing a new kind of database to store every single piece of market data and to have that nightly process happen before the next day. The sheer amount of data we had to work with made this project difficult, but having access to all this data opened up huge opportunities for the company and helped accelerate many of our other projects.

 

Tronc is the digital company behind major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Combined, the company’s portfolio of newspapers has won 105 Pulitzer awards.

Senior software engineer Mourya Balabhadra fell in love with journalism as a child and realized Tronc was a perfect fit after working there as a contractor.

What initially attracted you to Tronc?

I have been interested in journalism since childhood and always wanted to be a part of an organization that works to help inform and educate citizens. I spent time at Tronc as a contract software engineer and was greatly motivated by the work being done there.

I also noticed that Tronc made a conscious effort to improve company culture in many ways, including internal talent mobility initiatives and flexible time off. This ultimately led to me joining the team full time.

What makes your team’s culture unique?

The Tronc engineering team is made up of great people, and we have a beautiful office and an excellent management group that makes sure employees have access to a variety of professional development opportunities, including chances to earn certifications and access to learning platforms.

I get the chance to develop and integrate new web technologies, and I also learn about the different tools and technologies being used throughout the company thanks to our weekly product development tech talks.

What challenges are you tackling right now?

Improving and optimizing the user experience across all our channels, from our websites to apps and social media, is one of our most important challenges. My team is working to create a simpler and more customer-oriented application along with a way to more intuitively navigate our content across multiple platforms.

We’re also working to improve the speed and UX design of our applications and make them more scalable, along with making them safer and more secure. This gives me a great chance to learn and implement different tools and technologies.

 

IMC is a tech-driven market maker active on over 100 exchanges worldwide. The company was founded in Amsterdam in 1989 and has over 500 employees. Senior software developer Theo Levine says one of the most exciting parts about IMC is seeing immediate and tangible outcomes from his work.

What initially attracted you to IMC?

One of my biggest career fears was getting pigeonholed in a monotonous software developer role. At IMC, I found a dynamic environment where the challenges were constantly evolving. I also get the chance to learn from and emulate some of the best developers in the world.

What makes your team’s culture unique?

There’s no IMC mold. Our skillsets represent a spectrum and everyone finds a way to maximize their own impact. People love to collaborate and teach each other and, as a result, many of our best employees are also involved in training and onboarding. We work in a highly competitive industry, but within IMC we succeed by working together.

What challenges are you tackling right now?

We tackle complex, massively scaled projects and thrive on a quick turnaround cycle. Since we are our own clients, everyone is their own product manager. This frees us up to focus on the hardest parts of problems, not aesthetics. The code that we push is trading around the world within a day or two, and as a result we see immediate, tangible outcomes of our work.

 

One North Interactive is a digital marketing agency that helps brands strengthen their relationships with customers. The company’s offerings include brand planning, digital strategy and creative services along with front- and back-end development and technology support.

Tech lead Alex Hawley cites One North’s focus on building top-notch websites as a big reason why he chose to join the company.

What initially attracted you to One North?

It was clear from my initial conversations with One North that their goal isn’t building "OK" web applications for a broad range of clients, but extremely high-quality websites that fit specific businesses. It was important to me that the company I worked at had opportunities to truly master the technology stacks being used. One North's focus on quality and its depth of experience delivered exactly that.

What makes your team’s culture unique?

The amount of cross-team communication at One North has created a unique engineering culture. Developers work frequently with digital strategists, quality assurance analysts, account managers, clients and other engineers as projects evolve. If a new piece of functionality is being developed, you’ll brainstorm possible solutions and tradeoffs with an account manager.

If there are security or quality concerns, it's easy to loop in our quality team and have an in-depth conversation about best approaches. The ease of getting an expert's insight, and knowing that your insight has an impact, is particularly refreshing.

What challenges are you tackling right now?

Many of our clients have very specific needs, such as intuitive search applications that filter through thousands upon thousands of articles. No two of our applications are the same, and that provides a great avenue for being creative with a solution and allows us to tackle challenges in different ways.

 

NextCapital’s cloud-based software makes it easier for both everyday investors and pros to create and manage personalized portfolios. Financial advisors also make use of the company’s platform to streamline their operations. Full-stack developer Chloe Kim said NextCapital’s business model and talented dev team attracted her to the company.

What initially attracted you to NextCapital?

Chicago is a big city and the cost of living is cheaper than New York or San Francisco. I also liked the company’s equal opportunity hiring policy, which has helped create a talented dev team. Being surrounded by great developers helps promote personal growth. NextCapital also has a profitable business model that can be scaled.

What makes your team’s culture unique?

People are open to new ideas and change. Individuals have ownership in what they're working on, and peers actively share feedback.

What challenges are you tackling and why are they exciting?

We are trying to build scalable frameworks that can be configured by different partners. It is mentally engaging to design and build something that needs to be concrete and scalable as there are many different factors to be considered. It always feels awesome when we solve a big problem.

 

Photos via featured companies. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What does your company look for in candidates? Send us an email or tweet us @BuiltInChicago

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