More than code: How non-technical employees drive success at 7 Chicago tech companies

by Michael Hines
January 24, 2018

Startupland is full of dyed-in-the-wool techies who learned how to code before they could legally drive a car. But it’s also full of people on their second or third careers who have never taken a coding class in their lives but bring hard-earned experience, outside perspectives and business savvy to the table.

It’s this balance that helps companies survive and thrive as they begin to scale.

We spoke to non-technical employees at seven Chicago companies to learn more about what drew them to the tech world and the role non-technical teams play in their company’s success.


Grubhub Northeast General Manager

Grubhub’s food-ordering marketplace connects diners in 1,200 American cities to over 75,000 restaurants. Conor Stevens, Grubhub’s Northeast general manager, joined the company because of his love of food and desire to work with a company whose diversity reminded him of his time spent in the United States military.


What is it about Grubhub that drew you to a new industry?

I was in the military for four years, which gave me the opportunity to work with a diverse group of individuals from all walks of life. When I left the military, I knew that I wanted to find an organization where I could continue to work with a diverse group of people while also having fun. Grubhub presented the perfect opportunity to work with various teams and customer segments. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that I’m a foodie at heart.


How does your team help drive the company's success?

One of the core drivers of Grubhub’s success is our ability to connect diners with their favorite restaurants. My team does just that. Each day, they coordinate and execute the delivery of over 300,000 orders to hungry diners across the country.


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?

People might be surprised to know that in addition to myself, a lot of my operations coworkers didn’t have technology backgrounds either. The tech culture is founded in entrepreneurship and thrives on new, diverse ideas. It doesn’t matter what your background is as long as you come curious and ready to test, learn, fail and keep moving forward.


One North Interactive account management

Digital agency One North Interactive helps companies build stronger relationships with their customers. The firm’s offerings include everything from brand planning and creative services to web development and tech support. As an associate account director, Cammie Rasmuss and her team directly contribute to the growth of One North and the success of its clients.


What is it about One North that drew you to a new industry?

I previously worked in traditional media where digital media was offered as an add-on. But I started seeing a shift in my clients’ marketing strategies. Technology was becoming the backbone of what they were doing, and I wanted to make sure I was professionally aligned with that change. One North gives me the opportunity to continue to use my client service skills, but with a focus on how technology can move marketing forward.


How does your team help drive the company's success?

The account team is the first to hear from our clients about their challenges and goals. This puts us in a position to identify opportunities to sell technology solutions One North can implement. We solve problems and help our clients grow their businesses, which ensures we can continue to grow and offer new products to match our clients’ needs.


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?

Admit what you don’t know and accept the opportunity to learn from anyone who is willing to teach you. More often than not, people are happy to explain things. You just have to ask questions, listen and be appreciative.


CraftJack Chicago tech company content team

CraftJack’s platform connects contractors with homeowners in need of services. Content manager Jacob Hurwith said his desire for a position that would grow over time — along with his love of home improvement TV shows — is what led him to make the leap to tech.


What is it about CraftJack that drew you to a new industry?

I’ve watched HGTV for 10 years now. My wife and I watch a ton of “Property Brothers,” “Fixer Upper,” “Flip or Flop” and numerous other shows. Additionally, I knew I was going to buy a condo in the next few years. Surely, any home remodeling knowledge I could accrue before the purchase would save me money down the line.

I was also looking for a position that could expand as time went on. CraftJack has provided that opportunity and more!


How does your team help drive the company's success?

We attract new customers to our websites through various channels, including SEM, SEO, content marketing and social media. Through our client-only portal, mobile app, Facebook, Instagram and other social channels, we are able to communicate quickly with both prospective and existing clients. This allows us to provide feedback to the account management and product teams that helps improve our service.


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?

Follow Built In Chicago! I still read the blog as well as the weekly news roundup. Then, if you’re interested in a few companies, follow them on social media and read their blogs. Knowing if the company released a new product or got more funding can go a long way. Finally, if you’re in marketing or a freelancer, show your potential boss you can work across various industries.


Envoy Global Chicago HR team

Envoy builds technology to help companies hire and manage talent from around the world. Jess Krichevsky, senior associate, talent acquisition, became drawn to the tech world after learning about Envoy’s mission and how it connected with her own life.


What is it about Envoy Global that drew you to a new industry?

My background is in agency staffing and recruiting, but I knew I wanted my next role to be in corporate recruiting. At my last role, I was exposed to the Chicago startup life, and I immersed myself in it as much as I could. Envoy was not on my radar at first, but as I learned more about the company and its mission I was instantly drawn in.

I also have a personal connection to Envoy’s mission as my parents immigrated from the USSR in 1978. Not only that, but to feel that you have even a small hand in helping someone achieve the “American Dream” or that your work has helped keep families together is tremendously rewarding.


How does your team help drive the company's success?

The HR team is small but we do so much, and our efforts do not go unrecognized. One of my personal and greatest goals is to make exceptional hires and to continue fostering the culture we’ve built. Bringing in the best and the brightest is what I strive to do. Our employees propel our business forward, so it’s extremely important to make the right hires for all teams.  


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?

Go for it! Tech is exciting! It is fast-paced, ever-evolving and ever-changing. Tech's role in business will only continue to grow, and it’s important to realize and get behind that idea. Also, there are so many different opportunities for people of all sorts of backgrounds. Just because you work in tech doesn’t mean you need to know how to code. Check out the tech companies hiring and find a role that caters to the skills you have.


Gesture Chicago tech company account management

Gesture’s mobile-focused technology helps charitable organizations raise more money from donors at live events. Senior account manager Cara Dickerson leverages the skills she gained in the nonprofit world to help drive her team’s success.


What is it about Gesture that drew you to a new industry?

I was in special events for a non-profit and looking for a new career path in the for-profit sector. Gesture was the perfect fit! It combined the mission-driven work that drew me to the nonprofit world in the first place along with the ability to learn and grow in a bustling startup.


How does your team help drive the company's success?

I oversee our account management team. Our team builds and maintains relationships with each of our customers. We work hand-in-hand with our charity partners to ensure they raise the most funds for their organizations. This strong customer relationship helps Gesture grow and prosper.


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?

Use the skills you learned and perfected at previous jobs to set you apart. So many opportunities within the tech industry lend themselves to a variety of career backgrounds and skill sets. You would be surprised how those with diverse backgrounds thrive and become invaluable to the success of a company.


Eved Chicago tech company sales and account management
Molly Witges, Center

Eved’s software makes it easier for large companies to track and manage their event spending. The company’s platform provides a single place for users to request, order and pay for services. Molly Witges, a director of strategic accounts at the company, said asking a lot of questions and being unafraid to offer up insights when needed helped ease her transition to the tech world.


What is it about Eved that drew you to a new industry?

The idea of bringing further technological innovation to the meeting and events industry.

Prior to Eved, I worked with technology solutions — like mobile apps and registration tools — as a meeting planner. Eved piqued my interest as it’s innovating in an industry I love. I was also curious about working in the tech world and wanted new experiences to round out my skill set.


How does your team help drive the company's success?

The sales and account management team is directly responsible for procuring new clients and keeping existing clients happy. One of my favorite parts about being an account director is helping my clients find solutions for their challenges.


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?

Be flexible and open, but also trust the experience you have. Joining the tech world meant learning new lingo and using new tools. I asked a lot of questions and learned from those around me, but also interjected insights from my past experiences into projects to add to the company culture and knowledge.


Label Insight solutions architect

Label Insight uses data science and machine learning to capture and sort data from packaged products. This data provides companies with increased insight into their products, which helps increase transparency between brands, retailers and consumers. Customer success solutions architect John Veltri said his background in brand management helped him recognize Label Insight’s potential, which in turn made him want to join the team.


What is it about Label Insight that drew you to a new industry?

I always had a passion for and interest in technology. With my background in brand management, I knew Label Insight's ability to power transparency was something many businesses desperately needed. Label Insight was leading the way in this field, and I wanted to be on that train before it took off.


How does your team help drive the company's success?  

The customer success team works on the front lines, helping our customers get value out of Label Insight. This means working with customers to implement a plan to use Label Insight data, and coordinating with our internal teams to deliver a quality product that exceeds their expectations.


What advice would you give to someone without a technical background who wants to work in tech?  

Try to find a way to leverage the experience you do have to break into tech. Whether it’s industry experience, experience working in sales or with customers, working with data, or working in a vertical like marketing or project management, find a way to leverage your skills and play up your strengths.


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