8 Chicago companies discuss their industries’ toughest challenges — and the tech they use to tackle them

by Michael Hines
October 18, 2018

No two tech companies tackle challenges the same way. The culture of a company’s engineering team and the industry it’s in play a big part in defining its approach, as do the methodologies and technologies teams leverage. We recently spoke with eight fast-growing Chicago companies about the challenges they’re facing and the tech they’re using to tackle them.

 

ServiceNow Chicago tech jobs
JOEY MART (R)

ServiceNow’s cloud-based platform helps companies collaborate more efficiently and streamline operations across their IT management, HR, security and customer service teams. Architect and Manager of Platform Development Joey Mart said one of the Chicago tech team’s biggest challenges is designing enterprise solutions that take advantage of emerging technologies without sacrificing the user-friendliness their customers have grown accustomed to from consumer-grade apps.

Open positions:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, JavaScript, SQL, Ruby

  • Libraries: React, jquery

  • Frameworks: AngularJS

  • Databases: MariaDB, MySQL, Oracle

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

Our goals are twofold: scale and innovate. We ensure the stability of our platform by optimizing at the lowest levels and finding clever ways to accommodate our customers’ growth. When we’re not doing that, we spend time creating features that make our users’ lives easier. Culturally, ServiceNow is an “innovate and execute” organization. You are recognized for the work you do and encouraged to speak up, ideate and create. We pride ourselves on producing quality work while not taking ourselves too seriously.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

Technologies like IoT and machine learning are becoming more mainstream and are being adopted by some of the world’s biggest companies. These huge enterprises are demanding a user experience on par with consumer apps. Off-the-shelf solutions and strategies exist, but they either don’t support the scale or deliver a good enough experience. We’re solving both of those problems. Our back-end engineering team is working on our high-performance time-series database, which is optimized for performance to ingest things like IoT data. We need to be able to find models to fit historical data and intelligently detect anomalies in real time.

Meanwhile, the front-end engineering team is building intuitive user experiences and distilling complex data into an easy-to-understand, consumable format using the latest web development technologies. Our newly created native mobile team is working to create a compelling, easy-to-use mobile experience.

 

FTD Chicago tech jobs

FTD Companies is a global floral and gifting company that operates e-commerce brands such as ProFlowers, Gifts.com and Sincerely. Principal Member of Technical Staff Vijay Sekhri and Senior Director of Technology Shyam Gourisetty provided a peek at the company’s future tech plans.

Open tech roles:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, JavaScript

  • Libraries: React, Redux

  • Frameworks: Node.js, Spring

  • Databases: Cassandra, Memcached, MongoDB, MySQL, Redis

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

Sekhri: The FTD technology team is building a cloud-native omni-channel commerce platform that will power e-commerce for all our brands and the mobile points of sale for our florist members. Our platform’s tech stack is React for the front end and Spring Boot-based microservices for the back end, with containerized and completely automated deployments. Our teams are organized into smaller microservices pods. We encourage a culture where each microservice team owns their roadmap with natural alignment on the overall strategy. Also, we are a fun, energetic team with a focus on delivering wins and not just on individual stats.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

Gourisetty: FTD is working to launch both customer-facing and florist experiences that leverage advancements in human-computer interaction — be it a more emotion-based website UX, virtual reality, augmented reality or mixed reality experiences for customers, or natural language processing to automatically handle messaging. We are also working on revamping our inventory, planning and delivery capabilities based on machine learning and automated methods.

 

Bento for Business Chicago tech jobs
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Matt Favoino, John Turner, Peter Szczepanski

Bento for Business makes it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to manage and streamline employee expenses. Senior Software Engineer Peter Szczepanski said the company’s core value, “be human,” plays a big role in shaping how his team takes on challenges.

Open positions:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, JavaScript, SQL

  • Libraries: React, Redux

  • Frameworks: AngularJS

  • Databases: MySQL

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

Bento’s mission revolves around becoming a trusted, go-to partner for all of our customers’ financial needs, including the secure expense cards and flexible controls they need to run their businesses. As a natural extension, we are working on adjacent banking services. We put people above anything else. This challenges us to pay attention to what goes beyond the product we’re building — namely, the people who are using and benefiting from our tech.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

One of the biggest fintech challenges is building products that solve cash management problems and give users total peace of mind. A lot of complex engineering work goes on behind the scenes. We are always finding ways to integrate with third-party services, work with partners and build new solutions that enrich our suite of products and services. In order to accomplish this, we have built a distributed platform that is able to scale with demand. With asynchronous communication to our services and integrations, we are able to tackle our customer problems more quickly, at scale.

 

Grubhub Chicago tech jobs

Grubhub’s platform makes it easy for hungry people in over 1,600 cities to find and order food from nearby restaurants. Software Engineering Team Lead Leah Whittaker works on the Grubhub for Restaurants app and said one of the ways her team stays ahead of the curve is by having developers visit restaurants on the platform, and by testing the app themselves at the company’s in-house restaurant.

Open positions:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, JavaScript, Python,

  • Libraries: React, Redux, redux-loop, immutable.js

  • Frameworks: Jasmine, TestCafe

  • Databases: Cassandra

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

My team builds the Grubhub for Restaurants app, which manages everything from orders to menu management, financial reports, promotions and more. Our developers visit restaurants to see our app used in real time. We also work the counter at our in-house restaurant, Slice, to experience the process of assembling Grubhub orders while taking walk-up orders and packing up meals for delivery. We feel that using the app is instrumental in developing a good user experience. We also get to beta test new features by ordering food on our platform — a test and a reward all in one.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

The food delivery space is competitive, which makes it even more important to bring real value to our restaurant partners and move quickly to provide new insights and features. In order to do that, we’ve built a very scalable application that many teams can work on simultaneously. Our pages are compartmentalized, but they also share utilities and a component library that makes it easy for us to build new and cohesive features quickly.

 

Enfusion Chicago tech jobs

Enfusion’s cloud-based software and outsourced services are used by investment management firms to automate and simplify operations. To VP of Software Development Dan Groman, one of the things that makes the company’s engineering team unique is the fact that senior leaders still roll up their sleeves and contribute code.

Open positions:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, Groovy, JavaScript

  • Frameworks: RESTful services

  • Databases: MySQL, NoSQL

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

Enfusion writes software for asset managers. Our goal is to take the software and infrastructure burden off of our clients so that they can focus on their investment strategies and running their businesses. It’s a highly competitive space, and our team is responsible for writing the code that pushes the product forward.

We are culturally unique because of the opportunities afforded to our team members. I have worked for many large companies where it’s easy to be several layers removed from senior management and the decision-making process. Our founding partners and CEO still write code today, and it’s common to see them collaborating with members of the team, no matter how senior. In fact, we have relatively new hires driving some of our biggest initiatives.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

Information security and recruiting are our industry’s biggest challenges. Our environment’s stability is not something we take lightly, and we ensure its security via penetration testing, monitoring and other means. On the recruitment side, we are finding it difficult to filter through the volume of new graduates with computer science degrees. It’s great to see all of the interest in the field, but it’s more challenging than ever to find quality candidates. We use ever-evolving online assessments and pair coding exercises to help us streamline the process as much as possible.

 

BenchPrep Chicago tech company

BenchPrep’s platform is used by education, assessment and training companies to create engaging, personalized learning experiences. To CTO Nickolay Schwarz, one thing that makes his team unique is that employees at all levels are encouraged to both share and challenge ideas.

Open positions:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, JavaScript, Ruby, Swift

  • Frameworks: Backbone.js, Node.js, Ruby on Rails, Vue.js,

  • Databases: PostgreSQL, Redis

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

Our growing list of customers leverage our enterprise SaaS platform to drive deeper engagement and achieve higher success rates for their learners. As a product organization, we wake up every day thinking about how to ensure how our learners can maximize their experience. We’re constantly thinking about how new product features tie back into our mission of helping learners improve outcomes.

Our team’s culture is unique due to our ability to align, listen and balance each other’s priorities. We encourage all employees to share and challenge ideas. It also helps that our company’s mission provides inspiration for our work.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

Today’s workforce is placing an increased emphasis on the importance of learning new skills for career growth, which is causing learning organizations and departments to re-evaluate how programs are structured and delivered. While companies try to balance their priorities with meeting employees’ needs, it’s imperative for them to realize the benefits that a comprehensive learning solution can offer by delivering all training and learning content through a single learning ecosystem.

Through partnerships with enterprise-level customers, BenchPrep’s development team works closely with learning teams to deliver and create solutions that help organizations build concise, effective training programs that cater to the modern learner. In addition, we are able to provide robust data and analytics for tracking user engagement and measuring ROI.

 

Quicket Solutions Chicago tech jobs

Quicket Solutions’ cloud-based platform is used by law enforcement, public safety and other government agencies to more efficiently manage data, automate online services for residents and share data in real time. Lead Software Engineer Bryan Chance and Program Manager Ethan Timm both weighed in on the challenges of building tech for organizations that have traditionally been reluctant to abandon paper-based processes.

Open roles:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: Java, C#, C++, Python, JavaScript, SQL, Go, .NET

  • Libraries: D3JS, jQuery UI, React, Redux, Selenium 3.0.1, Web2Py, Cryptography, pycrypto, ASP.NET

  • Frameworks: Django, Flask, Hadoop, Node.js, Spark

  • Databases: MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Redis, SQLite

 

What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

Chance: We’re at an interesting place when it comes to our team size. We’re big enough that we’re formalizing teams around their stacks, but small enough that there is still an “everyone talks to everyone” culture. We’ve worked hard to build a knowledge-sharing culture. We are encouraged to get exposure to the technological advancements in the industry and utilize those to create next-generation products. We often share books and attend user groups and tech conferences to learn more about new technology and network.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

Chance: When it comes to government, a lot of processes have been around so long that no one knows their full history, or things are done a certain way because they’ve always been done that way. It’s challenging to help our users cut through their workflows and uncover what’s truly necessary. As our client base grows, we can use our experience setting up these digital replacement workflows to help new clients optimize and dramatically improve the quality and efficiency of services for residents.

Timm: One of the prime reasons for inefficiency in government is poor management of data. Quicket is the first to start utilizing, sharing, analyzing and restructuring this critical information and provide true real-time operational intelligence to the departments.

 

higi Chicago tech jobs

Medical technology company higi creates health kiosks that make it easier for people to track their weight, BMI, blood pressure and pulse and share the information with their doctor and pharmacist. Given the sensitivity of personal health information, it’s not surprise that VP of Engineering Robert Bakos said one of his team’s biggest focuses is data security.

Open tech roles:

 

Tech they use:

  • Languages: .NET, C#, Java, JavaScript, PHP, Swift

  • Libraries: React, Redux

  • Frameworks: AngularJS, ASP.NET

  • Databases: Microsoft SQL Server, Redis, Azure Table and Blob Storage


What does your team do, and what makes your culture unique?

The product development team defines, builds and maintains the software that spans the various platforms we support. We leverage an agile development methodology, where feature teams consisting of product managers, engineers, designers and testers work together to define, build, test and maintain components of our applications autonomously. Software engineers at higi are not simply asked to implement code changes. They’re asked to help define and implement the right solution. We look to the collective expertise of our team to optimize our processes and solutions to deliver the best products possible.

 

What is the biggest challenge facing your industry, and how are you using tech to tackle it?

We view ourselves as the custodians of our users’ data and have made user privacy one of the primary pillars of our infrastructure. Our APIs support full auditing capabilities, logging every operation in detail. Data at higi is encrypted at rest and in transit using industry best practices. Our higi stations are built with privacy and security features that provide users with the confidence that their biometric data is secured. In addition, we allow our users to share their data via our OAuth 2.0 API, providing the flexibility and security that users expect when sharing data with their physician or pharmacist.

 

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