by Brian Nordli
February 28, 2019

Ferris Bueller and his friends have nothing on Solstice.

In homage to Bueller’s antics playing hooky in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Solstice employees can play hooky with a coworker once a year. Those adventures have ranged from jumping out of airplanes and visiting Harry Potter World to touring a Milwaukee brewery. That camaraderie comes in handy when the technical consultants at the digital innovation firm practice pair programming on nearly every project.

While their out-of-the-office antics would make Principal Ed Rooney red in the face, Solstice’s thriving collaboration has other consulting firms also turning crimson.

 

Solstice Front Lobby
Photography By Jason Brown
Solstice game room
Photography by Jason Brown
Solstice Team pair programming
Photography By Jason Brown

 

FOUNDED: 2001

EMPLOYEES: 423 (339 local)

WHAT THEY DO: Solstice, part of Kin + Carta, is a digital innovation firm that provides digital solutions for Fortune 500 companies.

WHERE THEY DO IT: West Loop, Chicago

WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE: Employees receive a $5,000 annual self-directed training budget for personal learning and development.

GROWING TOGETHER: While Solstice has expanded from its Chicago roots to four continents, they haven't lost sight of growing their team. Learn more about Solstice's growth.

 

Matt at play

Matt portrait

 

Matt Griffin, Technical Senior Consultant

Matt works as a solutions architect on a 50-person client project. He works with the other architects to determine the optimal order of tasks to be completed and the ideal workflow to maintain a clean codebase.

BUELLER? BUELLER?: To celebrate his coworker getting married, Matt and the groom skipped work and went skydiving. It remains one of the most surreal experiences of Matt’s life and gave him and his coworker a new outlook on life.

 

How does Solstice’s culture influence the way the tech team works together?

Solstice has a supportive culture that avoids the competition that normally exists within consulting firms. The culture encourages a collaborative tech environment. For example, all of our code is reviewed by peers who offer support and suggestions on improvement. This creates a positive approach to improve the client’s codebase, as well as provide a learning opportunity for the developers.

 

What opportunities are there for growth on the tech team?

There are opportunities for growth all around Solstice. We’re encouraged to take on leadership roles when tech leads are out or not staffed on that particular project. Internal initiatives are offered in the form of Solstice Labs and our engineering circle, which constantly gives us a platform to share new knowledge on cutting-edge technology.
 

We heard your team practices paired programming on nearly every project. What impact has that had on your team?

Paired programming has been a great way to decrease defect counts and improve code quality. Coding next to someone creates a constant feedback loop that leads to smarter iterations and faster solutions. It also provides a great platform for knowledge sharing and onboarding.

 

Coding next to someone creates a constant feedback loop that leads to smarter iterations and faster solutions.” 

 

Part of your work involves traveling to client offices every other week. With team members often on the road, how do you create a team culture?

We’ve created a team culture that embraces our clients and their personalities and becomes closer with clients by going to events and dinners with them. We’ve also created an open culture within the workplace by incorporating Slack and Zoom on the client side to encourage constant communication and collaboration.

 

Susan Stevens at work

Susan Stevens Portrait

 

Susan Stevens, Senior Technical Consultant

Susan is currently partnering with another developer on building features and fixing bugs for a project that involves replacing a legacy system with microservices.  

BUELLER? BUELLER?: Susan took a magical journey to Harry Potter World at Universal Orlando, where she escaped from Gringotts Bank and drank butterbeer to her heart's content.

 

You’ve worked at Solstice for three years. How has the company supported you in your professional growth?

I came to Solstice fresh out of graduate school, and I learned a lot from the people around me. Code reviews, while intimidating at first, gave me insight into how more experienced developers reasoned about things. I learned from them and developed better instincts for how to make my code clean and readable.

Solstice also values people who take initiative, even when that work falls outside of their typical role. I felt the interview process could be improved, so I recruited a team and we wrote new interview questions and updated the code challenge. Those opportunities are a great way to build your own professional skills.

 

I came to Solstice fresh out of graduate school, and I learned a lot from the people around me.”

 

How has Solstice’s culture shaped the way your team works?

Solstice encourages everyone to be themselves at work and values people over processes. My team used to do our daily stand-up in the morning, but people had a hard time recalling all of their updates from the day before. We decided to try a team “stand-down” at the end of every day, and the updates immediately became more detailed and valuable. Now, we just use stand-ups for announcements and deciding pairs for the day.

 

 

What does Solstice do to make your team feel connected to other teams while you’re traveling?

We share a Slack channel with all of our sister companies that is devoted to dogs. I love when people post photos of their dogs helping them work from home. Checking in on that Slack channel every once in a while reminds me that there’s this big, friendly community of people out there.

 

Adam at work

Adam Portrait

 

Adam Haag, Technical Consultant

Adam currently works as a software engineer on an e-commerce website. His days involve pairing with a fellow developer and working on a wide array of technologies that vary from tweaking a cascading style sheet to querying a cloud datastore.

BUELLER? BUELLER?: Adam and a couple of coworkers traveled to Milwaukee for a day, where they toured Lakefront Brewery and topped the trip off with the most classic of Wisconsin treats: cheese curds.

 

How does that process of pair programming play out on a project, and what advantages does that provide?

We practice ping-pong pair programming, which involves one pair writing a unit test and the other pair completing the implementation code for that test. The pairs then switch roles.

This process has increased the speed at which high-quality code can be delivered and merged and reduces errors. Bugs that would typically surface in traditional code reviews or by users in production are caught more frequently in pairs at the source. It’s also a great learning tool. Each pair brings a different background of experiences that they can share with the other pair.  

 

 

As a consultant, what have you learned from working on a variety of projects and technologies?

Solstice has a vast selection of technologies that give team members the opportunity to explore their interests and challenge their comfort zones. For myself, that has manifested in two different projects. The first project involved a native Android application and the second was a full-stack, mobile-friendly e-commerce application. Those two wide-ranging projects helped me hone my ability to learn and expanded my perspective on technologies.

 

Solstice has a vast selection of technologies that give team members the opportunity to explore their interests and challenge their comfort zone.”

 

What do you enjoy most about Solstice’s culture?

Our culture is built on servant leadership. Solsties — what we call ourselves at Solstice — love to serve other employees, clients and even the community through various volunteer opportunities. Working with friendly, helpful individuals makes all the difference.

 

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