Par for the code: 8 tech team leaders discuss current challenges and working solutions

by Alton Zenon III
March 6, 2019

We all know that engineers are the foundation of the tech we use each day. What’s less obvious are the specific challenges these professionals face in getting our tools to run smoothly. 

Tech team leaders at eight companies told us what they’re working on today, what project-related knots they’re working to untangle and how they’re going about doing that.

 

iManage team at fooseball table

iManage provides AI-based document and email management tools to legal, accounting and financial services companies. Principal Engineer David Willkomm said his squad is working on making data storage globally accessible so as to fit the evolving work styles of users. 

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using? 

Our labs team is currently addressing a market need to store data in multiple regions to help our customers comply with legislation related to maintaining client data within certain geographies. We provide this ability to segregate data while supporting accessibility from anywhere in the world.

Our REST API was designed to be multi-region as well as multi-tenant aware, and we are now implementing the necessary global routing logic using a new module to route the API based on the information sources requested. In addition to this, we are implementing federated authentication that will enable requests from the same user to span multiple regions. In order to achieve this, we are leveraging smart caching of authentication information regionally and using messaging components for driving our custom synchronization services.

We are implementing federated authentication that will enable requests from the same user to span multiple regions.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward?

Our customers constantly collaborate with their peers around the world. It is imperative that the client data reside in geos that meet client obligations and that the distributed staff working on the engagement can effortlessly search and operate on the information — no matter where it lives across the globe. Multi-region support is a competitive differentiator, and unique to our products and services. With it, we will be able to support customers both large and small located anywhere in the world, with data anywhere in the world.

 

Fooda team chatting around company logo

Fooda’s platform brings lunch from over 2,000 local restaurants to hungry office staff all over the country. Lead Software Engineer Jake Hergott said his team is focused on making the company’s applications more up-to-date by using a handful of new technology systems.

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using? 

We are a mobile-first company with a strong and secure API layer. In 2019, we are modernizing our web apps using technologies like React/Redux on the front end and a serverless DevOps architecture built on AWS CloudFront. Building a shared API ecosystem is important now, and we chose GraphQL to be the new API runtime.

GraphQL will create a more consistent API experience that will allow our design to be more evolvable.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward? 

We believe moving to GraphQL will create a more consistent API experience that will allow our design to be more evolvable and will enable our clients to explicitly request the exact data they need, because mobile bandwidth is not free. With this strong foundation, our engineering organization will be able to ship client features quicker and with greater confidence.

 

Cooler Screens team standing by retail cooler door

Cooler Screens uses IoT technology to transform retail coolers and freezers into digital marketing interfaces. Senior Product Owner Ernesto Rodriguez said keeping the team organized and moving quickly as it scales has been an important undertaking for everyone involved. 

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using? 

When expanding a rapidly growing product development team across Chicago, Denver and beyond, it can get tricky to keep track of everything. With fast user-feedback loops, the challenge is to ensure each team member understands where they can provide the most value efficiently.

At one point, our documentation and process became just as distributed as our teams. Technical documentation was stored in SharePoint folders, Google Drive shared folders, email threads and in temporary project management tools such as Rally. These growing pains also extended to where code repositories lived, what testing was accomplished and how code was shipped. So, we started using Microsoft Azure DevOps to dramatically solve many of these growth challenges.

With fast user-feedback loops, the challenge is to ensure each team member understands where they can provide the most value efficiently.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward?

The benefits of properly using Azure DevOps across our teams have included: having a unified and up-to-date scrum board to groom our backlog and be clear about priorities and status; having a clear understanding of what the expectations are for each sprint and the resources involved; having end-to-end tracking of backlogs, epics, user stories, development tasks, QA test plans and test cases all under one roof. 

The goal is to keep our team velocity intact or improved over time, and organizing the product team in a scalable way is critical for executing our company mission.

 

Carminati Consulting team in group photo

Carminati Consulting provides healthcare, government, private and nonprofit organizations with a wide range of IT products and services to boost company customer experiences. Manager of Web Development Michael Brower said members of his team advance their skills with each project they successfully complete.

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using?

Our team members work closely with clients to understand their unique challenges such as: improving workflow efficiency, expanding reporting and analytics capabilities and integrating with third-party software platforms. We also create scalable and secure cloud-based solutions that meet or exceed security standards, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as well as enable custom, bi-directional integrations that are both proprietary and Health Level 7-based. We have also begun exploring how artificial intelligence can predict next steps as well as long-term trends.

Whether we employ our modular health and occupational compliance software, develop custom solutions on our preferred development framework ASP.NET, or we use a client’s desired platform like Salesforce or SiteCore, we design and develop highly configurable solutions that help clients effectively deliver their expertise.

With each successful iteration, our team grows and we are able to use our diverse backgrounds and technical skills to take on larger and more complex challenges.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward?

With each project, we learn more about our clients and the industries and communities they serve. We use this knowledge to look forward and integrate leading-edge technological breakthroughs that anticipate and address our clients’ future needs.

As our software solutions grow, they build bridges from one industry to another so that clients benefit from advancements made in other sectors. For example, one version of our Immuware software may record influenza vaccinations for employees at a hospital in California, streamline employee onboarding for one of the largest medical nonprofit organizations in Chicago and track ongoing education compliance for a government agency. With each successful iteration, our team grows, and we are able to use our diverse backgrounds and technical skills to take on larger and more complex challenges.

 

TopstepTrader team in group photo

TopstepTrader provides aspiring traders with a real-time trading simulator for users to hone their skills before working with real capital. Engineering Manager John Goode said organization is a keyword for his tech team these days.

 

What technical challenges are you and your team looking to address, and what tools do you use to address them?

The biggest challenge we are facing is how to scale our technology to meet the increasing demand of our user base. We are looking to address this challenge from all aspects of technology, including architecture, infrastructure and process. From an architecture side, we are looking at how we can collect and process trading data more quickly. Designing the architecture and finding the right tools to help parallelize this process is extremely important, since our users need to know their account performance before the next trading day. 

We are also looking into automating as much as we can, especially around our DevOps and testing practices. We have really begun to adopt an ‘infrastructure as code’ mindset, so that we can quickly manage and provision our infrastructure as we scale our cloud-based ecosystem. 

We are also looking into automating as much as we can, especially around our DevOps and testing practices.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward?

The biggest impact is that it will allow us to continue to grow our user base while maintaining our first-class user experience. This is extremely important to the organization, since one of our core values is that users are the center of our work. By scaling our technology, we will be able to live this core value and grow our products to reach as many traders as possible.

 

Camelot Global team in group photo

Camelot Illinois is the Illinois State Lottery’s private manager. Senior Infrastructure Engineer Christopher Wartman said his team is hard at work optimizing the player experience through technology. 

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using? 

The biggest issue we face is integrating lottery and modern technology. We have a hybrid environment that mixes traditional physical designs as well as cloud computing, but what’s interesting is that our focus is on consistency and user interface. In this business, we understand that a player’s experience is the most important aspect, so we’re using technology to orchestrate the best user experience possible.

We understand that a player’s experience is the most important aspect so we’re using technology to orchestrate the best user experience possible.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward?

Our architects have laid out an impressive architecture that focuses on current technologies. With this plan in place, we’ll be able to reach more Illinoisans than the lottery has ever before. 

 

Neighborhoods.com in group photo

Neighborhoods.com connects prospective home buyers with open listings based on area-specific criteria like school quality and pricing trends. Lead Mobile Developer Antonio Carella said working on the company’s first mobile app has presented a number of challenges, but a number of wins as well.

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using?

We recently developed an iOS app — a first for the company — which meant our engineering, design and project management teams had to collaborate in a new way. As our back-end teams were busy with their own projects, we had to be reasonable with our asks from them, which meant relying on existing back-end infrastructure that was originally designed with other use cases in mind.

As an online real estate platform, it’s critical that our in-depth content and home sale listings are displayed through an easily navigable map, which also presented the most challenging aspect of this project — specifically, getting interactions and animation on the map UI to work in a performant and aesthetically pleasing way. To achieve this, I became very familiar with iOS’ MapKit, Apple Operations and Operation Queues, and adopted the Model–view–viewmodel architecture — all invaluable tools to get the map experience where it is.

The knowledge acquired from building this app will be applied to other mobile applications already in the pipeline.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on our company moving forward?

The majority of interaction with our audience takes place through a browser, and we’re constantly iterating to ensure our visitors encounter a seamless user experience on the web. Replicating the same experience on mobile strengthens our capabilities and reach, and allows us to connect with prospective homebuyers in a fresh way. Moving forward, the knowledge acquired from building this app will be applied to other mobile applications already in the pipeline.

 

Edovo team working in conference room

Edovo provides inmates in correctional institutions with tablet-based educational and vocational training programs meant to reduce recidivism once they are released. Principal Engineer Mike Ebert said developing tech solutions that are highly scalable, and the launches of which are well-executed, are his team’s top priorities right now. 

 

What technical challenges is your engineering team currently addressing, and what tools are you using?

Our team is currently focused on testing and scaling out new communication technologies to help incarcerated individuals stay in touch with their loved ones. On the software side, our Java, .NET and React platforms are pretty performant, so most of our energy is being put into new features and refactoring code where we know we need to make the initial code more extensible. With so many new customers, we’re seeing the products used in ways we never imagined, so the code base is constantly evolving and all of our developers have a lot of say in the evolution of the architecture. On the hardware side, it’s all about security and redundancy, which means ensuring we maintain a solid infrastructure with a variety of AWS services and managing it all with Ansible.

We’re seeing the products used in ways we never imagined, so the code base is constantly evolving.”

 

What impact will solving these challenges have on your company moving forward?

In the first half of 2019, we have new customer launches scheduled that will increase the number of active users tenfold. By solving our technical challenges, the team will be able to implement a scalable solution to support this rapidly growing user base. Our products are all built to serve our company mission of improving the lives of everyone affected by incarceration, so the most important thing the engineering team can do is make sure that every new customer rollout and feature launch goes as smoothly as possible. Ensuring technical risks are identified and mitigated helps create a positive experience for the incarcerated user, the friends and family members, and the facility staff.

 

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