Live, learn, code: 6 Chicago tech leaders discuss keeping up with trends and their current projects (Part 2)

by Alton Zenon III
March 27, 2019

In the second half of our two-part series, we hear from six more tech leaders at Chicagoland companies about the efforts they take to soak in new industry insights and how that knowledge translates to new developments for their team and their companies at large. 
  
Read on to learn how the pros turn ideas into actions.

 

 

Snapsheet team in group photo

Insurance technology company Snapsheet provides drivers with the mobile means to digitally, efficiently settle their claims. CTO Dan Colomb said his team is pushing to refine and optimize their use of automation.

 

How do you stay ahead of shifting tech trends, and what new technologies are you eyeing for future projects?

We stay up to date with the latest technologies and trends by giving our technology team “hack days” every other Friday. Those days are spent exploring new technologies, building proof of concepts and working on new, innovative ideas that fall outside of the scope of roadmap projects. Recently, we have adopted infrastructure as code using Terraform to build out automated infrastructure provisioning solutions. This has allowed us to continue moving extremely fast as we expand our software solutions globally while reducing the risk of human error since our infrastructure provisioning is source controlled, peer-reviewed and automated.

We're ensuring that the most efficient claims processing platform can be used everywhere, starting with Europe and South America.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?  

We are launching our global virtual claims platform. We're ensuring that the most efficient claims processing platform can be used everywhere, starting with Europe and South America. We're currently live in Ireland and you'll see multiple countries launched within the next few months. This obviously presents dozens of difficult and interesting scaling, localization and configurations issues that the team is conquering every day.

 

Trunk Club team members working

Trunk Club works to make men and women look their best through its customizable shopping service and that offers curated wears. DevOps Engineering Manager Matt Fiscus said collaboration will be key to staying informed and staying productive as his team pursues cloud migration. 

 

How do you stay ahead of shifting tech trends, and what new technologies are you eyeing for future projects?

We stay ahead of the curve by remaining passionate about what we do – it makes learning emerging technologies exciting. Additionally, we stay informed by attending conferences, viewing webinars and reading relevant knowledge bases, wiki articles, and blog posts to keep our ears on the ground.

Having worked in the industry for 20 years, I can honestly say that there has never been such a quickly changing and rapidly evolving technology like cloud. What an exciting time to be working in technology for the autodidact in each of us.

Our biggest project this year is our migration to immutable infrastructure and the ensuing cloud consumption optimization.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

The objective of our roadmap this year is performance and infrastructure improvement. Our biggest project this year is our migration to immutable infrastructure and the ensuing cloud consumption optimization. Gone are the days of risky in-place patching, managing configuration drift and fragile snowflake servers. This type of initiative requires a massive cross-functional collaborative effort across all of the technology engineering teams. We can only succeed when everyone is working together to help each other succeed. You need smart people and people who love working together. 

 

Engineers at Vibes on a circular couch

Through tools like push notifications, SMS, messaging apps, and more, Vibes connects brands to consumers through the mobile marketing solutions it offers. Head of Engineering Clarke Retzer said staying ahead of the curve is very much a group effort.

 

How do you stay ahead of shifting tech trends, and what new technologies are you eyeing for future projects?

One way I try to stay ahead is by exposing myself to information, like listening to podcasts, consuming RSS feeds and reading online tech journals. Most importantly, I surround myself with smart people passionate about technology, give them space to explore and learn, then listen to them. Keeping up to date with technology is not the task of a single person, rather, it is a continual effort by a committed team.

Vibes has been investing in AI and machine learning internally, and has now begun to release products that make heavy use of these technologies. We are very excited to continue to make machine learning an integral part of many areas of our business.

Keeping up to date with technology is not the task of a single person, rather, it is a continual effort by a committed team.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We are focusing a large amount of effort in conversational marketing in 2019. We recently released our conversational analytics product, which is a natural language processing system to enable meaningful conversations at scale. Leveraging AI and machine learning techniques to enhance customer interactions with the brands they love is a strong driver for the present and future of Vibes. 

 

Envoy Globals Chief Product Development and Technology Officer Mahi Inampudi

Envoy Global helps enterprise companies manage all the details surrounding the employment of their international team members with its immigration services platform. Chief Product Development and Technology Officer Mahi Inampudi said his team is working to further implement a diverse range of tech systems into its current workflow.

 

How do you stay ahead of shifting tech trends, and what new technologies are you eyeing for future projects?

Data analytics and visualization, cognitive capabilities, machine learning, and even the application development frameworks are evolving rapidly, resulting in continuous learning and development as a key focus for our teams. Our product and development teams learn from external sources and each other. When it comes to the adoption of these newer technologies, the framework goes through an internal review process to ensure we are not building out our platform on something that’s not ready for prime-time usage.

The framework goes through an internal review process to ensure we are not building out our platform on something that’s not ready for prime-time usage.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We follow a scrum framework for product development and, as a result, have a product code release a few times every month; the platform evolution is always on. Even so, there are always new features that we are building and major updates being made to the workflows that sometimes require us to accumulate code changes to hit a specific target date for the release. We are considering more data analytics and visualization, machine learning and intelligence, as well as instant answers as some of the key areas to release some major features later this year.

 

Veritas Health tech team

Online health publisher Veritas Health provides medical patients with physician-written content on topics that include chronic pain causes, conditions, ailments and management techniques. Senior Technical Lead Rob Malon said his team is spending time this year evolving its use of Drupal. 

 

How do you stay ahead of the curve? What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects?

As an online health publisher, it’s our job to get trusted health information to readers who want to help improve their health situations — whether that be through our websites, email campaigns or social channels. So our technology has to be reliable and accessible. While having cutting-edge technology isn’t as important to our users as accessing accurate health information, it’s important for us to stay ahead of the curve so we can continue to provide consistent service to our websites. We are constantly accessing and comparing new and updated tools. Right now, we’re most excited about Drupal 8, Gitlab CI, VueJS, Ubuntu 18 and adhering to Web Content Accessibility Guideline standards.

We’re migrating Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 and we’ll take advantage of many of the new features, like composer and twig, that it has to offer.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

It’s important for us to provide internal tools to our editors so they can manage their content, revisions, author interactions and publishing processes. In 2019, we’ll be rolling out a new internal editorial content management system to help with this. We’re migrating Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 and we’ll take advantage of many of the new features, like composer and twig, that it has to offer. We're also continuing to build onto our Selenium- and Behat-automated front end testing to help support better continuous integration practices.

 

Members of BRD's tech team working together

BRD’s platform is intended to make buying, selling, trading and managing cryptocurrencies a seamless experience. Director of Engineering Brian Eagan said his team stays on their toes and ahead of trends by simply having fun and trying new things. 

 

How do you stay ahead of shifting tech trends, and what new technologies are you eyeing for future projects?

We are solving unique problems in a new space, so innovation is a requirement. To keep it going, we encourage the team to have fun and enjoy the exploration of tech, with no fixed goals, in our quarterly hack week. In our daily work, we don't make any choices that are sacred — if there is a better way to do a thing, and it is impactful, we do it. Our team is composed of amazing people; we aim to create a culture that simply allows that to be expressed.

We encourage the team to have fun and enjoy the exploration of tech, with no fixed goals, in our quarterly hack week.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We’re working on building a unified blockchain storage and indexing system to help us roll out new blockchains to our users faster. Nothing quite like this exists and we love working on projects like that! If you want to make a lasting impact, you have to be willing to take some moonshots as well as taking care of the day to day.

 

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