Engineering leads at 5 Chicago tech companies share what makes their teams unique

by Alton Zenon III
May 29, 2019

There are a number of things that can make a company unique — not least of which are its products. And in the world of technology, engineering teams work very hard to develop key parts of their company’s offerings, providing their own specific flair to what they’re helping create. But what other aspects of their team makeup makes their engineering culture unique? We asked tech team leaders at five Chicago companies what sets their dev team apart from the rest. 

 

Morningstar engineering team in group photo

Investors of any type in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia can leverage Morningstar’s proprietary investment tools to empower their success. Head of Technology and Product Analytics Jeff Hirsch said new additions to the team are hired not only for the position they applied for, but also for any role across the company. 

 

Are there any team philosophies, tools or practices your team lives by that sets you apart?

Our hiring philosophy has always been that we don’t hire specifically for a team, but hire for Morningstar instead. For key skill set, our technology teams follow consistent standards and interview processes, meaning team members hired through this process can be a good fit for any team at Morningstar. And because of this practice and enforcement, it makes internal mobility much easier in execution, which we encourage. 

Diversity is celebrated so the team is made up of individuals from different cultural and professional backgrounds.”

 

What about the makeup of your team and the backgrounds of its members makes it unique?

From a company culture perspective, diversity is celebrated so the team is made up of individuals from different cultural and professional backgrounds and this inclusive nature is in the DNA of the company. And being a data-driven organization, we’re aware of the impact this has. Research shows that diversity leads to more success, increased performance, and innovation. 

 

BenchPrep team in group photo

BenchPrep helps education, training and assessment companies build online learning programs tailor made specifically for their learners. Chief Technology Officer Nickolay Schwarz said the diversity on his team is quite multi-layered.

 

Are there any team philosophies, tools or practices your team lives by that sets you apart?

There are a lot of practices we believe in that strongly contribute to our engineering culture, starting from egoless programming, engineering empowerment and accountability, good code conventions, pragmatic approach to methodologies and many others.

We are a very active, multi-tenant platform across dozens of customers, all of whom have their individual needs and challenges that they are addressing — yet code is shared within the system. In that environment, it is imperative to approach solutions in a way that empowers learners and solves customer challenges empathically, while the system stays maintainable and extendable. You need to think about when to say no and how things should be engineered, weighing the impact to other customers and system overall. For that, we rely on the ‘feature flagging’ technique, as well as investing time to solve challenges the right way. 

We rely on the ‘feature flagging’ technique, as well as investing time to solve challenges the right way.”

 

What about the makeup of your team and the backgrounds of its members makes it unique?

We have engineering folks with different genders; different educational backgrounds ranging from bachelors in computer science and boot camp graduates to doctorate degree holders; different cultural backgrounds including quite a few immigrants; and different career paths like finance, law, art, education and more.

 

Pangea team at soccer game

Pangea Money Transfer is a platform that allows anyone to send money to recipients in 15 countries across the globe. Vice President of Engineering Nick Doulas said his team is empathetic to the concerns of the company’s user base because they could count themselves among them. 

 

Are there any team philosophies, tools or practices your team lives by that sets you apart?

We have a motivated team that is eager to take initiative and solve any challenge. We recognize that technology is rapidly evolving and we proactively seek to learn new concepts and techniques to create better financial services for our customers. We rigorously test and measure all initiatives, not only to confirm that they perform correctly but to ensure they are achieving desired business outcomes. We are not afraid to admit mistakes and learn from them going forward.

Many of us have friends and family overseas and we understand how sending money makes a difference in their lives.”

 

What about the makeup of your team and the backgrounds of its members makes it unique?

Our team has a passion for technology, but we also have a strong appreciation for how we make an impact on our customers’ lives. Many of us have friends and family overseas, and we understand how sending money makes a difference in their lives every day. We value the importance of handling our customers’ money and strive for excellence in how we build and support our platform.

 

Enfusion staff chatting in outdoor area

Enfusion provides cloud-based investment management software to companies in the hedge fund, institutional investment and wealth management industries all around the world. Vice President of Software Development Dan Groman said those who lead the company also code on the ground floor, creating a special work environment.

 

Are there any team philosophies, tools or practices your team lives by that sets you apart?

We want every single developer to feel empowered in their professional development by constantly learning and taking initiative. In our merit-based culture, we recognize the achievements of employees that go the extra mile and offer them opportunities for growth and advancement. 

Our founding partners — all C-suite executives — are also software developers.”

 

What about the makeup of your team and the backgrounds of its members makes it unique?

Our founding partners — all C-suite executives — are also software developers. They're still writing code every day while determining the strategic development of the software. This unique working environment enables developers to gain insight into key business initiatives and learn from the best. 

Our team members have diverse educational and professional backgrounds. We are composed of recent grads looking to build their skill sets and tenured professionals that focus on strategic solutions. The variety of perspectives and viewpoints helps us constantly identify areas to enhance our product. Enfusion is guided by our company values and we look for these qualities in all of our employees. 

 

DAIS Technology team working in office

Although it’s currently in stealth mode, DAIS Technology is working on an “Internet of Insurance” company that aims  to better connect agents, carriers and policyholders. Vice President of Technology Mike Goldstein said the company has a particular motto that encourages agility and determination. 

 

Are there any team philosophies, tools or practices your team lives by that sets you apart?

Our team’s philosophy is “get shit done” and we try to make sure people are freed up to do their jobs. We’ve even structured a day of the week around it, where people can work from wherever they feel they are most productive. In a startup, you don’t have time to lose. You need to get products out the door, so we take GSD very seriously — it’s in our culture. 

When you bring diverse people together from different pasts, you make something new and unique.”

 

What about the makeup of your team and the backgrounds of its members makes it unique?

Our team is unique because our people are unique. When you have talented people with different backgrounds, they bring different things to the table like design practices, automation and testing strategies. When you bring diverse people together from different pasts, you make something new and unique — that’s what’s fun about building teams. The one thing they all have in common is ownership because they all take pride in what they are doing and they all care.

 

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