11 Tech Companies That Thrive Under Pressure and Have Big Hiring Plans

Michael Hines
December 1, 2020
chicago tech companies hiring
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Ask Chicago tech workers about 2020 and you’ll hear about the challenges of navigating work from home and the “new normal.”

However, you’re also just as likely to hear stories about teams stepping up to support each other and their customers, and individual accounts of personal and professional growth. That’s because Chicago tech is filled with companies whose cultures and teams are built to come together and thrive under pressure.

We recently sat down with employees at 11 such companies — all of which are hiring — to learn how their unique cultures enabled them to tackle unprecedented challenges and grow as people and professionals.

 

Jeff Smith
Director of Product Operations

What they do: Centro’s enterprise digital advertising software gives marketers a single place to plan, buy and optimize direct, programmatic search and social campaigns.

Centro’s company culture in one word: “Systemic,” Jeff Smith, director of product operations, said. “I know this is an unusual choice, but I think it’s an underappreciated value. Culture requires reinforcement and structure to reproduce consistently, and there are many situations where culture changes when a specific leader or figure leaves. Centro’s culture is built into the DNA of our organization and guides everything from our onboarding to how we celebrate victories and handle adversity.

“An example is this pandemic. Although many organizations were quick to lay people off, we leaned on our values and executed austerity measures. Shared sacrifice, transparency and focus allowed us to avoid layoffs and have us poised to exit the pandemic stronger than we entered it.”
 

Shared sacrifice, transparency and focus allowed us to avoid layoffs and have us poised to exit the pandemic stronger than we entered it.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

“I’m entering my fifth year with Centro, and my professional growth has come from working more closely with the product organization,” Smith said. “Understanding how that team interacts with customers and learning about their needs has helped me frame and handle my relationship with my own internal customers, like our developers and data engineers. My team plays a large internal support role, and it’s easy to forget to approach their problems in a similar systemic way. Our product organization has helped me to develop tools, language and behaviors for approaching that engagement.”

 

Laura Pereira
Operations Manager

What they do: Machinio operates a marketplace for machinery and heavy equipment and recently expanded into software with the launch of MachineryHost, an e-commerce platform created specifically for equipment dealers.

Machinio’s company culture in one word: “We discussed this question as a team and collectively arrived at ‘supportive,’” Laura Pereira, operations manager, said. “A specific, real-life example of our supportive culture is how all of our teams managed to thrive in the midst of a global pandemic. We not only continued to help clients but also broke records and achieved our best months ever in terms of traffic, leads and revenue. That could not have been done without unwavering support among teammates and incredible cross-functional collaboration. We truly rose to the occasion and gave a new meaning to hard work and hustle.”
 

The experience you obtain at Machinio in three months is equivalent to the experience you would obtain in one year anywhere else.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

“I have been with Machinio for almost four years, and being in operations management has given me the opportunity to work and collaborate with most of our teams,” Pereira said. “Aside from my own tremendous professional growth, the most rewarding thing has been witnessing the rapid development of individuals and teams. The experience you obtain at Machinio in three months is equivalent to the experience you would obtain in one year anywhere else.

“Our recruiting process is specifically designed to find individuals who will come in and raise the bar higher and truly add to the team with their personality, grit and hard work. Seeing individuals and teams grow over the years, and growing my career with these individuals and teams, has been remarkable and something I would not have experienced anywhere else.”

 

Mariah Calderon
VP of Client Strategy

What they do: C.A. Fortune is a consumer brands agency that helps companies build and grow brands, both online and offline. 

C.A. Fortune’s company culture in one word: “Progressive, in respect to both our employees and clients,” Mariah Calderon, VP of client strategy, said. “Personal and professional career growth opportunities are readily available through constant exposure to multiple facets of the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space and formal training programs offered companywide. 

“Benefits such as generous parental leave, company workouts and paid volunteer days are just a few of the examples that speak volumes to how C.A. values us. As it relates to clients, C.A. Fortune is always adapting to the evolving CPG environment, adding new resources, capabilities and building out teams to support our clients’ needs. We pride ourselves on a ‘boutique approach’ and realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which continues to set us apart and keep clients and employees engaged.”
 

I’ve had the opportunity to join and lead many projects tied to our overall company growth.”


How long have you been with C.A. Fortune, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

“I have been with the company for four years now and have experienced an abundance of professional and personal growth,” Calderon said. “I’ve had the opportunity to join and lead many projects tied to our overall company growth, including the development and rollout of a new client team structure to better service our growing client portfolio, the creation of request-for-proposal pitches with some of the biggest brands in the CPG space and the crafting of formal training and onboarding processes.

“Something that has stuck with me over the years that I’ve tried to incorporate into my leadership style is the importance of collaboration. It’s so inspiring to see my team work cross-functionally with all the different pillars at C.A. and to watch success come to life for our clients.”

 

A screenshot of the Paro team on a video call
PARO

What they do: The Paro platform connects companies that need finance talent fast with CFOs, analysts, accountants and more on-demand.

Paro’s company culture in one word: “Connected,” Mike Graham, senior recruiter, said. “Since remote work started earlier this year, our organization has constantly sought out and actuated ways to connect on both individual and team levels. Our team has recently expanded across multiple cities in the U.S., and we have been onboarding new employees virtually, all while maintaining a high level of collaboration. With virtual lunches, trivia nights, companywide meetings and more, there are no shortage of opportunities to develop meaningful relationships across the organization.”
 

Paro strives to create an environment where people can bring their true, authentic selves to both their interview and to work.”


What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on recently, and how did it help you grow professionally?

“Revamping our recruitment processes to reinforce our unbiased and equitable hiring practices,” Graham said. “Paro strives to create an environment where people can bring their true, authentic selves to both their interview and to work. The ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are a priority for the entire Paro team. As a recruiter, I have been inspired by the opportunity to continually improve the candidate experience, from the first interview through onboarding and beyond.”

 

Megan DePorter
Director of People Operations

What they do: HealthJoy’s app-based benefits experience platform is designed to make it easier for users to navigate and get the most out of their healthcare benefits.

HealthJoy’s culture in one word: “Compassionate,” Megan DePorter, director of people operations, said. “This year has been remarkably challenging, to say the least, and it’s been gratifying to see how supportive, flexible and transparent leadership has been throughout this unprecedented time. Whether it’s celebrating employees who exemplify HealthJoy’s values, planning socially distanced park and coffee meetups, hosting virtual yoga and meditation sessions, or simply checking in with one another, we have truly built something special and continue to focus on ways to stay united. 

“HealthJoy’s mission is to make an impact on employees’ health and wellness and ensure everyone is making informed decisions about their healthcare. Working in an industry with such a compassionate and philosophically beneficial purpose makes me — and the entire team— incredibly proud, especially during these times.”
 

I am taking on initiatives and projects I never would have in previous roles, and I’m continually pushed to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

“I’ve been with HealthJoy for almost two years and was employee number 20 for our United States-based team and the first person to lead and build the people operations function,” DePorter said. “Fast forward to 2020, and we are now at 100 employees and forecasting 50 percent growth next year.

“HealthJoy is my first true startup, and my first day consisted of a blank slate and the directive to ‘build what you think will be successful.’ It was definitely a daunting feeling, especially as I was also expecting my first child. The support of my direct leader and incredible team, along with the autonomy, trust and guidance I was given, enabled me to build the foundation for HR and recruiting. I am taking on initiatives and projects I never would have in previous roles, and I’m continually pushed to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

 

Laura Hickman
Product Manager

What they do: Pampered Chef develops cooking equipment that it sells both on its website and via a network of independent consultants.

Pampered Chef’s company culture in one word: “Supportive,” Laura Hickman, product manager, said. “Many of Pampered Chef’s employees began working from home with the onset of the coronavirus, and what could have been a challenging adjustment has been met with so much support. Many of us are juggling work and being primary caretakers of children or family members, and everyone has been so understanding about the struggles of balancing the two. 

“Amazing coworkers have driven out of their way to drop off product samples to my home on numerous occasions, and my teammates have been incredibly understanding when my daughter starts screaming through a call and have generously jumped in to help finish presenting information. Coworkers have found ways to navigate what would normally be in-person video shoots using Zoom so that we can all be safe. The tremendous support has made me even more appreciative of the culture at Pampered Chef and has strengthened my relationship with many coworkers.”
 

Many of us are juggling work and being primary caretakers of children or family members, and everyone has been so understanding about the struggles of balancing the two.” 


What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on recently, and how did it help you grow professionally?

“The development of our Deluxe Cooking Blender,” Hickman said. “This product was complex and required the creation of programs for settings that would simplify making specific foods not traditionally made in a blender. Two of the programs were very complicated to develop and there were times the team debated changing these programs to something simpler. 

“One of the biggest growth areas was learning how to keep the team motivated and engaged. I kept encouraging the team, held meetings to brainstorm solutions to problems, utilized experts from inside and outside the company and pulled ideas for useful functionalities from a wide array of other products. Eventually, we were able to successfully develop the programming settings, which were well-received by our consultants and customers. Seeing a challenge like this through to completion helped me to sharpen my abilities as a leader.”

 

Nicole Allaway Taylor
Business Analyst / Salesforce Practice

What they do: Saggezza is a technology consultancy that helps businesses grow using a personalized approach to problem-solving and solutions implementation.

Saggeza’s culture in one word: “Dynamic,” Nicole Allaway Taylor, business analyst for its Salesforce practice, said. “There are several definitions of ‘dynamic,’ but to me, it means ‘energy’ and ‘motion.’ I am part of the dynamic Salesforce practice at Saggezza, a group of extremely talented, hard-working and intelligent technology and business leaders. We have created a culture full of positive energy and we thrive on collaboration. We are always in motion and use teamwork to provide creative ideas that guide our clients to work and think smarter.”
 

Being involved in all aspects of the project gave me the opportunity to learn new processes, develop my technical skills and grow personally and professionally.”


What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on recently, and how did it help you grow professionally?

“The implementation of Sales Cloud for a local Chicago company,” Allaway Taylor said. “Their business model was unique, and our team was challenged on a daily basis to identify and provide solutions that would transform the way they do business. Being involved in all aspects of the project from discovery to deployment gave me the opportunity to learn new processes, develop my technical skills and grow personally and professionally. It is a pleasure to be part of our Saggezza team!”

 

Swetha Viswanatha
Technical Product Manager

What they do: Vail Systems’ telephony and analytics technology is used by companies to provide clearer and more personalized phone support to consumers.

Vail System’s company culture in one word: “Autonomous,” Swetha Viswanatha, technical product manager, said. “I picked this word because Vail Systems allows me to be myself and do the work that I enjoy doing in an independent way without being micromanaged. This is especially true when it comes to product management and software development, as these roles require high levels of creativity and problem-solving. 

“My project team embodies this. We balance individual contributions and collaboration, and teammates are encouraged to focus on a given problem, individually brainstorm and bring their ideas to share with the rest of the team. This helps us build upon each other’s strengths and work toward a common goal.”
 

Vail Systems allows me to be myself and do the work that I enjoy doing in an independent way without being micromanaged.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time?

“I have been with Vail Systems for over two years, and in this time I have developed a greater sense of confidence in the work I do,” Viswanatha said. “I have been given a platform to create my own structure, express creativity and explore new ideas. Vail’s work environment has helped me be more comfortable with uncertainty and move past the fear of failure. If ideas don’t pan out as intended, we learn from those experiences and iterate on the next version of the solution. 

“I’ve been fortunate to work alongside many talented and experienced coworkers at Vail, and through them, I have learned the value of trust, collaboration and communication. I’ve also grown professionally through consistent face time with our highly approachable management. Working alongside leadership maximizes transparency between individual contributions and the big picture of what we do at Vail Systems.”

 

Sam Eisner
Manager of Employee Experience and Culture

What they do: Braze’s customer engagement platform is designed to enable enterprise companies to have better conversations and forge stronger connections with consumers at scale.

Braze’s culture in one word: “Resilient,” Sam Eisner, manager of employee experience and culture, said. “A lot of companies feared that full-time work from home would hinder their engagement and break their culture. I am so proud to say that did not happen at Braze. As the manager of employee experience and culture, I was thrust into the spotlight and trusted with keeping our engagement strong. Luckily, I wasn’t alone.

“It took all of one day for people to set up virtual happy hours, coffee chats, cooking classes and more. Our employee resource groups came together and invited the company to join them in their virtual events and weekly meetings. Braze’s resilient culture has helped propel us through these unprecedented times.”
 

Braze’s resilient culture has helped propel us through these unprecedented times.”


What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on recently, and how did it help you grow professionally?

“Spearheading our new core values project plan,” Eisner said. “Leadership decided that our core values were outdated, but no one really had the bandwidth to start this project. I took the reins on day one. I needed to present a strategy on how we were going to uncover the values we were already living, not creating new ones to live by. Leadership trusted me — someone they barely knew — to dig deep into the culture, talk to key people at Braze and start creating statements that would resonate with our people. That was the moment I knew I was going to love it here. 

“This project helped me step out of my comfort zone by challenging me to find and leverage key people who would help me uncover these new values. It forced me to be confident in my process and trust my colleagues. I worked with some of the most creative and intelligent people to create these values and am so proud of where they are and how Braze continues to represent them.”

 

The Screencastify team on a video call
Screencastify

What they do: Screencastify’s Chrome extension is designed to make it easier for anyone to record, edit and share videos.

Screencastify’s culture in one word: “Agile,” Nefertiti Dukes, education innovation lead, said. “Our company culture is constantly changing as new people join, existing employees encounter new ideas and our company goals evolve. Over the past six months, we’ve navigated creating remote norms and more than doubling in size. Laura, our director of success, introduced ‘First Friday Frivolity,’ where we chat with new employees about something silly on their first Friday at Screencastify, as a way for our growing team to stay in touch and to welcome new team members.

“This event helps new employees acclimate to how we have fun and has become a hallmark of our onboarding process. The fact that this idea came from a team member not tasked with people management perfectly exemplifies Screencastify.”
 

Our company culture is constantly changing as new people join, existing employees encounter new ideas and our company goals evolve.”


How long have you been with the company, and what professional growth or development have you seen in that time? 

“Schools moved to remote instruction in March, and this sudden shift left many educators with no access to appropriate professional development,” Dukes said. “Leaders from four different departments met to determine how we could best aid our partners, and the result was a slew of customized resources that speak to the importance of video in a remote classroom, an updated product roadmap and a new onboarding sequence tailored to helping users reach their students from anywhere.

“This project provided us with an opportunity to improve cross-departmental communication in real time. It also introduced us to running and assessing a campaign owned by multiple departments.”

 

Utkarsh Sengar
Director of Engineering

What they do: Upwork’s talent marketplace connects companies looking for help with web design, content creation, branding and more with freelancers.

Upwork’s culture in one word: “Autonomy,” Utkarsh Sengar, director of engineering, said. “As a product engineering team, our work is highly creative, experimental and the path to success generally requires many iterations. It’s pretty hard to succeed without autonomy and complete ownership of the problem space. We have full freedom to solve problems the way we think is best for the customer without layers of decision-makers. We promise outcomes, and how we get there is the core team’s decision. 

“It sounds like a simple thing, but maintaining autonomy requires deliberate effort from company leaders. This was demonstrated in one of our most recent initiatives where the core team made a decision to delay a launch by two weeks in order to add finishing touches. We wanted to be proud of what we built. Our first priority is to deliver a great experience to our customers, not hit deadlines.”
 

Our first priority is to deliver a great experience to our customers, not hit deadlines.”


What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on recently, and how did it help you grow professionally?

“Our marketing automation platform,” Sengar said. “The goal of this project is to help marketers at Upwork automate repetitive tasks like campaign management, reporting and decision-making based on trending data. This allows them to focus on strategy and scale up fast while code manages the ongoing stuff. This was a unique challenge for us because our user was not an Upwork customer but a seasoned marketing expert. 

“To solve their pain points, our engineers spent weeks understanding their workflow, went deep into how they evaluated campaign performance and finally translated their thinking to code. This project opened the door to ‘martech,’ a completely new category of work for us.”

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