True grit and ownership: What 8 Chicago companies look for in developers

by Michael Hines
July 20, 2017

When it comes to coding, there is never just one way to solve a problem or build a product. The approach a development team ultimately takes is shaped by its company’s culture and values. With that in mind, we asked eight Chicago tech companies about the most important trait they look for in a developer, and how that trait fits into their engineering team’s unique culture.

 

Trading Technologies builds software for professional derivatives traders. Even though the engineering team works behind the scenes, it's still asked to be just as persistent and creative as those who execute actual trades.

What are the most important traits Trading Technologies looks for in a developer?

“At Trading Technologies, we look to find developers who are creative, tenacious, take ownership and are eager to learn something new every day,” said Katie Burgoon, executive vice president and global head of human resources. “We operate in small teams and put a lot of thought into each team's dynamic to maximize individual and collective talents and attributes.”

How do those traits fit into your engineering team's unique culture?

“Our environment is conducive to fostering creativity and teamwork. We celebrate individuals and teams who display this daily and live by our four principles of being tech pioneers and visionaries, taking risks, putting ownership above all else and committing to users beyond developing software,” Burgoon stated.

 

Optiver is a tech-driven trading company specializing in market-making. Ownership and autonomy are prized dev traits but team members do not work alone to solve problems as Optiver values collaboration.

What are the most important traits Optiver looks for in a developer?

"Ownership and autonomy. Developers at Optiver are presented with trading problems, a small bit of guidance, and an atmosphere of deep collaboration. They are then expected to make wise decisions, fixing the root cause to a core problem rather applying a bandaid to a proximate issue," said David Kent, team lead for automated trading systems. 

"Finally they develop, deploy, and monitor their solution to ensure the problem has truly been solved. Our best developers take that even further, bringing up ideas to improve not only the software their team owns, but other IT teams, trading, and Optiver as a whole. Their position as a developer goes far beyond writing code."

How do those traits fit into your engineering team's unique culture?

"For a trading firm, we are actually quite conservative, particularly in our technology choices. We fear the hidden complexity introduced by new languages, tools, and frameworks, and judiciously apply new technologies if the problem dictates. It is crucial that our developers buy into this given their level of autonomy," Kent said.

"Over two years ago one of our senior developers approached me about a new trading component we had been developing for a few months. He said, ‘I’d officially like to ask your permission to redo this in C. … I’m hoping to remove unnecessary complexity [as we] have proven that we can’t be trusted to avoid the complexity C++ allows.’

"We gave him our full backing, and in the two years since, this system written in a 45-year-old programming language has become a foundational component of our success,” Kent continued.

“We have been able to add new functionality to it just as easily as the promises of modern languages, not in spite, but because any complexity is not hidden. This is the mixture of autonomy, ownership and conservative thinking we aim for.”

 

SwipeSense’s network of IoT-connected hand hygiene devices helps healthcare facilities prevent infections from spreading. With a team consisting of data scientists, developers and electrical engineer, the company values devs who can collaborate across teams.

What are the most important traits SwipeSense looks for in a developer?

"Relentless experimentation. We’re solving a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution but we know it’s out there," said vice president of engineering Mike Cruz. "Through constant exploration, thinking outside the box and embracing failure we have been able to get closer to that solution."

How do those traits fit into your engineering team's unique culture?

"We are a team of varied backgrounds, from electrical engineers to software engineers to data scientists. The best solutions come when those people collaborate and experiment," Cruz said. "We’ve worked hard to ensure our office and culture reinforce that, from pairing stations to whiteboards to cross-functional pods. It always amazes me the solutions you can come up with when you work together."

 

Initiative is what Enfusion, a cloud-based application for asset managers to manage their trading operations, looks for in developers. The company’s development team is expected and encouraged to ask questions and come up with creative solutions to problems.

What are the most important traits Enfusion looks for in a developer?

“Taking action proactively, either after observing a need or a problem, or just thinking ahead can greatly enhance a development team's ability to produce the highest quality experience for the users,” said Ajay Patwardhan, executive vice president of software development. “Essentially, you see something, say something, do something. You don't wait for someone else to handle it or report it.”

How do those traits fit into your engineering teams unique culture?

“For our team, we have a list of interesting projects that we come up with every few months, and developers are encouraged to come up with ideas to tackle them. These are not part of people's regular responsibilities, and people who suggest creative solutions for a particular problem are greatly appreciated,” Patwardhan said. “For us, this is a very effective way to move our offering forward and something we look for when hiring for our development team.”

 

At SAP Fieldglass, programmers work on a cloud-based vendor management system used by companies to streamline service procurement and external workforce programs. The company has been around since 1999, and wants its devs to share the same passion for innovation that it has cultivated over the last 18 years.

What are the most important traits SAP Fieldglass looks for in a developer?

“At SAP Fieldglass, we seek out those who are intellectually curious and who have a passion for innovation," said Jeff Basso, senior vice president of technology at SAP Fieldglass.

How do those traits fit into your engineering team’s unique culture?

"That combination of qualities was instrumental in my engineering team's development of a new cloud hosting design that is elegant in the simplicity of its architecture and also easy to replicate and maintain,” Basso added. “This gave us the speed we needed to rapidly deploy data centers and keep pace with market demand driven by ongoing expansion of businesses' engagement of external workers. This fosters the need for our solutions and services to automate and inform the management of this growing segment of the workforce."

 

Higi is all about keeping people healthy and happy through its online wellness platform and in-store health stations. Since the startup operates in two continually evolving spaces — health and tech — developers are expected to be lifelong learners to ensure their ideas and code stay innovative.

What are the most important traits higi looks for in a developer?

“At higi, the most important trait we look for in a developer is the drive to learn. We pride ourselves on our capacity to experiment with new, innovative technologies and to share that newfound knowledge with our fellow engineers through lunch-and-learn sessions, pair programming and code reviews,” said Robert Bakos, vice president of engineering.

How do those traits fit into your engineering team’s unique culture?

“In addition to these more traditional educational tools, we often utilize ‘fun sprints,’ two-week sessions in which developers are given the opportunity to focus their time on being creative and building something they’re interested in with the tools they are interested in learning,” Bakos explained. “It’s a chance to be creative, while helping the team understand the pros and cons of new languages, frameworks and skill sets."

 

Developers at 4C work on the complex challenge that is multi-screen marketing. Working with a multitude of mediums, the platform covers everything from TVs to tablets, which means programmers must be able to both take ownership of their projects and work collaboratively with other team members.

What are the most important traits 4C looks for in a developer?

“What sets our developers apart is their ownership of the product. From day one, data science and engineering have been at the heart of 4C. We built our company on distinguished technology and pride ourselves on our engineering talent,” said Kim Norwesh, chief human resource officer.

How does that trait fit into what makes your dev team unique?

“As experts, we value our developers' input into the product development. We have found giving each person ownership of a particular area enables them to take pride in what they’re building and create software that is second to none,” Norwesh said. “We’ve found at 4C our developers enjoy being in an environment where technology is valued and they can collaborate with other smart developers.”

 

Morningstar provides independent financial research and real-time data on stocks, mutual funds, indexes and more. Its database is leveraged by both businesses and individuals looking to make smart investments. Since financial regulations are constantly changing, Morningstar looks for devs able to roll with the punches.

What are the most important traits Morningstar looks for in a developer?

“Morningstar looks for grit in our engineering team. We are focused on helping investors — all investors — have better outcomes,” said Stephen Rylander, head of technology, individual investor products. “This spans individuals investing into an IRA, self-guided investing, saving for college and professionals managing funds and retirement plans.”

How does that trait fit into what makes your dev team unique?

“We analyze and provide investment information and tools as an independent source. Wall Street doesn’t always like independence but it’s the right thing to do and it's in our DNA,” Rylander stated. “Finance isn’t as straightforward as it appears, and navigating a changing industry of regulation, automation and technology means that our people need to stick with it, overcome obstacles and focus on outcomes.”


Images via featured companies. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.

What traits make your dev team unique? Let us know with a tip or a tweet @BuiltInChicago

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