Why these 5 Colorado tech companies developed a collaborative engineering culture

by Jess Ryan
February 10, 2017

Developers and engineers are often stereotyped as grumpy people who just want to be left alone with their headphones to write lines of code. While people like that certainly exist, it’s often not the case — especially as more startups adopt methodologies designed to get people talking and working together to solve difficult challenges.

We caught up with five Colorado tech companies that have embraced collaboration among their engineering teams to learn more about what makes for a collaborative culture and how their dev teams are busting the loner stereotype.



David Dufour is Webroot’s senior director of engineering. The global cybersecurity company is headquartered in Broomfield, but their engineering team is spread out in different countries around the world.

What’s the most collaborative part of your process?

Due to the globally dispersed nature of Webroot’s development organization and our commitment to Agile, we have QA embedded with the development teams. This allows for our QA resources to understand the solutions at a deeper level than outsourcing to an external QA department. Additionally, this close-knit relationship allows the QA team to call on developers to help in the testing process. The result is a much quicker turnaround on identifying and fixing bugs. There is also a pride of ownership in this approach so teams take the time to ensure well written and documented code is produced.

How does your dev culture shape your collaborative efforts? What about company culture?

Webroot has developers in Europe, North America and Japan, which means we have developers working around the clock on projects. Having such diverse teams both geographically and culturally brings many different views and approaches to problem solving that has added a great deal of value to Webroot’s solutions.

What are the keys to creating a collaborative dev culture? Who owns those responsibilities?

Agile allows teams to be creative in how they approach solutions, and allows management to trust the teams to know their jobs and deliver.

It's key to make sure that the entire team owns the project and is responsible for its success. It helps to both bond the team and hold all team members accountable.  




Among the new members of Healthgrades’ leadership team is CIO CJ Singh (pictured, second from left). In the last year, Singh and his team have made changes to the organization’s structure, which has resulted in a more collaborative culture.

How are your teams set up? How does setup affect planning?

The teams are organized in multiple different squads. Generally, they are attached to certain parts of the product. The larger group of squads are focused on certain areas, like online appointment scheduling.

The squads are doing bottom-up planning and the C-level teams plan top-down using a framework called OKRs.

How does collaboration show up within the squads?

Right now, it depends. Some teams do a lot of pair programming and some teams don’t. We don’t prescribe that, at least right now. We try to create as holistic a squad as possible. For someone like me, given that teams work on different methodologies, I’m increasingly more focused on the end results.

How does your dev culture shape your collaborative efforts?

What I like to say is that in product and engineering, there’s only one common mission: ship high-quality products, fast, that customers use. It’s a generic but powerful statement. We say we’re playing football, not golf.




CapTech is a national consulting firm with 11 locations, most often working with Fortune 500 companies. Jason Ruth is a principal at CapTech who manages their technology solutions practice.

How does your company culture affect your collaborative nature?

Our culture is primarily based on collaboration and partnership. Many of our clients have been around for the full 20 years we have. We truly define that as a partnership and point that back to our ability to listen, communicate and collaborate.

How do you collaborate when planning?

From the first time a client contacts us, we always kick things off with working sessions with our clients. We’ll hold whiteboarding sessions where we try to truly understand the pain points and the problems the client is experiencing.

What about once you’re ironing out your process?

As we enter into an engagement with the client, we set up an Agile process from the start. It’s custom to the culture of the client. We don’t try to force too many of our established processes on them. We adapt our strategy and cadence to our clients, but almost all of our clients are Agile.

Once a project’s ready to implement, where does collaboration occur?

When clients are contacting CapTech, it’s generally to provide a technical expertise or a critical mass of resources they don’t have. Our clients’ dev teams work alongside CapTech teams to prepare for sustainability once the project is over.

How does your dev culture shape your collaborative efforts? What about company culture?

Engineering being a major part of our services, we really focus on personnel development. Collaboration and communication is required. We try to live out what we’ve learned about what works on the client side internally. We identify gaps, and, as a team, design solutions and processes for the effective delivery of training and development.



Zen Planner’s engineering teams use a general Agile approach, typically working in two-week sprints. The team is also highly collaborative, throughout the entire process. CTO Dave Martelon shares more:

What role does collaboration play in planning?

The team is really involved with not only some of the ideation process but also with estimating at a higher level. We want to make sure that’s collaborative because you want ownership from the team that has to implement it, even from a high level. It brings ownership on what’s possible and what’s achievable.

How about with code and design reviews?

The team is constantly collaborating on shared design reviews. If we have multiple teams running, they’re doing it across designs so we have consistent buy-in. We also do cross-team code reviews. We encourage a lot of interaction in general, especially as we’re bringing new team members in.

How do you foster a collaborative dev culture?

For me, it starts with hiring. If you want a collaborative culture, you have to hire relatively collaborative people. It’s hard to change people. We’re looking for owners, not employees. I like design and creative thinkers because they’re natural collaborators.

I challenge the team continuously — I’m trying to drive curiosity as well. It pays back to the team with constant growth.

The main challenge is to come in every day and learn something new or get uncomfortable. I also challenge the team to do something for someone else they wouldn’t normally do — that’s a natural collaboration driver.

What’s the key to collaboration at Zen Planner?

Really stressing this engagement with other team members, in the company, our community, with our customers. It creates a natural empathy and leadership, and all of those things result in more collaboration across the company.



Katy Groves is a director of engineering at CA Technologies, a global software development company. She was part of the team at Rally Software, which was acquired by CA in 2015, and is now called CA Agile Central.

How does your background as an Agile shop affect the way your teams work?

Our philosophy here at CA is that we do a large amount of pair programming. On just about every story we pick up, we work in groups of two. On any given day, the team’s paired off, working on whatever piece of work we have going on.

How do you encourage collaboration between different teams?

Twice a week we have a “scrum of scrums” where members from each team give a status update. Team collaboration’s pretty easy, but cross-team collaboration is a bit more challenging. You have a bunch of introverts you have to take out of their comfort zone, but when you know the person over there, you’re not as nervous to go talk to them.

How does your dev culture shape your collaborative efforts? What about company culture?

Our whole thing has always been that we work in a big, giant open space — no walls, no offices. We feel, even though it’s loud and you lose some productivity through noise and distraction, it promotes a greater sense of collaboration. There’s the opportunity to jump into conversations. We try to orient where our teams are located with teams they’re likely to be working with. We’re an Agile company, and I think a lot of our customers are surprised when they come in and see we actually live this stuff.

What are the keys to creating a collaborative dev culture? Who owns those responsibilities?

Everyone’s responsible for it. It’s important to create a sense of trust and respect on the team. It has to be safe to fail. I make every effort, when I make a mistake, to make it known to the team. It creates an environment where it’s safe to admit mistakes. There’s no blame there, it’s just, “Oh let’s see how we can move forward from that.”

Having fun is important. Every other Friday we have a team happy hour just to promote a good sense of knowing one another. We have fun activities to promote team bonding, like a team French toast breakfast. It supports people bonding and helps them feel comfortable speaking up.


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

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