Prepare for Impact: How 4 Colorado Tech Leaders Drive Innovation

July 31, 2019

Software engineers today have a front-row seat to tech’s latest and greatest innovations, and in many cases, they’re the ones developing them. But for engineering leaders, the approach to innovation is a bit more nuanced. It’s not so much what they’re developing themselves but how they’re inspiring and empowering the engineers on their teams. For them, driving innovation is about providing the vision and then creating an environment in which the teams they lead feel emboldened to experiment with new approaches and technology and, perhaps, even fail. 

We recently caught up with four local tech leaders to learn how they encourage their teams to think outside of the box when it comes to new products and how they’re leveraging that mentality in the projects they’re working on now. 
 

IHS Markit tech leader driving innovation Colorado
Photo via IHS Markit.

Leveraging a cutting-edge SaaS platform and hands-on expertise, IHS Markit transforms complex financial data into intuitive and impactful visualizations, helping businesses deliver their data to clients in a way that’s approachable, actionable and engaging. Director of Technology Bill Hander gave us the low-down on the biggest projects his team is tackling this year and how he pushes his team to “take little risks every day.”

 

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

We are transforming our deployment processes and hosting environment using cloud technologies. We have already reduced the time that it takes to deploy new applications and services, and we expect to improve performance and uptime as we add the ability to dynamically shift capacity based on demand.

Next, we are investing in our web-facing API platform, exposing micro-services that were previously accessible only within our data centers. This change allows our web developers to maximize the power of the latest front-end frameworks, which means that we can deliver data into client websites without writing bespoke code.

Finally, we are developing new ways to extract insights from our vast array of financial market data and deliver them through conversational user experiences. We strive to serve all end users equally well, whether they seek financial knowledge via websites, chat, smart speakers, social media or dynamic ad content.

All of these technical investments support the hundreds of client projects we deliver every year. Our creations have been a central part of the online investing landscape since the early 1990s, and we can only stay relevant by constantly innovating and improving upon our best work. Every day we launch new features and deliver hundreds of millions of page views on behalf of our clients.

 

Amazing systems emerge when developers are taking little risks every day.”

How do you encourage your team to think outside of the box when it comes to new projects?

Early in my career, I remember vividly being thanked for exposing and fixing my own mistakes. I have tried to do the same as a manager and leader by rewarding steady forward progress, promoting openness and honesty and forgiving the occasional outage. I then seek to translate our long-term vision into a picture of the future that is compelling and just out of reach, and I've found that developers feel motivated and supported to find creative solutions that bridge the gap. Amazing systems emerge when developers are taking little risks every day.

 

What new technologies are you eyeing for the future? 

We aim to educate and inform individual investors so that they can make smart financial decisions, and our traditional, data-rich approach may be overwhelming to some users. People increasingly expect to pose questions through simple user interfaces and get relevant and consumable answers. We have started to address that need with clever algorithms, but I believe the full solution will require an investment in natural language processing, automatic speech recognition, machine learning and expanded use of our enterprise search platform.

 

Billtrust tech leader driving innovation Colorado
Photo via Billtrust.

Billtrust’s Quantum Payment Cycle Management platform helps businesses boost their cash flow and improve efficiency by automating tasks like invoice delivery, invoice payment and cash application. Senior Vice President of Engineering Steve Loper gave us a glimpse into a major project his team is working on now and the implications it will have for Billtrust’s customers. 

 

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

The new Billtrust Platform is one of our most significant projects currently in flight. This is our core platform, which takes the various applications we've built or acquired over the years, and moves them to a common platform leveraging a cloud-native approach for efficient scale as our customer base and our customers' volumes grow. It's built with horizontal scaling, micro-services and event-driven architecture.

 

[At Billtrust], it's not top-down direction. All engineers, regardless of level, are expected to make decisions or contribute to them.”

How do you encourage your team to think outside of the box when it comes to new projects?

We're very careful to arm the teams with product goals and an understanding of the business problems we're trying to solve, and give them wide latitude in how to solve those business problems and meet those product goals. Executives don't dictate to the teams; teams make the decisions on whether to build something new, to refactor an existing service, to implement certain design patterns or pull in third-party tools or libraries. It's not top-down direction. All engineers, regardless of level, are expected to make decisions or contribute to them.

 

What new technologies are you eyeing for the future? 

Our Billtrust Platform is being written from the ground up as cloud-native, which enables us to build scalable, reliable systems and quickly iterate. Our micro-services architectures are inherently platform versus vertical application-oriented, allowing for massive reuse and rapid time-to-market execution. 

On a separate note, we've just begun to scratch the surface of how we're leveraging machine learning to help our customers be more efficient, see patterns in their data and automate actions that give them more time to spend on high-value tasks. We're excited about what's to come on this front.

 

Bluprint tech leader driving innovation Colorado
Photo via Bluprint.

Bluprint helps people unleash their creativity, delivering expert-led online classes and original series that cover hobbies from knitting to jewelry making to cooking — with a whole lot in between — as well as an online craft shop where users can stock up on the supplies they need. Engineering Manager Tom Stephens said connecting users with the content that matters most to them has been a critical consideration when developing new features, and he shared how that’s reflected in their current projects. 

 

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

Our members interact with our content across a wide variety of technologies, so empowering them to pursue their creative passions anytime, anywhere is an important goal. We’re currently focused on a variety of initiatives to better connect our members with the techniques, projects or learning experiences that most speak to them in the moment — whether through machine learning-driven recommendations, or our expert instructors, classes or community suggestions. 

 

We find that smart people given freedom and realistic constraints is a consistent recipe for great products and solutions.”

How do you encourage your team to think outside the box when it comes to new projects? 

At the core, I try to give our engineers problems and known business limitations. Then we simply provide the support for them to craft the right solutions. We find that smart people given freedom and realistic constraints is a consistent recipe for great products and solutions. 

 

What new technologies are you eyeing for the future? 

From a technology standpoint, we’re currently building out an excellent mobile app experience, expanding our Over-the-Top reach and enhancing our machine learning approaches. 

 

Percolate tech leader driving innovation Colorado
Photo via Percolate.

Built by marketers for marketers, Percolate’s enterprise content marketing platform helps organizations optimize their content operations — from strategy and planning through development and execution — in order to drive growth. Infrastructure Engineering Manager Samuel Toriel explained how his team is leveraging Kubernetes to reduce some of the complex, manual tasks surrounding infrastructure development — which means faster innovation for the entire dev team. 

 

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

This year our most impactful project will be migrating to Kubernetes from a very classic infrastructure that required a lot of hands-on work to keep running. With Kubernetes, we’ll be able to leverage self-healing systems in a sustainable way, reducing the toil required to work on the infrastructure. In addition, this will enable engineers across the organization to experiment much more quickly, without relying as much on a centralized infrastructure team for environmental changes.

 

I encourage engineers to understand that anything goes. Creating a safe space to share ideas is incredibly important.” 

How do you encourage your team to think outside the box when it comes to new projects?

Generally, when approaching new projects I like to encourage an up-front specification session where I encourage engineers to understand that anything goes. Creating a safe space to share ideas is incredibly important. We think about ideal scenarios and then work our way backward to something that is feasible and will help us get to where we want to go as a company and team.

 

What new technologies are you eyeing for the future? 

I would love to use Honeycomb, as I believe it brings all the observability tooling into one place, which I haven’t seen many other providers attempt to do cohesively. Having your logging, metrics and tracing all in one seems like a game-changer for me.

 

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