How This Pioneering Colorado Company Keeps Its Tech Stack Fresh
There’s a joke that Art Zeile often tells when he’s talking to people about the cutting-edge tech stack at DHI Group, and it involves the antiquated programming language Fortran.
Zeile, the CEO of the software products, online tools and employment connections provider, is a developer at heart. He spent seven years in the Air Force, and afterwards, in the early ‘90s, he started his career in tech, founding three companies.
At the time he started his career in the military, it was critical that Zeile understand Fortran. But nowadays, with the rapid advancements in tech, his once-vital expertise is like being really good at fixing VCRs.
“Let’s just say you’re not gonna find a lot of job postings for Fortran these days,” Zeile laughed.
But that sentiment about accruing skills that set engineers, developers and technologists up for jobs and their future is exactly what makes the DHI experience unique, Zeile explained. The 30-year-old company is fully hosted on AWS’s cloud. It uses Lambda, API Gateway, S3, Code Pipeline, Code Deploy, CloudFormation, RDS, DynamoDB, SQS, SNS, Elasticsearch, Kinesis, Redshift, SageMaker, Comprehend and more.
“A typical skill has a half-life of about five years, maybe even less these days,” Zeile said. “So the fact that we offer a really great tech stack is meaningful for technologists thinking about their careers, and creates a culture of continuous learning.”
Even better for Zeile and the vast majority of employees at DHI, they’re implementing these advanced tech stacks on platforms they’d be using even if they weren’t at the company. One example is DHI’s Dice platform, which helps tech professionals manage their careers and employers connect with skilled talent.
Built In Colorado had a conversation with Zeile, as well as Laura Thompson, a manager of development, and Mike Marasch, the VP of product. The three explored the advantages of DHI’s tech stack and how it impacts the company’s engineering culture.
Tell us about your role at DHI.
Thompson: I run the platform tools team, which means I deal with a lot of back-end technologies related to our tech pro platform. On our employer side, I coordinate some of the login functionality. There’s a lot of legacy code that I have taken ownership of that we’ve taken over from older dev teams, and, in tandem with a team of fantastic dev managers, I’m helping to bring that into the 21st century. It’s certainly a group effort.
Marasch: I’m the counterpart on the product development side of things, looking at strategy, product-market fit and figuring out how we are actually delivering the right thing at the right time. Dice and DHI are interesting for me, because I used to post jobs on Dice years and years ago. I joined DHI three years ago, and it was a cool opportunity to take this historical job-board mentality and turn it into more of a connection opportunity. Now it’s a sharing space, where users can create relationships, message and talk to people. It’s moved from posting jobs and getting people to apply into something that's very personalized for technologists.
That’s what we’re trying to do with a lot of the innovation in my area, using search and match and recommendation engines and using AI and machine learning technologies. To do this, our tech stack uses a proprietary data layer and a proprietary algorithmic layer, data models and machine learning that are the future for Dice and our unique tech focused career site.
Zeile: As the CEO, a lot of my time is spent on the projects that are inside of our quarterly objectives and key results and making sure that we're making meaningful movement and forward progress. I also do a lot of investor communications.
What makes DHI’s tech stack so cutting-edge?
Thompson: Being fully cloud-hosted on the AWS tech stack gives us tremendous agility in the way we scale our services. When we want to build out new pieces of technology and features, we can try them out and pay as we go. I love taking the tremendous legacy of candidates and employers that we’ve built up over the years and marrying them to these new technologies. That presents some pretty interesting challenges, but for me, it’s been a wonderful experience coming from a data center-centric development environment, which I’ve been in most of my career prior to joining DHI.
Zeile: I used to be in the data center business too, so I know exactly what Laura’s talking about. There’s been this evolution from owning your own data center to moving to AWS servers. At DHI, there’s been a further evolution in the AWS concept to move to serverless execution of code in this one particular technology called Lambda. I can tell you from our discussions with AWS, we are the largest Lambda user of all of their customers. And that’s pretty extraordinary for a company here in Denver.
Thompson: I’ll put a little finer point on that. For the particular service that I manage, we accrue 450 million calls a month to Lambda. And that is one small part of everything that we do.
Being fully cloud-hosted on the AWS tech stack gives us tremendous agility in the way we scale our services.’’
Zeile: I’d also say that we have data science infused throughout all of our teams. And so if a developer comes on board as a member of our engineering team, one way or another, they’re probably going to be working with data science.
Marasch: And it helps us move quickly in terms of skills. Three years ago, our Candidate Match innovation for Dice didn’t really exist in the market. And as we’re building that, you see the techniques, the technologies used and the training data it takes all starting to become more prevalent. As that technology changes, we adapt and evolve and get new methods of obtaining training data and new machine-learning pipelines. So it’s moving really fast, and having dedicated and embedded data science folks and ML engineers, or relevance engineers, on those teams helps us move more quickly.
Matching With Precision
What are the benefits of having a cutting-edge tech stack?
Thompson: The top jobs and salaries in tech are all involved with the technologies we use here at DHI. So we’re giving people a chance to get up to speed on AWS, which is the top cloud provider in the world, and to embrace the most in-demand technologies like Lambda, DynamoDB, SNS and event-driven architectures. We give front-end engineers the opportunity to learn new technologies like microservices, micro front ends and web components, whether it’s with Angular or Redux. We have a lot of different ways that we can offer growth for engineers.
Marasch: For me, it’s starting with a great purpose. We’ve got a product that tech professionals would use even if they weren’t working here. We’re trying to help people find the perfect job and create relationships that advance their career. And then we want them to influence that product, from the tech stack that’s used to the features that are in it.
We’re trying to help people find the perfect job, and create relationships that advance their career.’’
How does this impact the culture at DHI?
Thompson: Part of what makes DHI unique from my perspective as a technologist is the freedom to fail and the autonomy that we give our teams. Our culture of innovation, of building out a really great technology stack and releasing features quickly, doesn’t happen if you don’t trust your people. We have a mentality of hiring good people, trusting them and listening to them. When engineers come up with a new solution or something we didn’t anticipate, we can examine that and decide if we want to pivot and go that direction. It creates this culture where people want to do better because they feel heard.
Marasch: I want to fully echo that culture. Because we can talk about tech stack all day long, but it’s the relationships and the culture that are more important than anything. We want our team members to influence the product. There’s something I like to call “the sandwich” when it comes to this. It’s bottom-up, top-down, meet in the middle, let’s negotiate, agree and go. I need all of these smart people to come up with these great ideas, because they know better than me how we should get it done.
Thompson: The bottom line is, you don’t keep people happy by telling them what to do. You keep people happy by listening to what they think you should do, how they want to grow and how they want to build the product. So you obviously have to have a strategy for herding those cats and getting good results out of it. But that’s the dance. That’s what makes this a fun and challenging job: figuring out how to take all those diverse interests and put them in the right direction and get results out of it.