by Hannah Levy
October 16, 2019

What was once a scrabble of numbers and lines swimming on a web browser is now, more often than not, something elegant and intuitive.

IHS Markit Digital is behind the scenes of many of today’s most elegant interfaces — just look to The New York Times website, which has won acclaim for making complex financial news digestible through data visualizations that normal people can actually understand (and some of which were built by the Boulder-based team). 

We sat down with the team behind those interfaces and picked their brains on what it takes to find the signal in the noise. Here’s what we learned. 

 

IHS Markit Digital office
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HALEY SAMUELSON
IHS Markit Digital office
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HALEY SAMUELSON
IHS Markit Digital office
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HALEY SAMUELSON

 

FOUNDED: 1991

EMPLOYEES: 480 total; 425 in Boulder 

WHAT THEY DOMarkit Digital is a digital agency within IHS Markit that specializes in constructing digital strategies and consumer experiences within the financial services industry.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Boulder

PERK UP: The company offers generous parental leave policies, as well as immediate vesting and 401(k) matching. 

EYE FOR DESIGN: There’s a team working on the digital frontier at IHS Markit Digital, and it’s their love of design, collaboration and laughter that is leading it to success.

 

IHS Markit Digital team

IHS Markit Digital employee

 

Ryan Olsen, Director of Software Engineering 

Ryan is responsible for leading two teams that deliver a variety of projects for Markit Digital’s internal teams and end customers, helping “businesses deliver their data to clients in a way that’s approachable, actionable and engaging.”

 

You’ve been with IHS Markit Digital for more than 13 years now. How has the company, and your division in particular, changed in that time?

So much has changed! We are still very much focused on providing transparency into the financial markets and transforming complex financial information into elegant user experiences.  But at the same time, our tech stack has changed a lot, we’re an Agile shop now, we continue to outgrow our workspaces, and our work-life balance has dramatically improved. My team is constantly evolving as technology and consumers’ needs change.
 

When we debate solutions, we consider every engineer’s suggestion and assume they’ve been made with the team’s best interest in mind.”


How would you describe your leadership style? 

I feel that it’s my responsibility to give my team the information they need to make the right decisions, both how to create a value proposition and a way to measure success. Then I give them the freedom they need to develop a technical solution that meets our goals. My team understands that trust is an important part of teamwork. When we debate solutions, we consider every engineer’s suggestion and assume they’ve been made with the team’s best interest in mind.

Giving my team a sense of autonomy is an important step in their career growth. I coach, provide guidance, and give instruction along the way — but removing heavy oversight allows individuals to innovate and highlight their skills.

 

What sorts of products do you envision your team working on in the next few years? In the next 10 years?  

I believe we’ll be delivering more personalized and tailored experiences overall. Right now, we analyze customer behavior and can provide a personalized experience that’s relevant to each individual user. 

Longterm, I’d love to see the IHS Markit Digital’s economic data integrated into the sites we build. I’d like to see the visualizations our designers could create with that data.

 

IHS Markit Digital team

IHS Markit Digital employee

 

Aaron Young, Director of Software Engineering

Aaron is the product owner for a number of Markit Digital’s visualization capabilities. In this role, he collects data on what clients want and translates these findings through the lens of feature design for his team. 

 

You’ve been at Markit Digital for more than 12 years. How has the company changed in that time? 

My family and I were kind of worried when I first took the job. We’d heard how many hours everyone put in — and there was some truth to that — but these days the company has shifted to a much better work-life balance. Late nights aren’t the baseline anymore, but I’ve still put in long weeks when I was excited about a project. 

When I joined, we were entirely a web company and heavily focused on domestic clients. Today, we build products across the web, native mobile and API services, all for a global client base. Tech in 2019 is all about time pressure and rapid change, and Agile process has some great tools for helping us work well together through that.   
 

Finance has such a profound impact on our economies and our lives — I have to think that the more we can educate and engage people around markets, the better off we’ll all be.


Give us an example of a time you realized that the products your team creates have a tangible impact on users’ lives.

Early in my time at Markit Digital, I found myself on a plane talking tech with my seatmate. I told them that if they ever managed a portfolio online or saw quotes and charts on a media site they were probably using tools we built and continue to serve. 

She asked if we’d done recent work on The New York Times website and told me that because of new interactive tools on the website, she checked it daily. I’d built the interactive charts for that site, so hearing her say that was very close to my heart. Finance has such a profound impact on our economies and our lives — I have to think that the more we can educate and engage people around markets, the better off we’ll all be. 

 

How do you celebrate success on your team — both individually and company-wide?

I’m terrible at celebrating! I have this very New England, “Okay that’s done, what’s next?” perspective on things. That’s why I love people who work differently than I do — I’m always so impressed by employees who can turn a stand-up into a little party. 

I can do appreciation, though, and as a company we share that a lot from the conversations we have right up to our all-hands meetings. Among other things, we have totems we periodically hand from person to person and team to team, to recognize great work of all kinds. 

 

IHS Markit Digital team

IHS Markit Digital employee

 

John Woo, Senior Software Engineer

John is the tech owner at IHS Markit Digital, where he’s responsible for keeping the team’s code quality on track, planning and supporting product owners and system architects, and expanding the skill sets of engineers on his team.

 

You started your career as an animator. How did you end up at IHS Markit Digital and as a leader on the engineering team? 

My wife got a job in Colorado doing book design, so we moved, and I quickly learned that there’s not much animation work to be found here. I didn’t have much programming experience — just enough to be dangerous — and I came across Markit Digital (or “Wall Street on Demand,” which is what we were called back in the day) when I was applying for a more permanent position. I worked my way up through the company, and in the last year, I expressed an interest in taking on more of a leadership role. When an opportunity came up, they chose me for it. 
 

There’s pressure to get things done and to meet client expectations, but the work-life balance we have here gives me the energy I need...”


You’ve said that IHS Markit Digital is the longest you’ve ever been with a company. What about the product and the company made you want to stick around? 

It’s the people. Things have changed a lot here, I’ve moved teams multiple times, taken on new work and learned new things. My biggest takeaway from moving around the company this way is that the people who work here are great. I think it’s more than just who we hire, but the culture that’s fostered here. There’s pressure to get things done and to meet client expectations, but the work-life balance we have here gives me the energy I need to work hard when I need to meet those demands.

 

 

What opportunities are there to work on different products, features or tech stacks? 

In my time at the company, project leaders have reached out to me with ideas or asked for assistance with a proof of concept. Because of my film background, I was asked to provide a proof of concept for a dynamic video service we were working on. I was also tapped as a resource for defining and implementing VAST, our “Video Ad-Serving Template,” which runs through our ad platform, as well as an Amazon Alexa Skills project. Currently, I’m driving cross-training opportunities on my team so others can work on different products as well.

 

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