Workbridge Associates: Where People Meet Performance

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  • Develop Secure Code!

    Article by Ryan Brittain, Division Manager in Workbridge Chicago.

    For the last six or seven years, I’ve had a very keen interest in security and the hacker culture, both white and black hat. I’ve gone as far as to help start security meetups in Boston, Washington D.C. and Chicago that are still running and meeting monthly to this day, comprising nearly 3000 members between the 3 of them.

    An interesting evolution that I’ve seen is the shift from network security to application or software security. Network security certainly is still important and having someone who is going to maintain firewalls and do intrusion detection and prevention is still going to be needed. But now, the #1 attack vector for most hackers is a SQL injection targeted at sloppy code. So increasingly, developers need to be cognizant of the fact that when they’re developing, the code that they put out needs to stand the test of time. And it needs to be secure. There are different movements across the country (see the rugged DevOps movement: www.ruggeddevops.org) that are trying to call attention to this, and I would imagine that as the number of incidents or breaches continue to rise, that attention will only grow.

    Hire code-conscious developers today

    On the surface, this may appear like a losing battle. Because somebody with enough talent, technical know-how, and mal-intent can probably get his or her hands on anything they want. And there’s nothing that we, the concerned public, can do to stop it. But there are other groups like OWASP (The Open Web Application Security Project) that have chapters across the country as well as online resources for developers.

    We’re seeing the government taking a more heavy-handed approach to those that are caught with their hands in the cookie jar. (Hackers in chains: 13 of the biggest US prison sentences for electronic crime) Could that be a deterrent? Sure. But it certainly needs to be augmented with the community being more aware, and more informed, with best practices on how to develop secure code.

  • UI and UX Developers and FinTech in Chicago

    Article by Riley Hutchinson, Practice Manager in Workbridge Chicago

    I have been recruiting in the UI/UX market in Chicago for two years now, and recently have seen a huge increase in demand for developers and designers in the financial space. Right now, my client list ranges from huge trading firms like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to companies on the verge of going public like Enova Financial, and up-and-coming start-ups with serious funding looking to build a product from scratch, like Avant Credit and Dough.com. For UI engineers, architecting the user experience of a financial product provides some really interesting challenges to solve.

    Financial technology or fintech, as it is more recently known, has seen a huge increase in popularity, especially in Chicago which has historically been a financial hub. Most of these fintech companies are centered on taking the archaic, slow moving, and overly corporate stereotype out of the finance industry. In a recent article in ChicagoInno, an online publication focused on online innovation, Will Flanagan, General Manager, sited, “With the city's storied history of innovation in the financial service industry and its emerging tech and innovation economy, Chicago will play a critical leadership role in the evolving worldwide financial frontier.” From my experience, that couldn’t be more accurate, and because of it there are a few points worth considering when talking about a career at a financial company.

    Money

    Engineers at trading firms are responsible for highly trafficked, low latency applications— companies recognize the high-pressure nature of this task and pay extremely competitive. This is, in part, why engineers rarely leave fintech companies. Their competitive salaries and overall benefits package makes for very low turnover.

    Tech

    Generally, there are two sides to working fintech that attract engineers searching for a challenge. First, there’s the task of taking complex – and arguably boring – B2B tools and designing them so that they’re easy to understand and navigate. Making algorithms, numbers, graphs and large sets of data look aesthetically appealing is a huge UX challenge. Then there is the UI challenge of exchanging money. Startups are popping up all over the place, making it easier and easier to make payments and exchange cash and with that ease comes an increased need for payment security. Ask any security expert and they’ll tell you constructing those secure channels is no easy feat.  Additionally, any company where money is exchanged internationally brings with it many additional complex legalities and moving parts.

    Autonomy

    If you’re looking into a well-funded startup not only will you be compensated competitively, but you’ll also be able to build a product from the ground up. Sure, that comes with working at any startup, but the financial industry isn’t going anywhere any time soon— a financial startup is a safer bet than investing your career in the next deal website or car sharing app. Many people don’t like the thought of working at financial companies because they view it as working for “the man”, but the reality is the work done is relevant, helps people, fast-paced and always changing.

    Culture

    One of the most popular misconceptions surrounding fintech is the perceived culture or lack thereof. The common stereotype has been that financial firms and companies are overly corporate, out of date technically, and giant cubicle farms where you have to wear a suit. But that is no longer the case.

    Take, for example, CME Group which uses one of the most cutting-edge Ruby on Rails stacks in the industry and has been at the forefront of obliterating that stereotype. Enova is another company that invests in their engineers and is very involved in the community. They host the Ember Meetup and senior engineers at Enova contribute to Ember on Github. Additionally, companies like Avant and other Ruby shops are putting a huge premium on company cultures and seriously investing in their engineers. They pride themselves on hiring smart people who can problem solve. Recently, I helped them hire a Notre Dame graduate with a couple months of internship experience at a very competitive salary solely because he was smart. To me, that seems like the most un-corporate move of all time. They’re confident they can fit him into their company structure as he matures technically. This candidate probably wouldn’t have been hired by a more traditional company because he didn’t have a ton of relevant experience. But Avant recognized his potential and snapped him up before their competitors.

    So if you’re a UI engineer or a UX designer in Chicago or elsewhere, turned off by the idea of working for a seemingly slow-moving, out-of-date, and overly corporate finance company—it may be time to rethink your stance.

  • The Growing Relationship Between Tech and Education

    Article by Christine Arnold, Lead Marketing Specialist in Workbridge Chicago.

    It’s crazy how much back-to-school checklists have changed since I was in school. I remember how excited I used to get to pick out a new matching set of folders, a pack of fancy roller-ball pens, a trapper-keeper I could decorate with white-out doodles. Fine, maybe I was an office-supply nerd. But those lists these days read a little differently. My sister is going into her freshman year of High School this year, and I was shocked when she told me that her school required the use of tablets in place of text books. Computers? In the classroom? I wasn’t even allowed to remove my Walkman from my backpack while I was on premises!

    She has the option of bringing her own tablet, or of renting one from the school. I assume there’s some sort of financial aid system in place to provide them to students who can’t afford the rental fees. Then, a week before school starts, the students are invited to a mandatory orientation where instructors walk them through which apps to download, and how to navigate them once they do. You’re probably wondering what’s stopping these kids from playing Angry Birds all class. The apps lock down the device so that they can’t access other applications.

    All of this got me thinking about the growing relationship between technology and education. What else is out there that wasn’t around while I was in school? Well, it as it turns out, there’s a lot. In Chicago alone, we’ve got an array of companies doing some really amazing things in the education space. Packback Books, a company that was recently featured on SharkTank, is making huge waves in the textbook industry. They offer affordable short-term rentals of many college textbooks, and their inventory is only continuing to grow. How amazing would that option have been when you were in school? I know I spent upwards of $1000 each semester on my textbooks alone. It would’ve been nice to put some of that money toward tuition instead.

    Another really cool company is Overgrad. They’re a student tracking system that helps create awareness about colleges starting day-1 of your freshman year of high school. They use student data to project which colleges the student will be a good fit for. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even start thinking about college until after I took the ACT my junior year. Not that I regret my decisions, but I imagine that whole process would have been much less overwhelming if the onslaught of information had been gradual. And think about kids in lower income or rural areas, where going to college isn’t necessarily a given. Starting students off prepared and with realistic goals and expectations, and the chance to alter their performance based on those goals, will set them up for a life of success. It gives them more control over their own future.

    If you’re interested in learning about more Chicago companies revolutionizing education, check out this event we’re sponsoring on August 20th: Back to School Ed Tech Demos & Drinks.

  • The Importance of Learning How to Code

    Article by Ryan Brittain, Division Manager of Workbridge Chicago.

    Let’s face it, our school systems are outdated in a lot of ways. We still teach cursive, and while it looks nice, I haven’t written in cursive once as an adult. I sometimes think how much more useful it would have been to learn basic HTML rather than mastering something that is reserved for Thank You letters. Most people aren’t exposed to any sort of computer class that encompasses anything other than learning how to type or play Oregon Trail (I always go meager rations and strenuous pace) until college, if that. And then in college, you will only learn if you elect to take those classes.

    Increasingly, there has been a movement for people from other disciplines to learn how to code.  It seems logical considering that almost everything from our financial systems, infrastructure, and even military run on software that only a small percentage of people actually understand. 

    In Chicago specifically, there are more companies hiring SW Developers than there are people who know how to code! Those interested in learning have to pay, sometimes a significant amount, to get started at places like Code Academy or Dev Bootcamp.

    The truth is, there are recourses out there for people interested in learning that don’t have the money to invest up front. My office has recently begun co-organizing a meetup group called Anyone Can Learn to Code. It meets once a month and spends an evening teaching people the basics of how to code. Our first meeting was on April 7th and we learned about Ruby, and practiced coding. We've also explored how to use HTML to build webpages. We did a presentation on Rails in May and next up is JavaScript!

    Chicago's not the only city involved in this movement. If you do a little research, you should find that most big cities where developers are in high demand have resources that can help get you started. An intro meetup group is only a small step towards changing the way society looks at code and the people who are actually equipped to write their own. Hopefully, in the next few years we'll see more schools taking notice and giving students access to this knowledge at an earlier age.

  • Why Do Start-Ups Fail?

    By Dan McGuigan, Practice Manager of Workbridge Chicago.

    There are many reasons why start-ups fail, but the majority of them fall under one vague heading of: Founder’s don’t know what they're doing. I have noticed throughout the last 2 years of working with many start-ups that often, the co-founder will either have good business savvy but no technical experience or vice-versa. It’s important that there is a good combination of both.

    There are so many variables that go into the broad/vague heading of "clueless founders". I have put them into 4 distinct categories: Technology, Location, Funding, and Market.

    Technology is an important aspect for any start-up, and not only the choice of technology. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to each language, but it's important to consider the ability to scale, find talent, and to make sure to instill best practices from the beginning. This choice isn’t something that needs to be set in stone, and can change throughout the process. However, it’s important to focus on the choice early and to address the advantages and disadvantages of each option. You should ask yourself these questions: 

    1. How easy is it to find engineers or developers that are experts?
    2. Are your technical choices attracting the best talent; i.e. are you using cutting edge tech?
    3. How easy is this platform going to be to scale?
    4. Can we build this from a prototype into a platform where you can attract and handle users? Are we committed to best practices with coding?
    5. Are we implementing unit testing and making sure that we are building a solid foundation?

    Location is another huge consideration when opening up a new shop. Not only is it important to consider what city to open up in, it’s also important to consider what part of the city to open up in. Although settling in the suburbs can be a lot cheaper in terms of rental space and overhead costs, in my experience, I’ve seen it deter many top-tier candidates because they’re unwilling to make the commute. This will actually raise costs because if you can't find the talent, it will take longer to deploy your product. Another consideration of picking out your prime real estate is the availability of developers. Ask yourself, are you really in a place that will attract the top talent?

    Funding, funding, funding. Funding makes the world go ‘round and ultimately will be the determining factor of success. There are many types of funding: venture, seed, and angel are some of the most common. Whatever option or options you choose, find it sooner than later. Pitching for funding is one of the best ways to engage really smart and experienced people in a conversation about your start-up. Not only is it a great way to get advice and feedback from people who actually know what they're doing, it’s also going to get your idea to the market sooner, which, especially in the tech industry can mean everything.

    Funders are going to look for ways to rip holes into your concepts and ideas, (this is a good thing). They are literally going to be invested in you and your idea; they want to make sure it’s a good investment. Most of the time, these individuals have had experience in the industry and can teach from their mistakes.

    Lastly, one of the biggest reasons start-ups fail is because their market is too niche. Maybe there isn’t as much of a demand for the service or product. Or, on the other hand, there’s too much competition. To avoid these mishaps it’s important to do your research before you launch, build your network, engage investors, and accept criticism.

    Networking is a key player when in early launch. Get out to meetups and get your name out there. For nearly the past two years (Wow! Time flies!) we’ve been hosting a meetup called Tech In Motion: Chicago which features an early stage start-up discussing their idea to a panel of Venture Capitalists, VPs of Engineering, and other highly experienced individuals in the industry. The idea behind this is to have a forum that will allow for “constructive criticism” from the panel and audience to poke holes into the idea. The belief behind this is that 2 heads are better than 1. My advice is to own this criticism and to keep an open mind to some of the advice because it’s free, it’s knowledgeable, and it can’t hurt to address the concerns.

  • Chicago Security Meetup: January 2013

    Workbridge Chicago hosted the Chicago Security Meetup last night in their office. The presenter was awesome, and gave a very informative talk on DDoS attacks.

    We had a great turnout of about 65 people, our biggest yet. Looks like we're going to have to get some more chairs for the next one!

    So far, the feedback has been great. We'll be looking to organize our next event soon, so if you or anyone you know might be interested in giving a presentation, get in touch! And if you missed out on this month's, don't forget to join the group to stay informed about future events!

    How to get in touch:

    Email: [email protected]

    Phone: (312) 726-6700

  • Workbridge Recruiter Spotlight: Rob Pabalan

    Rob Pabalan has been with Workbridge Chicago since August of 2011 where he works to find new jobs for .NET Developers. He's a key part of the Microsoft Development team and is always ready to lend his enthusiasm when the office needs help avoiding an afternoon slump.

    WB: Rob, what’s your favorite part of working at Workbridge?

    Rob: My co-workers. This job is hard sometimes, but being surrounded by people I genuinely care about makes things much easier.

    WB: What do you think it takes to be a great recruiter?

    Rob: Persistence. Patience. Confidence, and a thick skin. Charm helps too *wink*

    WB: So charming. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not recruiting?

    Rob: Attending live shows and festivals. Music consumes my life outside of the office.

    WB: Do you have a favorite music festival?

    Rob: Northcoast Music Festival is my favorite local one. Ultra Music Festival down in Miami was a blast, but too expensive and commercial now. Electric Zoo in New York is my favorite one not in Chicago.

    WB: What words of advice would you like to send to the developers of Chicago?

    Rob: Don’t be afraid to explore what’s out there. Make more cool things so that I can buy them and promote them. Let me be your advocate.

    If you're interested in contacting Rob?

    Call the office: (312) 726-6700

    E-mail Rob: [email protected]

  • Workbridge Recruiter Spotlight: Ethan Van der Heide

    Ethan started working at Workbridge Chicago back in February of 2011, and has been tirelessly working to find Web Developers great new jobs. Recently, Ethan was promoted to Lead Recruiter and it couldn't have been more well deserved!

    When he’s not recruiting, you could probably find him running laps around Wicker Park when it’s far too cold to be running outside.

    WB: Ethan, have you ever run from your house to work in the morning?

    EV: Not yet, but I’d like to. I’ve thought about how I would set a system up that would make it doable. The main dilemma is that I’d need to have several changes of clothes at the office. The gym downstairs has a shower and public lockers, but the building administration seems less than keen about permanently losing a locker to me.

    I’ll probably try to get the situation worked out over this coming spring. I’d be pretty excited about saving myself 30-45 minutes a day worth of commuting.

    WB: When you’re not recruiting or running, what do you enjoy doing?

    EV: My activities definitely depend on the season. In general, I spend a lot of time reading and café hopping, but the summer makes me a lot more mobile.  I really like biking with my friends to some of the more oddball neighborhoods in the city for antique hunting.

    If I’m feeling really burned out, I’m definitely not opposed to ordering a bunch of food and tooling around on Xbox live for unreasonable amounts of time too.

    WB: What’s your favorite part about working at Workbridge?

    EV: There are a lot of things I like about my job, but I ultimately most enjoy being an important piece on a team. I’m definitely a competitive guy, so it’s important for me to stand out, but I think the team environment gives success some meaningful context. I think it’s harder to be fulfilled by your achievements if your successes have no impact beyond your individual performance.

    WB: If you could tell the developers of Chicago one thing, what would it be?

    EV: I think my major piece of advice would be that you want your relationship with your recruiter to be the kind of relationship an athlete has with their sports agent. A good recruiter isn’t just someone banging out cold calls based on your resume. A good recruiter understands what you’re about as a person and what you’re actually looking to do with your career.

    The bottom line is that whether you’re happy at your job or not, everyone is always looking for ways to make more money or improve their quality of life.  A good recruiter is a trusted advisor who’s always on the lookout for the one rare next opportunity that will move your life forward. That’s the kind of recruiter I aim to be.

    Thanks for visiting the blog, Ethan! If you're interested in working with him, give us a call at (312) 726-6700 or email him at [email protected]!

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