Category Archives: Tech Culture

For companies looking to grow their digital footprint, an increased investment in new tools and technology is a no-brainer. This may also mean expanding technical teams in order to support the needs of an organization. That said, finding and retaining top tech talent can be a major concern for businesses.

Despite thousands of new jobs opening up in software development, engineering and architecture, companies are hitting a hiring wall, unable to fill the roles they need to take their digital game to the next level. Failure to meet hiring needs has managers and CTOs alike nervous about meeting business goals. 83% of hiring managers cite the inability to fill roles as having a negative effect on revenue, market expansion, product development and employee turnover.

Likewise, job seekers are struggling to meet the criteria set by hiring companies. With a laundry list of requirements, many applicants simply don’t check off all the technical boxes in a job description.

What’s standing between companies and job seekers?
On February 23, Kenzan and Dev Bootcamp hosted an event, “Rethinking Tech Talent” to address that question. We brought together speakers from our own organizations, as well as from Uncubed and Andela, to discuss the current tech recruiting climate and actionable solutions to close the skills gap.

digital skills gap
“Rethinking Tech Talent on February 23 at Dev Bootcamp. Panelists included: Uncubed, Andela, Dev Bootcamp and Kenzan

We wanted to share some key takeaways  that came out of that conversation.

Alternative Education
One reason for the skills gap: Education just can’t keep up with technology. The tools and skills needed to develop software are evolving quicker than most colleges and universities can teach them. By the time a course is complete in one technology, another has emerged.

Instead of turning to higher education, job seekers are now starting to approach learning differently. Alternative training, like the immersive coding courses that Dev Bootcamp offers, are becoming an increasingly popular choice among those wishing to get into technology. In 2016, there were almost 18,000 graduates from coding bootcamps across the US and Canada, with that number to likely increase in 2017.

Training and Mentorship
It’s not just jobseekers that are seeking more education. According to Stack Overflow, 70% of working developers say that learning new technology is a priority. Companies looking to retain top tech talent would do well to look at continued learning opportunities for their current workforce and to invest in programs that help employees skill up. By introducing more employer-sponsored education, companies will not only be able to keep workers happy, but will also be able to provide less-experienced developers with on-the-job training.

Rethinking Recruiting
Our panel was lucky to be joined by Andela, an organization that is helping companies look beyond the usual recruiting sources in order to tap into a market with plenty of tech talent: the African continent. Rather than focusing on education, the organization vets developers based on skills, putting applicants through a rigorous assessment before presenting them to hiring companies.

While organizations like Andela are getting more attention, many companies are still hindered by their limited definition of what it means to be highly-qualified, looking solely at candidates from specific colleges or with experience at a well-known brand. Even as the number of people gaining skills from coding bootcamps and similar technical schools increases, more than half of employers still say that a computer science degree is the most important qualification. Instead of focusing on an applicant’s education, companies could benefit more by shaking off that narrow criteria in favor of a more holistic, inclusive hiring policy.  

More than technical skills
Gone is the image of the hoodie-wearing developer, secluded behind his computer, headphones blaring, locked into a coding marathon. In 2017, developers work on cross-functional teams, connect with clients, and give demos and presentations in public venues. Collaboration and communication are among crucial soft skills developers need to possess.

Bring hiring companies and education together
Despite the growing popularity of alternative education and a change in recruiting policies, the biggest change can come from companies and educational sources working together.

Uncubed is an organization helping to facilitate that kind of dialogue and also, as it turns out, was a panelist at our event. As a video-first jobs platform, they know all too well the challenges both companies and job seekers face. Beyond their recruiting tools, Uncubed addresses the tech skills gap by bringing together educators and companies to develop more effective education that meets the needs of hiring companies and better prepares students for a career in the digital economy.

As more and more business are going digital, the question many companies are asking themselves isn’t how they’ll make this transformation, but who will help them do it.

That question is becoming increasingly more difficult to answer. While technology is evolving with lightening speed, the demand for highly-skilled employees who will support this work is far outpacing the supply.

Kenzan and General Assembly are bringing together Denver-area technology companies and educational resources to address the tech skills gap in Colorado. On January 19, at Kenzan’s office in downtown Denver, we’ll discuss actionable solutions to the challenges both job seekers and hiring companies are facing. Our panel of industry experts from Galvanize, Skillful, Istonish and GoSpotCheck will talk about:

  • The challenges tech companies face when looking for tech talent;
  • Why you shouldn’t disregard a candidate that doesn’t have a degree in computer science;
  • In-demand skills and where you can find employees that have them;
  • How tech companies and educational organizations can work together to grow the talent pipeline;
  • Supporting tech workers through continued learning and development programs

RSVP for Closing the Skills Gap:
Join the conversation on January, 19th at Kenzan:
1743 Wazee St, Suite 200 at 6pm

Rona is a Director of Engineering for Kenzan where she leads technical teams in the production of web applications. She is active in the hiring of development resources and helps drive initiatives that encourage the growth of Kenzan’s employees.

From the cloud, to the Internet of Things, to big data, companies are embracing digital transformation to help them quickly react to marketplace shifts, consumer demands and new opportunities. The roadmap for digital transformation is different for all companies and often calls for customized software, which can be a significant investment of time, money, attention and resources.

Software development can sometimes be seen as a slow and expensive process, especially at the enterprise level. Managing these factors are fundamental priorities and few people are better equipped to keep things under control than project managers.

Many organizations that are on a path towards digital transformation don’t fully recognize the value PM’s add to software development teams. According to a 2016 report from the Project Management Institute titled “The High Cost of Low Performance”, less than two in five companies surveyed place a high priority on creating cultures that recognize the importance of project management as a driver of better project performance.

That’s not the case at Kenzan, where our project managers play a central role on each development team and are vital for success. We’re not the the only ones that have seen the positive results of project managers. Organizations that invest in project management waste 13 times less money because strategic initiatives are completed more successfully.

But for those who might disagree, we’re here to dispel some myths about Project Managers:

Myth: Project managers are clueless.

Busted: Technical comprehension is as critical to the success of a project as leadership and strategic business management. While a PM doesn’t write code, they spend their days working with those that do. In order for a PM to adapt quickly to changing conditions, assign and re-prioritize tasks, communicate effectively and spot risks, they need an understanding of  relevant tools and technologies that the team uses.    

Myth: Project Managers just schedule meetings and manage calendars.

Busted: Project managers guide the structure, scope, quality and budget of a project while also representing the interests of the product owner. The real value of a project manager is as a leader, liaison and mentor. With a big picture point of view, the project manager balances and guides software development teams while defining requirements and goals to ensure the teams meet expectations — on time and on budget.

Myth: Project managers are just paper pushers.

Busted: Project managers define policies and procedures that enable success. Without the structure of process, a project can easily fall apart. A project manager knows the operational requirements (things like time sheets, budgets and resource allocation) and can navigate communication channels with clients so technical team members can focus on what they do best – developing software.

Myth: A Project manager’s top priority is execution.

Busted: Project managers support the team from start to finish. While the software delivery lifecycle (SDLC) is the guiding framework for development, it doesn’t stand alone in supporting and achieving business objectives. Project management methodologies work in tandem with the SDLC for the initiating, planning, monitoring and delivery of projects, which provides consistency and stability of process through every phase of the SDLC.

Now that we’ve dispelled some of these major misconceptions about project managers, it’s (hopefully) clear how important they really are. Think about all the projects you or your organization have worked on that went over budget, missed a deadline or derailed entirely. It may be too late to go back and right those wrongs, but it’s not too late to consider how future projects — and your company as whole —  will benefit from the guidance of project managers.

For companies that are looking to get or stay competitive, strong project management practices can play a crucial role in driving the business forward through digital transformation. Contact to learn more about our project management and other services.

As a certified Scrum Master in Agile methodologies, Jennifer Aczualdez leads Kenzan’s project management and business analysis team . She manages the scope, budget and timelines of projects and acts as a central point of contact for both internal and client teams. She is involved in the full software delivery cycle, from initiation and planning to monitoring, delivering and closing.

by Doug Melvin

As a professional and consulting services firm within the ever shifting technology industry, Kenzan is trusted to consistently deliver high quality products and services. We take this expectation seriously and use the most progressive tools and approaches to ensure we meet those standards. Kenzan’s Project Management/Business Analyst (PM/BA) team is critical to our success as they support and guide the development teams through each project.

Working between multiple internal and client teams, our PM/BA’s plan, consult, organize, communicate and manage a vast amount of resources and information each day. To make sure projects are meeting deadlines and teams are communicating effectively, time management and prioritization are key.

Luckily, there are some techniques that can help keep the days running smoothly.

The Eisenhower Matrix
While navigating multiple projects, the Eisenhower Matrix  helps project manager organize their days while juggling unexpected tasks. Based on the criterion of importance and urgency, PM/BA’s sort their tasks and complete, delay or delegate  by categorizing them into one of the below four quadrants:

Time management means prioritizing your tasks

The simple framework of the matrix allows for easy visualization without  complicated tools; a whiteboard or corkboard will do just fine. or those interested in a more portable method, Trello published a great blog post on how to use their tool to apply the Eisenhower matrix. If you’re familiar with Agile, an Information Radiator can also be used to visualize and sort tasks.
EisenhowerRegardless of how you draw the matrix, getting all the information out of your head and organized in one place makes decision-making less arduous and your work day more productive.

The Pomodoro Technique
Instead of racing to a deadline or fighting the lure of procrastination, the Pomodoro Technique is a simple time management system that breaks the work day into intervals with short breaks designed to eliminate burn-out and fight distractions.

Created in the late 1980’s by Francesco Cirillo, the approach divides each day into 25 minute work-periods — or Pomodoros — that are surrounded by short and long breaks. Short breaks are 5 minutes; long breaks are 25 minutes and are allowed only after four Pomodoros have been completed. Work should be done consistently through each Pomodoro and should stop only at break times. In a professional setting where email and IM’s are constant, it’s important not to use the break times for checking email. Instead, short breaks are good times to get up, get a glass of water or a snack. Long breaks are well spent getting some fresh air, getting lunch or just going out for a cup of coffee.

There are even some tools to help keep you on track. This Google Chrome extension blocks websites until it’s time for a break.

Time management with the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique was named after the Italian word for tomato. It’s creator, Francesco Cirillo, was inspired by his kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato.

For our project managers whose goal is ensuring development teams meet deadlines and complete deliverables, the Pomodoro Technique is  especially helpful for creating accurate project timelines by estimating the number of Pomodoros it will take to complete a task.

While these methods can work on their own, the true magic of the Pomodoro Technique and the Eisenhower Matrix become apparent when the two systems work in conjunction. Using the Eisenhower method for decision-making and the Pomodoro Technique for execution leads to  a more efficient and productive workday, while maintaining quality and consistency throughout every project.

Doug Melvin is a Senior Project Manager and Business Analyst for Kenzan based out of our Denver offices. When he isn’t working, he does his best to keep his puppy out of trouble and experiments with different programming languages. At Kenzan, Doug is responsible for ensuring that development teams deliver on time and on specification, with the resources they need, and assisting with the management of Kenzan’s Atlassian suite. His background in Computer Science originally brought him to Kenzan and has enabled him to support, and interact with, the highly technically-focused platform and development projects that Kenzan engages in.

By Isaac Lavoie

We’ve all been there before. You’ve combed through job listings and found one that seems to be perfect. You submit your resume and land that first phone interview. After hanging up the phone you feel good about how it went, send a thank you note and wait, hoping for that elusive second interview with the hiring manager. But it never comes. You meet the technical requirements, you have the education and experience, so what went wrong?

Being a talent acquisition coordinator (read, recruiter) for a technology company, I can tell you that it takes more than technical skills and a computer science degree to make it to the next round of interviews. It’s my job to not only make sure you fit the technical bill, but that you fit the cultural one too.

As tech companies shift to adopt more collaborative development methodologies and organizations restructure to foster more connected workplaces, it’s never been more important for hiring managers to ask the question, “Are you the kind of person we want at our company?”

This is often the first hurdle an applicant needs to clear in their interview process. The trouble is, no one ever asks the question out loud. Instead, a mix of technical traits and personality traits are used to arrive at the answer. Where many applicants fall short is understanding how best to present their non-technical assets in our deeply technical field.

While the mix of technical and personality traits may shift for any given opening, some of the easiest ones to bring to an interview don’t take any training at all.  Ask yourself these questions as the answers can easily influence the hiring manager’s decision to move someone forward in the interview process.

Do you have the Drive? This is the precursor to all that follows. How have you been guiding your own career? Can you answer the questions: Why do you do this work? How do you hope to grow? You should have the answers — not only for the interview, but for every day interactions and career planning.

Do you have Initiative? You’re an active participant in our communities such as GitHub, meetups, and specialized user groups. Show the employer that you have a passion, that you are curious, hungry for more and eager to expand your skills.

Do you have Enthusiasm?  This is shown not only through your presence when interviewing, but also in your work history and community engagement . You never know which conversation will lead to a job offer, so bring your A-Game to everything you do.

Are you Honest? If your resume reads 4 years in Apache Spark (insert new hot tech here) and it’s only been around since 2014, you definitely will not be getting an interview. If your code is pulled from someone else’s public github… well you know.

Are you OpenShow openness to criticism and new ideas. Embracing other ways of solving problems or challenges is a key indicator for how you work with others. No (wo)man is an island, and, no one wants to work with someone who is right all the time. Exchanging ideas is how we learn and get better. 

Are you Humble? Too much boasting about a success or making excuses about a failure can turn off a recruiter quickly. Being humble shows that you can learn and help others to learn. In this case, humble pie really does taste good.

Do you have a solid foundation? No AngularJS without solid Javascript, friends. With a plethora of bootcamps, online trainings and more out there, the pressure to list hot tech on your application is on. But beware, it’s easy to poke holes in someone’s facade (testing, code samples, anyone?)

You don’t even have to have a technical degree to prove you have a solid base. Hiring managers know that there are many valuable routes into technical work: school, work experience and natural curiosity all matter. As a job seeker you should display a mastery of core concepts before you highlight the technology du jour.

With the tech industry booming and more and more jobs opening everyday, you need to show that you are  not only the right technical solution for a company, but also the kind of person a company wants to be part of its team.

So why not turn this all on its head? Next time you’re in an interview, ask the company what it thinks about community or team work? This is a conversation that tech recruiters want to have. Perhaps if you bring your A-Game, they will have to bring theirs as well.

Isaac Lavoie is the Talent Acquisition Coordinator for Kenzan and is based out of our Rhode Island offices. Though most of his time is spent riding around on his bicycle, he is also responsible for supporting the Kenzan HR team and for bringing new Kenzanites on board. With a background in the environmental education, mechanics, and group consensus building, Isaac is well suited to introduce applicants to the dynamic organization we call home.

By Kevin McKenna

As huge advances in technology continue to push the boundaries of our digital experiences, companies across industries are looking for highly skilled employees to help them build the tools, products and services that power our lives. As a result, the demand for top talent is quickly outpacing the supply. The consensus in the technology sector is that we are in a talent drought. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be more than 1 million unfilled IT jobs as the demand for highly-skilled employees will far exceed the supply of computer science graduates.

At Kenzan, where we’ve hired 40 people over the last year, we believe that there is a vast pool of untapped talent that is ready to work, but often overlooked. These candidates have the skills and motivation to perform these jobs, but lack the one thing that will get them an interview: a four year computer science (or similar) degree from a college or university. Instead, these potential employees have acquired their skills through non-traditional means like industry-certified training programs, independent projects, coding boot camps, apprenticeships and high-quality online courses.

IMG_6553 (1)Last week in our Rhode Island office, we hosted High Tech Recruiting: Cultivating the Unconventional, an event aimed at exploring and expanding the tech hiring landscape in lil’ Rhody. Along with our co-host TechHireRIthe event brought together work-ready talent with employers and community partners. The goal here is to close the opportunity gap for many of these job seekers and to encourage hiring companies to look outside of traditional recruiting sources.  

Speaking to a packed room, Stefan Pryor, Rhode Island’s Secretary of Commerce, talked about the state’s initiatives to support these efforts in order to spur hiring and job growth. He also spoke to Rhode Island’s commitment to be the first state to bring a computer science curriculum to all schools, K-12.

IMG_6555 (1)
RI Commerce Secretary addresses job seekers, employers and tech trainers on Aug. 25th in Kenzan’s office.

Attendees also heard from organizations that are training, educating and developing these tech workers so that they enter the workforce with the same skills and competency as their degree-holding counterparts. LaunchCode, YearUp, General Assembly, Apprenticeship RI, TechForce and Computer Science Minors each led a discussion about the future of IT training, with both employers looking to recruit and candidates looking for a job.

The event sparked a conversation that will carry over into community partnerships as all of us — employers, job seekers, tech training services, industry leaders and government officials — work together to give those who have the skills the same chance to get the job.

Kevin McKenna is the Director of Operations for Kenzan and is based out of our Rhode Island offices. Though most of his time is spent running around with his dog, he is also responsible for supporting current Kenzan teams and for bringing new Kenzanites on board. With a background in the building trades and working with small teams on ambitious projects, Kevin is well suited to assist in providing a solid foundation for a dynamic organization.

By Ming-Lien Linsley

By 2020, it’s estimated that 20.5 billion things will be connected to the internet, making every day things like driving a car or going to the doctor, a digital experience. With each new advancement in technology, it’s easy to forget that the most valuable connections in our lives are the ones we have with other people and it’s those relationships that are the building blocks for everything from the cities we live in to the technology that drives our digital lives.

At Kenzan, those connections are the foundation of the work we do, as each project’s success is attributed not to individuals, but to the collaborative effort of Kenzan and partner teams working together, guided by a spirit of open communication, excellence and kindness.  These values have enabled longstanding, productive relationships between our partners and Kenzan, by way of open dialogue and collaboration among key stakeholders.

Looking beyond Kenzan, the tech sector is trying to break down the traditional silos that exist between teams in an effort to create more efficient environments where building, testing and releasing software can happen more frequently, rapidly and reliably. Methodologies in the software development cycle have shifted to embrace practices like DevOps and transform IT culture into one where communication and collaboration are the guiding principles of innovation and growth.


However, the formula for creating an environment where effective teamwork flourishes isn’t as simple as knocking down cubicle walls and opening up office spaces. Instead, collaboration should be thought of as a goal, never a given, supported by a company’s culture and values. For organizations that are exploring a transition to DevOps practices, the first step is understanding that the most crucial change is not in tools and technology, but in the way employees work together.

Over the last 12 years, as Kenzan has grown from a small band of contractors to more than 150 employees across 4 offices, we’ve worked hard to maintain our culture of collaboration and learned a lot along the way. Some of our keys to collaborative and successful relationships include:

Listen First.
The groundwork to success is laid from the very first conversation where a common understanding of the scope and goals of a project is established. In order to ensure no team member is working in a silo, they first need to know the why of a project, before they can work on the how, so we host an all-hands kickoff meeting for everyone from the architect responsible for the first deliverable to the final Dev Test engineer so they can ask questions or raise concerns.

Plan, then take action.
It’s easy for a solo developer to jump into a project only concerned with his or her piece and failing to see where they fall in the bigger picture. By laying out a blueprint for the full development cycle, each team member sees how they fit in the grand plan and how they can provide a strategic solution, not just a service or a piece of code.

Establish a common language.
Oftentimes, architects, developers, testers, operations and other participants speak different professional languages and operate as separate entities, which leads to inconsistencies and confusion in the way a company’s products, services, technologies and even mission are talked about both internally, and to greater extent, externally. In order to keep things consistent at Kenzan, we created an all-company guide that highlights the who, what, and why of the company to make sure everyone is delivering the same message and working towards the same goal.

Invest in tools for collaboration.
As workplaces become more distributed and more employees work remotely, it’s important to make sure that they are empowered to do their best work wherever they are.
PrintThere are a slew of tools that facilitate chat, collaborative writing, video conferencing, ticketing systems, continuous integration and continuous delivery, that make it easy for employees to quickly get feedback, bounce ideas off each other, solve problems, track progress and share documents.  Examples of the tools we use include JIRA, Hipchat, Confluence, and BlueJeans.

But value in-person time.
Success in business is due in large part to building relationships. Despite the many advancements in the quality and variety of digital tools, there is still nothing like a face-to-face meeting. In fact, a study from UCLA found that up to 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues, something you won’t get from digital communication. As a professional services firm, solid relationships with our clients are a crucial element to project success. Relationships start during the discovery phase when team members not only get to know the scope of a project, but also each other. During this time, a conversation over a conference line just doesn’t do the trick, so we send our teams onsite with clients or to our other offices to work hand-in-hand.

Establish trust.
The cornerstone of every successful collaboration is trust, which is established when teams embrace accountability, transparency, reliability and support as core principles. When these principles are embraced, everyone works together and no one person is responsible for success (or failure). Without them, all the tools, meetings and planning in the world will do nothing to improve collaboration.

Empower the team.
Micromanagement can be a poison to collaboration and is often an indicator that there is a lack of trust between employees and leadership. Giving employees autonomy means they aren’t burdened by bureaucracy, can freely approach management when they need help, and will be more open to feedback.

Encourage employee connection.
Leaders who are looking to increase collaboration among their employees should focus upon how the company’s culture fosters connections between people. By creating a work environment where relationships flourish, an environment that promotes trust, yields open feedback, and inspires innovation will emerge.  Whether it’s small changes around the office like a communal kitchen or bigger investments like sponsored company outings, encouraging positive employee relationships can mean big improvements in the way they work together.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t take a massive monetary investment to make small and meaningful changes that improve the way employees engage with each other. When employees feel connected to the company and their colleagues, no challenge is too big.

Ming Linsley is Kenzan’s EVP of program management and client solutions, based out of our Denver office. She works with teams across the organization, from our project managers and business analysts, to our engineers and architects. With over a decade and a half of experience in advertising, online marketing and client solutions, Ming ensures our client relationships are strong and growing.