TECH PLANT: Ben Pomerenke leads the 18-month-old Springfield satellite office for World Wide Technology Asynchrony Labs.
Business Spotlight: An App a Day
Walk into a conference room in this Brick City building and a voice-recognition video camera points your way. Next, your face flashes picture-in-picture on one of two 55-inch LED screens; the camera immediately moves to someone speaking on the other side of the conference table, while the other screen projects a working desktop.
“The distance between here and St. Louis is small,” says Ben Pomerenke, the Springfield office lead for Asynchrony Labs, noting nearly all client meetings and conferring with corporate staff in St. Louis is via video conference. “We still get to see each other and those nonverbal cues.”
The 18-month-old Springfield team represents one of four satellite offices for the software development company, part of the $9 billion St. Louis firm World Wide Technology.
It’s the kind of workplace where jeans and T-shirt wearing professionals huddle around multiple, large computer screens in areas dubbed bullpens. WWT Asynchrony has five work teams between the 23 Springfield employees. They’re named for their own identity – such as Schwifty and Eris – not the multiple projects they work on as some tech environments go. Each team decides how to set up – and the tables on wheels sure help.
“We change a lot,” Pomerenke says.
Each team also decides on the workflow – a standard workweek or four 10-hour days – often based on the current project demands.
Oversized whiteboards serve as guides with diagrams and flow charts under the titles, “Current experiments” and “Team To-dos.”
Pomerenke, a software developer, has led Asynchrony-Springfield since returning from St. Louis to open it.
“When we started it was me and a couple people,” he says. “I’m ensuring the culture here is in line with the culture in St. Louis.”
The culture stems from brothers Bob, Steve and Dave Elfanbaum and Nate McKie, who co-founded the company as a dot-com startup in 1999.
By the time WWT acquired it in mid-2015, Asynchrony had shifted to project-based information technology consulting. But the founders remain involved, Pomerenke says.
“We work with companies that have a specific need, a specific solution to build. We bring that in-house and work with agile methodology,” he says.
With clients including the U.S. Department of Defense, Emerson Electric Co. (NYSE: EMR) and Mastercard Inc. (NYSE: MA), about half the jobs are in building robust web applications, mostly internal facing. Other project work is developing iOS and Android apps, both public facing and internal, as well as some native apps.
Last month, Asynchrony was named an Apple mobility partner to essentially serve as a research and development house for business-centric applications on the iPhone and iPad.
“A lot of times we will pair the native iOS or Android app with the web. We are building an ecosystem,” Pomerenke says. “Sometimes we build the entire ecosystem. In essence, it’s cross-platform development.”
Another segment is in middleware applications – “The kind of stuff you never see that processes data between systems,” Pomerenke adds.
Sydney Warman joined Asynchrony’s Springfield team in August after a 10-year stint at Mercy as an obstetrics assistant in the labor and delivery unit. She started part-time as office administrator and already Warman’s pursuing a tech job: She wants to be a QA, aka quality assurance analyst.
“An office person who knows nothing about technology can become a QA,” Warman says. “They want to try and break it and make sure it’s working like it’s supposed to.”
Her transition stems from Asynchrony’s advocacy program, where staff members are paired with career advocates to encourage and challenge their own ideas.
“We encourage people to define their own career path,” Pomerenke says.
The office also has self-organized social outings around beer, board games or tennis and its own “Halo fund” from profits of internal soda and snack sales – they’re saving for an office PS4.
These employee incentives, along with the traditional perks in insurance benefits and 401(k) matches, have earned WWT the third spot on Forbes’ 10 Best Large Workplaces in Tech. The 4,000-employee global company is finishing a six-story, 200,000-square-foot headquarters in Maryland Heights outside of St. Louis.
“We rely a lot on the principles of World Wide Technology. We do have a different culture, slightly,” Pomerenke says. “The implementation of the principles is different.”
One of those principles is its hiring strategy.
“We find the right people first, then we worry about staffing them,” Pomerenke says.
In Springfield, the company has grown organically, adding about one staff member per month of late. Though workforce leaders have identified a shortage in technology skills, Pomerenke says the local tech talent has been sufficient – even on par with talent in the St. Louis market.
“Those who think the market is not strong for developers are probably in a rush to hire 10. Asynchrony doesn’t like working that way,” he says. “We look for the multifaceted (person). Springfield has, so far, had plenty of those.”