The number 11,485 represents the approximate difference in employees at Black & Veatch and Integrity Inspired Solutions. Having spent a summer with both companies, I've had the opportunity to observe the characteristics that differentiate a large and small company, but contribute to the great success of both.
The past two summers, I've realized the significance that office organization and proximity plays in employees' interactions and the overall productivity of an office. Black & Veatch was the typical corporate office: rows of cubicles surrounded by bigger cubicles surrounded by glass cubicles. Having my own cubicle was pretty cool for a while, since it was sort of my own, quiet room that I could work without distraction. Later, however, I began to feel that the cubicles were a little too isolating, that the walls were sort of a permanent "do not disturb." They were great when I needed deep focus to finish a task, but I didn't really enjoy having to wonder whether I was bothering the developer across the aisle by asking him a question.
At Integrity Inspired, it's basically the complete opposite, for better or worse. There are no cubicles, just a bunch of large, white desks (that raise and lower!) in a much smaller area. Both the square footage and the lack of walls combine to promote constant interaction and communication. It means I get to ask questions without hesitation, but also that I hear a lot about Magic the Gathering while I'm writing these blog posts.
When I was trying to figure out the most effective group I've been a part of, I thought of this past school year and my calculus class with seven guys (a whole other story). After our teacher finished lesson, we would spend about 20 percent of our time actually working, but that 20 percent was the most efficient and productive work I've ever participated in. There was constant, rapid communication, every mistake was caught immediately, and misunderstanding was addressed immediately before we kept moving. In our words, we were "going ham." But when we finished, the environment immediately changed to calm, some talking quietly, others putting in their headphones, or even going to sleep. Everyone has a different opinion on the ideal work environment, based particularly on his or her extroversion, but this was perfect for me. (And it needed to be, since we were hearing words like Jacobian matrices and LaGrange multipliers.)
Neither Black & Veatch nor Integrity Inspired match the environment of my math class exactly, but what I've found crucial to recognize is that very few groups in the working world are so homogenous as my math class of seven guys. Rather than only seeking out groups I'm perfectly comfortable with, I've learned it's much more significant to learn how to develop my ability to adapt and create efficiency in spite of a group's differences.
Software development processes
As for how the two companies develop software, Integrity Inspired utilizes the Kanban software methodology, while Black & Veatch practices Scrum. Though both fall under the agile umbrella—incrementally developing, testing, and releasing software, Scrum often contains much more structure and relies upon defined roles and set dates in order to achieve this than Kanban, whose only requirement is a board with columns and cards to help with workflow progression.
The more I learn about agile software development, the more it seems I hear how hard Scrum is to get right—that often a faulty Scrum system is nearly as bad at producing code as as a waterfall system. However, from what I could tell in one summer, Black & Veatch was one of these alleged few successful companies using Scrum. The Scrum master was really great and understanding, despite not having a software background. Our daily standup was productive and focused, serving the needs of the developers first. Meetings were frequent but helpful, as the product managers and owners were excellent at filtering client requests into user stories and then into tasks. The only part of Scrum at Black & Veatch that I felt was questionable in its efficacy was the biweekly release cycle. Personally, as long as stress is manageable, it's a remarkable tool that motivates me to finish something before a deadline. However, stress tolerance varies widely among people, so I definitely understand that feeling overwhelmed week after week could very easily decrease productivity. Other than that potential disadvantage, it seemed that Black & Veatch's implementation of Scrum was a net positive.
This summer at Integrity Inspired, we've used the Kanban software at kanbanize.com to manage the user stories for our Vegan Beacon app. Although only two people have been working on the app and using the board, it's been helpful preventing a feature from being coded twice. It also forces me to not work on features I just thought of that would be so cool! but are not in the minimum viable product, and instead to work on the mundane but necessary tasks like extracting inline css. Though it is a nice feeling to drag a card through the progression on the Kanban website, if I had my own board I would definitely replicate the one in Silicon Valley from above. I've never experience using physical cards, but I just know it would be satisfying to move the sticky notes all the way from backlog to done.
Free stuff, the most important predictor of happiness and success at a company. I'm mostly kidding, but it is very necessary to mention. Black & Veatch is a mega-corp and has essentially unlimited funds, so their free stuff didn't disappoint, including a really nice backpack and coffee mug. The only thing lacking was their t-shirt quality, as mine shrunk from an adult medium to what seems like a youth small from the first wash.
Although not quite an industry titan, Integrity Inspired has very competitive benefits, such as a fully stocked fridge and kitchenette along with high quality t-shirts and stickers. Very nice.
I've been extremely fortunate to have had two internships before even starting college, both of which have allowed me to learn continuously for 10 straight weeks. I'm thankful for the many technical skills I've learned, but I believe the intangibles, like how to structure teams and offices, how best to communicate with team members, and how to efficiently produce good code, will prove invaluable at future companies I will work for, or even run. So thank you, Black & Veatch and Integrity Inspired Solutions, both for the free t-shirts and stickers, and also for your gift of opportunity to me.