Lori Leitgeb, CEO at Stack Builders, tells us about software development and consultancy.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Lori Leitgeb: I am thankful that my family is doing well and that for us, this has been a lesson in patience and gratitude. I also recognize that I am fortunate, knowing how the pandemic has impacted others very differently.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Stack Builders.
Lori Leitgeb: I am passionate about how companies can impact communities. I have a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology and was looking forward to becoming a professor when I met my husband, who has degrees in Social Theory and Computer Science. We put all of our knowledge together and decided to start a software consultancy company focused on teaching and training a world-class, multicultural team. We now have offices in New York and Quito, Ecuador, and have lived multiple years in each location. I did not originally envision being an entrepreneur or a company CEO. However, the crossover between my background in anthropology, Spanish language, and a love of education has allowed me to create a tech space where I can make a real impact on our team, our clients, and our clients’ end users through software.
How does Stack Builders innovate?
Lori Leitgeb: Part of our mission is to push the boundaries of the software industry. We have focused for many years on functional programming as an area of expertise. We have invested heavily in contributing to open-source for Haskell, tutorials, blogs, and participating in conferences to further that conviction that secure and robust software can make a difference. We also host and broadcast free Spanish-language technical talks about functional programming to help the Latin American tech community continue to grow. We innovate by supporting the wider functional programming community and incorporating functional patterns to enhance any project that we are on, irrespective of the language.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Lori Leitgeb: A portion of our work has always been remote, but we enjoy being able to work in person together as well. We have missed the in-person collaboration this past year but were able to transition to fully remote work smoothly. The toll of the pandemic has been mainly on the health (physical and mental wellbeing) of our staff, who have been juggling work, family responsibilities and have dealt with delayed weddings, solitary birthdays, and family tragedies in ways that could not be honored or celebrated as they normally would. The in-person social interaction that we crave has inspired new initiatives. I am so proud to watch the genuine care that has come with re-grounding ourselves with our central values of candid communication and relationship-building. Because we have always strived to focus on these values, long before the pandemic, our team has remained incredibly supportive and strong, allowing us to continue to grow the business.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Lori Leitgeb: For me, my job is almost entirely assessing situations and helping our teams make decisions with imperfect knowledge. Decision fatigue is compounded when the day-to-day is shifting as much as it has been this last year. There is less you can leave to process and fewer routines that have been on autopilot. Two great lessons come from this, though. One, as many have found, is that this last year has been defined by the need to pivot, reassess and try a new approach. There is an incredible amount of creativity that can come from reimagining how to revamp a product or event to shift into virtual, online spaces. Many of us have enjoyed access to parts of virtual conferences we may not otherwise have attended if they were only in person. Also, for those in the parenting space, we have had to pivot and find some new teaching areas with our children. When my husband and I ran out of bandwidth, we re-evaluated how to split up more of the household responsibilities with our kids. They mastered loading the dishwasher, making meals, washing their own clothing, and learned to entertain themselves much better than before, and they are in elementary school. My biggest lesson learned was how many great outcomes surfaced from effectively delegating more responsibility to my coworkers, executive team, and family members. I also recognize that this is a work in progress that I have to deliberately practice. Some days I do it better than others. I try to stay curious and listen, then help open new paths to success with others.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Lori Leitgeb: Our tools and software haven’t changed much, since we have always had a remote component of work and are used to collaborative documents, screen sharing, video conferencing with high-quality audio and Slack. With all of us working from home, we have grown in our empathy for and connection to our team of remote contractors all around the world. Pets and family members are welcomed additions in the background of many calls. Management focus has shifted to streamlining our remote onboarding processes and considering how best to connect with new hires to welcome them into our work community. We continue to focus on relationship building, but we now utilize Zoom breakout rooms for small group conversations each week after our all-hands meeting. We lead these conversations with focused questions to make sure we can connect on relevant topics with our team, both within Ecuador, and abroad. We invite new hires to “virtual lunch” with their new team, we have created extra virtual book clubs and special-interest group meetings for technical and non-technical topics, and we have a moms group to talk through the specific challenges of having small children at home while working full time. We regularly focus on mental health awareness and relationship building and have increased our retention rates despite being physically apart.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Lori Leitgeb: There are many companies offering software development services. However, we are known for being one of the few software consultancies that focus on functional programming languages like Haskell and have focused our efforts on becoming a leader in that area. More than what we do, I would like to think that how and why we do it leads to our continued success. We have a learning mindset, so we have pivoted in the past and will continue to enjoy the journey of change and growth in the future.
Your final thoughts?
Lori Leitgeb: I had never imagined quite this path for my career when I started out. I used to study culture, now I help shape culture in ways that allow others to grow and develop their talents. I get to work with exceptionally creative people, learn from them and grow as well. I am challenged by and help challenge others to be better than we were yesterday. Despite the pandemic, I also see the resilience that our team has to offer and the passion that lies deep and strong to build software that makes a difference in the lives of others. As online tools and resources grow, it is an inspiring time to be building software together.