How Ridgeline Built a Magnet for Innovative Talent: 8 Questions with Industry Leaders at Ridgeline

Dec 19, 2022
Ridgeline Staff Writers
5
 min read

Ridgeline is proud to have been recognized as a 2022 Best Workplace for Innovators by Fast Company. We sat down with three of our leaders to talk about how we've intentionally fostered a workforce and workplace that fosters innovation.

Q: Why has innovation been included as one of Ridgeline’s core values from day one?

Jenny Molinelli, VP of People and Operations at Ridgeline: Our founder Dave Duffield said it best: “A software company can either innovate or die.”

At Ridgeline, innovation isn’t just about building faster products, it’s about creating a culture where we invest in each other’s growth. Here are the behaviors associated with our core value of innovation:

  • Take risks and fail fast
  • Learn from mistakes
  • Empower bold ideas
  • Be open to diverse thoughts and perspectives
  • Challenge assumptions 
  • Encourage thoughtful criticism

Q: How is innovation incorporated into building our product and platform at Ridgeline? 

Jenny: Design thinking. We are so fortunate to have early adopter customers who are as invested in building our product as we are. We call them “design partners.” Our technical and strategy product team members meet regularly with our design partners to learn about their workflows and goals. Rather than asking, “How can we make your current process better?”, we ask, “What problem are you trying to solve?” and we collaborate together from a blank white board.

Q: What steps has Ridgeline taken to foster a workplace culture where all employees feel empowered to innovate?

Jenny: 

  • A weekly, company-wide show-and-tell to display our most recent improvements and recognize the teams that worked on them. Presenters range from our most junior employees to our most senior!
  • Our career-pathing framework that encourages technical advancement without defaulting to management/non-technical roles.
  • We use an employee-led tool called “Props” in Workhuman that allows colleagues to recognize each other for innovative work. We also present Core Value Awards biannually to a couple of team members who are nominated for their above and beyond contributions to Innovation and our other values.
  • Feature flag service and investment in LaunchDarkly (a platform that allows teams to collaborate more effectively by giving everyone more visibility) enables “definition of done” testing prior to releasing to customers. Our feature flags allow us to innovate safely behind a flag in a safe, fail fast environment.
  • The use of Architecture Decisions Records (ADRs) - lightweight documents capturing architecturally significant decisions made during the process of building software - frees up teams to move ahead more quickly, without multiple levels of approval.
  • Our no-blame Root Cause Analysis (RCA) process - we encourage team members to identify and breakdown areas of improvement without worrying about repercussions.

Q: How have you continued to grow and learn as an innovator at Ridgeline? 

Jenny: Innovation is not just for engineers and “technical” roles. I’m fortunate to have had my role evolve vastly over 3 years at Ridgeline: from program management to documentation to customer support to talent acquisition to HR to finance and legal. The key to innovation for me has always been to provide structure in terms of strategic objectives. For example, I try to fill in the “what” in terms of outcomes and “why” in terms of context but then let the team drive the “how,” “when,” and “where.” 

Q: What does innovation mean to you as an engineering leader?

Susan Koo, VP of Product Engineering: Engineers are problem-solvers at heart. Innovation to me means discovering problems or inefficiencies and not being able to let go until you’ve found a more elegant solution. I love that innovation can produce a gain that improves something by 10x and can also result in something that makes a 1% improvement. All of it adds up to make for a better solution.

Erik Brockman, VP of Platform Engineering:  It means that we are considering ideas from people with diverse experiences and backgrounds, and weighing different processes and avenues that will best achieve a desired outcome. This looks like hearing out ideas from everyone on the team (regardless of tenure), and leveraging different solutions that already exist (like using Kafka to increase data speed so we can focus on building differentiators). 

Here at Ridgeline, innovation is everyone’s job, not just a select few. This is reflected in our Architecture Advice Process, where team members at all levels can make an architecture decision. 

Q: As an engineering leader in your field, why did you choose to work here at Ridgeline? 

Erik: I came to Ridgeline to build something new with genuine and innovative people in a space where there is immense need for new technology. We have such a direct and quick feedback loop with customers, that it truly fosters a fast-paced and creative work environment. Plus, I love being the underdog with a secret weapon: new tech and core values that everyone buys into! 

Q: What is an exciting problem you have worked on recently?

Susan: We recently challenged ourselves to dramatically improve the performance and scalability of our portfolio accounting processing, increase developer productivity and happiness, and accelerate the speed at which we could release new functionality to our customers. After some initial whiteboard sessions, the team set out to run some quick experiments to spike out and test their initial ideas and get some early results. Running 70+ experiments over the course of a couple weeks helped refine our designs and forge a new path that has allowed the team to work far more efficiently than they originally imagined.

Erik: We're always thinking about how to improve Ridgeline's resilience regarding disaster recovery events. Real-world third-party outages are great learning opportunities to test our processes. For example, when the most recent AWS outage occurred, we completed 34 Root Cause Analyses (RCA’s) resulting in 18 improvements so far. It was also the catalyst to transforming our API Gateway into a high availability service with ability to operate in multiple regions.

Q: What is something innovative outside of Ridgeline that caught your eye recently? 

Susan: My daughter’s FIRST® LEGO® League team was presented this semester with an “Energy Journey Challenge.” In the energy journey project, her team has been challenged to develop new, innovative ways to rethink and improve how energy is generated, stored, distributed, and consumed. It’s been fun to hear her brainstorm ideas that piggyback on concepts she is starting to have more familiarity with (solar panels, wind turbines).

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