September 13, 2022

Tech Leaders Hiring Well featuring 7Factor Software


Episode Highlights

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Hirewell has had the opportunity to partner with 7Factor Software over the years and it’s been a relationship we truly value. The folks we’ve placed onto their team love working there, so we thought it would be great to sit down with Jeremy Duvall, Founder & CEO to find out what makes 7Factor so unique. We cover quite a bit of ground from how they approach new modern technology projects to creating a consultant environment that empowers their developers. Jeremy’s passion is contagious – tune in and find out for yourself. 

Episode Transcript

All right. Welcome to tech leader is hiring well. I’ve got Jeremy Duvall, founder and CEO of 7Factor software, which is a custom software and cloud services company that is quickly growing. Welcome Jeremy! Hi, thanks for having me. Yeah. 7Factor software, I know Hirewell’s been working with you here for a little bit. But for those that don’t know, what does your company do?

What’s your company good at? Well, we are software engineers. You probably heard the dirty word consulting. There’s a lot of us out there that do consulting of varying degrees. We approach it from a partnership, more of a partnership perspective. I have about 60 engineers on the team and three people that support those engineers, which is another differentiator on how we do things.

We like to hire software engineers and put them in charge, which can be good. It can also be a challenge- depending on the engineer. But we build custom software typically cloud native stuff. We’ve done maybe a little bit on-prem, but most of our clients are hiring us to help them get to the cloud, optimize their cloud deployments, understand the difference between cloud native software and sort of on the metal on-prem stuff.

And generally it’s been a really fun ride. I’ve enjoyed building the company. I’ve enjoyed kind of applying my expertise in various realms and doing really cool things, building some really awesome stuff for some really neat customers. That’s neat. And what drove you to this point where you said, “Hey, I’m going to start something like this.” What got you here?

Yeah. So there- I mean, we’re a dime a dozen, right? You Google consulting and you’re getting like a thousand hits. The big differentiator and the thing that drove me towards building yet another consulting firm because there’s so many of us out there is that I feel like developers in some aspects have been marginalized in our industry.

And what I mean by that is that we’ve been sort of treated as the cogs in the machine that makes the software go. Part of my mission is to help folks understand that software engineers have a lot more to bring to the table when you treat us as a Venn diagram, instead of as a walled garden. What I mean by that is product,

you know, those are the folks that come up with the ideas and that hand us tickets that suck to varying degrees. And sometimes they’re good, but very rarely are they any good- sorry product people. And the developers are the folks that make the thing go and they’re the people that are typing the pretty colored words on the screen that produce this

wonderful software that you and I are using right now. So part of my goal behind developing 7Factor is to put engineers as the drivers for conversations with clients as opposed to account managers and kind of the traditional consulting approach of let’s just put those guys back in a room and kind of cover ’em up with a curtain and you don’t really care about that

because they just deliver things. Turns out that software is a social art. It is more like painting a picture, less like connecting the dots and building with Lego bricks. And the best thing to do is to give software engineers, a front seat at the table when we are discussing what we’re building. And a lot of companies know this and they try and they build organizations around it.

But we wanted to develop a consulting firm that allows developers to do cool stuff and use neat and interesting cutting edge technologies and work across different industries and still have that sort of vibe of we’re here to build good things for our customers, and we’re here to partner with them in the right way, as opposed to being a butt in a seat, the way a staffing agency runs it.

Okay. Gotcha. And I know you had a consultant background early on in your career, was that a piece of it? Was it like, “Hey, I did this earlier. I think I can do it better.” Yeah. I mean, not to throw rocks at my friends but yeah, more or less. And a lot of consulting firms have arrived at better ways of doing this and we’re all evolving as the industry

sort of moves around us and software engineering is the number one job opening that you see on the market today. Like everybody’s saying we need more software developers. So I think there’s a space for more of the augmentation style of firm and then there’s also a space for the more cutting edge,

let’s come in and do really cool things. What I’ve found is I can retain better talent longer because I’m giving them things they care about and I’m also fighting for them and I’m telling my clients, no, we’re not going to do that on that deadline. You’re insane. Something that I really wouldn’t get at some other firms that are more designed to kind of just, here’s your developer, you tell them what to do and if you burn ’em out, I don’t care

because I can hire another one. We’re very much more about let’s build a community and that’s also reflected in our growth, right? So we’ve not year over year, double tripled. A lot of companies my size after five years in my industry would probably be at 300 people at this point and we’re not. We’re 60 and that’s because again, we focus on those high quality, high performing, super hard to find developers that are more philosophical and believe in

principles that deliver better software and go to market with our clients and say, “Hey, you’re doing this wrong. Like we know you’re doing this wrong. We can prove it because look at all these other things that we’ve done.” So it’s been fun. And yeah, I would say that’s our big edge is we just retain people that like doing this better.

Yeah. That’s great because I know like there’s a big connotation out there that like consulting is like a dirty word, right? Yeah. Because like these people are working crazy hours and stuff. It’s nice to hear that there’s options out there in consulting that provide something a little different,

so. Yeah, the reason you’re working extra hours is because the account manager is not doing their job. No offense. Sorry. And how did that work? How did you grow your team over time? What was the evolution of that? Wow. Yeah, so we started at the very beginning- excuse me. I hired code school people because I come from a background, I grew up in a trailer in North Georgia.

I come from a background that’s disadvantaged for all intents and purposes, not quite as disadvantaged as other backgrounds. So I’m still blessed to be here, but definitely didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. And that sort of background drove me to look for people that wanted a change early on, which is also reflected in some of the new things we’re doing. So early on I hired code school people because I taught at a code camp because I wanted to help them change their lives and kind of drive into this industry.

And then eventually we made some money and we were able to actually pay people to help us find awesome talent, which by the way, I highly recommend that you do that as soon as you can. Find a really good talent partner and double down on them and build a good relationship with them, which we’ve had with Hirewell.

And it’s been awesome to create the team of your dreams and we’ve certainly done that. We go through probably a thousand resumes for one hire. So we’re extraordinarily picky. But more or less pivoted into 2022, 2021 & 2022 is when we’ve really been able to double down and fill our pipeline up with hires and make sure we’re getting the right people.

And there are a lot of folks that made it through our hiring process that we just couldn’t hire because we ended up either finding someone else we like better or not really having a position for them whenever it sort of ended, which I feel bad for those people and I’d love them to come back to us.

But at the end of the day, you know, we have to take the best talent we can. And again, having a good talent partner for us has been probably the differentiator. I could not go to market by myself and find these people without having a talent partner that has that reach that our partners have. Okay.

Awesome. That’s good to know. And really interesting on how you grew your company, like kind of using your access as like an instructor in like a coding bootcamp. What’s your view on coding bootcamps? Like how do you feel about ’em? How do you feel about hiring from them? So controversial.

Yeah, it is. You hit me with the hard question. There we go. So coding boot camps are a good place to find a primed apprentice. And I hope no one takes offense at that. What I mean by this, I went to school for six years to become a software engineer. I have a master’s degree from Georgia tech and I did my undergraduate there as well.

I spent an exorbitant amount of time learning theory and all these things that to be frank, I don’t use anymore, but there’s still cool things to talk about. And the methodologies that I learned about binary searching and cutting problems into smaller pieces and solving the pieces and putting it back together for the big picture, right?

Every computer science algorithm ever more or less, is very important for us to understand and know. So when I get someone from a code school, I’m kind of seeing them as a primed apprentice- someone who has exposure to the pretty colored words on the screen, someone who knows how to type get commit, and I don’t have to teach them that.

Someone who has a baseline understanding of a framework, like a JavaScript. A lot of these coding boot camps do full stack JavaScript, which is very rare in production environments in large companies. We just don’t do it for many reasons. So I like finding people out of those boot camps to bring in

and we usually give them a try period. A lot of people don’t like the whole contract to hire, it’s kind of a dirty word. But we pay them a living wage for a quarter, anywhere from two months to a quarter to see if this is an industry they want to be a part of. Because again, a lot of code school people,

they walk in the door, bright eyed and bushy tailed and like, “Oh, this is so cool. I get to be a software engineer.” And then when you hit the ground, it’s like a literal punch in the gut as to how difficult it is to do this job. Especially in days when in 2022 and 2023 and beyond where DevOps is something you need to do. This whole full stack thing, which doesn’t really work outside of full stack JavaScript and like Rails and a few other kind of full stacky type frameworks.

All of those things are very difficult to learn walking into an industry if you have zero context. I didn’t have any context when I walked into it from Georgia tech, but I had some baseline concepts about how to solve problems and break things up that your typical code school graduate isn’t going to have.

So we like to treat them as apprentices and then promote them at a junior engineering positions after they’ve proven to us that they can hack it so to speak, because this is a hard industry. I don’t know, some people say that like AI is going to write code for us. I’m very skeptical having taken artificial intelligent classes with Charles Isbell at tech

who’s amazing. I’m skeptical. Like there are things it can do for us, but I don’t think my job’s going to go away in 10 years because their robot’s gonna write. Maybe I’ll be regretting that in 10 years, who knows? I’ll go back and watch this video and feel the regret. But anyway. At the end of the day, you have to give them a shot, but you also have to hold your standards, right.

You have to make sure you’re holding them accountable and you’re providing them with a framework to succeed. You can’t just take a code school person, throw them into your organization and expect them to become a junior/full engineer in like a year without actually investing in them. Sure. And I mean, you have to take into consideration that a lot of these programs are just getting off the ground too.

So like- yeah. Like accreditation there is not quite where maybe it needs to be, so. Yeah, for sure. I developed the curriculum for this particular class that I taught and it was really hard to come up with consumable chunks of information that I know would be industry interesting

whenever these people graduate. It’s really difficult. So I feel it’s a hard problem. If you’re in code school and you’ve solved that problem, good for you. It’s a hard problem. Yeah, no, I could only imagine. And on that note, just thinking about like tech in the world right now, what are you excited about?

What are you seeing out there that’s really kind of getting your attention? It’s kind of an old idea, but pivoting to the cloud. I mean, for a while, we’ve gone back and forth between hybrid cloud, full cloud, blah, blah, blah. A lot of companies that we work with are just now getting fully operationalized in the cloud the right way.

A lot of folks treat the cloud the way they treat a data center and they put their infrastructure engineers in charge and it just doesn’t work because the cloud is programmable data center. It’s a different ideology. So infrastructure is code in tandem with the DevOps movement, which is a philosophical movement

on top of some tools. Like Jenkins has been around for years. Calling Jenkins DevOps is not accurate at all. The DevOps community created this concept of agile applied to engineering and now we’re seeing it all kind of flow together. A lot of the bigger companies, Spotify, Google, Facebook, these big technology companies,

they’ve been doing things like this for years. When I worked at danger, we were continuously delivering things into production. And that’s before it was even a thing right? Before it was named continuous delivery in a book that somebody wrote somewhere. So the idea of industry coming underneath this full pipeline of software engineering and they’re making it efficient and they’re giving software engineers the power to deploy into the cloud without having all of these hoops to jump through

I’m really excited about that. And it still is kind of in its infancy. Not every company has adopted it. Even sometimes citing compliance is being the reason why. Sometimes citing skill sets is being the reason why. And sometimes citing like political, organizational problems is being the reason why. But from the software I built and my teams and the stuff we’ve done for our companies, we’ve seen the best result by just

unleashing the crew and saying, “Here are the guard rails that you’re going to operate on. Go build cool stuff. There’s production, go put it into production.” That excites me because that means developers are being unchained and unharnessed from some of the political and red tape and compliance oriented barriers that we’ve traditionally been held back by.

Okay. Yeah, no, that’s interesting. And what cloud are you guys utilizing the most at the moment? Are you guys pretty agnostic or? Amazon. I’m going to tell you right now and no offense to Azure and GCP, but AWS has got it going on. I mean, they are phenomenal. I know it’s Jeff Bezos and it’s like the enemy for like Home Depot.

My friends at Home Depot are like firing me right now. There’s so many good things that Amazon has designed into their system. It’s easily 90% of the work we do is all oriented in AWS. It’s a fantastic platform, but we do a little bit of GCP and Azure as well.

When you’re dealing with like these cloud projects, are you primarily dealing with like transformation projects?

Are you coming in and like focused on application or a software or kind of all the above? There’s a lot of migration going on. That’s where we have an on-prem data center. We have a set of services that run in one cloud and we want to kind of move it around or rearchitect it. Or a lot of the times will be brought into an existing cloud infrastructure implementation that is not quite compliant by some framework, SOC, PCI, whatever.

And we’ll help them understand and figure out what the right sort of set of tools are to deploy to that cloud appropriately, we’ll help them understand what the right strategy is towards migrating those applications and containerizing them, which is a big thing to do these days and getting them up into the cloud so that they’re easily horizontally scalable.

The other big thing about cloud is that people tend to overspend in the cloud. And while that’s good for AWS and Azure and GCP, it’s not good for your pocketbook. So you want to spend some time understanding cost optimization strategies and how we ensure that we’re getting the most out of our cloud environment without spending so much money.

And then we have a lot of startups that come to us with sort of net new Greenfield projects, which is a whole lot of fun, where we’ll build an API in a front end and all of that from the ground up. I mean from a technology perspective, we like to say we’re, polyglots. We don’t really care what language we work in.

I’ve got Java engineers that are writing dotnet which that is not as hard as you think it is. I’ve got dotnet engineers writing Java. That’s a little bit harder. Yeah. My dotnet folks are kind of, I guess they have standards, air quote. I have JavaScript people that do front end stuff, from react to view you, like you name it. We’ve done a ton of like work and mobile with flutter

and with react native and all of that. So we kind of run the gamut across various technologies we work with. So a lot of the times we’re greenfielding an app with an API or we’re greenfielding like a suite of APIs in front of like a single page application or a mobile app or something like that.

So it kind of runs the gamut. Most of the cloud stuff though, if we’re not deploying Greenfield is going to be your migrations because that’s sort of where everybody’s sitting right now. Okay. Gotcha. Now I know you mentioned earlier, you have a team of nearly 60. What does the team makeup look like? Is it mostly like all developers?

Is it architects? Is there like scrum masters or is it just kind of all kind of dev architect focused? We have a unique structure. And I think this is another one of those differentiators with how we do business. In a traditional consulting firm you’re going to have an account manager and that account manager is going to work with the resources in the back end to develop your- I hate that

word by the way. Don’t call people resources. They’re humans, right. Use the right word, anyway. So the account manager will kind of funnel work and you’ll always have like that one rock star that you really, really like that’s doing probably 80% of the work and then you got everybody else in the back

that’s doing maybe 20% of the work and that’s like typical consulting engagement. The way we approach things is we have a client services organization and that includes my client service leaders, of which there are two right now. And then we have the rest of us, which are software engineers.

And then we have Alyssa who is my marketing manager, and she’s amazing and awesome. And we have a few contractors around her that help her out. But Sarah, Gina, myself and Alyssa are the only non-software engineers in the entire team. We use what’s called engineering managers, which is kind of like an account manager but not really. These folks have architecture skills and they manage our teams.

So they’ll come in, like if you were to engage with me, we would work on a scope of work. We would sort out a backlog. We’d figure out what we’d want to do. You’d get assigned an engineering manager and you get assigned a client services lead. So you have someone from a business perspective who is kind of like that traditional account manager

but more oriented towards helping ensure there’s a healthy tension between our teams and the client’s needs. And then you’ll have an engineering manager who’s going to sit there and basically be a defacto director of engineering from a 7Factor perspective. That human is in charge of ensuring our teams are moving smoothly.

They’re adhering to your scrum framework or using our own, which we prefer. We really like Kanban. Trust me, it’s better. Or working with architects, working with your own set of technical humans to really sort out how we’re going to do this, advising you on good ideas and bad ideas based on what they see.

I always like to say working with 7Factor is not just about building an asset, it’s also a transformation because we know how to build software, right? That’s what we do. We’re professional software engineers. So when you hire us and you watch how we build software, we want you to learn from that.

And we want learn from you too, because we’re not perfect. We try really hard to be the best kids on the block when it comes to building things. But hey, we’ve learned a few things from clients and it’s been fantastic journey to partner with those clients and end in a place where they get value, my crews get value, everybody’s happy and we have a wonderful relationship and we put some really cool stuff into production.

Yeah, that’s cool. Oftentimes we hear consultant and it’s like, “Here’s our problem. Fix it.” Right? So there’s more to the pie than just that. Now, like dealing with modern technology, how do you keep your team up to date on like the latest trends? What are you doing in that space?

Love it. And this is one area that we’re very, very like rabid over. We do a lot of lunch and learns. Every Friday there’s a lunch and learn and I tell all my clients, don’t talk to my people from 11 to 12 on Friday because they’re busy. And that’s us pouring back into our teams and that lunch and learn is ran by one of the engineers on the crew.

So we have someone present on anything from we’ve done imposter syndrome, which is more psychology and more psychological safety and generative culture oriented to here’s how you do workers inside react or here’s how you- like I’m giving a lunch and learn next week on how to do database optimizations

and how do you do like a BCNF form database table designs and stuff like that indexes and queries and how to optimize SQL queries. And again, those are things that a lot of companies they try to do, but they never get off the ground because they don’t get enough interest in it. We require it. It’s mandatory.

You can’t- if you don’t show up to a lunch and learn, I’m like in Slack saying, where are you? Because it’s important to foster a culture of learning. We have other ways, we have a mentorship program we’re putting in place, we have a myriad of people from different stacks that we’ve hired.

And I think that’s probably the biggest way that people learn. So for example, one of our giant customers here in Atlanta, asked us to write them a mobile app in flutter, and we had never seen flutter before. And you can imagine walking into that meeting and they’re like, “Well, where are your resumes for all your fluter people?”

And I’m just like “I don’t have any, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll learn it.” Yeah. They actually believed me and guess what? We got it into production and it’s been awesome. And I promise you that code is some of the best they’ve seen. Like we received some of the highest marks and highest compliments from this customer that they were saying that our teams are some of the most efficient and best they’ve ever seen in their entire career.

This coming from like 20 year veterans in industries. So I believe because I’m a computer scientist first and a developer second, that it doesn’t matter what you throw at me. I can learn Ruby on rails. I have. I can learn, go Lang. I can learn rust. I can learn Java. I can learn Vue. We have experts in each of those stacks that we put with our teams to make sure that if there’s someone on the crew that doesn’t have that experience, they ramp quickly.

But we also take faith that it’s just another framework, right? We’ve invented so many of these things, why do we put so much stock into C sharp versus Java? I mean, they’re both object oriented programming languages. Concept’s Map. Yeah. I love that. And like incredible that like every day can be like a new adventure as far as like learning something new and jumping into a new code base.

It keeps people around for sure because a lot of folks will pivot from a job out to like a rust and they’ll be like, “Whoa, this is cool. I learned how threading works and rust and that’s totally different than how threading works in Java versus how threading works in go Lang.” Again, we’re computer scientists first.

We’re not framework engineers. Yep. Nope. That’s that’s really cool. And speaking of programs, you guys are starting, I understand you guys are starting an apprentice program. Can you tell me more about that? Yeah. So this comes from, again, the background we mentioned earlier where I came from a disadvantaged source and got lucky enough to be accepted by Georgia tech.

And I kind of grow myself from there through a lot of grit and hard work. We have an apprenticeship program that we’re developing that is specifically targeted at folks that come from disadvantaged backgrounds to give them a shot at coming into our industry and learning how to be a good software engineer from

good software engineers. That program, we’re going to have more information on the website real soon about what that looks like. We’re going to open it up for people to apply. It’s not going to be easy to get into, so get ready. You’re going to have to actually work to get in. But once you’re in, we’re going to pay you an actual living wage to work alongside our teams and we’re not going to charge our customers for it.

So this is a direct investment from 7Factor into the communities that need it most, to help train and build teams that can- or to help train and build other people who can be a part of a broader team and eventually either go on to work for us or go on to work in the industry for a different company.

That’s really unique and really cool. I mean, really nice to see kind of going back to the community like that. And just just wrapping up here, like I know we’ve talked a lot about why, 7Factor is a great place to work, what you guys do. I know a lot of people are going to be listening to this and say like, “How do I get to work with you guys?”

Right. What positions are kind of most on target right now? What are you looking for? Yeah, right now we’re looking for mid-level to senior software engineers. We’re always looking for smart folks, to hire a head of revenue at this point. We currently don’t have any openings for junior engineers or sort of emerging talent, but we’re always, again, open to any conversation.

Something I’ve learned is never say no to a conversation with a smart person. We’ve definitely hired people before that we didn’t expect to hire because we just thought you are a slam dunk for our culture and you’re a slam dunk for our company. So don’t let that discourage you for sure. Apply irrespective of where you think you land on the ladder, because maybe you’re better than you think you are.

We never know, right? Good developers tend to have that imposter syndrome sometimes, right? Yep. Absolutely. Awesome. Well, thank you Jeremy for joining me. This has been fantastic. 7Factor is out there on the web- check ’em out. And, we’ll talk to you later, Jeremy. Thank you for having me.

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