About the Author:

In an Engineering Director’s Fast-Moving Life, the Only Constants Are Change and Training

June 6th, 2019

For the past two years, Nita Patel has been Senior Director of Engineering at L3 Communications, a global organization that develops advanced defense technologies. Before that she was their Systems and Software Engineering Director.

In her 11 years with the company a lot has changed, and the teams she’s managed have had to adapt quickly. Patel was generous enough to give DevelopIntelligence a look into her work, how she builds an engineering team, and how she keeps pace with the continuously evolving world of technology.

What do you do?

My role is about leading an organization of interdisciplinary development engineers – including hardware and software,  – to achieve our customers’ missions. We typically focus on two core technology areas: imaging systems using different wavebands to enable users to see better in the dark, and laser-based systems to enable range finding, marking and pointing.

Our systems are designed for the individual warfighter. We typically start an idea with the special ops community and migrate more mature designs to larger Army, Air Force or Navy contracts. My job is to make sure we continue to align with our warfighter’s missions and the latest technology to achieve those missions.

How do you build a high functioning engineering team?

Open communications and lots of it: communications with our customers, communications among the team, communications with production teams, communication within the department. We also work hard to provide the tools and data needed to accomplish the hard tasks we ask our teams to complete.

How important is culture to team performance? How do you build yours?

It’s very important. We purposefully build, small integrated development teams with a lead engineer and project manager in order to make sure they have the autonomy to make decisions rapidly. Teams work very collaboratively. Teams need to know they have the responsibility and accountability to execute. Therefore, we are clear about their goals and their constraints, and then we ask them to deliver with as little overhead as possible. 

How has the Director of Engineering role changed in the past few years?

Development cycles need to be faster. Not only do the design cycles need to be faster, the production timelines and duration of production is shorter, so we have to design the next iteration faster. We have to manage insertion of new technology, addition of advanced features and quick production ramps to meet our customers’ demands. 

You mentioned the need to move faster and to manage new tech, production ramp ups and customer demands. How do you do it?

It’s tricky. Sometimes we ask our teams to do more with the same resources; that’s obviously hard. It forces different thinking because ultimately we can’t do the same things. So, there’s a lot of posing questions: yes, this worked for us. Yes, this has been very successful. Yes, it’s very good, but we have new expectations now. How do we change to meet those expectations?

It’s a little bit of change management and asking people to think differently. It’s hard for people to change. That’s where asking questions, finding what else is out there, having people attend conferences and events, or look at different sources of technical information comes in.

How is somebody else doing it? We’re not the only ones who have harder demands. Other people do too. What can we learn from them? Eventually, by pushing and pulling and maybe suggesting, everybody gets the idea. Not that it’s easy, it’s really reminding people that we did well, but now we have to be different.

You talk a lot about different ways of thinking. Does training play a role in prepping people to meet new, greater demands?

Training definitely plays a role. Especially with new tools that can help facilitate work or new techniques, like the software development community moving to more agile techniques. But it’s also reinforcing training by adopting and implementing what makes sense. Then, make sure you tailor the training and then repeat elements of that tailored piece to integrate it into the team.

On the job, you mean.


How important is formal training for an engineer these days? Is classroom training valuable?

To some extent, yes. The dilemma with classroom training is it attempts to be very conceptual, but then there’s an element of taking that concept and applying it to your actual workplace, your people, processes and workflow. Classroom training is helpful to give people that initial sense of the possible, what’s different. But then you absolutely have to do some informal on-the-job training because you can’t take that concept and automatically have it make life magical. Somehow it has to be applied. Application tends to very tailored to your work environment, your people, your skills, products.

DevelopIntelligence systemically creates a classroom environment that’s more like a lab. They work with their clients to find out your strategic business objectives so that we can create a curriculum that will build on those things. It’s not just theoretical or conceptual. People in the class will work on the same things on the job. They’re on their computers writing code, breaking code, etc. Is that unusual? It seems different than the classroom environment you just described.

I think that is unusual. I don’t see a lot of people developing that kind of classroom training that’s very hands-on and very tailored to the group you’re trying to address. 

I think that’s awesome, and it’s valuable because it’s good to hear a theory.

But until the engineering team can actually see it in practice, use it, give it a try, it’s hard to adopt. If you want people to change – which is the whole point of training – you have to make it adoptable, and sounds like that your training meets that!

About the Author:

Free resources for building hackathon apps quickly

March 10th, 2016

GoCode is a hackathon/app competition put on by the State of Colorado. The challenge this year is for teams to build an app that helps “businesses build a competitive strategy” while also using a Colorado open dataset. Rather than limiting the dev time to the traditional all-nighter weekend, teams have many months to build their apps/businesses.

We (DevelopIntelligence) are one of the sponsors GoCode (our 3rd year of sponsorship and GoCode’s 3rd year of existing) and teaching a half-day class to the top teams on the mentor weekend.

Our speciality lies in the technology training and learning space. In addition to our mentoring day, we want to provide some resources GoCode participants or other hackathon participants could use to build their apps.


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Tech and Training Reads – December 2015

December 9th, 2015
Training Reads

Coding is boring, unless…

The software industry has a turnover problem. This causes problems for teams, projects, and companies. Check out one startup’s approach for retaining their developer talent through constant learning and growth.

Why Virtual Classes Can Be Better Than Real Ones

Massive online open courses (aka MOOCs) get a lot of flak for their low completion and retention rates. But these courses become more popular and refined each year. Instructor of one of the largest MOOCs, Engineering Professor Barbara Oakley, makes a compelling argument for MOOC’s pedagogical advantages. It comes down to using video in the right way.

How Gamification Reshapes Corporate Training

Gamification is the use of game-design elements in non-game contexts. Think badges, rewards, and leaderboards. These and other game elements are helping auditing firm Deloitte increase its corporate training engagement.

Tech Reads

What is a coder’s worst nightmare?

Hundreds of programmers give their perspectives and stories on the things that haunt developers. The answers cover impossible bugs, organizational politics, trying to understand other people’s code, documentation dilemmas, and many other scenarios.

Why is it so hard to find a good front end developer?

Front end developers are the unicorns of the programming world. The field requires raw engineering chops paired with design intuition. This piece describes why it’s so hard to find talent in this field.

Must See JavaScript Dev Tools That Put Other Dev Tools to Shame

A front-end engineer details the best developer tools for 2016. Worth skimming through and forwarding to your developers.

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Instructor Spotlight: Dave Wade-Stein

November 16th, 2015

Dave Wade-Stein is one of the newest instructors at DevelopIntelligence. Dave has experience with a wide variety of software language (including Assembly, Perl, PHP, Java, Tcl, Ada, Eiffel, C++, Bash, and Fortran) and will primarily teach classes on Python, Linux, Unix/Linux, Chef and Puppet. He’s been programming since the late 1970s and teaching in some capacity since the early 1990s. He has a Master’s in Computer Science and a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. He’s worked for universities, startups, large  companies, the US Navy, and now DevelopIntelligence.  

IMG_0735 (1)

Hi Dave. Tell us about your background in technology.  How did it all start?

I had my first programming job at 13 in 1977 (or 1978). I had a personal computer called an Ohio Scientific (OSI) Challenger 2P (which included 4K of RAM, and for $150 I upgraded it to 8K of RAM), and after writing some games in BASIC, one of which unintentionally hung the system, the OSI rep put me in touch with a guy named Pete who was building some card key entry systems. Now they’re pretty ubiquitous but, at the time, it was pretty revolutionary to have a credit card like thing that could get you into a building or parking lot. I remember having no idea what to charge for programming, but it ended up being pretty good money for a 13-year-old.


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6 Ideas for Retaining the Training

November 13th, 2015

How much did you remember from your high school Spanish or French class?

If you’re like most people (including me) probably very little.   We all know that there’s a difference between hearing something in a classroom and being able to apply it in context later.  And just like your forced two years of High School language classes didn’t help you actually learn the language, most software development (aka programming) classes have this same problem.

Current research suggests that workers retain only around 10% of what they’ve learned in most classes. To put that in tangible terms, that means over a 3-day class (24 hours), you’ll only retain about 2.5 hours worth of the information. If we are talking about an Introduction to Javascript or Python course, that means you’ll basically remember how to do looping and functions. While those building blocks are valuable, they are definitely not enough to write even a basic production application on your own once the class is done.

There must be a better way to help people retain more knowledge during a class…RIGHT?

Here are a few tips and tricks for increasing retention that we’ve learned in 20 years of teaching people how to write software.


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DI Staff Late Summer Adventures

September 25th, 2015

DevelopIntelligence’s main office location is in Boulder, Colorado.  That puts us 37.5 miles to the gates of the 415 pristine square miles that is Rocky Mountain National Park.

A couple weekends ago, Julie, Carmel, and Kyle all happened to be in RMNP on the same day (albeit with different groups).  We’re in the best part of our Colorado late summer/early fall and it was a perfect time to be in the mountains.  The three of us give an account of our trips:

Carmel does a 14er

I spent my Saturday making the trek up Longs Peak (14,259 ft), in Rocky Mountain National Park.  We chose the less technical Keyhole Route and set our alarms for 2:30am.

We arrived at trailhead around 3:30am, threw on our packs, did some last minute stretching and set out on our quest, our headlamps illuminating the path.


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Why You Should Go to OSCON

July 7th, 2015

Since the popularity of open source is growing exponentially, it’s not surprising to hear that we teach a lot of open source classes. We like to stay up on the latest and greatest in open source technologies, so we’re attending OSCON in Portland, July 20-24 – and we want you to join us.

Open source is a cost-effective way to leverage solutions without a huge investment in commercial programs. Not only does open source help you increase productivity, it can help lower the cost of deployment; innovations in open source technologies can help increase efficiency.

You might think conferences such as OSCON are meant just for developers working with open source, but this isn’t true. As a manager for technical teams, there are a lot of benefits to you attending OSCON. Like most conferences, you’ll experience benefits such as hearing from industry thought-leaders, meeting a concentrated pool of talent, and getting some brand recognition at OSCON. You’ll also have the opportunity to participate in unusual events such as the OSCON 5k Glow Run/Walk and Finish Line Festival, Open Cloud Day, OpenStack Basics featuring HP Helion OpenStack, and BoF(Birds of a Feather) sessions.

When you’re managing teams working on projects that involve open source code, you need to be aware of licensing compliance. You also need to know what support is available for the open source tools your teams use. At OSCON, you’ll learn about new projects, services, languages and tools, and how to decide what best fits your company’s strategic goals.

We’ve got one OSCON Bronze pass available to give away to a lucky winner. The pass includes access to all keynotes, sessions, and events. Fill out the entry form here; the winner will be notified by July 13. Even if you don’t win, you can save 20% on your ticket by using our discount code, DI20, when you register.

Hope to see you there!

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We’re a 2015 Colorado Company to Watch!

June 10th, 2015
Last week, during its annual gala event, Colorado Companies to Watch honored us as 2015 Colorado Company to Watch, celebrating our drive, excellence, and influence as a growing company in the state of Colorado.

If you’re unfamiliar with Colorado Companies to Watch (CCTW), it’s an organization that recognizes second stage companies that develop valuable products and services, create quality jobs, enrich communities, and create new industries throughout the state.

Being named a Colorado Company to Watch is a huge honor, especially coming on the heels of our fourth consecutive Mercury 100 list placement. While we provide learning solutions to companies worldwide, we’re excited to be part of the growing entrepreneurial climate in Colorado.

Thank you, CCTW team!

About CCTW

Colorado Companies to Watch works to recognize the driving economic forces in the state by focusing not merely on growth, but on the true impact and influence of an organization. By focusing on second stage companies across the state, the program offers distinct insight into the state’s economic landscape and recognizes organizations often overlooked for the critical impact they have in their industries, communities and regions, as well as our state as a whole.

About the Author:

Churchill – DI’s Resident Dog

June 10th, 2015
DI’s resident dog, Churchill, is this week’s Built In Colorado’s “Startup Dog of the Week”.

Churchill is a big ball of fluffy puppy-love, who makes sure everyone feels welcome at the DI office.

Great job, Churchill!

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We’re on the Mercury 100 Again…But Not Getting Comfortable

June 5th, 2015
mercury 100 boulder valley

Last week, BizWest awarded us a spot on their 2015 Mercury 100 list of fastest-growing private companies in Boulder Valley. We’re honored to be in such good company; our sincere appreciation to BizWest for including us again.

With a 66% revenue growth over two years, we landed in the top five of the fastest-growing private companies with 2014 revenue between $2.6 million and $6 million – jumping into a larger pool of candidates than in previous years.

One of the reasons our growth has been steadily exponential is our unique positioning in the technical learning industry. When Kelby first founded DI, he focused on providing awesome training to developers – whether through their employers or on their own. Today, our mission to provide the best technical training remains, but with a twist – our goal is to help companies attract, retain, and grow their top technical talent. We’ve moved into providing managed technical learning services to companies, which allows us to partner with companies and provide more support than simply offering training classes.

By creating and managing comprehensive, customized developer learning programs that include all aspects of learning – from identification and design through delivery and evaluation, we help our clients transform learning from a ‘nice-to-have’ perk into a strategic, growth-fueling asset…which helps companies stay competitive and retain top technical talent.

The DI team is extremely proud to be on this list for the fourth year in a row…and we’re working hard to be included again next year. Stay tuned to see where we land on 2016’s list.

Interested in learning how the award-winning team at DI can help your company? Contact us today, at (877) 629-5631 or via email.