The Partner Interview, Part Two: Steve Cooper and Daphne Puerto
The partner interview is a unique component of Excella’s recruiting process. Every past, present and future Excellian will have met with at least two partners by the time they join the company. “The Partner Interview, Part Two” is a blog series that reunites an Excellian with one of their partner interviewers…
The partner interview is a unique component of Excella’s recruiting process. Every past, present and future Excellian will have met with at least two partners by the time they join the company. “The Partner Interview, Part Two” is a blog series that reunites an Excellian with one of their partner interviewers to catch up on their time at Excella.
Excella’s recent growth means that approximately 35.5% of Excellians have been with the company a year or less. With another 40 Excellians expected to join by the year’s end, this series gives a glimpse of what it’s like to work at a rapidly growing technology company. It also showcases Excella’s greatest asset – Excellians. For our inaugural interview, co-founder and partner Steve Cooper sits down with UX Designer Daphne Puerto.
Steve Cooper: Daphne, you’ve been with Excella since October. What’s been the most unexpected thing about the last eight months?
Daphne Puerto: Coming into a larger team focused on one project, I thought it would be regimented and processed-out, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how organically ideas are generated, how quickly things move, and how flexible things are on the project – especially in terms of how colleagues work together and how we interact with the client.
Steve Cooper: How much interaction do you have with the client?
Daphne Puerto: That’s been another surprise. From day one I’ve been working with the client every day.
Steve Cooper: Surprising in a good way?
Daphne Puerto: Yes – it was nerve-wracking at first! I was surprised that as a new employee I would have that kind of exposure with the client, but it’s been wonderful. We have an amazing client who is very user-focused. Having the opportunity to interact daily and collaborate on new approaches has been an awesome part of my career at Excella so far.
Steve Cooper: I remember in our initial interview, one of the reasons you were considering leaving your job was because you were looking for a team environment and to have peers. Has that been delivered?
Daphne Puerto: Yes, and more than I had expected. I’m on a team of 9 or 10 designers and each designer has their own capabilities, skills and perspectives. I have a team of brilliant people to work with and help me solve client problems every day.
Steve Cooper: We’ve hired so many people since you started, you’re almost a veteran at this point. Do you feel like you’re imparting knowledge to new people?
Daphne Puerto: It’s strange, but true! There are little things that I’ve been able to help my colleagues with, like how to access our different environments or how to best communicate with a client when there is a difference of opinion. I’ve also had the opportunity to onboard new employees to the design team, which has been really fulfilling. I’ve found that there’s a lot of opportunities to relearn something when you’re teaching it to somebody else.
Steve Cooper: Your project is across the street from the office, but you’re still not based at HQ. Do you ever feel like you’re disconnected or that you don’t know what’s going on in the company?
Daphne Puerto: I could see how people could feel that way, but Excella offers so many opportunities to stay connected. The monthly happy hours and firm meetings help reinforce Excella’s culture norms and let you know what’s happening at other client sites, so even if you only go occasionally, you can stay connected. Also, on our project we have monthly account meetings. On a big project like ours it can start to feel like an in-house experience, so having those check-ins are a good reminder that I’m a consultant and at the end of the day I work hard for the client.
Steve Cooper: Going back to the project, and your role as a designer – are you able to see the impact of your work?
Daphne Puerto: The design team has a very collaborative process, but I can trace my work in it. I can, for example, speak to a research activity I led, which formed the basis of what our visual designer designed and our developers built, and now it’s out in the world providing a more seamless experience for customers.
Steve Cooper: I’ve said it before, but we really have grown a lot since you’ve joined us – do you feel like your voice is heard during so much change?
Daphne Puerto: One of the things I love about my team is that there is a lot of accountability. Because we are agile we have retros at the end of every sprint and we get a chance to air our grievances –
Steve Cooper: – that happens?!
Daphne Puerto: It does! I’ve aired grievances and I’ve had grievances aired at me.
Steve Cooper: And it doesn’t result in bad blood?
Daphne Puerto: No. We do it in a constructive way – retros are not a time to pass judgement, they’re a time to learn as a team and to make sure that we’re pulling each other up. That is one time when your voice is definitely heard.
Steve Cooper: Since this a partner interview “part two,” I wanted to go back to a question I typically ask in the interview – how flexible are you with regards to location, commute or project?
Daphne Puerto: As a consultant, you make do with what you have. That’s the culture I’ve learned – even though we are lucky to have a great space on our project, that’s not what’s emphasized.
Steve Cooper: Do you have any questions for me now?
Daphne Puerto: What are some of the initiatives that Excella’s leadership are working on to help build Excellians’ careers?
Steve Cooper: The direct efforts are training and more professional development. We’re always sharpening the Excella U programs and continue to make sure we’re sending as many entry-level Excellians through boot camps. We also have our training offerings in Kanban, CSM, CSPO – the more knowledge people get, the better their ability is to work as a team no matter how we assemble them. Indirectly, we are trying to make sure that we re-staff or rotate staff better and more optimally.
Daphne Puerto: What are some of the challenges you’ve had in maintaining a culture across Excella with everyone dispersed?
Steve Cooper: The geographic challenge is difficult. We want to do so many things that other companies can do – whether it’s allow people to bring in their pets to work or bring in a chef every week for Friday lunches. Some people say we could just do those things at headquarters, but most Excellians are on client sites and they wouldn’t get to participate. So were very hamstrung in terms of what we can do to reinforce the culture and make it fun and interesting and rich. That’s why we have so many events to bring people together, but of course we don’t want to make them mandatory because we want to be sensitive to work life balance. You’d think in technology there would be more ways to connect, but there really is no substitute for face to face.
Daphne Puerto: What can Excellians do to help keep Excella as an example of an excellent work place?
Steve Cooper: Communication is the biggest thing. Any interfacing you can do, either externally on behalf of Excella, or internally to other Excellians at every level – that’s the big thing that ties people together. A tremendous number of our employees started in the last year, so we want you to get involved!
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