03-20-2014 01:35 PM
As part of our series of Q&A sessions with USAA IT leaders, Inside the Mission sat down this week with Java developer Layne Wiesendanger. In October, Layne was among the first group of technology developers who moved from USAA’s headquarters in San Antonio to Plano, Texas, to support the organization’s new satellite office there.
Q: What made you decide to join USAA?
A: USAA came to a career fair at Texas A&M when I was in school there. Their table said, “Best place to work in IT.” And I thought, “I should probably check them out.” So I did some research, and what really stuck out for me was the mission focus of USAA. Since I’ve been working here, I’ve seen how passionate we are about our mission and our identity as an organization. We are serving the military community. It’s not about the bottom line. It’s about service. And that’s the type of organization that I wanted to be part of.
Q: What do you like the most about working at USAA?
A: Certainly it’s the mission. But beyond that, I’ve had the opportunity to do exactly what I’m excited about doing in IT. Software development is where I wanted to be. And I’ve had the opportunity to move around, to try different things within software development.
Q: What is the most exciting project that you’ve worked on?
A: There was an innovation effort where we were running internal mobile applications for some products. We were excited because we were breaking new ground and doing things that hadn’t been done before within the enterprise. And we were getting to sell the idea and work with IT leadership from across the enterprise.
Q: Tell me what happened in October when you got transferred to Plano.
A: So, day one, I think we had six people total in the office. And pretty much from day one, we started going to career fairs and out into the community to attract a new pool of IT talent. Our message was that we think we’re a great organization to work for, and we want the best.
Q: Tell me about your Plano office.
A: It’s an old telecommunications building. We basically stripped it down to the studs. It is completely remodeled. Everything is brand-new within the office. We have a gong. We have refrigerator-size speakers in the office that we use for our standup (meeting). It is a state-of-the-art, agile workplace.
Q: You have a gong? What’s that for?
A: Early on, we had 25 people who were transferring from San Antonio to Plano. We had new people transferring every day. We started off with 25 and then two and three more would trickle in every week. One of the managers wanted a way to signal when we had new people coming. The first idea was to have a bell. And you know ideas like that can kind of escalate. So we got a 36-inch gong that we ring every morning before and after our standup. And we also use it if we need to gather, if there’s some big announcement or something. We ring the gong, and everybody comes to our collaboration area.
Q: And you have refrigerator-sized speakers?
A:We have two, one on each end of the collaboration room. And then we have the 1,000-watt amp that powers them.
Q: What plays on those speakers?
A: Every morning, there’s a new song that we play. And everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the songs list. On days like Presidents Day, we play the national anthem. On Valentine’s Day, I think we played “What Is Love” from “A Night at the Roxbury.”
Q: What songs do you suggest?
A: I personally contribute a lot of country music to the standup. But we’ve had everything from Bollywood to rock ’n’ roll. We’ve had a lot of contemporary pop music, too.
Q: Do you have a diverse team?
A: Yes, I’ve had co-workers from India and different parts of Asia. We have a diverse group, even within the people transferring from San Antonio. The idea is to bring in people with a lot of different backgrounds. We want different ideas and different experiences brought to the table.
Q: It sounds like you have a lively work environment.
A: Absolutely. We have a great team that is supportive and engaging. We don’t have weak links here in our office. One of the exciting aspects of the work environment is our “work hard, play hard” mentality. We’re getting a lot of hard work done. In conjunction with that, we want to have fun, too. We have a pool table. We have Xboxes. We have a lot of things that let us, for lack of a better word, blow off steam.
The ability to have fun at the office is critical. And it’s not just about an individual having fun; it’s about connecting with the team. If I can play pool with somebody, that’s a 10-minute conversation that I didn’t have before, and I know my colleague that much better. The “play hard” side really contributes to the “work hard” side, from a team-building standpoint.
Q: What is your day like?
A: I do a lot of mentoring in my current role. We have a lot of fresh faces at the office. On a typical day, I probably code about two-fifths to half the day. The rest of it is spent mentoring and recruiting and doing the other things that you have to do with a startup. We’re part of USAA, but we’re still a startup in a sense because we’re a new office. So in addition to the rest of our regular software work, we have recruiting and mentoring. And regular office stuff, like buying a gong.
Q: Did you buy the gong?
A: I did not. The office bought the gong.
Q: What is the quirkiest thing you’ve been asked to do?
A: We decided to film a chair race for a recruiting video. A co-worker and I sprinted down the hallway, pushing our colleagues in office chairs, which was excellent.
Q: What do you tell millennials about working at USAA?
A: When they first come through the door, I tell them they’re joining a high-performing team that has a lot of fun and has high expectations. But that we’re going to be right there with them to help make sure they’re successful. And I tell them upfront that my job is to make them successful.
Q: What should prospective candidates know about USAA?
A: We’re mission-centered. We have a mission. We have an identity. And we hold true to that. It’s a collaborative team, so I tell them to expect to be part of a group and that they won’t have their heads down coding all day. We have a lot of paired programming, where people take turns writing. And I tell candidates to expect to have some fun. If you enjoy your job, you don’t have to work a day in your life.
“Wiesendanger” is a great last name.
Yes, a lot of the time people ask me if I’m related to James Bond.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add about the Plano office?
A: A lot of things are different here in Plano, but we’re still USAA. Right now, the team here is small enough that everybody knows each other. And I’ve really connected with them. Everybody here is IT, and we all speak the same language. I can come in and talk about the latest gadget or tech news and have an instant connection with my peers.
USAA is an EEO/AA Employer – all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, protected veteran status or other status protected by law.
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