I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Aman Singh, Intacct’s Senior Director of QA & Release, and Robert Kleinschmidt, Intacct’s Vice President of Engineering, to talk about how the cloud industry has changed over the past decade, trends in the marketplace, and why Intacct engineers stick around year after year.
Brittany Benson: Aman, you’ve been at Intacct for a really long time—15 years—in many ways you’re a company historian. Back then, what did you see as the vision for Intacct when you first joined and do you see Intacct delivering on that today?
Aman Singh: Back then, the industry used to be called ASP: Application Service Provider. So in that regard, Intacct—along with the rest of the industry—has gone through a few terminology changes. However, we’ve always stuck with “best of breed,” and now we’ve graduated to “cloud ERP.”
The vision behind Intacct was always to be a cloud-based system, from the ground up. We were insistent on that even before “cloud” was the word to use; nothing we have done is desktop based.
We were thought leaders and ahead of the curve. That was the vision early on and that holds true today.
BB:What are the biggest changes and challenges you’ve observed after being here for so long?
AS: As I mentioned, the concept of cloud didn’t exist then. On-demand came from IBM—everything was internet-named. Hence the name Intacct, which is derived from Internet and Accounting.
At that point our biggest challenge was security. People were not ready to “part” with their data. They couldn’t live with this idea that their core accounting was being stored and housed by somebody else. In order to alleviate this concern, we originally housed all our servers in a room that had a live video feed running 24 hours a day so that people could literally see their data if they wanted to. So although they embraced the idea of having less IT costs very quickly, there was a lingering security fear early on.
We’ve invested heavily in IT from day one. That is part of the Intacct story and part of our development process. We have different processes for different releases—and some are limited releases. We started this back in 2002
We have a development process that is agile in many ways, constrained by the needs of the target market and doing major releases at very specific times; none of our customers want big changes at certain times in the year. We’ve always been very customer focused, to the extent that they drive the feature roadmap.
Robert Kleinschmidt: There is no set institutional way of doing this—we are constantly improving the development process. It’s not carved out and imposed on people; it’s based on what that particular project, feature, and timeline needs. This is an experiment driven organization. We encourage all the engineers to think that way and innovate and suggest their own skunkworks projects.
BB: Can you tell me a little bit about the Intacct engineering team specifically?
AS: We hold a large amount of institutional knowledge here that allows us to make better decisions quicker. I think this is much attributed to our team’s retention rate, and also a part of having very clever, intelligent people here for a significant number of years.
RK: The retention rate is phenomenally high. Despite challenges, the team tends to stick around, whether in development or QA.
AS: Yes, it’s a rarity for people on the development side to leave. We are very methodical and deliberate in hiring and we don’t take risks. As a result, when we hire someone, they usually stay for a long time. The Q&A side of the team has been here for nine years. The retention rate within the engineering team over the past year was 97%! We’re very proud of this.
BB: What would you describe as your team’s biggest victory since launching?AS: I’m very proud that the industry has reached the tipping point about people no longer worrying about their security in the cloud. This is beyond just engineering at Intacct of course, but encompasses many bright engineers and innovative leaders that have worked tirelessly and succeeded in making the cloud mainstream.
My team has worked for many, many years to gain public buy-in that the cloud was the way of the future. Even though our practices, tools, and methods have evolved, that industry validation is fantastic.
BB: Can you describe the culture on your team? What’s it like to be an engineer at Intacct?
RK: It’s a lot of hard, fulfilling work, but that’s not the only thing. Our team is close and we have a lot of fun. We do table tennis competitions, beer tastings, and lots of team lunches. One of my favorites is our brown bag lunches where people present information and learning’s to the team.
We try to make whatever situation we are in fun. We laugh together, fight together, and succeed together. If there’s one thing that Intacct development is especially proud of it’s that if there’s a win, it’s the whole team, if there’s a failure, the whole teams feels it.
AS: Robert’s right on all of that. We also really value open communication—that’s been foundationally true throughout the 15 years. We have a very open office setup where people can and are encouraged to speak their minds. Being vocal is important; there are no behind the back discussions.
If Aaron Harris (Intacct’s CTO) makes a suggestion, everyone is encouraged to figure out if there are any missing puzzle pieces or ways to build it even better. We encourage challenging and poking holes, if it’s logical. That’s one of the best ways to build a successful product.
BB: Looking ahead, what technology trends do you see happening in the marketplace?
RK: Look for a lot of new innovation in the IO/UI/user experience and how systems interact with the cloud and how people have learned to use them in different forms and interfaces.
Think about the iPhone, your iWatch, and your TV—On a laptop you work for maybe 10-15 hours a day; you utilize your phone for maybe 5 minutes, 30 times a day, and your iWatch is used for maybe one minute, 50 times a day. You’re still doing the same thing. The challenge for us is to figure out how to allow you to continue your work no matter what platform you’re on anytime, anywhere—which is just reaffirmation of the need for the cloud. Through all of this, one needs to keep in mind that the user experience must be geared towards the context of the device.
BB: That’s great insight, Robert. Aman, is there anything else you want to add in regards to your team or what it’s like to work at Intacct?
AS: Yes, actually, I think this is super important. Very early on we realized it was not okay for us to farm out or contract work. So instead, we set up our own office in India in 2002, and that has helped us to keep a base, to deliver more, and bring value to our customers and the product.
In addition to that, we also designed the new Romania office with a different profile of employee—to balance our approach. We have been very open to integrating everything across geographies. There’s a lot of cross pollination, and we move people around if necessary. The India office was set up by some team members that used to work in San Jose, and in turn, we have moved some people from India over here to San Jose. It’s a global development team. It’s not farmed out, and team members don’t work on bits of scraps but full projects. We are very conscientious of this because the individuals that we hire are the very best. We’ve built a fantastic team, and the work that they do is innovative—we hugely value their contributions.