More than 25,000 customers in 43 countries trust Sonian’s secure proprietary SaaS platform and cloud search engine to retain and retrieve valuable data and protect intellectual property. As an early innovator in cloud-based archiving, they preserve, protect and present the world’s information. Founded in
2007, Sonian manages more than 20 billion objects in the cloud; every day, 17 million new documents are uploaded to Sonian’s email archive, which is integrated with the world’s 5 largest public clouds.
Their Waltham HQ is homebase for many of their engineers. We caught up with, David Blair, Chief Product Officer at Sonian the other day. He was super eager to tell us what his awesome team is up to!
Sonian is hiring! Check out its BIZZpage
Jill Gregoriou: You've shared how important maintaining your team culture is. Can you let our readers how you’d describe it?
David Blair: Our culture is about treating people with respect and trusting that they will work hard and do the right thing. We value teamwork, trust, transparency, and success. These company values are something we think about in terms of executing on our work every day and especially with customers. For example, we experienced a minor security incident that had limited risk, but we communicated to our customers that the situation was immediately remedied and handled with care. Our customers entrust us
with sensitive information and we take that responsibility very seriously.
JG: Your team is very supportive of career development and you have a number of engineers who have changed career paths at Sonian. Software Engineer, Chris Mawhinney, has a great story. Let's pass the mic to her to hear how she found herself at Sonian. Chris?
CM: With a degree in Biology and over a decade of infectious disease research I’m what most would call a non-traditional developer. Since childhood I’ve had an interest in computers, spending the majority of my time with my hands on a keyboard, but it wasn’t until I started writing code to assist with my research that I finally decided to put down my pipettes and make the leap to software development. That’s when I found Sonian. Although I wasn’t coming to them from a computer science background I think they were able to recognize that I was bringing with me a unique set of transferable skills. I started in the QA department as an intern and am now a full-time software engineer. I was able to stay on an upward trajectory because Sonian invests in their developers. They have encouraged me to grow my skills in a number of ways, from pair-programming with senior developers to attending conferences. As for what’s next, well, things are heading in a good direction and I look forward to seeing where they go from here!
JG: Back to David: Your team diversity is awesome, can you tell us more about it?
DB: To me, diversity in the workforce is about valuing ideas that come from different perspectives and being open to and accepting of a wide variety of backgrounds. Valuing diversity at work is also about building a strong culture which is open, affirming, and supportive. In this type of environment people can feel comfortable to focus on doing great work and less on social pressures and what others may think. I am proud that here at Sonian our engineering and product team is made up of employees of all backgrounds. For instance, I could say that my product leadership team consists of people who are women, African American, gay, or lesbian, but I don’t. I just think of them as great employees.
JG: What are some of the cool / interesting problems that your team is solving?
DB: The product and engineering problems we’re tackling here at Sonian are boundless. As a pioneer in the cloud and one of the largest B2B consumers of cloud infrastructure, Sonian is pushing the boundaries of running a cloud platform at scale. Sonian archives communications data for almost 30,000 companies. We help these customers protect their data, remain in compliance with regulations, and derive never-before-possible business insights from their communications data. So, from a product perspective, we are solving problems around - how to make search extremely powerful, building elegant user experiences, ingesting huge volumes of data, analyzing the flow of information for security and business intelligence, and auto-scaling our cloud system. These are just a few of the types challenges we solve every day at Sonian.
JG: Tell us about some of the values you try to instill in your engineering teams here at Sonian?
DB: It’s funny that you ask. We just onboarded 5 new engineers, and in order to set them up for success, I firmly believe it’s vital that we be clear on what we expect. That means communicating our engineering and product values (which, of course, are in support of company values as mentioned above). With every new hire I spend time reviewing in detail the key product values we espouse.
- Customer value is priority #1
- Lean approach to delivery
- Deep customer empathyAccountability and taking ownership
- High quality, scalable systems
- Design as a differentiator
- Trust (and respect)
- Full stack-ness (i.e. ability to work across different parts of the code)
- Team above individual
- Hard work (to build something great)
JG: Sonian builds archiving and analytics products, but you view design as a real differentiator. Can you tell us about why that's so important?
DB: Absolutely. In today’s world, there are so many solutions out there that you really need to set yourself apart. One important way to do this is through design. At the end of the day, our users are human, and as you know humans love a “little bit of delight”. Think about it, when you buy a car you are essentially buying something that takes you from point A to point B. There are other factors, of course, in selecting a car to purchase, but are you going to buy the drab gray one that looks like a box or the shiny red one with elegant curves and chrome accents? With software it’s the same thing.
So, when it comes to designing our archiving and intelligence products at Sonian, we focus on great visual design and seamless user experiences. And we do this for two main reasons. First, we have to be different from our competitors in the vendor selection process. What do you think when I say “email archiving”. You might think that sounds boring. But our UX is anything but. Our design sets us apart from our competitors when they are choosing a solution. As we add new distribution partners reselling Sonian products, we continually hear feedback like “your user interface clearly shows that you are innovating, and we want to go with you”. The second reason we need great design is because we have many casual users of our software, and when you have a situation like this, you cannot afford to have them re-learn the user interface every time they use the product. It has to be dead simple the first time and every time they interact with the product or they won’t use it.
JG: Roughly half of your engineering team is remote. What do you need to do in order to work effectively?
DB: That’s a great question and there are copious musings on social media how to build an effective remote team. I could expand on this in great detail, but to boil it down you need a few things to work well. First you have to invest in bringing people together regularly to build rapport and trust. For example, we have an all company meetup every year and the primary focus is on being together, having some fun, getting aligned, and doing some work - in that order. The second thing you need is the right technology to facilitate communication and collaboration. This means technologies like screen sharing, instant messaging, video, etc. The third critical thing you need is transparency in your organization. People need to be aware of what is happening and understanding the rationale behind decisions that are being made. This drives alignment. We cannot have a situation where the remote engineers are missing out on information, and thus, the full context on goals and decisions being made. We have to work hard at being transparent to be successful.
JG: Complete this sentence for our audience: I love working at Sonian because...
DB: "...we are re-inventing our industry and the opportunity is huge!"