Tech & Innovation Blog

Podcast: Fireside chat with Martha Bird, Business Anthropologist, on her career, insights on our current state, and emerging realities as a result of the pandemic


Fireside Chat, Career Journey, Impacts of COVID-19

Martha chats with Tory, from Generations, our Business Resource Group which focuses on creating connections between emerging and established professionals. She shares her career journey, insight on our current state, adjusting to unfamiliar routines, and emerging realities as a result of COVID

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[SPEAKER] Martha is Chief Business Anthropologist at ADP, where she helps design and create meaningful services, experiences, and products. Her approach both questions and contextualizes the social and cultural dynamics of technology. Martha understands technology as a cultural phenomenon and sees it as deeply embedded in the broader context of geography, social norms, language, physical space, and infrastructural capabilities. Martha shares insights about the people and the places where they make meaning with technology. Her expertise contributes to ADP’s ability to keep people at the center of innovation and design a better world at work.

[TORI DICKEY] Thank you, Martha Bird, for joining our Generation’s BRG podcast. We’re real excited to have you here today. My name is Tori Dickey. I am the Generation’s membership director on the National Board. And we look forward to having a terrific conversation today. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career transition from academia to corporate ADP.

[MARTHA BIRD] Hi, Tori. Thanks so much for inviting me. I’ve been looking forward to this. Yeah, I’ve had a very interesting, I would say, a multiple set of careers. So I actually grew up in central New Hampshire, where for about 15 years, I ran a seventh-generation family farm. So I’m very aware of generations working together– both the benefits and the challenges. So I think that’s an interesting intersection with our interests.

But part of working as a farmer meant that I had winters kind of to myself. And it seemed to me that I should be doing something perhaps a little bit more productive given that there was nothing to do in the fields. And I was fortunate enough to receive a fellowship to Boston University where I was working then on my PhD in anthropology, not what the intention actually of teaching, although I think the track that was set up for me was probably more in that direction. But I was just really interested, as I still am today, in really understanding how people make meaning with the tools that they have, with the people that are around them, with the cultural spaces in which they exist. So that was sort of the start there.

And then once I received my PhD, I understood that there were other anthropologists like myself who had opted not to go into academics, and instead decided to pursue careers in industry. And at that time, which is about 20 years ago, the industry that was most attractive to us as a group was in technology. So long and short is I ended up moving to San Francisco. I worked in Silicon Valley for a number of years. And then I’ve moved my center of operation to London, where I worked for a good many years, basically there working in emerging markets, spending a lot of time in Russia, actually.

And then as way leads on the way in my life, I ended up moving back to the US and talking to Roberto Masiero who is my current manager. And he brought me in basically with the remit to bring some human wisdom to the digital tools that we built.

[TORI DICKEY] Very nice. Well, we are certainly lucky to have you. We’ve seen you out in a few different ADP corporate settings and definitely know that you bring quite a bit of value to our products and the direction which our technology will be going in the future.
[MARTHA BIRD] Yeah. I feel very privileged for the platform and the opportunity to actually kind of find some of these intersections between the human and the technical. And I think it’s– I feel very blessed to be able to do that.

[TORI DICKEY] Certainly. Let’s chat about COVID-19 and the impact across our different generations. What have you observed or recognized from our different generations?

[MARTHA BIRD] Well, on the outside, and not specifically about ADP, I’ve personally been really impressed by the shared social responsibility that I’ve observed across a number of generations. So on any given trip to the store, I see young and old and all those in between wearing some kind of mask I’ve also been deeply touched by the perseverance and grit of those elders who seem to be just getting on with it despite their physical challenges.

I wonder though how they’re keeping at home. Are they alone? Did they get enough human connection, which makes me think of a dear friend and mentor of mine who was 98? And he got to a point where he said he thought it made sense for him to hire a helper to come in to visit him a few times a week just to give him a good back scratch.

So human connection is critical. And those less fortunate enough to have access to technologies that enable us to connect, even if somewhat flat compared to the real thing, I think are very fortunate. And of course, some people, especially older folks, are taking to video conferencing out of necessity. So they are learning new ways of connecting while others, I’m afraid, are having a probably a deepening experience of isolation.

Of course, as people have been sheltering at home, there is the necessity for parents and children and perhaps grandparents to shelter together. And for those I’ve spoken to, it’s kind of a mixed bag of emotion. On the one hand, it’s a gift to spend time with family when you might otherwise be on the road commuting to work. You get to sit down with meals. You get to do family projects and just generally share time together.

However, there is also that feeling of, wow, this is a lot of additional effort to manage kids and work responsibilities and what other things may come up. And somewhere in the mix of emotion has been planted the seeds of work-life change where people have been forced to be a bit more transparent about their domestic life and responsibilities inherent in that life. So many of us have kept our professional personas really separate from our personal personas.

But for those of us fortunate enough to work from home, we’ve had to embrace a new kind of blending of the two. And I think the implications of this for the future of work are still really playing out. But I suspect we will see more opportunities for flexible work arrangements to emerge, like, where and how and when work gets done. And I’d love to see the idea of quality over quantity becoming really the true measure of professional success, as opposed to how many meetings one attends and how many hours one works.

[TORI DICKEY] Yes. And that’s a great point. I’m right there with you with regards to how we view productivity or how we view success as a shift. So what do you think about the new normal we keep hearing about? I mean, we’re all facing the unfamiliar routines, keeping more personal distance. What are your thoughts as it pertains to ADP and our culture?

[MARTHA BIRD] Yes. It’s interesting, Tori. I have been giving a lot of thought to this term, new normal. And personally, I feel like the term, emerging realities, is better because I believe it captures the multiple ways people are learning to adapt and evolve. It’s a dynamic term that implies change in movement, whereas I think a new normal feels, to me, a bit static, which is really the way culture works.

For, example, what might be new to one person is the same old thing for another. And similarly, what I might find normal might well seem out of the ordinary for another person. So it’s not really about a one size fits all. If we have learned anything I think over the past several months, it is that people experience life differently depending on many and varied factors like age, ethnicity, income, education, and access. So for me, I like emerging realities.

[TORI DICKEY] Very good. So is the handshake a thing of the past days and now considered taboo?

[MARTHA BIRD] I’m not sure I’d call it a taboo, but then again I’m an anthropologist. So my mind goes to the original meaning of the word which was related to like sort of supernatural forces that had the potential of doing evil. So to avoid taboos, we’re set up to get away from these dangers. So supernatural malevolent forces aside, if nothing else, those who follow I think the CDC and the WHO guidelines won’t be shaking hands anytime too soon.

Of course, two, many cultures don’t shake hands when greeting others. So for instance in Thailand, people put their hands at chest level and bow. And so in other places for religious reasons, some people don’t shake hands. Particularly, men don’t shake hands with women.
And then there’s also the thing about order, the order of shaking. And the pressure of the handshake can vary depending on the age of those gathering with deference to elders. But I think it seems safe to say, however, that for the near-term, handshakes will be avoided by many people. Whether these will become a thing of the past seems unlikely, given the hope that we’ll soon see a vaccine for COVID-19, and also the fact that the process of cultural behavior changes in very lengthy process.

[TORI DICKEY] So do you have any messaging or words of wisdom on how we can support our different generations in ADP through this change?

[MARTHA BIRD] Yeah. I think the main one that comes to my mind is to be kind to yourself. That’s first and foremost. And then understand that most people are experiencing a sense of anchorlessness and uncertainty. So it’s OK to feel vulnerable, and it’s even better to be honest about it.

And listen with intention and respect your teammates. So I think listening is a sign of attention-paying. It’s a form of reciprocity, an affirmation between a listener in a speaker and vice versa. I think it signals a partnership, a collaboration rather than a one-way conversation. So active listening, I think, builds more trusting relationships.

Think back on a time when you felt like you were truly heard. And then think back on a time when you felt ignored. How did you feel about that person? So is that person someone you’d respect as a leader?

There are few feelings more apt to generate withdrawal and apathy than the feeling that your opinions don’t matter. It really doesn’t mean that everyone needs to agree with your opinions, but it does mean that feeling dismissed will never engender respect.

[TORI DICKEY] Great message. And I appreciate your words of wisdom here for us today with the Generations BRG.

[MARTHA BIRD] Mm-hmm. Thank you.

[TORI DICKEY] Yeah. How about the shift to a remote work environment? Are there different ways that you see our leaders might approach performance, coaching, or mentoring, and the employee engagement we have here at ADP?

[MARTHA BIRD] Yeah. There’s a couple of practices that come immediately to my mind. So interestingly today, my team is welcoming a new intern. And then the team leader has organized a Webex welcome to the team call so that we have a chance to say, we’re glad you’re here. Now, that’s an entirely new experience, and I’ll be happy to report back how that goes.

But it’s a step in the right direction. Yes, is it as good as having a get-together around our shared table where we have lunch? Maybe not. But is it a signal that we really care that this person is actually showed up? I think it is. So that’s I think that’ll be interesting to see.

And on the lines of human touch, I think leaders should adopt an attitude of open and honest communication to encourage more human-centered, I think, working relationships. This goes to what I was just saying really about attentive listening. And I think it starts by carefully curating inclusive remote meetings where everyone has a voice. So set aside time at the beginning of meetings to share fears and concerns and invite open discussion.

Set aside time for regular and predictable one-on-ones, perhaps inviting the associate to walk and talk during the conversation. I actually find that really a nice practice because so often we’re just crouched over our laptops, and it just doesn’t feel particularly humane. And I always really feel like there’s a lot more flow of conversation when I’m able to sort of just have a natural walking about. So I think that’s one thing.

And then ask the teammate how they prefer to be mentored. And something that I know has been successful in other companies– and I’ve seen it with friends that I know– is to pair teammates across generations. So creating mentorship opportunities in both directions– I just think it’s hugely valuable.

And then I share this with your listenership because I think this was something that I found really exceptionally engaging– was, I had asked teammates to share a photo of themselves as very young children, and then to write a single sentence. What would you say to them now?

Not only did this open up an opportunity for shared fun; it also gave the team an opportunity to learn more about childhood in different cultures, and underscored the reality that, regardless of current age, we were all kids once. So it proved to be a really successful exercise in terms of team sharing, cross-cultural learning, and multi-generational understanding. And I really recommend it to your listeners.

[TORI DICKEY] I like that. I think we’ll go ahead and launch that. Maybe our virtual chapter can help facilitate some fun around doing just that I certainly have had a similar experience in bringing about 10 pictures to a workplace environment and found that it really helps us to shift into that human dimension, find a common bond, and identify areas of discussion to build on that relationship and/or mentorship. So great suggestion, Martha. I appreciate that.

[MARTHA BIRD] My pleasure.

[TORI DICKEY] So one last question for you as we wrap this up. How do you view history and tradition in ADP? For example, our locations will have potlucks or other activities such as chili cook-offs. Do you think that we’ll see these again anytime soon in our in our workplace?

[MARTHA BIRD] Yeah. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of in-person gatherings. Humans are dependent on connection, and we form communities around these interpersonal opportunities. So ADP has a strong history of putting people first and, I think, with a very solid focus on family, whether it’s for the associates or for clients. And as a company, ADP has a consistent track record, I think, of supporting the communities in which we live and prosper.

This makes sense really is to give back to those who allow us to prosper. So how we give back may change, but the act of doing so is ingrained in the values of the company, and I don’t see that changing. I see changing eventually a return to more of these sort of in in-person get-togethers.

[TORI DICKEY] Good. Well, we certainly look forward to that time coming sooner than later.

[MARTHA BIRD] Yeah. And in the meantime, share photos of yourself as young children.

[TORI DICKEY] Yeah. There you go. [LAUGHS] It’s a great second-best while we bridge the gap. All right, well, thank you so much, Martha, for your time today and participating with the Generations BRG, the GenCast. We do hope that you’ll be able to join in future events or activities that Generations hosts as well.

[MARTHA BIRD] Well, I’d really look forward to that, Tori. And thank you so much for inviting me. It was my great pleasure.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

[LOGO] ADP, Always Designing for People.

[TEXT] ADP and the ADP logo are registered trademarks of ADP, Inc. All other marks are the property of their respective owners. Copyright © 2020 ADP, Inc.

Tech & Innovation Blog

Podcast: Fireside chat with Don Weinstein, CVP, Global Product & Development on his career and the latest tech happenings at ADP


Career Path, Fireside Chat, Latest Tech

ADP Technologist, Nik Palmer, hosts an engaging chat with our Global Product & Techology leader, Don Weinstein, and the executive sponsor for our Generations Business Resource Group. Don chats about his career path and gives some advice. He also shares the latest tech happenings at ADP, machine learning, and our evolving products. The Generations BRG focuses on creating connections between emerging and established professionals.

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

[LOGO] ADP, Always Designing for People

[NICK PALMER] Howdy and welcome to the GENcast podcast. My name is Nick Palmer and I will be your host for this episode with Don Weinstein, Chief Product and Technology Officer here. Don is also the Executive Sponsor of Generations.

His role is somewhat unique as most companies separate product and technology. And what’s also interesting is that Don has a background in aerospace engineering and consulting prior to coming to ADP to work in corporate strategy and technology. Don, welcome, and thanks for sitting down with us.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Thanks, Nick. It’s great to be here.

[NICK PALMER] So to get started, let’s find out a little bit about you and tell us a little bit about what generation you identify with most closely and what are your standout roles.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Great question. I’m Generation X through and through. I do like from time to time looking at those different examples about the– or the differences in the different generations. And the one that always stuck out to me with Generation X being kind of a sandwich generation.

Stuck in between the boomers and the millennials is just kind of being the pragmatists in the room and figuring out how we help move things forward and make progress and maybe less about it was stuck between the me generation and the we generation before and after us.

[NICK PALMER] Building bridges versus building walls.

[DON WEINSTEIN] I like that. I hadn’t heard that, but I’ll quote you on that going forward. It’s really about just again, not trying that overly call attention to ourselves as a generation as much as just moving things forward. I was going to say, my top two stand out roles are advisor provider, which I was told was a somewhat unusual combination, but that’s all I know.

[NICK PALMER] Right on. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve met one of those yet. So that’s interesting. So tell us a little bit about some technology happenings here at ADP. If our listeners haven’t had a chance to listen to your recent HRExaminer executive podcast with John Sumser, we’ll make sure that we put a link up there and encourage them to take a listen.

In that podcast, you cover some excellent material there about how ADP is addressing diversity and inclusion via our products and our client services, most of which is just given away for free. Can you share a little bit about the GTP diversity and inclusion strategy and its intended impact for both clients and associates?

[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, I’d be glad to. And I think the first thing to peel back on is this isn’t some new idea that just came to us because of obviously what’s been happening, the increased focus we’ve seen based in large part on the recent tragic incidents with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, which I think have created a renewed focus on the problems and the challenges that diversity has and that we have with diversity as a country and in particular in the workplace.

So I am glad for that renewed focus. But this is something we’ve been thinking about for and working on for a while. I’d point you back to, it was 2016 when we launched our Pay Equity Explorer and actually was recognized as an awesome new technology for 2016 by HR Executive Magazine the HR Tech Conference.

And in particular, what made the Pay Equity Explorer great or an awesome new technology is it took this long founded challenge that we know about, disparities and discrimination and pay practices in the workplace, and took a new angle to it where we could leverage ADP’s vast treasure trove of data so we could understand industry benchmarks, both outside an organization, as well as inside an organization, and in addition to which we can apply machine learning algorithms to help identify not just– you see the classic studies that say, OK, in this context, women get paid 82 cents on the dollar.

It’s a constantly moving benchmark so I don’t remember what the latest is. But that was a relatively recent one. And it’s important. And it’s important to know. But it’s not actionable. OK. So what do I do about it? More importantly, where do I get started?

And so the Pay Equity Explorer was able to break that down using machine learning to crawl through a client’s data and identify very specific, this individual in this job relative to this internal and external market benchmark is being underpaid by this exact amount and here’s how you can take care of that.

And I think that was a real breakthrough in terms of attacking that problem. And we looked at that across all dimensions. We looked at it by gender, we looked at it by race, we looked at it by ethnicity, because trying to get multi-dimensional on the problem.

And that was really just the first such example. We followed that up with a couple of more products, one of which we focused on including a little about diversity and inclusion and inclusiveness. We’ve been very focused on accessibility in our products.

And I’m talking about making content more accessible in particular for folks who may be visually impaired or other types of impairments that would prevent them from being able to access their normal workplace tools.

So our core application, My ADP, that’s used by employees and managers, as well as our ADP mobile application, we’ve been embedded enhanced usability and accessibility controls. We’ve been doing that for years. I’m actually trying to remember when we started. It’s been so long that we’ve been at that I couldn’t I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head, but it’s been a while.

[NICK PALMER] I know I’ve supported AudioEye for a while now.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Exactly. AudioEye as a partner, we’ve worked with on both to consult with us on how to design our products to make them more accessible, and then they have plug-ins that handle all different types of impairments and get us beyond level two on the web content accessibility guidelines.

And those are just a couple of examples. I could drone on forever. You probably don’t want me to. We’re continuing to push the ball forward. We had a couple of things in the works. We’re working on some new diversity inclusiveness dashboards with our data cloud team to give clients better analytics about what they’re doing, multiple different metrics around– you’ll get the entire talent lifecycle.

Are we recruiting diverse talent pools? How are we rewarding? How are we retaining? How are we promoting? And taking all of that through a D and I lens. We’ve kind of already started working on that next iteration when obviously the external environment kicked it up a notch in terms of our priority level.

And you had asked the question not only from an external angle but also from an internal angle. So I’m super excited that we’ve been able to partner with our internal ADP D and I team, in particular Aisha who is our Chief Diversity Officer, to have ADP be client number one for any and all new products that we want to push in this area.

And actually have been having great success with Sreeni Kutam about making ADP client number one for any of our enterprise HR products. And diversity inclusiveness is just the latest example that we’re putting a lot of energy into right now.

[NICK PALMER] As we move from a service company to a technology company, it’s interesting to see that dynamic come into play and adoption of that agile startup mentality of using what we build internally. That’s awesome. So, tell us a little bit about your path towards executive leadership and how that shaped your approach towards management of people and product.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, I’ve had somewhat of a circuitous path. You pointed out in the intro that I was an aerospace engineer by training. I started my career at General Electric. And I was working in the satellite telecommunications side of the house.

So I worked on such projects as the Dish Network and GPS. So if you’re using Waze on your way home at some point or the next time you’re in the car, you’re welcome. And truthfully, a lot of people worked on that project. You can imagine I was just one of many really brilliant and talented folks who did that.

But it was fun. It was an exciting place to start a career. But how I got from there to the payroll and HCM industry, it was not a linear trajectory whatsoever. I was bought, sold, merged, acquired six different times in my first several years. GE at some point decided to get out of that business.

They sold it to Martin Marietta. Martin Marietta merged with the Lockheed Company, became Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin shut down the facility I was working at. There were 5,000 people there when I started. And I was the 10th to last to walk out the door and shut the place down.

And now it’s just an industrial brownfield site that’s been sitting there unoccupied for 20 plus years, which is kind of sad. What I learned in some of that– first thing, so, coming out of that, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

So what do you do when you’re a 20-something engineer and you don’t know what to do with the rest of your life? I went back to school and got an MBA. And then when I finished up my MBA, I still don’t know what I wanted to do with myself?

So what do you do when you’re an overeducated 20-something who doesn’t know what to do? You go into consulting and tell other people what to do. I don’t know what to do with my life, but let me tell you what to do with yours.

Consulting was a good experience for me in that up until that point, I had only known one industry, one business, and one functional area. So it really helped me broaden myself out. And I think if there’s one or two takeaways I could take away from that experience, it’s I had the opportunity to work in a lot of different industries on a lot of different problems, and having that cross-functional type of experience I think was useful.

Even starting my career at GE, they really encourage some rotational type assignments. I have noticed within ADP, we probably don’t do that as much as other organizations. Also I made a stop at IBM for several years. And we used to joke at IBM, it stood for I’ve Been Moved.

But at ADP, I think we have folks who tend to spend more time in one area. And it’s great for developing deep expertise in that area. And some of the stuff that we do, you have to be pretty deep and expert to do it.

But I think also we can benefit and folks can benefit from taking that kind of side step rotational assignment to learn about the business through another lens and then come back. It’s something I’ve been encouraging within my technology organization now. Really, two things.

One is getting more rotations within technology, including on my leadership team. So the simple way we think about it is I’ve got the applications side of the house, as you said, the product side. And then the traditional infrastructure, the technology side.

So we’ve been rotating people within products, moving from one product, maybe moving from a shared product like our identity management or reporting solution into a market facing product like RUN or Workforce Now or something like that.

Gives people a different perspective. Moving between the application side and the infrastructure side of the house. So we’ve done a handful of rotations there. And I think we’ll do some more. And also encouraging bi-directional folks from the technology organization to roll out into business type roles and vise versa.

Folks who are in the different sides of the business who have interests or an aptitude for technology to come do a tour of duty in the technology world and then go back to their functional areas with a greater appreciation for what we’re doing here.

It’s something, like I said, I was able to benefit and take advantage of early on in my career. And I think that’s something that I’m trying to encourage others at least within my scope of influence in GPT to take advantage of as well. Does that make sense?

[NICK PALMER] Yes, it does. That’s great. I think that I’m going to quote you on the merged, bought, sold, and acquired. Yeah. One of the things that you said in there that was particularly interesting was about that tour of duty in rotation.

And that’s something that I’d like to make sure that we’ve heard is covered again and mentioned again because that’s something that we’ve heard from our membership, saying how should I approach the career path and moving forward?

Should I jump around and try lots of different things? Or should I stick and go deep expertise? And I’ve obviously stuck and done the deep expertise side of things. But I tell people all the time, jumping around and gaining a broad perspective, that’s also equally valid.

They are opposite sides of the same coin. And as long as you’re holding that coin and paying attention to it, either one can afford you great insight and knowledge and career path opportunity. So thanks for sharing the opposite side of the coin from what I typically do.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, and if I could just put a nuance on that, I like to think about it as a major and a minor. Because I wouldn’t want to create the false expectation. I think too much jumping around, also a bad thing, right? I think you need to stay long enough in an area to develop a certain level of depth and expertise.

And that’s it. That’s your major. And then when you have that depth of expertise in a certain area, then when you go out into another area, you may be a novice in that new found area, but you can be valuable to the folks there because you bring the expertise about something else that they don’t know about.

So for instance, do a typical one again in my area, is if I’ve got somebody who’s super knowledgeable about infrastructure and then they go do a rotational assignment on the app side of the house, they may not know everything there is to know about app development, but they can bring to that team their richness and depth of experience on infrastructure that is going to be beneficial to the team.

And then potentially, like I said, not then move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. But do that as sort of like a side step and then come back to infrastructure and be a better infrastructure engineer because you understand more now how the application that your infrastructure is supporting.

So a little different than saying jump around as much as you do a sidestep, come back. Maybe apply what you learned. Maybe do another one, come back. So I think it’s useful for somebody to have a major. I’ll tell you, my life experience, as I said, I started out as an engineer. Spent several years in engineering.

Coming out of engineering, I went into consulting and I got to apply that in a bunch of different areas. Then I did some work in strategy. Came back to product. Then I came to ADP. Well, did a long tenure in project management.

Went out to strategy. So I was a Chief Strategy Officer for a couple of years. Came back to GPT. So not floating all over the place, but sidestep, come back, sidestep, come back, learn a new skill, come back and apply it kind of model, if that makes sense.

[NICK PALMER] Right, and I think how I would encapsulate that nuance that you’re talking about is you have to do the tour of duty. You have to learn something, not be a tourist and jump around. So there is a difference in terms of your depth and understanding that you gain in a tour of duty versus just being a tourist to a new location.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Very well said, yes.

[NICK PALMER] So let’s get into the big elephant in the room. One of the biggest hurdles we had in late FY 20 was the rapid change to remote work modality. The business continuity team recently discussed this undertaking in their internal webinar.

And you talk about the international effort in depth on the HRExaminer podcast. The company saw some wonderful productivity engagement through the process. And as associates continue to work remotely and some areas slowly begin the process of returning to the office, what kinds of productivity and technology challenges do you see arising?

[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, it’s a good question. And something we’re thinking a lot about these days, of course. The first thing I observed is as we moved everybody remote, there was this certainly surge of connectivity going on that causes a lot of technical challenges. And now we’re keen thinking already ahead to like, what the year end is going to look like and is that going to be another surge.

But the productivity question is I think the one that’s even more interesting because you see different views out there and different scenarios about, well, are we more productive in a remote setting or are we less productive? That’s a question that comes up from time to time. And I’ll share just a couple of dynamics.

And these are anecdotes that I’m observing. I don’t claim to have the full settled science on is work from home more or less productive yet. But the one thing I noticed is in the past where we had most folks working in an office and then a minority working from home, I thought it was hard to be in that subset minority of folks who weren’t in the office, versus when everybody is remote, it seems like, if you’re having a meeting and there’s 12 people in the meeting and nine of them are in the room and then three are on the phone or the video, you’d see that the folks who were on the phone or the video, every once in a while somebody was like, oh, stop, wait.

Folks on the phone, do you have anything to add? Because it almost becomes an afterthought. Whereas when everybody’s remote, I actually think it makes that aspect of it work a little bit better. But now that we’re talking about reopening, and by the way, just for full disclosure, I’m in sitting in Roseland right now because part of the very first wave of US pilots, Roseland was the first office and I was in the first cohort of folks who raised my hand and said, sure, I’ll come back into the office.

So I’m in Roseland right now. But some of our offices around outside the US have already started to open up. Shanghai was the first and a handful in Europe as well. But I think it’s a challenge when you’re in this partial hybrid state, right? So if everybody’s remote, I think the collaboration works better.

And in particular getting more voices heard. But when some folks are remote and some folks are in the office and you have this partial stasus going, I’m not sure that that works as well. And that’s something that we have to be very mindful of as we hopefully at some point start to transition back.

And the second thing I’d point out is where we have mature teams of people, I’ve got a mature team of folks, they’ve been working together for a while, they know each other, they’ve been working on their products for a while, they know the products. I think those teams going remote were capable of doing so.

And it was almost a seamless transition. Now we’re at the point, it’s July, and this is the time of year when we have our new college grads start showing up. So I’ve got close to 100, I’ve got 150 total who will be showing up here over the next several months. And so the ability to onboard and assimilate those new hires into the company– so first they have to learn about the company, about the products, about the other team members.

For most of them, it’s going to be their first real work experience. And the ability to manage through that in a remote setting I think is a little bit trickier. And it’s one that I don’t know that we’ve cracked the code on, but we’re mindful of now that we’re going through a virtual onboard process.

So I think those are some real challenges that we need to be really taking seriously here the longer that this stretches out. I don’t know what that would be like to onboard as a brand new, fresh out of college graduate, my first real job, my first company, and I’m remote for six months. Nobody knows. I mean, I saw Google came out and announced they’re going to be remote at least till next summer. Not saying that they’re right, but it just shows you where things are moving.

[NICK PALMER] Yeah, the vision is definitely down the road as opposed to next week or next month.

[DON WEINSTEIN] That’s right. Definitely doesn’t feel like it’s around the corner.

[NICK PALMER] And I think the key thing, though, that you bring up is that we’re mindful of it. We’re aware that this is a potential issue. And unless we are aware of it, we can’t really do anything about it. So it’s good to hear that we’re paying attention and monitoring, even if we don’t have all the answers right now. We’re closely watching and observing to see what those answers might become and reveal.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Exactly.

[NICK PALMER] So in terms of that, how do you see the business resource groups and Generations playing a role in this remote and hybrid environment?

[DON WEINSTEIN] It’s a great question. It’s an important one. And I’ll go back to the beginning of my career and tie that into why I always felt so passionate about Generations and the work you all are doing here. And that is that I felt like I did have a good onboarding experience when I first started my career back at GE.

Again, I came in as a brand new, fresh faced engineer right out of college and got to work on some pretty complex stuff. But I was lucky to really have– and this gets the spirit of Generations. We brought people in together as a class. So we had a cohort of people I came with, that I bonded with, and some of whom are still my closest friends to this day. So I had a lot of peer interaction and learning through it together.

And then we had senior level mentoring. And I remember a couple of mentors in particular who really took me under their wing and showed me the ropes a little bit and helped me really accelerate my career by being able to learn from the wisdom of some of the folks who had been there together and enjoy the camaraderie aspect of being part of a group of people and not feeling like I was at it alone.

It’s one of the things we’ve tried to bring to, as I mentioned, and we called our GPT Development Program when we onboard the new college graduates. We bring them in as a class and try and create that spirit. And we assign them mentors from within the broader organization. And as I look at where we are as an organization right now in terms of moving folks out of the office remote, I think it’s been about 20 or so weeks here in the US since we went to remote work.

And again, I know there was this initial surge of productivity because people were certainly, we had a lot of work to do as we were responding to various aspects of the COVID crisis from a regulatory or compliance aspect. And there was just the change element there, I’d say, almost like a mini little euphoria.

I’m speaking for myself now. I’ve been coming into an office for 30 years and I never really had an opportunity to work from home for any kind of extended period. So it was just different. You get a little bit of an, I’ll call it an adrenaline rush.

But I’ve seen and I’ve also read some interesting articles by others about how that phenomenon played out in a number of different organizations. But after that initial adrenaline rush, now we’re settling in for the long haul. And how do we keep folks engaged?

How do we avoid burnout in a world where if you’re like me, the whole work life balance, whatever it was went away because I wake up and get my first cup of coffee and, boom, I’m right at it. And then I just keep going all day, all night. That’s not a recommendation or a lifestyle tip, but it makes it harder.

And so there is some notion that the longer this drags on, the current scenario, you’re worried about either, you’re worried about burnout, you’re worried about fatigue factors, you’re worried about people losing engagement, losing connectivity to their team or to their organization.

And so I think the work that business resource groups do is probably more critical now in this type of environment than ever before in terms of creating a sense of affinity and shared purpose with people who have common interests and common objectives that span organization or function or job, but rather say, we have connectivity at a purpose level here.

And so I’m thankful that our ADP, that our HR organization had the foresight to start us down this path several years ago. And we’ve got this kind of infrastructure in place now today. Because I believe it’s critical to helping folks navigate the current crisis from a personal work life relationship aspect.

[NICK PALMER] Right on. Thank you very much, Don. We appreciate your time here today. And I wanted to thank you personally for your guidance and suggestions for the Generations Group. I know that we are looking forward to an amazing FY 21.

One of the things when we connect and we talk about is books and self-improvement that we’re undertaking currently. So would you like to leave the Generations members any suggestions on what you’ve been reading or studying lately?

[DON WEINSTEIN] Yeah, I’d be happy to. I’ll just share with you what I’ve been reading. I don’t know how helpful it is. But I’ve become quite a big fan of this– is an academic, a historian at Oxford, Yuval Noah Harari.

He’s written a few books. Sapiens was a history of humankind. Homo Deus was a kind of a forward looking one. And the current book that he’s got out there is called 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. And it couldn’t, in my opinion, couldn’t be more timely.

It was sort of a little dark, if I would offer, and maybe it’s in keeping with the times. It’s funny, he published it before the pandemic or some of the unrest that we’re seeing happen. But seems to have a little bit of– seemed a little prescient in that.

But I can skip you through some of it because there are like 20 chapters like, yep, that’s where we’re at. That’s not working, that’s not working, that’s not working. And I get to the end, I’m like what’s the answer? So what do we do? And his only answer is meditate.

[NICK PALMER] I’m a big fan of those books. I would recommend them to all of our Generations members. I know we’ve shared a couple of those in previous quarterly book roundups. So thanks for the plug on those.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Absolutely. This is the generation that’s going to carry us forward. So meditating and being a little contemplate, not the worst idea right now.

[NICK PALMER] Thank you very much, Don. We appreciate your time today. And we will look forward to having you back sometime in the future.

[DON WEINSTEIN] Thank you. My pleasure.

[MUSIC PLAYING] [LOGO] ADP, Always Designing for People.

[TEXT] ADP and the ADP logo are registered trademarks of ADP, Inc. All other marks are the property of their respective owners. Copyright © 2020 ADP, Inc.

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Urvashi

Women in STEM Profile: ADP’s CTO, Urvashi Tyagi

At Urvashi Tyagi’s first job after college, there were no other women in the company. None. ADP’s Chief Technology Officer knows first-hand how challenging the path can be for a woman in STEM.

Urvashi Tyagi grew up in India. She and her three sisters are all engineers; her oldest sister paved the way. When her sister told the family she wanted to become an engineer, Urvashi’s parents, aunts and uncles were worried no one would want to marry a woman engineer. And besides, it wasn’t even a good career choice with barely any job opportunities for female engineers. After an extended family meeting resulted in an unfavorable outcome, her parents had a change of heart and let Urvashi’s oldest sister join the engineering program. When it was Urvashi’s turn, no one questioned the decision. (And she and her sisters are all happily married and enjoying their professions.)

The Only Woman

While both technology and culture had changed a lot, there were still many challenges for women engineers. When Urvashi was a college undergrad, she was one of only four women in a class of 90 engineering students.

As she was graduating, most companies were not interested in recruiting women. So, she didn’t get a job from campus interviews. But Urvashi noticed an ad in the newspaper at a company that developed machine tools and wanted to hire college grads with design and computer numerical control programming experience. She was invited to interview and was delighted to get the job.

Show up, keep learning, and often it works out better than you could have imagined.

– Urvashi Tyagi, Chief Technology Officer at ADP

When she showed up on her first day, there were no other women in the company. There had never been a women’s bathroom. “Someone printed out a sign that said, ‘Women Only’ and taped it to one of the bathrooms for me,” She says. Grateful, Urvashi overlooked the fact her bathroom was in a different building than where she worked. “I had to figure out how to co-exist on the shop floor and focus on the work. Most of the time it was good. I learned a lot about solving complex engineering problems.”Urvashi-profile-pic

Urvashi Tyagi

Later, she found out the hiring manager never had the permission to hire her. He sent the offer letter because she was one of the top two candidates selected based on test scores and interviews. His boss was not entirely pleased. “I got the job because of one individual who did not see things in a stereotypical way and was focused on finding the right person for the role.”

While working full time, Urvashi went back to school to earn her MBA. From there, she decided to teach operations management and information systems. As an academic associate for a couple years at the premier Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, she had the opportunity to work and connect with top professors all over the world. But she realized she enjoyed solving problems more than being in a classroom. One of her colleagues encouraged her to apply to a master’s of science program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, MA. Urvashi wasn’t sure she wanted more school or how she was going to pay for it, but she looked up the program. The customizable curriculum and the focus on applied learning swayed her. She learned that the deadline to apply had already passed, but after speaking with a professor at the school, she submitted her application and was admitted.

Her family didn’t want her so far away. Once again, her older sister supported her and encouraged her family to let her go. Urvashi’s sister was also moving to the United States with her husband and promised to keep an eye on Urvashi. Her parents scraped together the money to purchase their first-ever airplane ticket and a couple months of living expenses. She arrived in Massachusetts with two bags, one full of snacks.

Learning and Solving Problems

Since graduating from WPI in 2001, Urvashi has worked for many of the big names in technology, including IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon. She’s led global engineering teams doing product strategy, architecture, and development. When you download an audiobook or send an Outlook email, know that Urvashi was involved with the engineering and teams that made that possible.

Urvashi-With-family

Lockdown birthday celebration at home (left to right): daughter Riya, husband Shishir, Urvashi and son Tanish.

Today, she is ADP’s Chief Technology Officer, taking on that role in 2019. “I had no idea that I would be a CTO three years ago,” she says. “I didn’t plan it. I try to live in the moment and put all my energy into what I am doing and the problems I am working to solve. That drives the next things that happen.”

Urvashi’s approach is to make sure she is always learning and delivering in her role. “While the foundations of engineering and technology may not change that often, the applications are evolving constantly,” she says. “The only way to keep up is to be a lifelong student.”

It’s also essential to understand your own value to the organization. “Always know how the work you do will impact the company’s bottom line and how your work is adding value and taking the company forward.”

This can be challenging for women of color who often experience more scrutiny of their work, more criticism, and less credit for their accomplishments. “The one area where I have experienced unconscious bias is with criticism,” Urvashi says. “I have to listen carefully and know when the feedback is genuine and when it is more about the person giving the feedback. When I understand that, I can embrace the situation and not take it personally.”

Urvashi’s best advice is to live in the moment. “Things don’t have to be planned or the way you think they should be. Show up, keep learning, and often it works out better than you could have imagined.”

Ready for more?

Explore the stories of these and other ADP Women in STEM, and learn about careers at ADP.

Related Video: How ADP Walks the D&I Talk

One way ADP encourages diversity and inclusion (D&I) among its associates is through business resource groups (BRGs). ADP’s iWIN BRG is the company’s largest with 5000+ members (male and female) from 19 countries across the business. Learn how iWIN engages, equips and empowers its members to achieve personal and professional success through networking, professional development, and other educational opportunities.

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Jonathon hiking in Stokes Forest in New Jersey

Time clocks in the age of COVID-19: How ADP developed a (mostly) touchless solution in just a few weeks

Tech & Innovation Blog

Time clocks in the age of COVID-19: How ADP developed a (mostly) touchless solution in just a few weeks


Pandemic, Innovation, Voice of Our People

In early March 2020, as the COVID-19 outbreak started to expand throughout the U.S. and Canada, the team working on ADP’s new Time Kiosk system started getting the same question from many of our clients: “Is there a way to use this without touching it?”

Jonathon hiking in Stokes Forest in New Jersey

By Jonathon Gumbiner, Senior Product Manager

In early March 2020, as the COVID-19 outbreak started to expand throughout the U.S. and Canada, the team working on ADP’s new Time Kiosk system started getting the same question from many of our clients: “Is there a way to use this without touching it?” At the time, we were several months into a pilot program for the tablet-based timecard management app with more than 1,000 clients.” But most of them hadn’t adopted the app’s facial recognition feature, instead opting to tap in their badge number. And even for those who did use facial recognition, Time Kiosk still required each worker to tap the screen—a suddenly dangerous proposition during a global pandemic.

For companies that had essential workers on-site, we suggested an immediate but imperfect solution: low-cost touch pencils each employee could use to navigate the app. But we knew we’d ultimately need an integrated, turnkey option—and we’d need it as soon as possible.

After a quick brainstorm, we narrowed in on the fix that seemed most promising: First, we’d reconfigure the app to perform facial recognition by default, whenever someone was in front of the camera. Then, we’d use the tablet’s built-in virtual assistant, which powered features like Siri and Google Assistant, to respond to voice commands within Time Kiosk. If we were successful, employees would be able to start a workday, take lunch and other breaks, and clock out, all without touching the screen.ADP's online time clock

Within a couple of days, our developers were able to build a rough proof-of-concept. It was clunky and far from intuitive—to clock in, for example, you had to say “tap clock in” instead of simply “clock in.” But it was enough to help our senior leaders understand our vision for a more-refined solution—one that would meet the high standards we’d set for the original Time Kiosk experience. We got their buy-in and started to build.

Voice recognition was the first challenge. For one thing, as anyone who’s used a virtual assistant knows all too well, there are phrases it just won’t recognize. Also, in order to release the touchless features as part of Time Kiosk’s formal launch in both the U.S. and Canada, which was just a few weeks away, we needed to develop voice recognition for not only English but Spanish and French, as well—languages no one on the team speaks. Thankfully, as a global company, our partners from other ADP teams came to our rescue, helping us quickly create a repository of words to which the tablets would reliably respond.

Of course, we couldn’t make every action completely touchless. Switching between an employer’s custom job or department codes, for example, would require an employee to scroll through options that voice recognition likely wouldn’t cover. But what we could do was keep people informed. With the help of our UI team, we developed a treatment to add an icon for every touchless function, so employees could see at a glance whether they’d need to touch the screen. If so, they could wash their hands or take other precautions before they acted.

Once we’d finished the first phase, though, we came to a larger challenge: quality assurance. We spent twice as much time testing the new touchless features as we’d spent building them, going through every single action a user could take to make sure we’d identified everything properly. Because voice recognition touched the entire product, we had to review it all—and quickly, requiring a true team effort from QA. What’s more, we happened to be in the middle of transitioning to a new UI, so we needed to test both the current and the incoming interfaces, making the process twice as long.

Yet perhaps the biggest challenge of all was the pandemic’s impact on how it got done. To make sure the new features worked well in all three languages, we needed service reps and tech partners to help us with testing. But most of ADP’s 58,000-person team was working from home. I couldn’t simply walk upstairs, hand someone my tablet loaded with the latest version of our work and ask them to play around with it for a while and bring it back at the end of the day. Instead, we had to find a way to get it on their tablets remotely—no easy task given the tablet’s security restrictions. Luckily, our team was able to build a package and set of instructions that I could share, allowing partners to offer live feedback via an embedded diagnostic tool. They were invaluable in helping us fine-tune, especially our translations.

In the end, thanks to the hard work of everyone on the Time Kiosk team and many of our colleagues, we were able to meet our goal, transforming the app into an intuitive, mostly touchless experience in a few short weeks. Like any quick-turn project, it wasn’t without a few bugs. But the team’s rapid response to client questions and weekly Q&A calls have helped us not only serve their needs and build stronger relationships with them. Time Kiosk has now officially launched, and our sales teams tell us the touchless technology has been a conversation driver with both clients and prospects.

JonathanEven after the COVID-19 outbreak has passed, we see great potential in what we’ve learned about voice and facial recognition, whether it’s better accessibility for employees with disabilities or voice biometrics for authenticating service calls. In the meantime, we’re proud to say that when our clients had an urgent need, we were able to quickly deliver a solution that works—and that’s helping keep thousands of their people safe.

Jonathon Gumbiner is a Senior Product Manager at ADP in New Jersey.

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All-Female 48-Hour Hackathon Attracted 200 Virtual Participants

All-Female 48-Hour Hackathon Attracted 200 Virtual Participants

ADP supports events such as this in an effort to encourage more young women to pursue STEM careers.

During a global health event with social distancing in full swing, is there any group better prepared to embrace a 48-hour virtual gathering than tech-savvy female students? Probably not. For the second time, ADP sponsored the Major League Hacking (MLH) Hack Girl Summer Hackathon to encourage female software engineers to pursue their dreams. But this was the first time the event was not held in person.

The June 19-21 virtual hackathon attracted more than 200 participants and at least 50 ADP associates volunteered as organizers, mentors, judges and participants for this event.

Daina Bowler, ADP Vice President of Sales and iWIN board chairperson, kicked off the event, delivering her remarks via streaming platform. Daina told viewers that the ADP iWIN business resource group is comprised of 5,000 ADP women from around the world who are dedicated to encouraging and preparing women and young girls to achieve successful careers in STEM.

After the welcome, participants quickly organized into 70+ teams and then started the creative process and coding effort to develop the best application. The popular gaming chat application Discord was used to find team members to work with and to find mentors to chat with while hacking.

ADP volunteer mentors had their own active Discord channel where coders could ask for guidance on project ideas or pose technical questions to troubleshoot issues. As the corporate sponsor, ADP also presented two well-received workshops.

ADP workshops

Workshops

Aini Ali, ADP Vice-President, SBS Operations and iWin Empower Board Chairperson; and Laura Colon, Senior Program Manager – SBS Operations; conducted the first workshop, “Up and Coming Technology” which described all the amazing ways technology has changed the world. She described the incredible advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation that will drive future innovation. It is a very exciting time to be a techie!

Ellen Hongo, ADP Senior Director of Strategy GSS, conducted the second workshop “Crafting a Chatbot People Want to Use.” Ellen described what goes into designing and creating chatbots using IBM Watson technology, and how they are used at ADP to improve client experience and support. Ellen’s workshop opened a new area in automations for the young women to consider as they prepare to enter the workforce of the future.

The ADP challenge “Happy at Home Presented by ADP” was to create a hack that helps folks stay happy at home. The participants’ project could be designed to tackle at-home productivity and entertainment, make working remotely easier, or help users connect with friends and family remotely.

After 48 hours of intense coding and a long sleepless weekend, it was time for the judges to see all the application demos and presentations by the students. There were 27 terrific submissions on DevPost for the ADP challenge. DevPost is a global community where software developers share their projects to inspire and learn from one another. The ADP volunteers on the judging panel evaluated and rated the projects on originality, technology, design, completion, learning and adherence to theme. There were so many fantastic projects made by women, for women. It was no easy task to choose the winner of the ADP challenge.

ADP happy at home challenge

Challenge Winner

During the closing ceremony, Aini Ali announced the ADP challenge winner which was the application called “Inspiration.” This creative iOS application was developed by a high school student who wanted to empower other young women to pursue their interests in STEM because diversity is important in the STEM field. The Inspiration app allows young girls to explore different STEM careers through simple objects.

Users point their phone’s camera at an object and take a picture of it. Using machine learning and object detection/image labeling, the app detects what object is in the photo. It then displays relevant careers in STEM involving the object and prompts the user to view an influential woman in the same career. Every day, the app’s home page displays a new influential female for girls to learn about.

The iOS app was built using Xcode and SwiftUI. For the front end, the student designed all the UI using Sketch. For the backend, she used machine learning API and Firebase. The machine learning API uses the ML Kit Image Labeling’s base TensorFlow model in order to predict the objects in the photos. The Inspiration app was truly a very creative and innovative application!

The Major League Hacking Organization (MLH) organizers truly appreciate ADP’s sponsorship and partnership. We look forward to doing many more hackathons together in the future. Thank you to all the ADP volunteers for the outstanding energy they brought to this event. We all learned so much about new technologies used to conduct a virtual event of this magnitude and it was an amazing experience.

ADP is proud to support women’s hackathons to encourage more young women to relentlessly pursue their dreams of changing the world using innovative technology. Through this hackathon sponsorship and our significant partnership with Girls Who Code – focused on closing the gender gap in tech — ADP demonstrates our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion by promoting and supporting women in technology careers.

Learn about STEM career opportunities at ADP by visiting tech.adp.com.

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peering through eyeglasses set on a laptop

How ADP leveraged new technology to help users affected by COVID-19

Tech & Innovation Blog

How ADP leveraged new technology to help users affected by COVID-19


Pandemic, CARES Act, Helping Clients

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, became law on March 27, 2020, teams across ADP had already been hard at work for weeks preparing for the flood of new policies tied to this legislation. Here’s an example of how Cary Feuer and his team jumped to our clients aid.

peering through eyeglasses set on a laptop

By Cary Feuer, Director of Product Management, ADP Small Business Services

When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, became law on March 27, 2020, teams across ADP had already been hard at work for weeks preparing for the flood of new policies tied to this legislation. In Retirement Services, we’d started with the simplest—and highest-impact—changes, such as initiating loans and withdrawals for users affected by COVID-19. By mid-March, we had successfully worked through those immediate projects and then turned our attention to a provision we knew would be much trickier: payment suspensions for 401(k) loans.

Since long before the pandemic, the IRS had allowed 401(k) owners to borrow money from their accounts for what it deems “immediate and heavy financial need,” such as a medical expense or a looming foreclosure. Now, under the CARES Act, borrowers affected by COVID-19 could choose to pause payments on those 401(k) loans until 2021. We knew up to 175,000 ADP users might qualify, and their average monthly payment was $800—a significant amount of money for many families. And we also knew that if even 10% of that group decided to suspend their payments and had to call us to do so, it would likely put a significant strain on our team. More importantly, it would be a headache for users during an already-difficult time. We wanted to give them an easy, self-service option, instead of making them wait on hold.

Cary Feurer, masked up, reclining on a lounge chairIt was clear we needed a technical solution. But speed was critical—and because suspending payments is a multistep process (including self-certification of COVID-19-related hardship)—it wouldn’t be as simple as checking a box. On the backend, we needed to update money-movement databases and multiple payroll products, reamortize the loans, and create an audit trail, all of which we knew we could do relatively quickly. On the frontend, though, we would normally take our time on development and testing, ironing out every wrinkle to ensure the best user experience. A UI build of this scale might take several sprints to ship across mobile, web, and legacy web platforms. In this case, we didn’t have that long.

Instead, we turned to a new piece of third-party technology, which ADP had recently integrated to allow for faster deployment of simple features like pop-up guides and mini-surveys. Designed for product managers and others to use without the help of an engineer, this technology offers templatized, customizable design patterns—and it had already been vetted by ADP’s Technical, Security, and Legal teams. It was our best, and perhaps only, option to get the frontend of payment suspensions up and running on an accelerated timeline. However, because of all the backend changes each payment suspension would trigger, we’d need to learn how to work with the product in an entirely new way, pulling information out of its API and into our own infrastructure.

Our lead developer joined with our lead development team for a quick feasibility study, and within a couple of days they’d determined our plan could work. So, with added help from one of ADP’s resident experts on the 3rd party software, we all got to work building. Our colleagues in Service Ops helped us develop the content, a UX teammate gave the frontend flow their blessing, and in less than two weeks we were almost ready to ship.

But then we ran into a snag. In order for the third-party product to know which users should see a payment suspension option, it needed to refer to a list of qualified users’ anonymized IDs—and with so many people facing financial hardship and taking out new 401(k) loans, that list was changing every day. Because of the time crunch, we’d decided to upload up-to-date CSVs of user IDs to the product each morning by hand. But this seemingly simple fix was a use case that the product—a relatively new technology still in its startup phase—wasn’t built for. Each day’s upload was taking hours to complete.

Rather than delay the release, we decided to ship our new feature and keep handling the CSVs manually.  Contemporaneously, we started work on a mini-app that could automatically break up and upload the CSVs. After a few days of testing, we finally had a feature that was not only fully self-serve for our users, but fully automated for us. Thousands of people have now paused their loans without needing to call in, saving them time and potential frustration—and saving ADP the equivalent of adding two full-time employees. Over the course of the program, our uploading solution will save hundreds of additional hours.

a dog sitting at a desk with a laptop computer and a coffee mug

Meet Cary’s four-legged office mate

Even better, our team is more familiar with a brand-new technology that we can now leverage in other creative ways. The next time we’re responding to a fast-developing situation, such as a hurricane, we’ll have this 3rd party technology in our toolbox. We’re currently validating it for other use cases, where time to market is less of a concern. With just a few weeks of work, we were able to expand our team’s development toolset, better serve our users when they needed it most, and make an investment in the future of ADP.

This is just one way that our tech teams have added new tools into our tech stack. This feature is now available for all ADP Retirement Services clients that offer CARES Act provisions to their employees.

Cary Feuer is a Director, Product Management for Small Business Services at ADP and is based in New Jersey.

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ADP speakers at CES

Creating human-focused solutions in today’s product strategy

ADP Business Anthropologist Martha Bird sat down with Daniel Litwin, the Voice of B2B, at CES 2020, discussing a wide range of topics related to how her anthropological work and research impacts businesses and consumer needs.

Bird has worked for numerous companies in the field of business anthropology since the early 2000s, working to create human-focused solutions to business needs.

Bird and Litwin touch on their CES experience, a modern focus on human-centered and human-responsive products and how those concepts affect consumer product development, consumer longing for personalized experiences, and more.

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Illustration of African American women

Let’s Talk About Sets

https://eng.lifion.com/lets-talk-about-sets-813dfeb2185

 

Let’s Talk About Sets

A re-introduction to JavaScript Sets and the new Set methods

Edgardo Avilés

Mar 1, 2019 · 5 min read

Let’s talk about you and me and how we used to find unique items before ES6. We really only had two ways to do it (if you had another one let me know). On the first one, we would create a new emtpy object, iterate through the items we wanted to deduplicate, we would create a new property using the item as the key and something like “true” as the value, then we would get the list of keys of that new object and we were done. In the second way, we would create a new empty array, iterate through the items, and for each item, check if the item existed in the array, if it was already there, continue, if not, add it. By the end the array would contain all the unique items.

ES6 introduced Sets, a new data structure with a very simple API to handle unique items that is not just convenient but also very fast. The intention of this article is to introduce you to some new methods coming to Sets soon that will make them even more useful, but before, let’s remember the basics.

Here in Lifion we are big users of JavaScript, about 90% of our platform services are Node.js-based. If you are interested to see some examples of how Sets are used in our codebase, check our open source projects in Lifion’s GitHub profile.

The basics of Sets

To create a new set we only need to use the constructor. We can optionally pass any iterator, such as an array or a string, and the iterated items will become elements of the new set (repeated items will be ignored).

const emptySet = new Set();
const prefilledSet = new Set(['

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Person on ladder reaching up into the clouds

Lifion at ADP’s cloud transformation journey

https://eng.lifion.com/lifions-cloud-transformation-journey-2333b7c0897d

 

Lifion’s Cloud Transformation Journey

On moving to managed services in a microservice architecture

Zaid Masud
Zaid Masud

Mar 26, 2019 · 5 min read

Since Lifion’s inception as ADP’s next-generation Human Capital Management (HCM) platform, we’ve made an effort to embrace relevant technology trends and advancements. From microservices and container orchestration frameworks to distributed databases, and everything in between, we’re continually exploring ways we can evolve our architecture. Our readiness to evaluate non-traditional, cutting edge technology has meant that some bets have stuck whereas others have pivoted.

One of our biggest pivots has been a shift from self-managed databases & streaming systems, running on cloud compute services (like Amazon EC2) and deployed with tools like Terraform and Ansible, towards fully cloud-managed services.

When we launched the effort to make this shift in early 2018, we began by executing a structured, planned initiative across an organization of 200+ engineers. After overcoming the initial inertia, the effort continued to gain momentum, eventually taking a life of its own, and finally becoming fully embedded in how our teams work.

Along the way, we’ve been thinking about what we can give back. For example, we’ve previously written about a node.js client for AWS Kinesis that we’re working on as an open source initiative.

AWS’s re:Invent conference is perhaps the largest global cloud community conference in the world. In late 2018, we presented our cloud transformation journey at re:Invent. As you can see in the recording, we described our journey and key learnings in adopting specific AWS managed services.

In this post, we discuss key factors that made the initiative successful, its benefits in our microservice architecture, and how managed services helped us shift our teams’ focus to our core product while improving overall reliability.

Why Services Don’t Share Databases

The notion of services sharing databases, making direct connections to the same database system and being dependent on shared schemas, is a recognized micro-service anti-pattern. With shared databases, changes in the underlying database (including schemas, scaling operations such as sharding, or even migrating to a better database) become very difficult with coordination required between multiple service teams and releases.

As Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels writes in his blog:

Each service encapsulates its own data and presents a hardened API for others to use. Most importantly, direct database access to the data from outside its respective service is not allowed. This architectural pattern was a response to the scaling challenges that had challenged Amazon.com through its first 5 years…

And Martin Fowler on integration databases:

On the whole integration databases lead to serious problems becaue [sic] the database becomes a point of coupling between the applications that access it. This is usually a deep coupling that significantly increases the risk involved in changing those applications and making it harder to evolve them. As a result most software architects that I respect take the view that integration databases should be avoided.

The Right Tool for the Job

Applying the database per service principal means that, in practice, service teams have significant autonomy in selecting the right database technologies for their purposes. Among other factors, their data modeling, query flexibility, consistency, latency, and throughput requirements will dictate technologies that work best for them.

Up to this point, all is well — every service has isolated its data. However, when architecting a product with double digit domains, several important database infrastructure decisions need to be made:

  • Shared vs dedicated clusters: Should services share database clusters with logically isolated namespaces (like logical databases in MySQL), or should each have its own expensive cluster with dedicated resources?
  • Ownership: What level of ownership does a service team take for the deployment, monitoring, reliability, and maintenance of their infrastructure?
  • Consolidation: Is there an agreed set of technologies that teams can pick from, is there a process for introducing something new, or can a team pick anything they like?

From Self-Managed to Fully Managed Services

When we first started building out our services, we had a sprawl of supporting databases, streaming, and queuing systems. Each of these technologies was deployed on AWS EC2, and we were responsible for the full scope of managing this infrastructure: from the OS level, to topology design, configuration, upgrades and backups.

It didn’t take us long to realize how much time we were spending on managing all of this infrastructure. When we made the bet on managed services, several of the decisions we’d been struggling with started falling into place:

  • Shared vs dedicated clusters: Dedicated clusters for services, clearly preferable from a reliability and availability perspective, became easier to deploy and maintain. Offerings like SQS, DynamoDB, and Kinesis with no nodes or clusters to manage removed the concern altogether.
  • Ownership: Infrastructure simplification meant that service teams were able to develop further insight into their production usages, and take greater responsibility for their infrastructure.
  • Consolidation: We were now working with a major cloud provider’s service offerings, and found that there was enough breadth to span our use cases.

Evolutionary Architecture

On our Lifion engineering blog, we’ve previously written about our Lifion Developer Platform Credos. One of these speaks to the evolutionary nature of our work:

  • Build to evolve: We design our domains and services fully expecting that they will evolve over time.
  • Backwards compatible, versioned: Instead of big bang releases, we use versions or feature flags letting service teams deploy at any time without coordinating dependencies.
  • Managed deprecations: When deprecating APIs or features, we carefully plan the impact and ensure that consumer impact is minimal.

When we started adopting managed services, we went for drop-in replacements first (for example, Aurora MySQL is wire compatible with the previous MySQL cluster we were using). This approach helped us to get some early momentum while uncovering dimensions like authentication, monitoring, and discoverability that would help us later.

Our evolutionary architecture credo helped to ensure that the transition would be smooth for our services and our customers. Each deployment was done as a fully online operation, without customer impact. We recognize that we will undergo more evolutions, for which we intend to follow the same principles.

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Diverse group of multicultural ADP employees

We All Want to Belong at Work

https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2019/10/we-all-want-to-belong-at-work.aspx

 

“Finding commonalities and accepting differences is the key to belonging,” said ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird.

When I started to consider belonging at work, I knew exactly who to call — ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird [MB]. Here’s some of our conversation about why belonging matters and what organizations can do to create and sustain a culture of belonging.

HB: Having a sense of belonging seems so important to how we move through the world and how we relate to our work. What is belonging?

MB: Belonging almost strikes people as poetic. It seems like a feeling, so it can resist the critical lens we need to unpack it.

People think of belonging as a psychological state, but it is actually cultural. It’s the notion of being inside or outside and relates to enacted phenomena like what the cultural norms are around us and how we compare ourselves to those norms.

Everything cultural is nested in other things and is influenced by power, resources, how things have been done in the past, and what the expectations are for the people involved.

Kids can feel like they don’t belong because of their clothes. New employees can feel like they don’t belong because of the jargon used in the organization. I’m a social scientist surrounded by tech people and it’s not surprising that my sense of belonging is tested from time to time. Ultimately, I’m privileged to feel I’m part of something bigger than myself.

HB: What makes a culture of belonging? It seems like belonging is relational. It’s partly how I perceive the circumstances and culture, how people already in that culture see it, and what’s actually going on regardless of our individual perceptions and opinions.

MB: There are so many ways to feel like you don’t belong — socially, economically, intellectually, emotionally. It’s that sense of other. To make sense of it, we can look at othering, break it down, and pick it apart to see what’s happening. We identify the discreet instances where someone feels alienated and read the cultural cues about what is happening. This gives us information about the culture.

There is no universal recipe for what makes a healthy culture. There are many good and right ways to do things.

It partly has to do with a culture’s view of the individual and how the individual should relate to others. In the United States, belonging often evokes family, but we also have strong cultural values in individuality and being recognized and valued as an individual. In other cultures, a sense of harmony is highly valued and working toward common goals is more important than individual achievement.

A culture of belonging fundamentally has to do with common goals and values, respect for each other, and a sense of our shared humanity.

HB: How can we help people feel like they belong at work?

MB: We want workplaces where people feel like they can be themselves, but are also working with others to do the work. It’s less about fitting in and more about complementing. There has to be room for difference. It’s like an orchestra where the manager is the conductor and we have all these different instruments playing different parts in the same piece of music. We don’t want just the violins or the tubas. We need all the different sounds, rhythms and harmonies.

Belonging at work starts with leaders modeling the values and behavior for their teams. Is it comfortable to embody those values? Sometimes that means being vulnerable and asking for help.

I recently gave a big speech to a large group of people in a setting where I felt anxious. Walking up to the stage, I decided to tell the audience that and ask for help. So I explained how I was feeling and asked them to tell me, “It’s okay, Martha!” It was great, so I asked them to do it again. And they did! I felt so much better and they were all on my team at that point, because I was vulnerable and asked them to help me in a way they could.

In cultures of belonging, it’s okay to be honest about what’s going on, even if it’s that you don’t feel included.

HB: What are some specific things that managers or leaders can do to foster belonging at work?

MB: At the organizational level, it’s essential to ensure that the values of the organization exist at every level and in every manager without exception. It’s also important to consider how to structure teams and make sure they can communicate effectively, based on where and how people work.

At the team level, good manager training is key. Managers need skills in working with teams, allowing for different views, and figuring out how to handle disagreements and how decisions get made. When people can weigh in on something, there is a sense of being in it together.

It’s important to see each other as people, not work roles. Connecting in person and outside of work makes a difference. We need to tell and know each other’s stories and create opportunities for sharing. Have lunch, have informal video meetings where everyone gets to tell something about themselves. I was in a meeting recently where we all told the story of our names. I learned a lot and felt like the people who heard my story knew me a little better, too.

We need more awareness and cultural consciousness by design. People are fundamentally creative and want to learn. We all have different experiences and different lives.

Finding commonalities and accepting those differences is the key to belonging.