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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.

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Podcast: ADP’s Martha Bird on the Post-Pandemic Dynamics of Work

Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology report. I’m Mark Feffer.

Today, I talk with Martha Bird, business anthropologist at ADP Innovation Lab. Her job is to make sure that the human element is accounted for when new digital products are designed, so that, for example, software intended to tackle a specific HR problem can be put to use by HR staff in the real world as they go about their actual work. I began by asking Martha how she thought the COVID-19 pandemic would impact the way people work.

Podcast: #HRTech after #COVID-19: “Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement are now talking weeks to turn around.” @ADP #HR #HRTribeCLICK TO TWEET
Martha Bird: Well, I think this is such a huge topic. One of the things I think about is imagine that we’ve been working largely in the U.S. with a very, very low unemployment rate. Now all of a sudden there’s this massive degree of unemployment. Now, in the past when there’s been a tight labor market, certain policies are put into place in order to attract the talent that you want. Now, when you have a flood of unemployed people, what is that going to look like in terms of those mechanisms? I don’t know. But to me that’s a consideration, right? It’s that we’ve gone from very robust, healthy unemployment to a very, very high degree of unemployment from healthy employment. So I think that’s going to be an interesting thing to monitor that’s around talent and talent acquisition.

I think also it’s going to be about the discussion around urban and rural, right? So if people are working more remotely, what does that look like for the person who lives in a rural space who has not had access to perhaps the same economics of job that one would have in a larger metropolitan area. And so if it’s indeed the case that people will begin to work more remotely, that can open up a whole, I think potentially positive economics for rural areas and rural workers. So that’s going to be, I think, very interesting.

And then I think there’s also going to be, for employers, much greater awareness now of really what health actually means in terms of the economy. So, a healthy society, and I mean healthy as in well-being, I think is directly corollary to the economy being robust.

So I think there’s a lot of things going to be continued from where we are now. I certainly hope that’s the case. I hear such wonderful stories about people reaching out with altruistic intent and I think that’s just the way we need to go. But you also hear the stories of individuals vying for advantage. And so my hope is that those will not be the ones who will continue to influence our consciousness as humanity.

Mark Feffer: You work for ADP, obviously, your customers are employers and they make certain demands on you. What new demands do you think you’re going to start to hear? Are the priorities going to shift among what employers expect out of their technology solutions?

Martha Bird: Well, I think this whole… To carry on, on the mobile trajectory is going to be key, right? Because that’s all part of the story, about remote. I think too that there’s going to be… I think there’s going to be, at least for ADP and for those in our industry, there is an expectation that we stay completely agile when it comes to major legislative activities related to the COVID-19. And one of the things that I’m aware of is that indeed we are actually keeping up with these things. And that’s no small matter when you think of all the municipalities, jurisdictions, state and federal level legislation to be able to do that and to be able to provide our clients with security of knowing that we are the most up to date on those matters.

So, that’s about speed, right? And it’s about being able to do things pretty quickly. Things that would normally take months or maybe even years to implement, you’re talking weeks now to turn that around. So I think probably this expectation around speed will continue across a lot of industries.

The other thing too, Mark, that I think is really interesting is this collaboration that’s going on between corporations in order to get things done. So, I think about the ventilator situation where there’s just a dire need for those and the largest producer of ventilators is partnering with GM or with Ford in order to switch the production lines in order to make ventilator and doing open source sharing of designs. I’m hoping, personally, that that will become not simply a response to an extremis, but something that maybe could be continued once this settles down a little bit.

Mark Feffer: My last question is, what is the biggest single dramatic change you expect to see in the workplace after the dust has settled?

Martha Bird: There’s so many things. I guess for me, because I’m an anthropologist, I’m thinking really about the way that we interact with our fellows. I hope that if nothing else this allows us to reset ourselves and to understand that it’s incredibly important to exercise respect, honesty, a decency and kindness, that we are all actually part of the family of humans here, and that everything is connected. And I think that wouldn’t be a bad takeaway, in my view, if people could come to terms with embracing that. And unfortunately it takes something as dire as this situation, but to me that would be a positive outcome.

Mark Feffer: Martha, thank you.

Martha Bird: Thanks, Mark.

Mark Feffer: Martha Bird is a business anthropologist at ADP’s innovation lab. And this has been PeopleTech from the HCM echnology report. To keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM Technology report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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Image depicting artificial intelligence

ADP’s Martha Bird on the ground at CES 2020 to talk about NLP/ML and AI, plus the top 5 themes for 2020

https://www.adp.com/spark/articles/2020/01/the-word-on-ces-whats-really-driving-nextgen-technology.aspx

ADP’s business anthropologist, Martha Bird, reports on the top five themes at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show that are important for today’s industry leaders.

With over 4,000 exhibiting companies, 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space, attracting more than 180,000 attendees and 307 Fortune 500 companies, there was a lot to take in at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Some of the most innovative technologies to come included a flying taxi (Hyundai), electric multi-modal transportation, electric vertical take-off and landing craft (Uber), cool and creepy robotics, green and sustainability tech, 8K bezel-less TVs (Samsung), AI attended drive thru (McDonald’s lab), 150 digital health exhibitors and so much more. Within this tech frenzy, it was my great pleasure to represent ADP on stage and in studio where I discussed how natural language processing, machine learning and artificial intelligence (NLP/ML and AI), in general, is impacting the workplace – the tools, the processes and the people.

While it was impossible to see everything given the sheer magnitude of the event, there are some high-level reflections on what I consider to be the pervasive themes from this year’s event that industry leaders should keep their eyes and ears open for moving into 2020. These are my top five:

1. 5G: Data, data, and more data

On the CES floor, data was the common denominator across products and services on display and those demoed. Given the explosion of data contingent technologies, online privacy and security was a central talking point. How different regions address security concerns around data and privacy was less explicitly articulated although a continuum of highly private to blatantly public could be surmised. Along with a definite trend toward the true consumerization of AI.

Which brings me to 5G. In the next two to three years, networks will expand out exponentially. The first commercial deployments are already being seen but 5G is still in its infancy so it won’t be a matter of simply “flipping a switch” from 4G to 5G.

Along with 5G – increased speed, greater capacity and lower latency – comes huge possibilities for disruptive innovations. There was no limit to 5G talk and imagination at CES 2020. And, of course, there were both pronouncements and announcements on the topic around the coming of 5G handsets. AT&T and Verizon are aggressively developing the infrastructure in an attempt to get out ahead of competition across the globe.

5G will be the “central nervous system of the data age,” according to Steve Koenig, VP, Research at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).

Martha Bird and others and CES 2020

[Inset above] ADP’s Business Anthropologist Martha Bird (right) took the stage at CES 2020. Bird’s panel “Emerging Technologies Enabling Enterprise” was moderated by Michael Miller, Editor-in-Chief at PC Magazine (middle) joined by fellow panelist Yonatan Wexler, Executive VP of R&D at OrCam Technologies (left).

2. IoI (Internet of Intelligence): The Decade of Connected Intelligence

Just as we were getting accustomed to the term IoT (Internet of Things) the talk this year was around IoI or “Internet of Intelligence.” This new way of thinking is a direct response to the way AI is being integrated into all facets of our technology and consumer culture.

We were told in the plenary keynote that as networks grow, we can expect 5G to unlock more opportunities for enterprise. Building upon what we’ve seen with IoT technologies (think smart home apps that rely on little bits of discrete data), the expansion of 5G and AI capabilities will provide multiple nodes of data informing a much more complex and inter-dependent data landscape. Enterprise applications are expected to lead in IoI in part because of massive data resources and the ability to form mutually beneficial partnerships between OEM, software and engineering. IoI covers things like remote robotic surgery and smart cities. Activities with a heavy data lift and, generally speaking, much higher stakes than let’s say a voice activated light in your home.

3. XR: The New Reality Training Our Future Workforce

XR – the latest technology encompassing augmented, virtual, and mixed reality technologies. Think virtual world up, down, left, or right, and experienced in 360 degrees. Form factors delivering this technology ranged from 5K gaming chairs to sleek eye glasses very much unlike the early Google glasses. Again, enterprise will have a big stake in this area with many use cases including B2B workforce training, safety inspections, AR glasses used by an architect to design a room, training surgeons across geographies, and in travel and tourism where you are able to take a trip to a tropical island right from your living room. Frankly, I prefer the actual trip but foregoing the lines at the airport and customs does sound appealing. Regardless of my preference, there was a lot of excitement for XR in commercial and industrial settings. Not to mention eSports which realized $1 billion in net revenue last year alone.

4. Culture: Pragmatics of Technological Innovation

While attending a panel discussion on “Future Cities” I was struck by a similarity between re-architecting an existing urban space to accommodate new technologies and the work we do at ADP.

A former secretary of transportation listed one of the greatest challenges to innovating cities as the pre-existing roadway infrastructure. He went on to say that between the legacy streets and traffic patterns it was actually the inability to imagine new ways of mobility that was the major barrier.

People get accustomed to “how things are done here” and find it difficult to adapt to changes in the system. This is a cultural and technical matter. Culture, at the most basic level, is the collection of practices and beliefs we take for granted. These habits are slow to change. New technical opportunities can catalyze innovation and cultural change, but this process is never a one-to-one.

Which brings me to humans.

5. Humans: Agency in a Data-driven Era

Humans (people like you and me) when faced with the explosion of new technologies – tech that augments our vision, our speech, our bodies and, even, our memory – begin to question their own reason for being. The existential ponderings around what it means to be human are concomitant with those group of technologies loosely described as “AI”.

Talk of “machine-human partnership” was pervasive on the CES exhibition floor and in panels and keynotes. For my part, I welcome the question as it points to a shared humanity that we often overlook. Yes, partnerships between people and technology will continue to evolve. Who has agency over the relationship will remain a critical point of personal reflection and public debate.