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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



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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Lifion at ADP’s cloud transformation journey



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



“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


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.

Tech & Innovation Blog

Meet Anshuman: ADP’s Inventor of the Year

Inventor of the Year, Voice of our People, Career Path

Through ADP’s patent program, Anshuman’s name appears as an inventor on ten patent applications filed within the last five years, seven of which have registered.

Anshuman Gaur

Anshuman Gaur was named ADP’s Inventor of the Year. Through ADP’s patent program, his name appears as an inventor on ten patent applications filed within the last five years, seven of which have registered.

Since joining ADP 11 years ago in Hyderabad, India as a Test Analyst, he’s been an amazing contributor to our organization. We recently caught up with Anshuman to ask him about the patent process, his advice for other inventors, his cricket experience, and more!

What different roles you’ve had during your time at ADP?

I started as a Test Analyst in the Next Gen PayExpert team. From there, I moved to a business analyst role, and then a Sr. Business Analyst role within the same group. By this time, PayExpert had transformed into a single database Workforce Now (WFN) solution with HR, Payroll, Time & Benefits all running on the same platform.

In 2014, I moved to Alpharetta, Georgia, as a Product Manager for WFN shared products such as reporting, analytics, PaaS, etc. In this role, I had the opportunity to work on the launch of DataCloud, an HCM analytics product targeted at mid-market clients. After a short stint with the DataCloud product team, where I had the opportunity to pilot ADP’s compensation benchmarking and predictive analytics features, I went back to the WFN team as a Director of Product Management in Parsippany, New Jersey.
Video call with the team

In early 2018, life came full circle when I received the opportunity to lead the WFN Next-Generation product. We work on the future of work and pay every day, including some cool features like on-demand pay, punch to pay real-time calculations, etc. We have an awesome opportunity to challenge the status quo and lead in the market with a competitive next-gen offering.

In a nutshell, I’ve had so many roles and so much fun! 🙂

What did you think when you first learned you were ADP’s Inventor of the Year?

It was quite surprising, to be honest! Many great products and features are being built across the organization, so it’s an honor to be recognized with this award. Also, being on the same list as Frank Villavicencio, VP, Product Management, is an absolute privilege.

What’s your process for coming up with ideas that would be great for a patent?

That’s a great question, and something we focus on quite a bit in our day-to-day work. It’s a combination of client need awareness, market and competitive awareness, and problem-solving skills. I am lucky to have a great team of developers, UX designers, and product owners who bring these skills to the table. We look at how we can solve problems that give the customer a delightful solution and, at the same time, gives us a competitive advantage.

We recently filed a patent for a solution that not only eliminates some key challenges and pain points but also exceeds the competition. It’s worth securing those features with a patent.

What is the patent process at ADP?

It’s quite straight forward. Once you have identified a feature or an idea for a patent, you can submit an invention brief on our internal associate portal under the ADP Patent Program. In this document, you provide a brief summary of the invention, the problems it solves that couldn’t be solved before, and how the solution is unique.

Once this is submitted, IP lawyers make the magic happen coming up with claims, preparing the filing documentation, etc. You need to participate in reviewing these documents during the process. Once the application is submitted, you can easily track progress on the portal.

What advice do you have for other inventors?

We solve many large-scale problems here at ADP. Our inventions are unique to our size and our business, and so I encourage everyone to take a moment to ask a couple of questions as they discover new ways to solve problems:

“Am I creating an intellectual property?” If the answer is yes, “Does the solution solve a problem in a unique way that can be secured by a patent?”

These questions are a simple way to guide inventors through the decision-making process of securing IPs. There is no doubt that inventions are happening here. We need to take the additional and essential step in securing it.

What do you like best about working at ADP?

There are many things, from passionate people to amazing culture to great opportunities. But if I were to pick one, I would say it’s the large-scale problems that I love to solve working with various cross-functional teams.

What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

Don’t ever stop playing cricket no matter how hard and busy life gets! For the cricket fans out there, I used to bowl right arm, medium-fast.

What is your must-have app? Yelp & YouTube

Anshuman Gaur is a Senior Director, Product Management at ADP based in New Jersey.

Tech & Innovation Blog

“Becoming” at ADP, one experiment at a time.

Career Inspirations, Pushing Limits, Becoming

Not too long ago (pre-COVID), my wife and I actually got a baby-sitter, made it out of the house (around perfect strangers and in Manhattan!), and caught a Broadway show. It was great! You may have heard of it.

In New York City's Broadway District, a brightly lit, Richard Rogers Theatre marquee displays "Hamilton: An American Musical"

Not too long ago (pre-COVID), my wife and I actually got a baby-sitter, made it out of the house (around perfect strangers and in Manhattan!), and caught a Broadway show. It was great! These days, getting out of the house often is rare for us – I know many others with young kids can relate! I can’t get over what a great time we had that night, seeing such an amazing show!

We saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York! Words can hardly describe our joy. A fancy night out for us, we got to enjoy a bit of American history while listening to Hip Hop (!), written by and starring a Puerto Rican guy (like me) from nearby upper Manhattan (“The Heights,” where my wife is from)! Despite my ‘Becoming’ at ADP, one experiment at a time. enthusiasm, apparently, I’m not alone as the show has gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize and several Tony Awards – including Best Musical in 2016! By the way, it’s streaming now on Disney Plus, in case you’ve been holding off on that free-trial.

The show, and its performers, were so gripping and inspiring that it has literally kept me up at night thinking of all the things I haven’t done yet – and how I might achieve more in my career (you know, “I’m not throwing away my shot!”).

The truth is that the last couple of years have been a period of enlightenment (I’ll get into that in a bit), in both my personal and professional life. Seeing Hamilton had sparked the reflection I needed to reach this epiphany and appreciate everything I’ve already accomplished.

Even so, as I played the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat, I became consumed with figuring out ways to do more, move faster, learn deeper, and make an even greater impact! It was all coming together, and this show helped me to see “the forest for the trees.” I realized that I had gotten too caught up in the details of my everyday work, and I needed to step back and see the bigger picture. In my case, the bigger picture was our company’s culture of experimentation, and how I could help take it to the next level!

The bigger picture was our company’s culture of experimentation, and how I could help take it to the next level!


The last few years at ADP have been very enlightening for me professionally. I’m super passionate about what I’m working on right now, but this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way in a role. I’ve been at ADP for over five years, and every season I find myself absorbed in my work facing more difficult challenges. Where more difficult = more rewarding, right?!

I recently joined the product team for RUN, one of our solutions that provides core payroll and HR to small businesses. My portfolio is pretty amazing! The team I lead focuses on adding capabilities for in-product marketing (IPM). I’ve had an opportunity to experiment, like a scientist, studying data, crafting hypotheses, executing small tests, and measuring results! Until now, the experiments I’ve run were more like mini-projects, similar to a Venture Capitalist’s approach to startups with series funding. In a startup, you build incrementally, proving continual growth and viability at each step and, in turn, justifying next round funding.

I’ve never seen rapid-fire a/b testing inside large corporations where I’ve worked before ADP. Many people in my “AgileNYC” network agree that the mini-project approach is ideal for agile teams and businesses but has not emphasized a/b testing as much. In practice, in many corporations, it’s a struggle to decide what and how to build something given limited time, budget, and resources within an annual corporate budgeting cycle.

In the companies where I’ve worked in product management, the focus of product managers and leadership has been on using an “agile” approach for delivery, running sprints to tackle endless backlogs of user stories. Less so around meaningful research and experimentation, which I’ve tried to bring it to the table, albeit on a smaller scale.

An example that comes to mind involves one of my prior roles at a music company, where we built a “rights” app for our synch-licensing team. We always faced constraints, hard deadlines, and zero budget for formal research. So, we did our own “gorilla research,” relying on subject matter experts (SMEs) and peers to give us feedback on ideas and designs. But that just resulted in us talking amongst ourselves without speaking with actual clients. Imagine that. We never had access to the voice of the customer! What’s wrong with this picture, you ask? You are correct! The focus was always on delivery, not the outcome. That left us creating products based on perceived customer needs, which may or may not have resolved their business problems. How would we know? We never asked or measured our results. But they got their solution on time! 🙂

These were the Dark Ages in my career, during which I mastered the art of delivery, backlog management, and Agile, and honed my leadership skills. But I learned little about the impact of the changes that were made, and rarely had the opportunity to go back and make any improvements. I lived in a culture of “on to the next one” (like that Jay-Z song).

When I joined ADP in 2014, people in our Small Business Services (SBS) division seemed pretty serious about Agile development and had started to look beyond backlogs and sprint cycles. Marquis projects like “REDBOX” and “TITANIUM” from our Innovation Center in Chelsea NYC’s Silicon Alley, led the way with new design standards and a new visual design language (VDL). They set up a usability research lab and engaged with people in new ways to inform their product backlogs. ADP shifted into a culture of learning, especially in SBS.

In SBS, we did this with an emphasis on market research, evaluating the strengths of our products compared to our competitors. Using market intelligence from our strategy team supplementing our own research, we spent weeks evaluating our products against competitors’ at the feature level. From there, we moved on to usability testing with clients to assess concepts and prototypes and to gather their feedback. Our SBS leadership team built a Discovery Lab in Florham Park, New Jersey, where we could engage clients outside of New York City. We migrated to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in place of goals to become more outcome-driven. This shift led to opportunities to attend conferences at the local and national level, and where I felt the first twinge of Imposter Syndrome.

In retrospect, my journey at ADP reminds me of a quote by Lin Manuel-Maranda about the fear and uncertainty you can feel when striving for your goals, and then ultimately the realization that you’ve been able to make an impact – after all. He said, “Anytime you write something, you go through so many phases. You go through the ‘I’m a Fraud’ phase. You go through the ‘I’ll Never Finish’ phase. And every once in a while you think, ‘What if I actually have created what I set out to create, and it’s received as such?’”

“Anytime you write something, you go through so many phases. You go through the ‘I’m a Fraud’ phase. You go through the ‘I’ll Never Finish’ phase. And every once in a while you think, ‘What if I actually have created what I set out to create, and it’s received as such?'”

I’m a Fraud Phase

In 2017, the head of our product team sponsored several of us to attend the 2017 AcademyOx NY Product Festival at the Museum of The Moving Image in Queens, New York. We were blown away by all of the great speakers from companies like Spotify, Google, Instagram, and Tesla, to name a few. Hearing Mindy Zhang of Dropbox speak about “Imposter Syndrome,” the struggle to internalize one’s accomplishments, and persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud,” left me speechless. Wow! Talk about timing! Having just heard Spotify and Instagram boast about the experiments they can run on their millions of users each day, I was pretty envious, and felt like a straight-up fraud! Luckily, I was able to take solace in a factoid the speaker offered, that we were all ‘Impostors’ (according to research she quoted, at least 70% of product managers admitted this)! She said it’s “OK” because this meant we were continually learning and that we had the skills to learn the “skills.” That made me feel better, but more importantly, it awakened me to new possibilities thanks to the collective of conference speakers and ADP for giving me the opportunity.

I took what I learned at the conference and was determined to apply it to my work. I made some advances! I used some of the tools I picked up and shared them with my stakeholders. I found that people were receptive to these new ideas. I even had the opportunity to experiment with some impressive results. For example, last year, we launched an experiment within the Retirement Services Team to migrate clients from a legacy product with one partner to a new product with another partner before the client’s legacy product subscription ended. Migrations can be risky since they allow clients to consider other vendor products. We didn’t want to lose the business, and we wanted to give our clients the best possible experience without disrupting their operations. So, we experimented with super-concise copy, and a very light UX (only two clicks). Clients converted fast, we met our goal of 50% client-conversion in less than 60 days, and eventually exceeded our goal and retained almost all our legacy clients.

Based on this win, I knew there was more we could do. We came across another opportunity with our digital marketing team. I felt like an impostor again when they presented a readout on their latest Marquis project. I realized what I’d been doing was on a small scale, while they had been operating at scale with full-fledged experiments, which they shared in detail with our entire product organization. At first discouraged, I remembered I had the skills to learn the “skills”! So, I networked with them, traded notes, shared my ideas, and asked them questions about their work!

Growth Mindset

ADP’s evolution and modernization over the last few years have been a true success story, which I attribute to the company’s culture. ADP went beyond agility and adapted a learning culture. Although I haven’t heard it described this way, ADP’s culture has been about adopting a “Growth Mindset.” In the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carolyn Dweck, the author describes her research and findings that support the belief that ability can be developed through effort and by embracing the challenge. The book describes the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. In her research, students with a fixed mindset believed their abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits. While in a growth mindset, students understand that they can develop talents and abilities through effort, good teaching, and persistence.

ADP has cultivated a learning culture that is pervasive throughout every discipline, business unit, and region. For example, in SBS, Product Managers have gathered for “Lunch & Learns,” almost every month, to gain insight into other areas of the business, including our own. We also have gotten together for ‘book club’ meetings to share specific ideas and stories from popular books about product management, marketing, leadership, and psychology. As a larger Global Product & Technology organization, we have partnered with Audible for free employee subscriptions to “squeeze” learning in by listening to audiobooks. That’s how I read Mindset and about ten other books! In product management, we host a monthly “Stand up,” where our leaders review what they’ve been working on, which allows us to share with our peers, and host guest speakers from outside of ADP. Our most recent speakers included Marty Cagan and Chris Jones from the Silicon Valley Product Group (SVPG)! As part of my growth and learning, I’ve attended 4 ADP-Sponsored conferences since 2017, including Mind The Product 2019, in San Francisco. All of this has helped me shake “imposter syndrome.”

‘I’ll Never Finish’ Phase

I’m still focused on how I can take our experimentation to the next level. When I started working with the IPM team in RUN, I knew that I would use that domain to further the experimentation culture by setting a new example. I started strong, full of ideas after having read Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success by Sean Ellis. I developed a network of “Growth Hackers” with whom I can develop experiments. I continue to share my ideas with stakeholders and have scheduled ‘readouts’ of my experiments, explaining the hypothesis, setup, plan, and latest results. I now speak the same language as my digital marketing peers, setting up variables and controls for each test, identifying primary, secondary, and even tertiary conversion metrics, conducting funnel analysis, and demonstrating statistical significance.

It’s a journey. My IPM team is small and very scrappy, and we use all the tools we can get our hands-on. We frequently collaborate outside of our team to generate even more ideas. We’re crafting an architectural vision for how our a/b testing framework can operate using a combination of the latest and greatest experimentation tools, in collaboration with our current infrastructure.

Our strategic vision is to “Generate conversions with IPM by offering products and features that are the right FIT for a business, can add VALUE to operations, and help make a positive IMPACT for both the client’s bottom line as well as ADP’s.” We even have our own sticker!

As we enter the next fiscal year and set our objectives, many of my stakeholders have come to me about a/b testing capabilities. So, the word is out!

Also, as a response to the current Pandemic, I was asked to help design a UX for ‘Alex,’ a persona we created to represent our clients at the human level, to help her navigate the crisis and take necessary and relevant actions. We experimented with a non-native UX tool and iterated the design and implementation countless times during the early weeks of the crisis. Perhaps, if not for some of the work I’ve done with the IPM team, I wouldn’t have been asked to help on this significant and meaningful project? In the words of Lin Manuel-Miranda, have I created what I set out to create?

Adrian R Carrión is a Director of Product Management at ADP in New Jersey.

Tech & Innovation Blog

Life Lessons from a Butterfly in Troubling Times

Thoughtful advice, Pandemic

It is springtime in New Jersey, says the calendar. A cool, 55-degrees Fahrenheit, says the Weather app. But somehow our world feels to me like it’s frozen in time. Instantly, the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt from a microscopic virus.

Two white butterflies with black markings sitting on two flower buds

It is springtime in New Jersey, says the calendar. A cool, 55-degrees Fahrenheit, says the Weather app. But somehow our world feels to me like it’s frozen in time. Instantly, the world as we knew it came to a grinding halt from a microscopic virus, thrusting us into a sci-fi movie set where the concepts of time—hours, days, weeks, months—begin to blur, and we, the people, have scrambled to find ways to ride out the storm.

With each passing day bringing hope, we accept grace and guidance to truly connect to what matters and be generously more kind, helpful, supportive to understand one another. The virus has not disappeared and faded to a distant memory (how we wish!) Yet, we found the strength to know that this too shall pass.

With the sunshine, a new day begins with bright blue skies, beautiful spring blossoms, and then come the butterflies, a precious gift from nature.

I am sure the butterflies and flowers have been there all along, yet, we have found the time to watch them dance and glide from flower to flower with delicate grace.

While we pause to watch the butterflies, we cannot stop thinking about the prolonged impacts triggered by the pandemic. We are suddenly thrust into an unfortunate economic situation layered with layoffs and furloughs across the globe, friends, family, and people we know at work, or in our connections, impacted.

Especially in the current situation, layoffs, and furloughs are often not personal and are not reflections on individual performance. Please know that as hard as it is for anyone impacted, it can be harder for their employer and their managers who suddenly have to part ways with their people. For both employer and employee, regardless of the duration of association, it is essential to fill that moment of separation with grace and gratitude for shared opportunities and accomplishments.

Yes, emotions run high, and there is pain we cannot wish away. Still, please refrain from burning the bridge or kicking the ladder that helped you climb in your career. It is a small world, after all.

Now more than ever, if you know someone who has lost their job, please extend your grace to connect with them and wish them well on their journey onward.

It only takes a few minutes to reach out. Hearing your voice and knowing you care matters more than you know. Genuine reflections of your kindness will bring them the hope they need to help them in their career journey.

Share opportunities to expand their network connections and maybe even guide them on some easy learning, volunteering, and mentoring opportunities for them to lend a hand to support our bigger community.

We are entering a new world, and in time and together, we, the people, will learn to be agile to adapt and adjust both at work and in our life. For now, stay positive and think of this disruptive time as a break to rest and re-invest in yourself, an opportunity to open to new possibilities. Soon enough, a new day will come with promising sunshine just for you!

Yes, a career is a journey that brings amazing people together to build relationships that last a lifetime through the rest stops, detours, and adventures. Like the butterflies, we have an opportunity to expand our circle of influence and our network. Enjoy the journey and be happy always.

Are you the butterfly caught in a strong wind? If so, exit with grace and gratitude. When the winds calm down, and you start your next flight, Always Believe in Yourself. Know there will be other gardens and wildflower patches that await your arrival when the time is right. In that place, you will once again dance with friends and make your music in your own way.

So, the break is time to Rest, Recover, Recharge, Re-Ignite, and be Ready. Best of Luck!

Stay Connected,

Jyotsna Manikantan is a Lead Product Manager in Roseland, NJ.

Post originally appeared on LinkedIn. Edited and reprinted with permission.

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overhead view of two women standing six feet apart

The Social Presence of Physical Distance

Natural, cultural, and technical worlds conjoin. All are deeply cultural. How we perceive the nature around us partakes in the imagination of the culture from whence we come. For some a tree is an ancestor, for others a source of heat, for many an unremarkable background feature or some combination of all the above plus others.

As COVID-19 continues to run across the earth like a rushing river with many irregular eddies, I am reminded of our relationships as humans to nature, culture, and technology. I’m reminded of our shared humanity and the diverse range of contexts within which our humanities are embodied and enacted.

Over the past couple of weeks, friends have solicited my perspective on what new social practices driven by these circumstances mean for our shared humanity. As a Cultural Anthropologist working in tech, they figure I should have a strong opinion, or, at the very least, some considered reflections on these and related topics. I have some of each which I’d like to share with you. These are the thoughts that come immediately to mind:

We live in a deeply connected world:

The mappings and modeled projections of the virus that many of us have seen in the news and on social media underscore the connectivity of all living things — viral and human. Unlike the way the “world” is typically conceptualized in the popular imagination as a series of roughly contiguous regional snippets, we are now presented with visualization of a more holistic kind. The world has become a shared space. A space traced out in ever-expanding lines by the spread of disease. A space newly conceived by a growing number of people as transcendent of regional differences and the woefully abundant contagions of xenophobia consequent to “difference” and “othering.”

We should learn from this new view.

Technology has immediate practical and personal importance:

For many of us, “technology” is more real today than it has been in our lifetimes. It touches us more intimately. As a person who publishes on topics variously focused on human and machine partnerships under the broader theme of advanced technologies and human culture, I’ve spilt my share of digital ink on “AI/ai, NLP, ML, data ethics, algorithmic justice” to name a few. Despite my commitment to citing real world examples, much of this writing tends towards the theoretical or, at least, doesn’t tend to the kind of pragmatic utility we associate with DIY projects.

For those of us fortunate enough to be able to do our jobs from home, the practical realities of a strong signal, plentiful cables and adaptors, reliable Wi-Fi, and secure VPNs remind us that technologies, in general, are actual “things” we use to get “stuff” done.

Add the millions of US students now doing their schoolwork remotely and tech as tool in the old-fashioned sense of tool as “a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function” is brought to the foreground. There’s something oddly comforting in the “materiality” of technology used in these intentionally “tool for task” ways.

Materiality or “thingness” of technology will continue to demand our attentions. A current shortlist might include eCommerce algorithms, medical supplies manufacturing automation, logistics and food delivery networks, pharma packaging science, and, of course, the range of physical and digital tools used in medical and research virology.

Rituals matter:

Along with mandates to “shelter in place” and maintain “social distance” comes a greater self-awareness of the role of ritual in our everyday lives. According to the late British Cultural Anthropologist, Victor Turner: “A ritual is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place….”

I can think of several rituals from my childhood important at the time, yet no longer prominent in my adult life. I am aware that of late some of these practices are beginning to return among my network of friends and family. For instance, as a child there was “play time,” “work time,” and “family time.” Play time was marked by late afternoon bike rides down to the neighboring marina but only after putting on “play clothes.” “Work time” was more or less school—up at 7:30 to catch the bus and home by 3:45 to begin “play time.” “Family time” was always about sitting down to dinner with my Mother, Father, Sister and Brother. I count myself as deeply blessed then and now to have a family with whom I want to share time.

With so many of us at home, notions around time have begun to (re)formalize into discernible moments or rituals. Some are about the practical affair of operationalizing the day’s activities and some about creating a controlled cadence within chaos. Common to these new yet older forms are the use of ritual as a way to provide comfort through repetition or tempo. In my experience, these are akin to Sunday phone calls, pancakes on the weekend, and play clothes. I’ve returned to some of these in recent weeks. Perhaps you have, too? Ask yourself if hearing the voice of someone you love sounds sweeter today than it did a month ago when you might have rather texted.

Practice of the arts of care and science:

I’m reminded daily of my connection to earth, to my communities, to my family and friends and to my fellow humans globally. As I reflect on what we — the Human Family — might learn in the coming months, it is my genuine hope that we will evolve a deeper collective sense of what it means to care for others and our environments. Asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture, Anthropologist Margaret Mead replied:

“If an animal in the wild breaks a major bone, they die — they starve, or something else eats them. For an early human to have survived a broken femur, someone else would have had to care for them long enough for the bone to set. They would have been provided with shelter, food, and water over an extended period. Someone would have had to have shown them kindness, compassion, altruism. Kindness, alongside science, remains the cornerstone of medicine.”

Kindness is a ritual I will continue to practice. Imagine the long-term benefits if we learn how to give more of it away. Kindness is part of what makes us human. Perhaps in the coming weeks more of us will have an opportunity to remember in words and through actions what so many of us have forgotten. In my view, that would be a very positive outcome.