One of the best things about working at Cengage is the never-ending opportunity for learning: uncovering new student and instructor needs, growing in our professions, and learning about each other. To this last point, we recently took time out to speak with three members of the Cengage Global Technology team. As evidenced by these conversations, the breadth of talent and variety of skills within Cengage is immense. Our conversations focused on how they define their jobs, favorite programing languages, opportunities for development, and Cengage’s unique culture.
We spoke with enterprise architect Matthew Guilfoy, senior software engineer Paul Vaillancourt, and Mike Lesniak, a senior software engineer who began as an intern assistant editor and is approaching his 20th work anniversary. In the first of two parts, they gave us insights on the key motivators that drive them each day.
Describe your job in three words.
Matthew Guilfoy (MG): Goal driven collaboration. When we’re given a goal, it’s my job to make sure we pull in people from across the company to help design the right solution. Collaboration—and making sure we get all the right voices in the room—is critical. Obviously, collaboration for the sake of collaboration can just keep spinning, so there’s got to be some sort of focus, and that’s where being goal-driven comes in.
Paul Vaillancourt (PV): Challenging software development. It’s good to keep yourself challenged. You know if you start getting too relaxed, that’s not good, especially in software development.
Michael Lesniak: Collectively solving problems. My job is about solving problems and working towards user solutions. I don’t look at how we solve problem as just “I sit in a room alone and write code.” That’s not how we solve problems here. Where we have needs, or an opportunity to provide value, we figure out how to solve the problem with whatever we bring to the table. Cengage values that collaboration from its employees.
Can you describe a typical sprint?
PV: We have a pretty standard way of doing our scrums. My team is pretty distributed in the US, as well as across Mexico, Canada, and India. We’re all over the place! We get rolling around 9:00 AM Eastern time, and we do our stand-ups around 11:00 AM. We have the story sizing and story refinement meetings, sprint planning, refining the sprint planning, and then our stand ups. And then obviously whatever meetings we need on top of that.
ML: We agree on what the goal is for that sprint and we set it in motion. The rest of the sprint is a stand-up, ideally each morning where we prioritize our commitments: who’s doing what, who can help where, and allocating resources. And then it’s: do! Make things happen! Obviously, things come up, and we’re agile. On any given day, my work could shift based on the stand-up meeting or what came in overnight.
MG: Usually, it’s more like a two-month sprint for an enterprise architect. But generally, we’ve got three phases: The first phase begins with a problem that we’re trying to solve or a goal we’re trying to achieve. For example, how do we create a common assessment experience across Cengage? Those big problems are really where it all begins. From there, the second step I refer to as investigation, collaboration, and design. I need to understand the problem, what they’re actually asking for, and collaborate with a range of roles to come up with the design that will solve the problem in the best way. I call the third phase education, feedback, and execution. In this step I provide the vision and initial solution to the teams that are going to be building that out. Usually there are multiple teams involved with the problem, so it’s about educating those teams as to how we’re looking to solve it. My job is not about necessarily writing the individual code but working with the teams to make sure we’re aligned, and they’ve got all their questions answered.
What mentorship or career development opportunities have you had at Cengage?
MG: I’m somewhat new to the enterprise architect role, and when I started, almost every single enterprise architect at Cengage reached out to me with support and said, “Hey, let’s talk.” I learned what their experiences have been, and what’s worked for them. The peer mentorship has been fantastic. There are a lot of other programs at Cengage like Women in Tech, which has a fantastic mentorship program, as well as our Guilds. For the betterment of our company, we’ve been building out Cengage Global Technology Guilds which are our communities created to support each other in certain areas like software testing.
ML: I wouldn’t be a software engineer today, had it not been for Cengage providing me with opportunities to learn and grow my skillset (and paying for many of them!). I have a master’s degree in creative writing and a minor in chemistry. I was going to be a high school teacher, so I came on as an editor and I worked my way to production specialist, and then transitioned to software engineer. I learned things on my own, of course, but Cengage really provided opportunities for career growth and learning and put money towards it as well.
PV: The Raleigh office had sessions where they tutored junior high-level kids in math because the Raleigh office is where the Web Assign (homework platform) group is located, and the website is mostly math content, so they would tutor kids in math, which I thought was really cool.
How would you describe the Cengage culture?
ML: We value opinions. Good, smart companies are hyperlinked—there isn’t an org chart or a ladder that you need to worry about. We definitely don’t worry about that in terms of who needs to be involved to help answer a question, or get a problem solved. I think that’s a key part of our culture.
PV: The leadership is very open, and the transparency is unique at Cengage. In the Raleigh office, there was a culture event almost every day (pre-Covid). On Thursdays, there was a happy hour where everybody was encouraged to go and mingle and meet people that you haven’t met before, and all kinds of nerdy stuff going on—I’m a little sad to be away from it. Sometimes it was just flat goofy at the Raleigh office. It was really fun, and there are a lot of good people.
MG: The culture means a lot to me. The word that I like to use to describe Cengage’s culture is passion. And I say that because Cengage employees are passionate about the customer and they’re passionate about their own work. Everyone I work with is invested in solving problems, building solutions. And finally, passionate about learning. We have a passion to keep growing individually, and as a business.
What programming language do you like the most and why?
ML: I think I’d go with XQuery. That opened the doors for my career transformation to a full-fledged software engineer, so that’s one reason it’s my favorite. I happen to like it as well for what it is and what it does, but it’s not the most applicable language.
MG: I’d have to say Java, mainly because it’s ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. It’s better when I’m able to speak the same language as many of the teams I work with, because they speak it as well.