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We Thank Our Lucky Stars in 2020

In a year that was hit, broadside, by Covid-19 and that witnessed the loss of over 1,000,000 people (and counting) to the virus world-wide, do we really have anything to be thankful for? I would argue that although the end of this challenging situation is not yet in sight and massive human suffering continues, we do have reason to be thankful. Let me explain why.

Resolve of Global Community to Work Together on Solutions

On one level, we heard our share of polarizing words, accusations and friction, all of which seems to go hand in hand with an international crisis of this scale. But along with all of this political posturing, particularly from certain parts of the globe, we also experienced real leadership. Effective and life-saving efforts came from unexpected as well as expected places. Real leadership was focused, uncompromising and unequivocally based on and driven by data, statistics and fact. Local leaders advocated for commitment, service and personal sacrifice. Under the best of circumstances, a quick response resulted in a swift decline in case numbers. New York City, for example, was the world’s Covid-19 epicenter for weeks in early 2020 but managed to bring deaths/day down from a peak of 952 at the beginning of May down to 2/day by the end of September. This drastic shift in the city’s trajectory was nothing short of remarkable.

At clinics and hospitals around the world, hundreds of thousands of medical practitioners rallied to treat those afflicted with Covid-19, not knowing if they were to be the next victims. Most had families and dependents at home. According to Amnesty International, over the last nine months over 10,000 health workers lost their lives taking care of patients with Covid-19. These selfless individuals remain and continue to be an inspiration to us all.

Numerous teams across the globe launched accelerated vaccine research initiatives. Political boundaries become secondary as scientists and medical practitioners shared information and discoveries relative to potential treatments and cures. Many countries and professionals rose to the occasion to collaborate and avoid reverting to a vaccine “arms race”.

A Dedicated and Committed Team that Continues to Rally and Push Forward

Closer to home, the work ethic and drive of the individuals that make up the team at Highlands continues to impress me. When it became apparent that the world was on the brink of a crisis, yet Noida was not yet shutting down, everyone at Highlands shifted gears in the blink of an eye. Within a matter of days, workstations and necessary equipment were moved from corporate headquarters to home offices. Giving new meaning to agile teamwork, Highlands employees are safe at home and working remotely.

Employees Game to Learn and Grow

The key word is humility. We approach everything we do here at Highlands with some level of humbleness. Here at Highlands we have recruited the best in class and the best in profession, but this doesn’t mean we think we know it all. No matter status, education, or years of experience, we know we are all still students of life and work. Crises are, if nothing else, an opportunity for growth. We strive to learn from our mistakes and move forward, capitalizing on any insights we’ve gained through our mistakes to make this living, breathing system—which is Highlands—maintain its edge.

Not only is humility necessary to move a team forward but change and evolution are necessary as well. Each day at Highlands is different because the needs of our clients—the engineers and the global communities they serve and the problems they need help with—are different, from one day to the next. At the core, we are dealing with natural systems and natural systems are fundamentally dynamic in character. Engineers need to have tools to grapple with change, unpredictability and flux, and we want to continue to make the tools that facilitate reliable analysis.

Customers that Push Us to Do More

Could you design a car without the driver in mind? Could a playground be fun and surprising without plugging into the imagination of a kid? Highlands customers are not on the payroll, but in view of how they drive and shape our products, they very well could be. They are as much a part of the development team as any of our programmers. The practical knowledge and insights they offer into how to make our engineering software functional and relevant for today’s engineering problems are invaluable. We treasure these customers for their drive, interest and contributions towards making our solutions for the world’s engineers the best they can possibly be.

Parting Thoughts on the Year 2020

This has been anything but a typical year, but even a year of challenges can offer surprising opportunities. Here’s to putting a positive spin on otherwise difficult circumstances. Here’s to counting our blessings and giving thanks when it’s hard to see what is still good in the spaces and in the lives of the people around us. Here’s to looking ahead with hope and optimism.

Customer and Employee Centered

The Customer is in the Room…and other News from Highlands

Sometimes, to know what a company IS NOT is as telling as to know what a company IS. So, in this post, you will learn what you will NOT find at Highlands, as well as some things that you most certainly will. Let’s hit on some key points to shed light on our company’s culture, work processes and other telling indicators. In the spirit of full disclosure, let’s drill into the working machinery of Highlands.

NOT a corporation that snubs the customer

Say “hello” to the customer. She (or he) is at the scrum meeting. Well, not literally. If you want to visualize the customer looming over the conference table or hovering, phantom-like, during a scrum meeting, go ahead. It is not far from reality. But you will be hard pressed to find a software company that is more eager to please the customer. Soliciting—and acting on—customer feedback is as important as any other task that Highlands does. In fact, while most companies are satisfied to keep only minimum records of existing customers—contact name, billing address—that would never do for Highlands. We got the sale, yes, but our commitment to our customers doesn’t end there. We want to be sure that our software continues to deliver and perform well after the deal goes through.

Our team gathers customer feedback constantly. How is this done? Customer Support Representatives call customers every 2 to 3 months to check-in and get updates on how the software is performing. We want to know what is working, what isn’t, and what we need to change. In the process of fielding inbound calls, tech support engineers gather information as well. If we don’t understand a client’s issue, we use any technology available, from video recorded calls to client demos, to truly understand what a client needs and wants from the software. Now and then, the Engineering Director gets on the phone to make a “discovery call” and uncover precisely what a customer is looking for in our software. How many companies do you know of that do this? (We call this “software features on demand”). Information from our clients is meticulously documented and factored into the process of product development, as we will discuss in the paragraphs below.

NO stagnation here: Employees Evolve… as does the Company

Human Resources is probably one of the most important departments in our shop. Why is this so? Because equal in importance to our customers—if not more so—are the people that work at Highlands. These are the folks behind the core machinery at Highlands. Without them, we would not produce anything of value. So, we invest as much in our employees as we do in our product. We hope that employees take advantage of the many training and advancement opportunities that Highlands offers to grow and evolve.

But here’s something you may not recognize: A company needs to evolve and grow with its employees. If you consider Highlands your work “home”, you will want the team at Highlands, and the processes and systems that make it all come together, to work, evolve and grow stronger too. Ideas to make the community and the systems stronger at Highlands are always welcome.

Not a Coding “Mill”

How much code did you write today? This is NOT a question you will hear from any of us. Management cares about developers. We are not in the business of extracting blood and sweat. We expect hard work and our performance standards are high, but above all, we are fair. We will work with you, not against you. You are one of us—remember?

We believe in the magic and power of teams. You won’t be asked to learn the job on your own or figure out problems in isolation. We pair you up with another programmer to help you become familiar with our processes. A culture of teamwork and partnership forms the backbone of work at Highlands. We are a tight group that is interdependent, supportive of one another, and motivated to produce the best product possible under the best working conditions possible.

No Stuffed Shirts Here: Software Development as quick to Adapt as the Company itself

How good would we be as developers of leading-edge engineering software if we couldn’t change course quickly and respond to client needs? We wouldn’t last long. So not only are we quick to address the people side of things—the team and workplace issues, but we are agile and fluid when it comes to our product too. In fact, evolutionary ideals shape everything we do at Highlands. We take an iterative tack with respect to software design. If in the process of shaping our MVP (minimum viable product) we realize we are off track on core features, we don’t waste time. On a daily basis, the Highlands routine goes something like this: scrum meeting, write code in pairs or teams (ask questions), assess progress and check goals (ask questions), work, repeat tomorrow (and ask more questions).

Final question: Is the Highlands team a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls who can’t stand to be corrected or told that they are wrong?! No. We know change and growth is good. We also like to think we are a humble bunch of folks who just want to make good—actually really good—engineering software and to have some fun doing it. We hope you’ll consider joining us.