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Geeks invade Philly: It's also an HR play

People in software are different from the rest of us:

They understand sentences like this: "The popular NoSQL database Cassandra eschews a master/slave partitioning design in favor of a fully peer-to-peer model which makes it robust and scalable."

Later this month, 550 of these people will be in Philadelphia for the Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise conference, a sold-out trade show for the elite in software development sponsored by Chariot Solutions Inc., a software development consulting firm in Fort Washington.

"There's always a waiting list," said Michael Rappaport, 48, Chariot Solutions chief executive and founder. "We sell out in the early bird phase." Speakers include top software executives from Walmart, Mozilla, Urban Outfitters, Google, DataStax, Microsoft, Wingspan and GitHub.

Rappaport sees the April 18-19 conference, which particularly caters to the open-source development community, as an outgrowth of what has become an important management principle at his company: personal growth.

Chariot Solutions employees can spend 10 percent of their time on professional development – going to conferences, taking a paid week off to learn a new language or participate in an open-source experiment, "whatever they are passionate about," Rappaport said.

Why did you adopt this philosophy?

When we started this business, I had 10 people, superstars, and these people belonged together. They looked at my business plan. They said, "Great. We'd like to propose something a little different."

What was it?

They said, "What you are looking at here is what other service companies do. They have 10 percent paid time off and 90 percent utilization. That's a lot of billing." They said, "If we don't have to be as big as we can, as fast as we can, we suggest hiring only top tier players. They'll be hard to find, but we'll get them as we get them. Then, the only way you can keep them is to invest in them. We all share something. We have to learn all the time. If we're on project, we still have to learn about other things." So, they said, "Strive for 80 percent utilization and take an additional 10 percent and invest it in professional development."

Yes, but, if you are working 20 days a month, and you set aside two days for vacation and another two for professional development, you're barely getting three weeks’ work.

You tell this to a CEO, or someone who's not technical, and they look at you like you have three heads. But we can literally do a [consulting] job with half the team size that a normal company would send. So, it's actually done better, but it's also done faster and cheaper. We're all ashamed of our industry.

What do you mean?

Statistics for manufacturers' success rates are in the 90s, but success rates are so grossly low for software projects – 75 percent is the most optimistic I've seen. It's ridiculous. We want our standards to be in the high 90s. To do that we have to do two things.


First it's hiring discipline. No matter how much business is out there, we're not going to let one person in the door that we're not certain is great. That means we're going to reject some superstars. Whenever we're in doubt, we reject. Just as important is project discipline -- only taking projects for which we're a great fit, not the ones that have the best money.

How would you assess Philadelphia’s tech scene?

Philadelphia, for years, has done a heck of a lot more technology-wise than it gets credit for. It doesn't stand out as one of the technology hot-beds, but it should. Granted, it's not California. Relative to Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle, maybe not so great. But comparable to New York, Philly has some deeper technology than New York. If you look at the Internet of Things [connecting devices], you're not going to find all that much in New York. You're going to find more stuff here.