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Episode #39: Shawn McCormick - SVP of Software Development - Signiant

April 10, 2023 Ursus Staffing & Services Season 2 Episode 39
Episode #39: Shawn McCormick - SVP of Software Development - Signiant
Hiring University! Powered by Ursus, Inc.
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Hiring University! Powered by Ursus, Inc.
Episode #39: Shawn McCormick - SVP of Software Development - Signiant
Apr 10, 2023 Season 2 Episode 39
Ursus Staffing & Services

Software industry veteran Shawn McCormick, SVP of Development at Signiant joins Hiring U! to share best practices in building software development teams and specifically the work he and other technology leaders are doing to attract talent to Ottawa, aka, Silicon Valley North.   Prior to joining Signiant, Shawn led R&D, teams at Nakina, Nortel, and Bell Northern Research.

"We are promoting and advertising Ottawa as a technical hub destination not just for North America but globally and have successfully attracted world-class technical talent from all over the world."
     - Shawn McCormick

For more Hiring University episodes tune into your favorite podcast player or visit us at www.ursusinc.com

Show Notes Transcript

Software industry veteran Shawn McCormick, SVP of Development at Signiant joins Hiring U! to share best practices in building software development teams and specifically the work he and other technology leaders are doing to attract talent to Ottawa, aka, Silicon Valley North.   Prior to joining Signiant, Shawn led R&D, teams at Nakina, Nortel, and Bell Northern Research.

"We are promoting and advertising Ottawa as a technical hub destination not just for North America but globally and have successfully attracted world-class technical talent from all over the world."
     - Shawn McCormick

For more Hiring University episodes tune into your favorite podcast player or visit us at www.ursusinc.com

Shawn McCormick

[00:00:00] Jon Beck: What's up everyone? Welcome to this edition of Hiring University. I'm your host, John Beck. Today we are lucky to have Sean McCormick, senior Vice President of Software development at Signient join the program. Sean is currently at Signate, but has done a lot of things in this industry, serving as a senior leader at Nokia, Nortel, among other places.

[00:00:19] He's actively involved. Invest in Ottawa, which we're gonna talk about in terms of development. But, Sean, happy Saints Patrick's Day and welcome to Hiring You. Thank you. 

[00:00:29] Shawn McCormick: Did you bring some green beer? , ? 

[00:00:32] Jon Beck: If I did, it'd be tough to share it over Zoom, but we can talk about that indeed. For those of our listeners that aren't familiar with cig, tell us a little bit about your current position and then the things that you did, in your illustrious career, along 

[00:00:43] Shawn McCormick: the.

[00:00:44] Yeah, sure. So at Cigna I run the software development organization. We're a median entertainment focused company, so we help those companies move large files quickly and securely over the internet. And recently we've started expanding our suite beyond just moving files to doing some media processing on those as well.

[00:01:02] So, Doing some really cool stuff and moving up the stack. I'll say in terms of background, I started, at Nortel as a tester way back in, in the early days in, in the optimal unit. Worked my way up to managing, several hundred people in software and hardware development. It was really, I'd say it was the greatest place to learn in Canada at the time.

[00:01:20] They invested heavily in employees, and employee development, which was great. Uh, of course there was the tech downturn and North Club got hit pretty badly in. And so I went and joined a small company, worked there for about a dozen years before we were acquired by Nokia. And, , ended up in a leadership position in Nokia, running the security software organization there.

[00:01:39] And, after having spent so long at a small company, I realized I really liked , the Agile, Quickness and, and decision making and things like that in small companies. So I went back and left for, for Cigna, which is, a small 200, uh, 200 or less person company. And, really got what I wanted in terms of, having more control over the destiny and, and the quick decision making and that, so very agile.

[00:02:01] That seems to be 

[00:02:02] Jon Beck: a pattern in your career. You, you start with smaller, get bigger, get acquired, and then go back to the start of the line. I've done the same thing and I must, we must be, both gluttons for punishment cuz there's, challenges with both of that. You're a technologist, by trade and obviously we need to fill background and we're gonna talk about technology today.

[00:02:17] But I wanna start, our conversation around your involvement in Invest in Ottawa. And there was a recent blog post, on the sign. Talking about the technology and how large data transfers helping with the, the whole effort of investments in the Canadian tech sector. And there's a stat here, that just over 55% of all Canadian tech entrepreneurs struggle to hire the employees that they need, which seems to be a theme globally.

[00:02:43] It's certainly is as well as the United States. Can you share with us some of the specific tactics and strategies that you're doing in Ottawa that may be applicable to other parts of the. 

[00:02:53] Shawn McCormick: Sure. So in Invest Ottawa is a, is a government organization that is really a business development center for Ottawa.

[00:03:00] So their goal is to help Ottawa companies, grow and expand and get into the markets they need to get into, et cetera. And of course, one of the big areas of concern for all of us, not just in the tech sector, but mainly in the tech sector here in Ottawa, has been that ability to bring people, into our companies.

[00:03:17] And, you know, it's, it's, I kind of liken it to fighting over the same pieces of pipe. We're all fighting over the same developers, right? All it does is, increase demand and incre increase salaries, which is not a bad thing, but you know, it just ends up we're all fighting over the same people.

[00:03:31] And so what Invest Ottawa has been doing is going out to countries around the world, like globally. and Advertising Ottawa is a great place to work. And so it's been really good in terms of getting recognition for the city and getting a database basically of people who want to immigrate to Canada, for example.

[00:03:49] Um, you know, they, they do it also across Canada so that, they're trying to bring in people from across Canada. But, one of the benefits we've found that's been really good is just having that advertising for Ottawa as a destination. And then suddenly having access to people from South America, the Middle East, Europe, you know, it's, it's been phenomenal in terms of opening up those markets to us without us having to do anything in terms of, having our own presence in those countries, for example.

[00:04:14] And 

[00:04:14] Jon Beck: it certainly helps to have some critical mass in a tech center that exists already. Right? That's the starting point. Yes. Yeah. And, and I, I appreciate the metaphor analogy to the pie and shifting around. I remote work, opened it up sort of. Everybody's still competing for the same folks. I don't think, there's a panacea out there to solve the problem that there's just not enough humans on the planet that have the skillset.

[00:04:35] Right. Um, but I, but I think it's fair, correct me if I'm wrong, to say that y ou guys are looking at a longer time horizon to say, look, this isn't an overnight solution for us. This is a long term, Hey, we want to be known as a destination. And when you get here, there are not only job opportunities cuz there's, some critical mass in terms of a technology hub, but there's also commitment to investment in training and resources.

[00:04:57] Shawn McCormick: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And, and the fact is, you know, it is a real tech hub , in Canada we used to call it Silicon Valley North, right? Yep. Um, you know, and so there is a lot of opportunity once you're here, there's a commitment obviously in terms of companies bringing people in.

[00:05:11] They're looking for, some period that those people stay with them. But the opportunity after that is to move around and grow your career. And there's so many opportunities here to grow because we have so many companies here. Yeah, 

[00:05:22] Jon Beck: it's, it sounds a little cliche, but I think that it takes a village.

[00:05:26] It's not gonna be a single company or a single city or country. There has to be multiple modalities. And I applaud, the fact that the Udemy and other training platforms are taking initiatives. Some colleges are doing that. Uh, cuz the world has changed and there has to be other avenues for people interested in technology, which in this generation is, you know, theoretically everyone because they grew up with a cell phone or a tablet in their hand.

[00:05:50] Exactly. Um, but they're just ha haven't been as many paths and it seems like that changing, which is great. We're obviously in the midst of, you know, per this topic, one of the tightest, and chaotic job markets in, in, in maybe all history. Where are we today and where are we headed? Is it, easier to find talent given the ways to catch people given your days at, at Nochi and Nortel?

[00:06:12] Like, give us a sense of what you think it is today, because there's a lot of mixed messages in the market, in the press. 

[00:06:18] Shawn McCormick: Yeah, I mean, my feeling is it's definitely harder in general, and especially for companies that aren't household names, right? So a, a lot of my time is actually spent promoting Cignet so that people understand, , the significant role that we play in the media and entertainment industry.

[00:06:31] I mean, we are, the premier solution for transferring files in the media and entertainment industry. Now, if you look at the roster of our customers, it's pretty impress. and like everyone in Ottawa has heard of our customer base, but they haven't heard of CIG yet. . Yeah. So, you know, uh, it, it's really something about, getting that name out there so that Cian is a name that people think of and go, well, that sounds like a really cool company.

[00:06:52] I want to go work there. Right. And, and we've been a bit of an unknown, I'll say, uh, especially when you compare ourselves to some of the bigger name companies that are around. But I think anyone that's coming here that's not a household name or that's starting up a company, it is really tough slogging, uh, trying to bring people in, right?

[00:07:09] Um, they just, you know, they don't know about you. They don't hear about you, so it's really tough. , 

[00:07:15] Jon Beck: but I think you've nailed it with the fact that you're talking about your mission and the customers that you serve. There was a blog piece that came out, this week and I wrote something about the ripple effect of Silicon Valley Bank here in the Bay Area and how the startup market with funding and that sort of thing is gonna be competitive.

[00:07:31] There are larger companies and companies with specific missions that are now reaching out and really doing a much better job of explaining. Why you would want to come for work for this company, not just because they have ping pong tables and beer on tap, but because you're gonna work on cool stuff, you're gonna be part of something that's maybe more important to you personally.

[00:07:49] Yeah. Um, and it feels like companies are getting smarter like that. You certainly are. Um, is it harder or easier to pull somebody across with what you're doing today and saying, oh, but I wanna work for Google or Apple cause I need to get my resume stamped with that.

[00:08:01] Is that harder 

[00:08:01] Shawn McCormick: or easier today? Uh, well, it's, it's been harder and especially, you know, for a while there those companies were reaching into Canada and stealing a lot of the talent from Canada. Right. Yeah. So, um, you know, it's definitely, it's pretty tough to compete with them and especially, if somebody goes to the Silicon Valley.

[00:08:18] The salaries just aren't, there's no way we can touch what they're getting offered from those companies. Right. The, the FANG companies are just, impossible I'll say to compete with. Right. Um, but you know, where we can compete is on the culture that we create. And so we spend a lot of time trying to make it.

[00:08:33] Really an employee centered culture here at ent. Right. And I think those things, the people that are here, they appreciate the fact that we're doing those things and trying to make it an environment that's very conducive to growing, learning, developing, picking up the latest technologies.

[00:08:48] Working with other people, in a great environment. , I think we've got one of the best environments in terms of, developers with, uh, a real low ego and, uh, everyone kind of helps everyone else out. So, yeah, 

[00:09:00] Jon Beck: you mentioned US companies crossing the border and stealing talent in Canada and setting up operations as well too.

[00:09:07] I speak from experience. We just went through this exercise as a company and, uh, when I told board members and other people about our intentions to turn up in Canada, um, a lot of the response like, oh, it's Canada, it's cross border. That shouldn't be too difficult. And, and Americans admittedly, don't appreciate or have the respect and quite frankly of, Hey, this is a different country with different laws and benefits and entitlements and that sort of, What advice, not that you want to give away any trade tickets, but if you're a US based company looking to, to enter into Canada, what advice do you give them?

[00:09:37] Because it is obviously very different. 

[00:09:40] Shawn McCormick: Well, other than don't try to steal my staff. , . Um, you know, I, I think, one of the things is is Canadians are used to fairly strong benefits packages, so, a lot of companies in the US have a a two weeks vacation as a minimum, and then after a while you get three weeks kind of thing.

[00:09:56] Well, . You know, I think Canadians are used to more of that. We kind of have this, uh, work hard play hard kind of balance where, people work really hard, but then, they need their time off to recuperate from working really hard. So, um, I think that's one of the things that's different.

[00:10:10] Uh, you know, we're not, I wouldn't say we're European and culture, but maybe a little bit more towards that than towards the, uh, the American culture in terms of those benefits. Right. and, the country in general has, a lot of benefits in terms of, things like healthcare and things like that.

[00:10:25] So, those things end up being cheaper. But, and then in, then there's other things that, you know, you end up needing to spend a bit more on in terms of like, time off and, and that, so, 

[00:10:34] Jon Beck: yeah. And the work-life balance you mentioned earlier about Silicon Valley salaries. . Um, there's the lot of talk in the staffing talent worlds about where the power lies between worker and employer.

[00:10:49] There was a blog post recently that said the shift is back to the employer. Uh, I'll tell you personally, I think that's a terrible even conversation to have that there's a power struggle here. It should be symbiotic if you're doing it. But, but I'd love to hear your thoughts whether you agree in that statement, and if you even think that's the right way the relationship would go.

[00:11:07] And I think I know the answer. No, I, I, 

[00:11:09] Shawn McCormick: I think, you said it exactly right. I think it's totally the wrong way in general, right? There needs to be a balance between the worker and the employee. And talented software people can work just with anywhere they want. And even now, like even in, even in the worst of times, like when the Ottawa was melting down, the best people always had jobs, right?

[00:11:26] So, You, you know, if you want your best people to leave, sure. Then, then you can start exerting some power over them. But, a few wrong moves are gonna put you in a huge disadvantage where you know those top workers. Will and can go somewhere else, like they'll, they'll look around and say, well, this is not the kind of environment I wanna work in.

[00:11:45] Right? So I think they still have the majority of the power because there is so many, uh, choices and options out there for them. So, yeah. 

[00:11:52] Jon Beck: Not to mention reputation, because that sort of thing, starts to spread pretty quickly. Oh yeah. Do you, do you support remote 

[00:11:59] Shawn McCormick: work for your. We do. So, uh, like we, we've been working kind of in a, in a strange remote se scenario like everyone else for the last three years.

[00:12:10] We've got a fairly large office that actually expanded during covid, which was, Something we wouldn't have done if we'd known Covid was coming. Uh, so, , we encourage people to come in and use the office as it makes sense for them. So some of the teams come in once a week or so. Some come in once every two weeks.

[00:12:25] It's really up to the indivi individual teams that, you know, in terms of using it as a tool where they can get the most out of it as, as they can. But, in general, I think software development is one of those things where we actually get more outta people when they have a quiet environment Yeah.

[00:12:40] In which they can go off and do software development. Right. Like the, the office can be noisy when it's full. So, it's definitely something that we, we're gonna continue to support. 

[00:12:50] Jon Beck: It feels like we're landing at the flex model three to four days in office, depending on what's going on in the company profile, and then a couple days from home.

[00:13:00] For the younger generation and especially those that have only known remote work, and you and I are, I think of the same, decade of life. Like that's a great deal. Uh mm-hmm. to have a couple days of flexibility and, it gives you the opportunity to have those. Water cooler discussions and to sit in a room together and build the team dynamic, but also to go and as you said, get your work done and put your head down, , and also have that work-life balance, which is important as well too.

[00:13:24] So I think that's for sure, that's ultimately where this lands as well too. You're a 200 person company. I, I blogged, , this week about startup companies. Again, in the wake of the Silicon Valley. Debacle that a lot of star companies haven't typically thought about contingent labor, especially in that point of their evolution.

[00:13:40] They're looking for those first full-time developers that are gonna, take them from infancy to, to stardom. Um, mm-hmm. , do you leverage contingent and how do you look at the two? Um, or, or as different or not? 

[00:13:53] Shawn McCormick: Yeah. So I mean, the type of work we do in general, requires more full-time developers.

[00:13:58] And the reason for that is, our systems are fairly complex in the backend and there's a lot of knowledge required. So the ramp up time in our investment. Are both huge, uh, , you know, um, so it takes a long time for somebody to get up to speed and it takes a lot of our investments. So the last thing we want is that, that to go away, right?

[00:14:17] So, or disappear. So, it's been kind of difficult to get contingent, uh, to help with that, and we've been more focused on, on full-time. Now that being said, there are some types of work where we do, for example, sustaining of an older product or. And we've outsourced some of that where we have a couple of reliable contractors that we've been using over the years, to do that and, and provide those services because, you can't do everything in-house, especially as the company grows and ages, you end up with different generations and eras of products and, if you're going to support them, it's, it's oftentimes easier to do that, somewhere else.

[00:14:51] Jon Beck: Yeah. Let alone find the talent that's available to do the work, uh, which may not be as, uh, as sexy as, as the next new thing. Sean, we're gonna go into the speed round, and ask you a few questions just to get to know you, a little bit of your preferences. First and foremost, are you a Zoom teams or other kind of person?

[00:15:07] Zoom, . 

[00:15:09] Shawn McCormick: I've had to use teams in the past. I don't care for it . 

[00:15:12] Jon Beck: So that makes two of us in the two do not play nice together. Uh, surprise, surprise, uh, phone choice, apple, Samsung, or. 

[00:15:20] Shawn McCormick: I've been an Apple guy basically since, the first iPhone came out, so, pretty stuck on it. Do you were at 

[00:15:26] Jon Beck: Nokia, the legendary 33 10.

[00:15:28] Do, do, do you still own one? It's probably worth something today. 

[00:15:31] Shawn McCormick: I do. I still have one. . It still works. The last time I tried it. Yeah. And that, that phone took a lot of abuse. I mean, I drove over in a parking lot, like, it's just unbelievable what that phone went through and it still worked. So it 

[00:15:43] Jon Beck: was, you know, that's where the term, I still use it today.

[00:15:45] It's a little dated, but I'm like, call me on the brick. Like, why are you calling it the brick? Like, well, that's what they kind of look like back in the day. 

[00:15:51] Shawn McCormick: Yeah. I, I wish I'd kept, I had a Nokia at E six, which was one of their first keyboard phones that they had. Yeah. I wish I'd kept it because I love that phone.

[00:16:00] It, it was an engineer's phone. Totally. Like, you know, it was not user-friendly at all. . Yeah. Nice. But it was an awesome 

[00:16:06] Jon Beck: machine. I probably still have about 10 cords, that are all no good, good. Compat, I gotta throw at some point. , chat. G p t. Good, bad, scary tour early to tell. What do you. 

[00:16:17] Shawn McCormick: I think it's amazing.

[00:16:18] I think it's gonna change everything. It's, I can't think of a, an industry, it's not going to impact. It is probably gonna have some negative consequences along with it. But I think, you know, it's just, The ability of, of collating that information and making it available in a conversational type mode is just, where you can refine and refine and refine your answers.

[00:16:39] It's just, it's pretty amazing. Like, I, I'm a wine guy and, I just read this week that Chachi PT had passed the first three theory exams required to become a master sommelier, 

[00:16:49] Jon Beck: like . Not all. That's one I have not heard. 

[00:16:52] Shawn McCormick: Yeah, and like those exams are like brutal. Like I've taken Somalia courses, like to doing the master.

[00:16:58] Like it's, it's unbelievable. So the fact that it passed the first three theory exams already, it's, 

[00:17:04] Jon Beck: well, I, I guess they, it cha it can't taste yet, so, uh, yeah, that's true. Yeah. Interest. Other than ai, which is used on too many companies and technology, what technology or trend are you most excited about?

[00:17:22] What technology or 

[00:17:23] Shawn McCormick: trend? I think, some of the newer, programming languages that are coming along, um, you know, we're using Go Lang here. Yeah. It's one of the ones that was invented at Google. It's not that gold. But it's really revolutionizing, I think, how we do software development. Like it's just, it's got so much thought put into it and takes away so many of the pains of some of the other language, low level languages that we've used.

[00:17:48] It's just, , it's unbelievable. And there's other ones coming, like, you know, rust is taking off as well. Like there's, there's a bunch of them that are just, I think people have put a lot of thought into these and they're like, okay, how do we, how do we go to the next generation of languages?

[00:18:01] Right? Yeah. So, 

[00:18:02] Jon Beck: and the, pace of innovation and, and improvements is just accelerating too, which is, yeah, it's the amazing thing. Best boss you ever 

[00:18:10] Shawn McCormick: had and why. Was there any great answer other than my current boss?

[00:18:18] Jon Beck: Listen, if he's listening, they're not, 

[00:18:20] Shawn McCormick: not, I, I, I've had, I, I've really benefited from a lot of great bosses over the years and a lot of them with different skills. But I think, one of the bosses I had in my Nortel days, his name was Peter Benedict, , he really epitomized a principle-centered leader.

[00:18:34] And, everything he did was based on, , Principles like that he held, , very dear to his heart and he was always raising the bar for his entire organization. And that taught me a lot about leading others and also stretched me to try new things. And it instilled that sense of we can do better, we can do better, like all the time.

[00:18:53] He's probably the one I would think of the most nice shout out 

[00:18:56] Jon Beck: to. Peter, last question for you, Sean. Every guest gets it. We throw you in the way back machine. , what one piece of advice do you tell yourself with all the things that you know and have experienced today, do you tell yourself, starting out in your career, 

[00:19:12] Shawn McCormick: Uh, buy Apple Stock,

[00:19:16] , but seriously, I I, I've seen some crazy highs and lows in the tech sector. I went through, , think about a dozen rounds of layoffs at Nortel. I laid off hundreds of people over my career and I used to lose so much sleep over having to let go members of my team. Hmm. And I would tell my old self not to worry about it so much because you know what?

[00:19:33] Those people will all be okay because tech always bounces back. , even if it feels like it won't at the time, like when we're in the lowest of the lows, it's still, it dug its way back out. And it's new technologies, new types of products we're working on, new companies spring up, , everything works out in the end and, , it's just not worth, that much stress that you put on yourself at the time.

[00:19:53] Boy, 

[00:19:54] Jon Beck: that is topical. Sage advice given the world that we're living in today, and you're absolutely right. And downturns, the, the. Best companies, rise from not the ashes is maybe too extreme, but that's the cycle that we have. So I think that's , really prudent. Sean, listen, thank you so much for coming on and, sharing, some of your background and advice and, and musings on the world.

[00:20:16] And, we'll keep an eye on things and love to have you back on and compare notes and see if, uh, you and I are both right. And if Apple stock is still. 

[00:20:25] Shawn McCormick: Well, you're most welcome. It's been a lot of fun. John. 

[00:20:26] Jon Beck: If, people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do so? 

[00:20:30] Shawn McCormick: Uh, LinkedIn, uh, or ask McCormick sign.com.

[00:20:34] Perfect. 

[00:20:35] Jon Beck: Again, Sean, thank you for our listeners. As always, keep grinding, keep the faith and keep safe, and we will see you next time on Hiring University. Thanks again, John. Thanks, 

[00:20:45] Shawn McCormick: John.