Today we have selected Adam Sandman. He is the Founder and CEO of Inflectra Corporation. Adam Sandman started coding at the age of 10 and has been working in the IT industry for the past 30 years in areas such as architecture, agile development, testing, and project management. At Inflectra, Adam has been leading the research on emerging technologies, cutting-edge product functionality, challenges, and solutions in software testing, quality assurance, and IT product management.
Adam is a prolific speaker, whose recent speaking engagements include STAR East (2021), STAR West (2020), Agile DevOps West (2020), STPCon (2018 – 2020), EuroSTAR (2020), Swiss Testing Day (2019, 2020), InflectraCon (2019, 2020), TestingMind (2019, 2020) and STAR Canada (2019).
First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?
It has been a tumultuous time at Inflectra, the past year. We have a team that spans multiple countries, so at any given time, the story is bifurcated between the places doing well and those dealing with another wave of the virus. Right now we’re seeing businesses and the economy opening in the US and our USA team are all vaccinated and ready to go. Our teams in Brazil and India are still worrying about the virus, their families, and loved ones. So I think overall our team has been courageous and strong over the past year, and the solidarity and feeling of “being in it together” have been a great support network for all of us. Honestly, it has made us closer as a team and bonded us in adversity.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded this company?
In 2006, I founded Inflectra – a US-based tech company that builds platforms for Software Development Lifecycle Management with quality engineering at its core. I was previously a management consultant at Sapient and although I enjoyed the stimulation and variety of consulting, I had a young family and the lifestyle was wearing me down. So I founded Inflectra to be a different kind of company, one that puts family and life flexibility at the center, not just a slogan to be wheeled out once a year when it was fashionable. You can see that in our core values, employees, and how we do business.
How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
When the virus first hit in February / March 2020, we were relatively well prepared. We had seen it coming (from our partners & customers in Italy and China) so we made some technology platform investments ahead of time to facilitate remote working and we moved to flexible work from home or work from office arrangements with a precautions model to suit everyone’s needs.
The pandemic has been trying for us like all companies, but fortunately, we cater to companies in relatively essential industries (healthcare, insurance, utilities, defense, aerospace, and supply chain/logistics) so the impact has been less. We did lose some customers in 2020 to the financial impact of the virus, but luckily the move to online collaboration and working from home increased the need for our Software-as-a-Service products and services. The main difference was that the usual mix between new business and upsell/cross-sell opportunities changed, as many new projects were put on hold until mid-2021. Now that the virus is easing in the USA and elsewhere, we’re seeing many of those projects come back online.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
The hard choices were to cut some costs in early 2020- that meant not renewing some temporary staff contracts and cut back on some other non-labor expenses. Luckily that gave us enough runway to survive the year without letting go of any of our permanent employees and without reducing the breadth of our marketing and brand-building efforts globally. By the end of 2020, we were hiring again. The other hard choice counterintuitively was to buck the industry trend and not mandate 100% work from home. We had a minority of employees that had sub-optimal environments to work from at home, and we offered them the option to work from the office (with the necessary precautions) which was a real boost to their morale. Our core values of family and life flexibility really helped us I think.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Some of the tools we have used to keep connected include the obvious: Google Meet/Chat, GotoMeeting, Discord, our own SpiraPlan platform, plus other less obvious ones such as Gather. town (for events). Throughout 2020, we hosted a series of happy hour industry events called #TipsyTesting that blended (pun intended) serious content on software testing, quality engineering, automation, agile transformation, and leadership with cocktails (it was inspired by the Drunk History TV show). We held a quarterly fun software hackathon event called “TestBowl”, both of which introduced a bit of light-hearted entertainment and helped keep us connected to influencers in our industry as well as customers and partners.
How does your company innovate?
As a company, we innovate in many ways, listening to our customers (but not blindly following their suggestions), keeping a finger on the pulse of the emerging market trends, having blue-sky sessions, and encouraging everyone to read widely outside of our field. Sometimes you get inspiration from ideas in other industries and disciplines which won’t happen if we’re all in the same echo chamber. I’m a big fan of the “What’s the least bad idea?” exercise. We have found some really good ideas once you get rid of the stigma of having a “bad idea”. Some of our crazier ideas included rappelling (abseiling) down the outside of a competitor’s building with spray paint (never done).
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
While we build our software platforms – SpiraPlan and Rapise to seamlessly and widely integrate with other tools on the market, we do not exist in a competition-free environment. Our competitors include such giants as Atlassian, Microsoft, IBM, and Computer Associates as well as many smaller companies funded by Private Equity. To stay in the game we have to play to our strengths which include agility, nimbleness, focus on customer satisfaction, fair pricing and licensing, and taking the longer-term view.
Your Final Thoughts
Finally, it has been a tough year despite the successes, and every day we’ve had to work 100 times harder to just stay in the same place. Now we’re looking forward to the much-hyped post-pandemic economic boom and hoping that our ideas of balancing work, family, and career will become mainstream.