Software and other technology products are ever-present. As we use them at home, work and school, it can be easy scroll through the day, assuming they’ll always be here. Look closer at the jobs of those who build technology, however, and it’s clear that these products aren’t inevitable.
In the end, engineers are creating something new. That means constant work to balance what’s desired, and what’s possible. It requires designing systems, questioning assumptions and solving problems. Each app or piece of hardware is the result of numerous cycles of designing, developing, testing and learning.
It takes skills and the right tools, to be sure, but it also takes leadership and humility.
So, we think it’s worth taking a moment to honor the professionals who are doing the work to put something new into the world every day. They’re pushing AI to new boundaries, building with new programming languages, creating new processes and spreading knowledge to others in their companies and communities.
Meet Technical.ly’s third annual RealLIST Engineers. This is our curated list of influential technologists that are key contributors on their teams, and in Baltimore. It’s a mix of professionals across roles and organizations. They’re being recognized just as much for how they shape people as systems. We think you’ll find a common willingness to put in the work, collaborate, lead and teach.
So, you might ask, how did we decide who’s real? It started with a public call for nominations. Then, we consulted technologists and looked back through our own coverage. We considered how the person in mind was influential within their organization or community, how they overcame a specific technical challenge and how this person contributed to educating others on technical issues. Shoutout to Ben Garvey, Anthony Putignano and Kris Molendyke for helping us with the technical review.
With that, here’s the third edition of Baltimore’s RealLIST Engineers, with honorees listed in alphabetical order:
Richard Awojoodu, software test engineer, Fearless
Awojoodu’s role plays an influential role in the process for delivering new software at the downtown Baltimore digital services agency. As a test engineer, he makes sure work meets the criteria needed for delivery to a client. But he just doesn’t show up at the end. In this role, he has helped to develop “context driven testing,” which ensures test engineers are embedded in the development process. This means he and other engineers can put together a proactive plan for how each element of a tool will be tested.
Awojoodu also works on coaching with Airmen through the U.S. Air Force’s software factory, called BESPIN ARMS, which is bringing skills from private industry to equip those serving in the military with skills in cybersecurity and app development.
And he is considering technology’s impact by working with a team to create a model for understanding inherent bias in AI. This includes a tool for assessments, which results in strategic planning to reduce bias in AI projects.
An IT engineer from East Baltimore, Best recognized how the COVID-19 pandemic made divides around digital literacy, affordability and access to technology even more acute. As society transitioned to telework, online learning and telehealth, she saw the effect it had on Black communities, where the digital divide has a disproportionate impact. She saw it as having the potential to be “another systemic layer” to the struggles faced within Black communities.
To provide a solution, she created the Baltimore Tech Hub, leading a team that built partnerships with city officials and community organizations to raise awareness and brainstorm solutions. This inspired two upcoming programs focused on training for seniors and parents, respectively, that are focused on “creating a supportive, accessible and resourceful space for community members to increase tech engagement, digital literacy and understand how technology could empower our lives in a daily and support families learning together,” as Best put it. The Hub runs educational workshops, community-based events, networking sessions and and pop-up shops.
Best works as a leader in the web dev and cybersecurity team at the brokerage Charles Schwab, ensuring that web applications and clients are secure, as well as other security initiatives.
I’Shea Boyd, data scientist, Arena Analytics
With Arena Analytics, Boyd develops algorithms to reduce bias in the labor market. In this role, Boyd developed one of the augmented AI solutions to scale an employment ontology across multiple verticals. She also leads seminars with audiences ranging from executives to technologists.
Outside of her work at the Otterbein-based company, she founded BitView, a pre-college program at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Focused on students’ STEM exploration, this brought together a cohort of students with current college student mentors to discuss topics like obtaining funding and adjusting to college life. During the pandemic, BitView served a total of 44 students, recruited 35 volunteers and taught 11 coding and leadership classes. Two coding classes are starting this month. It also expanded to Bowie High School. She is a math tutor with UpWard Bound, and frequent speaker to middle and school students, as well.
Wrote her nominator: “As a young professional, she promotes the philosophy that, ‘there is no minimum age before one can begin serving our community. With each milestone and stage in life, we gain the skills and tools that can help someone else reach a similar milestone. Why wait to begin helping and sharing knowledge with others? The world is always changing, share your knowledge while it’s still relevant.’”
With an education at MICA that prepared her for a career in game design, Chang was propelled by an interest in virtual reality to become the cofounder of game development firm Studio 217 alongside then-classmate Cole Pritchard. The independent studio created VR games like Mister Mart, exploring how the technology could be used to delight.
Chang is now applying these design, development and gaming skills to healthcare, as well. She is an XR generalist at Columbia-based healthcare organization Baltimore MedStar Health, creating training simulations to help healthcare professionals learn. It shows the range of possibilites with VR.
While running a game studio and working inside a healthcare institution are different roles, there’s a commonality to approach of design with the user in mind, and improving on each iteration.
Sean Clark, CTO and cofounder, Whitebox
The ecommerce tech company has grown in recent years by adding big brands to the platform, bigger spaces to fulfill orders and expansion beyond Baltimore. Clark leads the team that develops the company’s technology, which helps companies sell, move and market products, with a focus on automating processes. In the early days of the company, “late nights and early mornings Sean put in” helped to build the company into what it is, his nominator wrote.
With 15 years of experience in product and technology, Clark is also an active contributor to open source projects, and created a YouTube channel with training on programming.
Tony DiChiara, head of technology, Balti Virtual
Credited as “a talented engineer with no ego and an amazing can-do attitude,” DiChiara overhauled the development process at the Port Covington-based virtual and augmented reality studio, helping to make work more scalable and predictable. His work included a transition from app-first to web-first augmented reality projects.
This meant training the team on new technology, programming languages and platforms, while creating a more stable and consistent development environment.
He is also a valued mentor to junior members of the team. Last summer, he helped a student came to the company through last summer’s Baltimore Tracks high school internship program to learn 3D web development and create a simple game.
Adam Douglass, CEO, 5th Floor
Back in 2020, companies had to spin up capabilities for delivery overnight, as COVID-19 meant businesses had to close for in-person experiences. Seeing the coming change, Taharka Brothers Ice Cream reached out to Douglass. By the end of a weekend, the company had a web application in place to enable a shift to a direct-to-consumer model via home delivery. It ended up powering one of the most-loved treats to support local businesses in the pandemic.
It was just an example of Douglass’ work with local technologists to make technology concepts a reality.
“Adam always wants the people he consults with to understand the tech he’s working on. It’s important that the companies and entrepreneurs are part of the process,” his nominator wrote. “For Adam, the more they understand the tech the better they will be able to partner together to build the best solution.”
Dan Dutrow, director of software engineering, Qualytics
At the 18-month-old company focused on keeping bad data out of company systems, Dutrow built the engineering team, software development process and discovery in product and design. Prior to that, he led data engineering and customer solutions teams at Baltimore-based Protenus. He started at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where he created a crowdsourced innovation platform called Ignition Grants.
He’s an active contributor to Baltimore Tracks, the coalition of companies focused on building more diverse tech workforces, and ran the software internship program at Qualytics. He also serves on the board and as technical director of Camp Opportunity of Maryland, a nonprofit which is focused on breaking the cycle of child abuse.
Jeff Finlay, technical director, Instant Teams
The technical lead at the remote team marketplace has been instrumental in development of the company’s technology, as he came to the company at the beginning of a platform redesign. Taking over the code base from an outsourced developer, Finlay took on the roles of systems engineer, database administrator, full stack developer and product manager all in one.
He was also credited by his nominator with being a great communicator that leads a company-wide training for the remote team to provide insight into the tech teams’ work. He’s also team builder who is passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion. He’s a “patient teacher” who takes a “humble approach” in coaching others, and frequent’y receives kudos for how he offers guidance. Finlay also offers a warm welcome to new team members.
Matthew Ford, principal architect, Protenus
The principal artificial intelligence architect at the Fells Point-based healthcare compliance analytics company, Ford tackled problems that were new to AI to help the company’s technology work in hospital settings. This included recent work on the company’s drug diversion surveillance, specifically dealing with issues around “dirty data” that improved the AI.
“In his role as an architect at Protenus, he brings a great combination of strong technical skills and leadership qualities that we leverage to both improve our products and grow our engineering capabilities,” a colleague wrote. “Matt especially stands out for his approachable nature, and an innate ‘gift’ for teaching others — making him a favorite colleague in our organization that others truly enjoy working with.”
He is also constantly looking outward for the latest AI developments that he can bring to the team, figure out what’s worth pursuing and educating colleagues.
Tronster Hartley, technical team lead and senior software engineer, Firaxis Games
The UX/UI team lead and a senior software engineer at the Hunt Valley-based game development studio that created Sid Meier’s Civilization and XCOM, Hartley plays a leadership role on a studio that has been influential for the video game industry as a whole.
He is also involved in community work, and interested in the next generation. A frequent speaker, he teaches at local universities including University of Baltimore and UMBC, and is active with the Baltimore chapter of the International Game Developer’s Association, and leading gaming efforts at the Music and Gaming Festival (MAGFest). Earlier this year, he shared with Technical.ly his path to the video game industry, and thoughts on bringing more diversity to game development workforces.
Among the vanguard of a medical device community working to use technology to expand access to care, Henker led development of the Remington-based company’s blood autotransfusion device, called the Hemafuse. A surgical tool that is designed to recycle a patient’s own blood during surgery, it’s a key solution in areas where there are blood shortages. Currently, it is being used in Ghana and Kenya. Henker also led a team of engineers and partners to propel the device to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance for use in military applications as a single-use product.
Alex Housand, developer, SmartLogic
A developer at the remote-first, Baltimore-founded software development consultancy, Housand is known on the team for providing insightful research and asking the right questions, her nominator said. She was instrumental in the company’s push to build its first application in the programming language Flutter, learning how to create apps from scratch.
Housand is serving as a mentor to junior technologists this fall, as the company welcomes a new cohort as part of its developer apprentice program, which is a paid program preparing participants to become full-stack developers at SmartLogic, or beyond.
She is a cohost of the Elixir Wizards podcast, serving to connect the community around the programming language Elixir, serving as the primary host on the upcoming season.
Jal Irani, CEO, Flave
With Flave, a restaurant discovery app (and RealLIST Startups honoree), Irani has led development of the company’s mobile apps, which launched recently in both app stores earlier this year. With the startup, he sought to put his technology skills to boosting local businesses, at a time when the pandemic has led to struggles for many.
Giving back to the local tech community is also an important part of Irani’s work. He returned to Towson University’s StarTUP Accelerator this year as a mentor to other companies, and is active with ecosystem orgs like UpSurge Baltimore. Irani is an educator of technologists, as well. He is a lecturer in various programming and computer science classes at Towson and Johns Hopkins.
If you want to get a hint of the connection he feels to building a local community of technologists, just listen to the pride he speaks with when mentioning that his team is made up mostly of alums from Baltimore universities.
Rockville-based Phase Electronics produces printed circuit boards used in medical devices, airplanes and military equipment. Regnier’s role is not just in building the physical electronics boards that power hardware, but in guiding clients through the production process, which involves evaluating designs for feasibility and manufacturing. The company offers prototyping, as well as full production. As an engineer, Reigner has also worked to evolve his skillset as well as the processes and machinery at Phase Electronics.
Among the company’s recent work is prosthetics controller boards for downtown Baltimore-based Infinite Biomedical Technologies. With knowledge of the process and how components would be affected by changes to the design, Reigner helped the company navigate a global parts shortage to successful manufacturing that remained within time and budget constraints.
It’s a familiar sight to see Reigner leading tours of the facility for a new generation of engineers, providing an up-close look at how such facilities work, and how design decision affect manufacturing.
Eric Saari, principal software engineer, cloudtamer.io
One of the founding engineers at the Fulton-based cloud governance company, Saari was a key builder of the company’s software product and financial structures to help customers control cloud spend. He’s a thoughtful contributor that has made changes to elements like financial queries and a report processor that resulted in performance gains for customers, as well as tackled challenges like deciding when to optimize a product and when to ship.
He’s just as influential as a team member, running lunch and learns, mentoring developers and continuously sharing thoughts on Slack to keep teams updated amid remote work. His nominator also pointed out that Saari is willing to make mistakes. That sets an example.
Eric Solender, cofounder and chief technology officer, MindStand Technologies
Solender started building tech for the common good in high school. While a student at UMBC, he became the behind-the-scenes leader building Baltimore-based MindStand’s AI platform with a mission to create safe and secure spaces for diverse, online communities. In particular, his love for object-oriented programming shines through.
“In whiteboard rooms, Eric’s eyes light up when we are stumped on connecting our machine learning research to user-friendly data insights,” a colleague who nominated him wrote.
Solender has worked to ensure MindStand’s technology and is a contributor in the open source community. Graph database provider Neo4J tapped Solender to work with programmers around the world.
Brent Stees, technical manager, Catalyte
Rather than background or demographics, Catalyte works to help develop software engineering professionals based on ability and potential. Stees “epitomizes” this cultural value, his nominator wrote, in a role where he guides an engineering staff made up of team members that come from nontraditional backgrounds. A longtime technical leader on projects at the company and mentor, he also built internship programs at two other companies where he mentored folks with no prior experience to become web developers.
“His ability to grow their technical skills, while helping them overcome imposter syndrome and advance through an unfamiliar corporate environment is a testament to his ability to educate and his dedication to creating a more equitable tech industry,” his nominator wrote.
He has also solved key technical challenges. He led efforts to build a remote version of a client’s in-person training offering, which ended up being a primary driver of revenue when the pandemic arrived. He also led the modernization effort for Catalyte’s proprietary machine learning talent discovery platform.
Paul Tyng, staff software engineer, Slack
A familiar face at events in Baltimore’s tech community, Tyng currently works on the messaging team at Slack, the messaging platform that has taken on even more importance to companies and communities as they shifted to remote work in the pandemic. (Join Technical.ly’s Slack here!) Prior, he was an engineering director at HashiCorp for the open source tool Terraform, where he frequently wrote new integrations, including automating his own home network using Terraform and Infrastructure as Code.
In the community, Tyng organizes the Baltimore Go Meetup, where he frequently writes on technical topics. He has also been active with community orgs like Code in the Schools, and is a frequent mentor within the company.
Devin Weaver, head of engineering, Project Waves
A Baltimore native, Weaver had an early interest in technology that led to a career start in a networking engineering role in the for-profit sector. He soon saw how tech talent could be put to work to help the city, and created the Baltimore Internet Exchange Point to keep web traffic local.
Now, Weaver is working in a tech leadership role with Project Waves, the community internet service provider aiming to address digital inequity by connecting families to free internet access through point-to-point networks that broadcast a signal from city rooftops.
He led the company through its largest project to date in the spring of 2021, as it connected 217 units in the Johnston Square Apartments to high-speed, residential internet service. Project Waves partnered with LiteCloud to build 1.5 miles of new fiber. Then, Weaver designed, implemented and oversaw the project to connect low-income, senior housing. He supported a team of young technicians who recently completed workforce development training program NPower. His “detail-oriented and creative approach to leadership” was key to lighting it up, his nominator wrote.
Chris Zietlow, engineering manager, Mindgrub
A manager of 14 engineers at the Locust Point-based tech agency, Zietlow has overseen large-scale Drupal-based web projects. He has emerged as an accessibility advocate at the company, pushing particularly for integrations in the CI/CD pipeline for web engineers.
“Chris is always pushing for his engineers to be up-to-date with the latest technology and understand how their work impacts the Baltimore community,” his nominator wrote.