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Apr 27 2016

Filling the Engineering Skills Gap

When a company grows, it no doubt looks to its leadership to navigate those exciting - and challenging - changes that are bound to happen, and ensure the evolution is strategic and effective. In the case of MojoTech LLC, a software designer and developer of web applications that has doubled in size over the last two years, one of those leaders is its chief technology officer, Chris Shoemaker.

"We believe it is his characteristic discipline and patience, paired with his appetite for hard work, that is responsible for MojoTech’s accelerated growth," said founder and CEO Nick Kishfy.

Kishfy goes on to break down Shoemaker’s role in the growth of the company, which was named the 42nd fastest-growing software company in America by Inc. magazine in 2014. "Since joining MojoTech eight years ago, Chris has helped expand the engineering team from five to over 25 engineers," he said of Shoemaker, who has previously worked as a software consultant, software architect and scientist for the U.S. Navy. "Chris single-handedly designed the engineering methodology at MojoTech - which is rivaled only by some of the best software engineering companies in the world."

As the CTO, Shoemaker is charged with being a kind of meta-engineer. His concern is not only how to engineer software, but to engineer the team that makes that software in a way that positions it for success. It’s a job description that seems tailor-made for him. He’s long been concerned with understanding how things work.

Shoemaker described his first experiences playing around with his parents’ IBM PC-X2: "I liked taking things apart and putting them back together, the tinkering mentality," he said. "Figuring out how the pieces fit together."

In fact, Shoemaker took that DIY approach so far that, as an undergraduate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, he chose to major in physics instead of computer science. "I think it was a mix of foolish local hubris thinking that I had learned everything there was to learn about computers," he observed wryly. "But it was also an interest in getting a good value out of my college education."

After a junior year abroad in Switzerland exposed him to some graduate-level computer science courses, the draw of the tinkering proved all too strong. He set back on a path to learn and grow in the computer science field as he pursued a master’s degree at WPI.

Fast-forward a few decades, and that’s exactly what Shoemaker is up to at MojoTech, only these days, it’s on a larger scale. "I’ve been leading engineering since the beginning, but that looks a little bit different when there’s three of you than when there’s 40 of you," he said. "Most of our growth has been engineers."

Managing that growth has been an essential part of Shoemaker’s day-to-day work at MojoTech. And he acknowledged that, as a leader, he’s had to adapt as the company has grown. "It means being able to delegate a lot, and that’s something that I do a lot more of than I used to," he said. "It means empowering people to leverage their own strengths by giving them opportunities to do well. And it involves trust. If you hire good people, you can trust them to rise to the challenge."

Attracting, hiring and training that talent is what Shoemaker called his biggest responsibility. Kishfy emphasized: "This is no small feat in an economy where ready-made, highly skilled engineers are scarce. As a solution, Chris has taken it upon himself to build the next generation of Mojo-Tech engineers."

One of those hires is engineering mentor Mike McDermott, who now manages the engineering team in the company’s Providence office. He said that Shoemaker’s example has helped make him not only a better engineer, but a better manager.

"He cares a lot about making sure everybody grows," said McDermott of Shoemaker. "We don’t come into the world knowing how to build software - it’s a skill that we all can get better at and should continue working hard at. He instilled that mindset at MojoTech."

By all accounts, that mindset is paying dividends, not just in increases in revenue and company size, but in the satisfaction of MojoTech’s team. The company has been named one of Providence’s Best Places To Work for two years running by Providence Business News.

This article originally appeared as a commemorative supplement in the Providence Business News' C-Suite Awards Program by Jenn Salcido, contributing writer PBN

Courtney Fanning