Hack & Tell Sponsor Series: Northwestern Mutual

November 12th 2018

Our newest sponsor is Northwestern Mutual, one of many partners advancing the Milwaukee Tech Hub movement. Their engineers are very active in the technical community, hosting, attending, and speaking at many of the meetups in the area. The effort they put in to growing their technical staff really shows throughout the rest of the community.

We got the chance to ask some questions to Tony Gemoll – a staple in the programmer community – about what its like working at Northwestern Mutual.

Who are you and what do you do at Northwestern Mutual?

I am Tony Gemoll and am Sr. Enterprise Architect. My role on the team is that of internal consultant helping other teams with people, process, and technology. I will help up skill and mentor, bootstrap an effort to help it get started, or just be available to answer questions. It really depends on what the solution is for that need we are filling.

What technologies do you work with on a regular basis?

I mainly work with our frontend stack at NM. That consists of JavaScript, React, Node with our apps being deployed in Docker containers in kubernetes in AWS. But because of my roles on EA, I have had my chance to work in many different areas of NM’s stack.

What are the most exciting technologies you see other teams working with?

We have teams that are doing some awesome work with virtual and augmented reality. A great example is Butterfly Island, an app that was created to provide relaxation and enjoyment for kids with childhood cancer and their families during stressful procedures and treatments. We also have a data science group which is working to leverage machine learning at NM.

Northwestern Mutual employees sure do host a lot of local meetups, is that actively encouraged by management or mostly driven by employees desire to participate in community events?

Both. Our employees love to participate in the local community for all sorts of reasons. NM sees the participation as a benefit for both the company and the community as a whole. So it is supported and encouraged for our employees to participate where possible.

What is your favorite part of working at Northwestern Mutual?

Free lunch! Joking aside, my favorite part of NM is the freedom I have on how to do my work. My lead makes sure I am doing worthwhile work and helps guide where it makes sense but for the most part I am free to do what I need to in order to be effective. Now some maybe saying: “well, that is because you are on an architecture team.” Well, this is becoming the normal way of working across the company. We want people that come to work to leave their mark on NM then go home because the work/life balance is pretty great too.

What are your thoughts on the Northwestern Mutual Tech Hub Initiative?

It is great to see NM and others come together to push us all forward. As an active member of the developer community, I love seeing more people and companies getting involved. I like having an active engaged community because I think we can all share and learn from each which makes us all better. I am also excited to see what we can build that extends our midwestern values and culture. Let’s be honest, I would have already moved California if I wanted California tech culture.

What is the most exciting tech project you see in the Milwaukee community, outside of Northwestern Mutual?

I have 2.

LinqThingz in Mequon, is doing awesome things with IoT devices. They have JavaScript enabled microcontrollers and sensors crazy things to make work in manufacturing, aerospace, and logistics better and more efficient. They gave a Lightning Talk at Milwaukee JS a few months back and it was pretty neat to see what they are doing. While I can’t full describe it, to be honest, but it was cool to see when they talked about what they do at the meetup. This is a perfect example the great stuff that is happening here in the midwest that we don’t talk enough about.

ThatConference is doing some really interesting work in the conference and community space. They are working to make the family track on par to the professional tech track. This year they had 1100 tech people and over 600 family attend. I think this combination family and tech is a great way to show off our midwestern values in great ways. ThatConference has been described as feeling like a family reunion but with people you actually want to talk too.

What advice would you give to a programmer who wants to work at Northwestern Mutual?

Ask a lot of questions and be ok with the answers. There is a lot of different work and ways of working which means we probably have a position that would be great for just about anyone. That also means that a position may not be a good fit for you. With that said, we have a lot of opportunities for our employees to leave their mark while helping take NM into the next stage of a technology company.

They have a nice engineering blog going over at http://nm.engineering talking about engineering culture and specific technical topics. One of my favorite posts so far is Day 367: My team still thinks I’m an Engineer which talks about someone dealing with imposter syndrome while learning now to do frontend engineering. It is a great reminder to always be learning and that anything is learnable if you keep at it.

Huge thank you to Northwestern Mutual for supporting the Hack & Tell and for everything else you do in the community!


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