Table XI Blog

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May 24, 2013No Comments

New Mugs for Spring!

We've had a lot of hiring activity since the new year. Say hi to the new faces that have sprung up around the office.

Bradley Schaefer, DeveloperBradley Schaefer, Developer

We rang in the new year by bringing on Bradley as a Ruby developer. He’s worked as a software engineer at a Who’s Who of tech firms including Stubhub, AOL, Anything Social, and Bebo. Given this, it’s not surprising that Bradley thinks everyone should get some programming experience under their belts: “It’s not only useful for a wide variety of applications, but it also teaches you logical thinking, humility, patience, communication skills, and tons more.” Bradley also serves as a member of the RSpec team.

Keep up with Bradley on his blog and @soulcutter.

Jon Buda, DeveloperJon Buda, Developer

Very active in Chicago’s dev scene, Jon helps run RefreshChicago, a popular meetup that promotes the sharing of knowledge and ideas in design, technology, usability, and standards. He also helped launch Desktime, a global coworking and shared workspace service. Hit up Jon if you agree that everyone should spend some time in Michigan’s UP, or if you want to hear the tale of his missing uvula.

Keep up with Jon on his blog and @jonbuda.

Jen Mozen, Delivery Principle

Jen Mozen, Delivery Principal

Jen is an entrepreneur and digital media consultant. She studied computer science and has spent much of her career leading agile software development teams globally. In college, Jen developed a passion for getting girls interested in STEM fields and is excited about making software development more accessible to everyone. This past year she helped launch the Chicago chapter of Girl Develop It, a code school dedicated to empowering women to learn how to develop software. She's a self-confessed learning junkie (Coursera, Codeacademy, etc.), avid reader, enthusiastic sports fan, and cool aunt.

Keep up with Jen at LinkedIn and @jmozen.

alex_head053cebAlex Skryl, Developer

Though he originally hails from Ukraine, Alex has been a freelance software engineer in Chicago for the last several years, working for such names as Enova and Trunk Club. Earlier this year he took some time away from his monitor to drive a rented Camaro really fast down HWY 1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. It’s possible a speed limit was broken here and there. Alex was recently accepted into New York's prestigious Hacker School, so we're sending him off with warm wishes for a summer in the Big Apple.

Keep up with Alex at his blog and @_skryl_.

Gabriel Gironda, DeveloperGabriel Gironda

Gabriel joins Table XI via Austin, TX, via Chicago, IL, via Harrisonburg, VA, and originating from Sydney, Australia. He enjoys making computers do things they both should and shouldn't do, and finally fills the long vacant position here of "person vaccinated against rabies."

Keep up with Gabriel at his blog.

Lloyd Philbrook, DevOpsLloyd Philbrook, DevOps 

Lloyd lives in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia for now. He mainly works while we’re asleep, making sure that all our servers keep purring along. If he isn't trying to tweak a Chef cookbook or write another bash script to automate himself out of a job, he's at -60 feet hanging with the fishes. We might actually meet him face-to-face one day.

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May 1, 2013No Comments

What Is a Code Retreat, Anyway? And How to Persuade the Big Cheese to Sponsor One

Man giving a speech at the Code Retreat

At Table XI we’re constantly challenging ourselves to improve our development chops. We recognize that the best and brightest—perhaps especially the best and brightest—need consistent opportunities to wrestle with big problems and up their game, so to speak.

To that end we’ve spent a good deal of time over the past year exploring ways to build out our developer education program. There was no need to recreate the wheel here—it’s already been rolling through Chicago for some time—so we turned to some of the folks we think do it best. We visited our neighbors at 8th Light, stormed the halls of The Starter League, and spent time talking to meetup and conference organizers at places like WindyCityRails.

The answer we came up with was pretty simple: Provide resources that help developers to form new perspectives on the challenges they face. To this end we’ve been happy with a number of approaches: We started a book club for developers; hold monthly, company-wide Round Table meetings; and last month, we hosted a full-day Code Retreat for our entire development group.

What is a Code Retreat?

Participants at the Code Retreat working on their laptops.Good question. Does it involve slamming our laptop lids and running down the hall to ‘retreat’ from code? Far from it. (We’re afraid of the tripping hazard.) It’s actually a day-long workshop focused on the fundamentals of software development and design, providing developers the opportunity to take part in focused exercises away from the daily routine of “writing useable code.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful that means we spend a day programming and go home without a program. Unintuitive as it may sound at first, taking a step back from production realities can be quite liberating. The code retreat takes great advantage of the format to hammer home fundamental principles of good software like SOLID and the 4 rules of simple design. We leave the retreat with a better understanding of how to write flexible programs that minimize the cost of change over time. No small feat.

How is it structured?

Typically a Code Retreat is a day-long facilitated event, broken into several sessions. Ours was run by Corey Haines, the Godfather of Code Retreats (I’m pretty sure he even owns a cape). Corey and a few friends pioneered the whole concept four years ago, and he’s really at the center of the movement. When it came time to organize our event, we knew he was just the guy to host it.

Two men at the Code Retreat looking at a computer Corey facilitated five sessions at our office. In each 45 minute session we paired with someone new to work toward an implementation of Conway’s Game of Life. The pair chose a common language and let loose on the problem using TDD, of course. By switching partners we were able to collaborate with people we don’t normally have the opportunity to work with, which was a ton of fun.

Sounds easy so far, right? But there’s a twist! Each session also introduced a new constraint designed to bend your mind in one way or another. Say goodbye to the comfort zone. For instance, most of the world’s programs are chock full of “branching logic” like:

> if ‘this’ then ‘do that’

Corey said, “No way, José.” Our first constraint was to attack the problem with no such branching. Without a familiar tool, we had to think of different ways to move the ball down the field (that’s a sports metaphor, I think). Next thing you know we had a better grasp on polymorphism, and life was good.

Why do it? To avoid software ossification.

Time is incredibly valuable. At Table XI we’re always working toward aggressive deadlines and goals. We love our client projects for many reasons, one of which is that they keep the lights on. With that in mind, we have to be smart about carving out time away from these projects. We firmly believe that Code Retreat falls squarely in the ‘being smart’ category.

Man giving a talk at the Code RetreatWhen facing problems we humanoids tend to favor solutions that are near at hand. Often this means accommodating blind spots rather than challenging them. Next thing you know, short-term productivity yields to long-term complexity and systems fight off changes like the plague. It happens all too often. New features introduce tough regression errors and take too long to build (if they’re even possible). Everyone is sad.

The Code Retreat is great at expanding the set of approaches that a developer can draw upon. By stripping away the usual deadline pressures for a few hours, we explore new tactics and see problems from different angles. At day’s end, we walk away with our heads sparking with ideas, which we can practice and incorporate when the time is right.

Consistently creating high quality software is an immense undertaking. It requires months and years of work, while keeping accrued knowledge “under your fingertips” through frequent practice (as Corey would say). The Code Retreat is an excellent day devoted to just that: practice. We learn new approaches and revisit forgotten patterns. We break down barriers by pairing across team boundaries. We improve our ability to talk through problems and communicate design ideas. At the end of the day, we’re more creative and efficient developers, ready to build flexible, maintainable systems for years to come—the ultimate value-add for our team and clients alike.

Thinking about setting up a Code Retreat for your company and want a developer's perspective? Give me a shout on Twitter @eeeschwartz or Contact us to get in touch with an expert.

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February 27, 2013No Comments

What to Do in Lake Geneva: The Table XI Retreat

Table XI employees gathered for a group photo during the Table XI Retreat.

This year, for Table XI’s annual company retreat, the frozen shores of Lake Geneva and The Abbey were calling. Though it may not have been as lengthy (or exotic) as 2012’s week-long trek to Costa Rica, we still managed to fit a lot into four days.

Our biggest goal with our retreats is always to give our people the chance to get to know each other better outside the restraints of project teams and a regular workday. This has only become more important as we’ve grown substantially over the past two years, and it’s always enjoyable to see people who don’t cross paths on a normal basis hanging out playing Werewolf or putting together a LEGO Death Star. On Saturday afternoon, I noticed a card game going on involving a couple employees (both old and new), one of our contractors, and some significant others—none of whom had ever had much interaction with each other before. It’s great to see these kinds of connections form over the course of a long weekend. People also bonded over a trip to the Yerkes Observatory, Frozen Turkey Bowling (this is a real thing that’s exactly what it sounds like), meals both company-sponsored and not, and an evening of S’mores around a campfire.

The other point to taking these retreats is to give ourselves a chance to work on the business as opposed to in the business. During the days we broke our team into smaller groups for professional development and company planning sessions. In particular, we made a lot of progress around targeting our marketing and account management efforts and selecting the right tool for our delivery operations. We did a deep dive on our customer profiles, identifying key patterns and practices that will not only help us serve our current clients better, but also let us pinpoint client prospects we think will be a good fit with Table XI.

Finally, we went over the business’ finances with the entire company. This is always a key component for me, since our newer employees are often surprised and appreciative of this level of transparency and candor. I’ve always maintained that giving people the greater financial context for why we make certain decisions is crucial to the health of the company as a whole, since it empowers the individuals working here.

All in all, I’m happy with our Lake Geneva excursion and the progress we made on a macro level. Stay tuned over the next several weeks for some more detailed retreat follow-ups, including a shot of our new commissioned artwork “Eleven Tables,” and some pretty hilarious photo galleries and videos of people doing things like throwing frozen turkeys at bowling pins.

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January 22, 20131 Comment

Chef Aram: Reality STAR!

Chef Aram Reed featured on The TasteTable XI and Tinseltown are one degree closer. Our own Chef Aram Reed, who cooks us lunch everyday, will be appearing as one of the contestants on The Taste, ABC’s new cooking competition that premiers tonight at 8/7 pm Central. Though Aram can’t divulge too much about the show without risking the wrath of the ABC legal department, he did give us a little scoop about the wonders of reality television.

Give us a taste of The Taste. What’s this show all about?
The Taste is like a food version of The Voice, featuring four celebrity chef judges—Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey—who pick teams from the contestants based on blind taste tests of their dishes.

How’d you get discovered?
A good friend of mine works in the industry, and she wanted to try out for the show at a Chicago audition, but she didn’t want to do it alone, so she asked me to go with her. So we went, and I got picked and she didn’t, which was hilarious.

So you launched your television career screwing someone over right off the bat. You learn fast!
Yep, right off the bat. That’s how we do it in “The Biz.”

Speaking of which, did you go into filming with your reality TV persona all planned out? “Brooding chef with an edge,” perhaps?
I was going for the asshole, of course. No, really I’m just honest, I don’t blow smoke, and that sometimes makes me the asshole. Really, I have no idea how I’ll be portrayed. I could be the asshole, the sweetheart... how about the heartthrob? I could go for that one, too.

Will we get a soundbite of you voicing that reality show classic: “I’m here to cook, not to make friends”?
You know, I think I heard someone say that at the airport when we first got there.

What was it like getting your food judged by these renowned chefs?
[For one of the challenges] everyone did seafood, except for me. I did a very Chicago dish with pork, because that’s what we eat here, and I wanted to showcase who I was and who I cook for. Bourdain and Ludo both understood my dish, which was very gratifying. They were the two I most wanted to impress. Ludo was very complimentary on my sauce—he recognized that it was French technique and said he really enjoyed it. And then Bourdain knew it was pork with bourbon and that it was Midwestern—he was just calling it. And remember, this is blind tasting, so he didn’t know me or where I’m from. First they discuss the dish, then they open the door and see the person who made it. So Bourdain was really cool and got my dish and that it was from Chicago.

What about the other contestants?
There were some really amazing professional chefs from across the country, and a lot of chefs from Chicago. Ina Pinkney from Ina’s, she’s been the “Breakfast Queen of Chicago” for over 30 years. She was there with me. Chef Brian Jupiter, Executive Chef at Frontier, he was also there. One of the sous chefs from Nellcôte. Then there were nonprofessionals, food bloggers and home chefs. For me it was like a fantasy camp for chefs, an all-expense paid trip to LA, to go hang out with a bunch of industry people, so that was really cool for me.

Can you take us behind the reality TV curtain?
It was really interesting walking onto a TV set. When we watch shows at home, there’s music, there are all these lights, there are graphics. When you go onto a TV set, none of this exists. It’s all CGI’d after the fact. Our set was in a giant airplane hangar, five football fields long. It’s where they built the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ plane. So in the middle of this gigantic hangar, which just goes on and on and on, there’s this little set with black curtains. And you walk in, and there are all these crappy robotics, and the kitchens weren’t developed properly because it’s the middle of the desert. People’s ovens would turn off randomly, equipment wasn’t set up properly. You could hear hammers banging in the background.

So, not too glamorous, then?
Ha, no, not glamorous at all. It wasn’t set up through the mind of a chef, it was set up through the mind of a TV producer. That to me was the most eye-opening, seeing how things were done, so I’m excited to see the finished product on television, once the magic has happened. And because it’s season 1, they were kind of working out the kinks, so I’m really interested to see what season 2 is going to look like down the road.

How are you going to capitalize on what will surely be household name status once this show airs? Celebrity fragrance? Your own reality show? Product placement in the TXI kitchen?
That’s all in the 5-year plan, definitely. My goal is to be on the CTA, and see someone reading the Red Eye with my picture on the back, you know, in the gossip section. And they’ll look at it, then at me, and recognize me. That’s how I’ll know I’ve made it.

That’s the big time, for sure. But until then, what’s next?
By the end of this year, I’m going to be opening a local grocery in Logan Square called The Tortoise and the Hare. It’s in the vein of Olivia’s or Goddess and the Grocer. We don’t have a place like this in Logan Square. We’ll offer prepared foods, maybe do some cooking demonstrations. And there’s Roam, which is a roaming underground dinner party that my friend Leslie Friebert and I put together. Every month we put on a dinner at a different location around Chicago. It’s for 30 people with five or six courses—the idea is to create an underground society of cool dining. We feature special guest chefs, craft cocktails, bands—it’s been a fun project. If people want to find out about the next Roam or get tickets, they should email roamsecretsociety@gmail.com.

Well, congrats on the show, Aram, and good luck with everything else. We can’t wait to see you in HD.

Thanks. The coolest thing has been hearing from people I haven’t talked to in years, who’ve seen The Taste trailer. Everyone's been very supportive.

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January 10, 2013No Comments

Recruiting with Dr. Seuss

A Dr. Seuss hat on top of the LinkedIn logoRecruiting top talent isn't easy. Sometimes you need to take a step back and get creative about how you approach candidates. In our case, we stopped resorting to inbox spam, and turned instead to "Green Eggs and Ham". Today we published an article on the LinkedIn blog recounting the story of how our COO Mark Rickmeier recruited one of our newest developers, Andrew, through a shared love of Dr. Seuss. Here's an excerpt from the blog post:

Screenshot of Josh Golden's article: Recruiting with Dr. Seuss

Check out the post, complete with the original poems on LinkedIn.  And for more Andrew rhymes, read his ode to code and poetry.

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December 18, 20121 Comment

A Star Wars Nerducation: Galaxies Collide

A long time ago (May, 2012), in a meeting far, far away (the conference room at the end of the hall), two Table XI employees were whispering...

The Nerducation board filled with sticky notes

“So we were in a meeting one day and we found out Kate has never seen Star Wars.”

“No way. I don’t believe it.”

“I swear! Until a couple of months ago she thought Chewbacca was a Wrigley product.”

It’s true. Though technically a child of the ‘70s and currently the Director of Marketing at a tech company, I managed to make it three decades without seeing a single Star Wars movie. How is this possible? To be honest, I’m not sure myself. I do know that once I’d made it to college without having stepped foot in the Empire, it became a proud point of distinction, my guaranteed “gotcha” in a game of Two Truths and a Lie—I’d win every time.

Summer of 2012 changed all that.

As a marketer among engineers I’m already an outlier: my emails are more than three sentences, I express ideas through PowerPoint, and, unlike some of my quieter colleagues, I’m a full-blown extrovert. But once my coworkers at Table XI discovered this chasm in my nerd knowledge, it only deepened the divide between us. I could see it in their raised eyebrows and the slow shaking of their heads. Forget Storm Troopers, I was a cultural space invader.

So, in an effort of good faith and acculturation, over the summer I began what my colleagues dubbed my “Nerducation.” (For those who know me, the irony of this is not lost on me: I spent much of my childhood recreating Julie Andrews musicals in my basement, and my Netflix queue is full of movies with subtitles. I’m a nerd in my own right, just one of a different species.)

Woman wearing a Darth Vader maskThe whole office was invited to take part in my extracurricular assignment. We hosted movie nights on the roof of our building, complete with a 14-foot inflatable screen, Lou Malnati’s pizza, and Darth Vader helmets. And, like an immigrant studying for U.S. citizenship, I learned all there was to know about The Empire, the Death Star, and the Galaxy Far, Far Away, all under the observant tutelage of my Table XI colleagues.

Since I’m not much into sci-fi, I was skeptical about Star Wars at first. So imagine my surprise when I found myself eagerly awaiting these nights. After watching each film, a little bit of my own universe was illuminated: the significance of the Lego Imperial Shuttle that sits in our office kitchen, the meaning behind John Gore’s t-shirts, the magnitude of calling someone a scruffy-looking nerf herder. Not only was I gaining proficiency—suddenly, I was becoming fluent in a cultural conversation I never knew was taking place. Star Wars was my very own Rosetta Stone.

By August I had made my way through Star Wars 4, 5, and 6, and to be honest, the series wasn’t anything like I had expected. Spoiler Alert: Star Wars is not just a space/alien/explosion series I had censored from my youth. It’s a coming of age story about a young boy in search of his father’s approval, who at a time before therapy, relies on a little green man to help him navigate the complexities of the universe and discover his True Potential. Most importantly, and perhaps most surprisingly, Star Wars is a love story.

Table XI employees relaxing on a rooftopThis realization was perhaps the most unexpected outcome of my Nerducation. Turns out these tough, quiet developers who surround me in headphones, the ones who often point out errors and inaccuracies to each other with the subtlety of a good blaster, are actually a bunch of softies. You can’t be this obsessed with this story without having a sensitive side. Maybe my programming pals and I aren’t from different planets after all.

I’m looking forward to 2013 and the next round of movies. Our office Nerducation board is already filled with more films to add to my resume, wherein I will learn important things like the differences between “Hackers” and “Sneakers,” and how Star Trek, despite its title, is apparently Skywalker-free. But I’ve reminded my colleagues that Nerducation is a two-way street, and next year, I plan to introduce a few classics of my own. First up: Amélie. It’s a coming-of-age love story full of mystery and intrigue. I think they’ll dig that.

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December 3, 2012No Comments

A Hairy End to Movember

The Table Xi team posing for a photo during Movember.Movember is always a special time of year for me at the office, since I get to watch my colleagues grow. Facial hair, that is.

For those unfamiliar with Movember, it's the month (formerly known as November) dedicated to raising funds and promoting awareness of men's health issues, specifically prostate cancer and testicular cancer. It's a time when men all over the globe agree to grow a mustache for the entire month as a physical display of support.

I decided to start a Movember team at TXI this year for a few reasons: 1) it's always awesome bringing people together to support a good cause; 2) watching a month-long, in-office competition for best/creepiest/worst 'stache is fun; and 3) I love hearing our leadership team explain to clients why they're donning creepy mustaches.

Our Table XI team, called Table XI Mo's, was a group of eleven: 7 gents, 2 gingers, and 2 ladies. Ladies, you say? Yes! Although I can't grow a mustache myself, I got a kick out of the horrified reactions I got from the guys who were afraid I could actually grow a full 'stache. (For example, Jon Fernandez said to me: "You're growing a mustache? Really? You should not. Not at all. Why? Why would you do that? Do you just give up when you're married? Is that what happens?" Hahaha—awesome.)

I also liked hearing the stories and plans for facial hair growth. You can learn a lot about a person from their mustache! One of our team members hadn't shaved off his full beard and mustache for several years—not even his wife had seen him without. He decided to join our team, and shaved his face clean on day 1, shocking us all. Many laughs also came out of the types of mustaches each guy decided to grow, from the Selleck to the Winnfield.

With Movember wrapping up last week, we held our first annual Movember Awards Ceremony. Here were the big winners:

  • "Best Mo" — Matt Lineen (a grand prize awarded for sheer dominance in the sport of 'stache)
  • "Most Artistic" — Jason Hanggi (recognizing creativity of facial hair design)
  • "Creepiest Mo" — John Gore (also known as the "Hide Your Children" award)
  • "Best-Worst-Try" — Andrew Horner (a valiant but not entirely visible effort)

We also raised nearly $2,000, including a matching donation pledge from Table XI. Woo woo! And while Movember may technically be over, there's still time to donate! And for more photos, check out our Facebook page.

Huge thanks to all my TXI colleagues who participated last month—with and without a Mo! Prostates all over the world thank you.

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November 28, 2012No Comments

You Can’t Dodge This Style

Table XI staff member getting ready to play dodgeballA few weeks ago we took on the best of Chicago's tech companies in...Dodgeball! And while our team of "Splat Operators" wasn't able to claim the five-foot-tall trophy from repeat champions 8th Light (who also, as winners, had $1,000 donated to Kiva in their name—congrats, guys!), we did win something much more important: Best Uniforms!

These stunning, award-winning ensembles would not have been possible without our friends at Strange Cargo, who suited us up in custom t-shirts, sweatbands, and, the pièce de résistance, "Beer" tube socks.

So, to recap—Giant trophy: $50 (give or take). Looking awesome: Priceless.

Many thanks to Braintree for hosting this tourney, and to our other fellow competitors at 8th Light, Trunk Club, Groupon, GrubHub, Bright Tag, The J MomBelly, Redbox, kCura, Vibes, Centro, SingleHop, Backstop, and NCSA. We had such a blast participating, and we'll see you on the court in the spring for a rematch. We've already begun designing our next costumes...er, uniforms...so watch out.

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November 12, 2012No Comments

Welcome, Noel Rappin!

Noel Rappin from Table XI
We're so excited to announce the newest member of our team, Noel Rappin, who is joining us as Senior Software Developer and Agile Coach. Noel comes to us from Groupon, where he served as Senior Engineer and was responsible for internal training.

As many of you know, over the past year we've nearly doubled our engineering staff to keep pace with the many projects we're working on, and we've long been in search of the right senior candidate to help us grow our engineering practice. Josh says it best: “Noel has a long history of teaching and mentoring developers and helping them improve their skills. He’s a force multiplier and an excellent software developer who will help us continue to build great tools for our customers.”

Prior to Groupon, Noel was a senior consultant at Obtiva and Pathfinder. He has a Ph.D. in educational technology and user-centered design from the College of Computing and the Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has also written several technical books, including Rails Test Prescriptions and Master Space and Time With JavaScriptProfessional Ruby on RailswxPython in Action, and Jython Essentials. Follow him @noelrap.

Welcome to the Table, Noel!

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September 10, 2012No Comments

New Mugs!

White mug with the drawing of a angry man wearing a mustache.

Summer may be winding down, but a crop of new faces has been popping up around the office and our empty desks are filling up fast. We're happy to welcome these new peeps to the fold:

Ed LaFoy, Table XI mobile developer After first luring him to the loft under the pretense of Star Wars Rooftop Movie Night, we were psyched Ed LaFoy stuck around to serve as our very first mobile developer. The fact that he thinks everyone should see the Leprechaun in Mobile, Alabama, solidifies his nerd meme credit.

Starbucks order: Tall black coffee

Table XI developer, Andrew Horner Our other new developer, Andrew Horner, has a patent love for Dr. Seuss (who doesn't?), and is, himself, a practitioner of Seussian rhyme. We also appreciated that he broke out the TXI green straight away.

Starbucks order: Black coffee

Subha Sriram, Delivery Principle for Table XI. Coming to us from digital consultancy Thoughtworks, Subha Sriram is our newest Delivery Principle. She has a penchant for cooking Indian food and would walk to the office every day, if it weren't 40 miles away from her house (doh!). Oh yeah, and she's also the mother of triplets.

Starbucks order: Highly customized chai tea

Tina Stump, Director of Accounting and Finance for Table XI. With a background in the education industry, having worked previously at Harrington College of Design, Tina Stump comes aboard as our Director of Accounting and Finance. She's pretty familiar with how we do things over here, since she also happens to be married to one of our developers, Chris Stump. Even better, she fills the office quota for being able to do the moonwalk.

Starbucks order: Black coffee

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312.450.6320

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