Marianna Budnikova, Driving STEM at MetaGeek and the Community

Marianna Budnikova is one of our rockstar programmers here at MetaGeek. She works on our  inSSIDer 4 and inSSIDer Office product range, and is not only an awesome asset to us, but to the Boise community and women in tech as a whole.

Marianna at her internship at Google in Mountain View, California.

Marianna at her internship at Google in Mountain View, California.

Marianna understands the real life challenges of being a woman in the technology field. While she made it through the difficulties of dealing with gender differences and stereotypes growing up in Russia, she realized what she missed out on was another woman to look up to. She explains, “having a woman to look up to, so that you’re not alone is very important. I needed it when I was younger and now I want to provide that to others.”

While attending Boise State University for a degree in Computer Science, Marianna goes on to explain that the retention of female students for that major was less than 40 percent. As a result, she founded the Association for Computing Machinery chapter for women (ACM-W). Since the founding of ACM-W in 2012, the retention of BSU female students in computer science has gone up to 100 percent as has now been seen as a great success story in the school.

Many organizations in the tech industry are however not doing much to improve upon gender discrimination. Over the years MetaGeek has taken active steps to close the gender gap, with half of their organization being female. They have women in roles such as Engineering, Marketing, Sales and Accounting.

Marianna continues to be a driving force for this gender gap in the community as she is actively involved in Boise Code Camp, Hackfort, Girls in Tech, and Develop Idaho. She also co-founded and became the president of Girl Develop It, Boise Chapter, which is a national, non-profit organization with a purpose to provide affordable tech classes to women. For more information and upcoming events for the local chapter, visit Girl Develop it, Boise.

Due to Marianna’s success with encouraging and speaking out about women in tech, she has been mentioned and written about in the Idaho Statesman multiple times. One article about Women in Tech and another about Engineering and Computer Science Needn’t be a Boys Club mention Marianna’s efforts in this field. She has also been mentioned in Boise State University’s newspaper, the Arbiter, Treefort, and hosted on Boise State Public Radio. Not too long ago, Marianna even met President Obama while he was on the campus of Boise State University. In Marianna’s homeland of Russia, she says she would have never been able to meet the president, “meeting the president here means I am able to make a difference on a national level”.

Women in tech: Boise immigrant fights the perception that computer science is a man's game. Idaho Statesman, March 4, 2015.

Women in tech: Boise immigrant fights the perception that computer science is a man’s game. Idaho Statesman, March 4, 2015.

Marianna has truly become an influential part of the women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math.) community. When asked what she is working on next, Marianna replies; “I want to help build a community and ecosystem for women in tech. From ACM-W to Girls in Tech to Girl Develop it, there should be continued support and higher leadership for women to stay in tech.”

In the end, Marianna wants women to be seen as “techy”. Even if women aren’t directly in a technology profession, they most likely use it daily. Marianna hopes to encourage women to be excited about technology. Her two pieces of advice to women who want to pursue a career or even an interest in the tech field is “Don’t give up or let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams, and find a sponsor who can help you along the way.”

Marianna hopes that she can begin planning more events and programs to keep the female tech community growing. She hopes to develop more of a leader in herself by serving on boards of directors and more panels. Upcoming events to look out for include a Hackathon for women sometime in September or October, and the Andrus Center Conference on Women and Leadership that Marianna will be a part of. Details on this event can be found here.

More information on the entire team at MetaGeek can be found on our website.

Ryan Woodings, Chief Geek

Ryan headshot editedRyan Woodings may not have expected to be the face of a leading tech startup in downtown Boise, but in MetaGeek’s 10th year in business, he’s grown into his position as CEO, and can be found representing MetaGeek as a leader in the tech community at events and speaking engagements throughout the Treasure Valley. “Being a geek, I tend to be more introverted,” Ryan explains, ”so it’s interesting to have these public spotlight moments. It’s very outside my normal day-to-day, but it’s fun, and in some ways, a little nerve-wracking.”

Ryan is, and has been for the last 10 years, dedicated to making MetaGeek a tech ambassador for Idaho. In 2015, MetaGeek was a sponsor of Hackfort, a tech event geared towards awareness of Boise as a thriving startup city.Hackfort gives prospective tech employees an insight into Boise and the tech community here.Hackfort_banner

In a story by KBOI 2 News about Hackfort, Ryan commented that attendees “can come to Treefort and Hackfort and see that ‘Hey, Boise is really cool!’ If they get a positive experience and see that there are tech companies here, it will be easier for them to consider Boise when they’re going for a job.” He acknowledged that Idaho isn’t always portrayed as the most open environment for people of all backgrounds, and he wants MetaGeek to help disprove that negative perception. “The tech industry in general is very progressive and accepting of different cultures and different lifestyles,” Ryan comments. “If Idaho doesn’t have that perception, it’s going to be hard for tech companies to recruit people from out of town.” He hopes that Hackfort and MetaGeek can help shake that reputation, and show people that Boise is a great place for tech. The more perceptions change, the easier it will be to recruit not only at MetaGeek, but at younger tech startups in Boise.

MetaGeek’s successes have not gone unnoticed by the local community. Built in Boise, an organization that highlights entrepreneurs, innovators, and visionaries in our city, sat down with Ryan last month to chat about the “Geek Life”, and how to establish a vision for your company by stepping back and asking “why does my company exist?”

“I wish I would have known earlier, and it took a long time to figure out the why of MetaGeek. I suppose I was scared to dig deep and stick with something. But once we did, it made things clear as far as what we are doing, and why…and it made other decisions easier.”

dev idaho poster by @developidahoRyan also elaborated on this “work should be awesome” purpose at a conference put on by the Idaho Technology Council, Develop.Idaho. While there, many speakers from the technology industry spoke about the challenges that tech companies face in Idaho. He specifically talked about how if businesses hire smartly, then awesomeness will result. You can learn more about that in his blog where he discusses How we Unsucked our Hiring Process.

While Ryan has positioned MetaGeek as a leader in Boise’s  tech community, it wasn’t without its struggles. Ryan comes from a computer science background, not a business one; he had to learn how to be a CEO:

“When MetaGeek first started, it was just me in charge of strategy, design, implementation, and everything else, so if I had an idea, I was also in charge of turning that idea into a feature. In the last few years, we’ve built out a great team of coders. The first time as CEO that I had an idea for a cool Chanalyzer feature, I told Adam, and he turned my idea into action. You can get so much more done with a great team behind you.”

Ryan playing chess

 

Within the past year, Ryan and his leadership team have implemented SCRUM, an agile development process, in every department at MetaGeek. SCRUM wasn’t an original idea, but taken from Jeff Sutherland, and adjusted to fit with MetaGeek’s culture and business model. It has allowed the company to maximize productivity, synchronize teams, and make work more transparent. Ryan is continuously changing things up, borrowing from others’ ideas and trying new things, in this case, he doesn’t have a problem following what Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy, and great artists steal”.

MetaGeek has enjoyed impressive growth and success in the last ten years, but what is in the startup’s future? “We’ve been on this journey for the last couple of years. Eventually we need to diversify,” explains Ryan in a May 4th, 2015 article published by the Idaho Business Review. In the article, Ryan describes the birth of the MetaGeek brand and its flagship product, Wi-Spy. Wi-Spy, used with inSSIDer Office or Chanalyzer software, was the original low-cost, portable spectrum analyzer for Wi-Fi troubleshooting.

But Ryan knows that for a company to survive, it must adapt to changing markets. “We want to be here in 10 years, and we don’t think the Wi-Fi tools will still be in the market for 10 years,” he explained. In a few years, you might see MetaGeek as a few different companies in different markets, but the company’s “why” will stay consistent: “We think work should be awesome, and we want a place that we love coming to, with a team we love, and we want to help other people do that too.”

Our Philosophy for Employee Compensation – Focus on Employee Value

Unless you just returned from a two month sabbatical from the Internet, you know that last month Dan Price at Gravity Payments announced a minimum salary of $70,000 per year for the entire company. Some people say it’s just a PR stunt. Many others applaud him for taking care of his employees, and others see some combination of the two. In one of the many interviews with Price, he asked other CEOs to join the conversation. So, thank you Dan for the opportunity to share my philosophy on employee compensation.

Ryan Woodings

Price’s move is definitely bold. Moving the minimum salary to $70,000, when their average salary today is about $45,000, will obviously have a huge impact to Gravity Payments’ expenses. It will also have a huge impact on their hiring, and has been a boon to their customer base. It’s impossible to predict how the combination of variables will impact Gravity Payments. The bottom line: I like Price’s willingness to take action and try something different. If this is successful we’ll likely see a growing number of companies taking similar actions.

Now for my philosophy. I believe that the traditional approach of annual raises based on employee effort has some fundamental flaws. Market rates for many technical jobs, like software engineers, don’t increase at the same rate as the typical raise of 3-10%. Under this model, loyal engineers that have been working at the same company for five to ten years are soon underpaid and are thereby incented to switch to a different company in order to get their salary back to market rate. For other positions, the standard raise may leave someone making a lot more at their current company than they could make anywhere else, financially handcuffing them to their job.

As CEO of a self-funded, privately-owned company, I am responsible for the livelihoods of thirty families. Determining the salary for each employee is a very subjective task based on myriad factors such as employee performance, culture fit, and market rate for similar jobs in our region and industry.

MetaGeek Team

At MetaGeek, we are trying a different approach to employee compensation. Our salary structure is based on the Top of Market Salary philosophy from Netflix. The Top of Market philosophy aligns everyone’s salary with the current market annually. The process is very straightforward; for each employee we ask the following three questions:

  1. How much would another company likely pay this person?
  2. How much would a replacement cost us?
  3. How much would we pay them if they had a higher offer from another company?

The answers to these three questions answers the primary question: how much value does this employee provide? Top of Market means that some people may not get a raise every year, while others may see significant raises. Some people have a hard time with this concept; the annual raise is a longtime tradition in many U.S. workplaces. However, it’s important to look at the person’s total compensation, not just the comparison to last year.

By changing the conversation from “annual raise percentage” to employee value, the focus is now on how an employee can increase their value to the company. While many jobs have an indirect connection to the company’s revenue and expenses, intuitively it is easy to connect an increase in employee value to an increase in our bottom line. Because we use Scrum across the entire company, the link between employee value and our company’s financial health is fairly straightforward. As employees increase their value to MetaGeek, MetaGeek’s bottom line improves.

As the company’s bottom line improves it is easy to increase the employee’s salary without a negative impact on the livelihoods of the other thirty employees. Focusing on the value provided by each employee is a win-win; it improves the company and it improves the employee’s ability to increase their salary. In the long term, it isn’t beneficial to anyone to artificially create way-above-market salaries, but I’ll gladly help each and every employee raise their market value. In this model we all grow together.