Switching stacks: Why AlphaSights went from Ruby on Rails to Kotlin

by Liz Warren
July 23, 2018
AlphaSights
image via Alphasights

What do tech giants like Amazon and Google have in common with information services company AlphaSights?

For starters, AlphaSights’s CTO Heath Hohwald has worked there. But aside from that, they’ve all experienced explosive growth and established themselves as leaders in search technology.

AlphaSights started in 2008 and now employs more than 500 professionals in nine offices around the world. While it’s not a search company by definition, the team focuses its efforts on scouring the globe for the perfect advisor to help serve as a knowledge source for clients.

“It’s a fascinating intellectual and engineering problem: How do we sort through potential advisors to find the very small handful that can meet a client’s needs?” said Hohwald.

Newer engineers are looking to get started with other languages and platforms.”

With over 20 years of experience in AI and search technology, Hohwald leads an engineering team currently moving from Ruby on Rails to a Kotlin-based tech stack.

The team made the decision to switch to Kotlin this year to accommodate the coding challenges the company has been facing as it grows. Plus, Hohwald noted, attracting top talent to work with Ruby on Rails was becoming difficult.

“The community of experienced RoR engineers is dwindling and newer engineers are looking to get started with other languages and platforms,” he said.

For AlphaSights engineers with no hands-on experience with a compiled language like Kotlin, there will be a bit of a learning curve. Fortunately, they’re eager to grow their skillsets. Many members of the team spent their “10 percent time,” in which engineers are able to explore ambitious ideas, prototyping code in Kotlin even before the transition began.

In addition to 10 percent time, the company also encourages engineers to grow professionally through mentorship, continued education and movement between teams. They’re also urged to attend conferences and hold regular team talks to share expertise internally.

 

Alphasights
image via alphasights

 

Despite being spread out around the globe — engineers are located in Africa, Europe, North America and South America — everyone still remains close and tries to connect outside of the office as much as possible.

“All of the local engineers left work together in the middle of the day a few weeks ago and spent the afternoon at a lake house,” said Hohwald. “We’re in the planning stages now for an international engineering offsite to encourage bonding and refresh some relationships with our engineers not based in the office.”

Day in and day out, the company works on hundreds of projects from some of the world’s leading decision makers.

“While we can’t talk about them, we do get to see a lot of these topics later covered in the press,” said Hohwald. “That’s why as a company, we often feel like [the industry’s] best-kept secret.”

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