Sweetwater CIO Jason Johnson giving his signature tour of the Sweetwater warehouse
When we first signed up to work with Sweetwater, they let us know that this would be their first time ever working with a vendor on a programming project. Their DIY tech culture was and is very strong, and as we prepared to take the first of what would become many trips to Fort Wayne, we knew we would get a window into it on this visit.
Screens like this, running custom Laravel apps, are ubiquitous at Sweetwater
Upon arrival, the Sweetwater team took us on a lengthy and revealing tour of their facility. It’s a unique and impressive place: spacious, modern, full of activity, and heavily powered by custom software. Around every corner we were shown another screen running a custom app, all of them built in-house, and most of them using Laravel. The warehouse facility, the sales floor, the cafeteria, the employee DVD checkout kiosk, and even the giant spiral slide leading from the second to the main floor relied on custom Laravel code.
Tighten’s Keith Damiani giving a talk at Sweetwater’s Sweet Geeks Speak lecture series
The Sweetwater team was visibly and rightfully proud of having built all this cool stuff, but we sensed that concerns were beginning to emerge about the maintainability of it all. Programmer time was scarce, and keeping all of these applications secure and up-to-date wasn’t usually high on their priority list. Wisely, the team didn’t wait for a disaster to strike before seeking help. They engaged Tighten in part to help fast-track their Laravel development, but also to test out whether or not they could effectively integrate an outside agency.
Tighten team members enjoying some after hours time at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Later that first day, we sat down in a conference room with the team who was hosting us, led by CIO Jason Johnson. After the explicit agenda of the meeting was covered, the team was kind enough to linger with us for awhile longer, and as we got to know each other, the conversation grew more candid. To a person, they expressed pride in working at Sweetwater, but some spoke of their struggles as well.
Tighten team members on a tour of a new Sweetwater warehouse
It was hard to hire good programmers in a small community like Fort Wayne, and this had left some of them feeling overworked and stressed out. As their leader, Jason spoke openly about struggling to build a diverse team, and admitted that he had at times felt like giving up on it. On the Tighten side, at first we mostly listened and asked questions, but eventually we offered a few strong opinions on how they might forge ahead. There were a couple of tense moments where we weren’t sure how our unvarnished views would be received, but the team didn’t bat an eye.
Somehow, what we expected to be a fairly routine visit to a new client had morphed into something extraordinary: a impromptu technical group therapy session between a bunch of programmers who had only just met. The Sweetwater team had the confidence and willingness to push past the surface and talk to us like real people, which was incredibly refreshing. A single, key conversation had helped lay the foundation of mutual trust between our teams that endures today, and informs all of our work together. This was the conversation we came for, and it proved to be the first of many essential conversations between our two teams.