Software Development
Sponsored content / Women in tech

Finding creative freedom and work-life balance at Penn Mutual

Lead dev Shubhra Karmakar shares her experience working at the insurance firm that is "always reinventing" itself to meet modern needs.

Karmakar with Penn Mutual's CTO Mark Dash. (Photo by Kristin Dudley)

This article is sponsored by Penn Mutual and was reviewed before publication.

Six years ago, Shubhra Karmakar found herself craving more from her career.

Her hour-long commute to work was carving into time at home with her daughter and husband, and the intense culture of the startup she worked for was dragging her down.

“I was working night and day,” said the technologist. “And although I had a chance to work on new technology, there was pressure to do things a certain way. There was no room for self expression. I wanted to work with cutting-edge technology, but still have my voice in it. And I really wanted to make design decisions.”

Karmakar intentionally set out to find a company that could offer her creativity and ownership of her work, as well as the opportunity to get her hands on some exciting technology. After interviewing at seven different organizations, it was the oldest company in the bunch that would check all her boxes and allow her to learn the most about new technology: life insurance firm Penn Mutual.

Today, Karmaker is the lead software developer on Penn Mutual’s Core Services team.

“Penn Mutual is very open to taking risks,” she said. “It’s like an old/new company. They give us liberty to explore new tech. I’m given complete autonomy to come up with a design, create a proof of concept, and present it to my superiors. I have ownership. My voice is heard. My input is valid.”

Penn Mutual also offered Karmaker the gift of time with her family. Placing an emphasis on working smarter, not harder, and trusting associates to finish their work before they leave has allowed Karmaker to do what makes her most happy in life: picking up her daughter after school and cooking dinner for her family.

It also gave Karmakar a few extra minutes to chat with us about the details of her life as lead software developer. Here’s what she had to say:

Tell us about your role.

As the Core Services team, we manage the biggest depository of data: client data, policy data and adviser data. It’s all sensitive, personal information and we need to safeguard it. We have many data and application consumers who take in information in multiple forms, so it’s our responsibility to make sure the data is in a clean, proper state.

I’m responsible for day-to-day design: creating new features, fixing issues, enhancing features, etc. I also develop and review code, as well as facilitate the resolving of any issues on my team of three developers and two SMA/QAs.

I lead the team during our sprint planning and help determine what all can be achieved in the upcoming two weeks and what’s the best way to design something. We also assess if any changes we introduce to the code might impact multiple systems, downstream and upstream. We must understand the technical impact and the behavioral impact, or how changes can positively or negatively impact users.

What is a day in your life like?

I like to come in early. I have a daughter in 5th grade and I enjoy being able to get her ready for school.

I typically get into the office by 8 or 8:30 a.m. My day consists of a mix of meetings with the team — whether it’s our daily standup at 10:35 a.m. where we discuss what we accomplished the day prior, or general tech meetings.

From there I take on stories (tasks) and help my team solve problems, expedite jobs and work through processes.

What is Penn Mutual’s attitude toward work-life balance and parenthood?

Penn Mutual gives you flexibility. There’s an understanding that there is work life and family life.

It all comes from the top. No one asks why you aren’t at your desk at a certain time. If I need to leave early, I finish what I need to do and leave early.

How would you describe the workplace culture?

We have a few values that we live and breathe every day: Do the right thing. Take ownership. Safeguard client information.

I can translate that to an example of what my team does. We work with a lot of consumer data that involves personal information. It’s important that we take that responsibility seriously and handle that information carefully. You have to make sure the decisions you make will safeguard the client. We emphasize that in every aspect of our job.

It’s also a very open, collaborative culture. There’s always a dialogue going on between members of our team.

What kind of qualities do you look for in job candidates?

I look for a mix of technical and interpersonal skills.

For a junior level, I look for a strong basic fundamentals of programming, as well as someone who can communicate well.

For the senior level, I’m looking for strong fundamentals in product design as we build platforms to enable consumers to retrieve multiple types of data in multiple formats.

What are some of the creative challenges that keep you on your toes?

Being a technical person, an ongoing challenge for me is designing systems that are flexible enough for future enhancement. But I enjoy it.

What gets you excited about your future with Penn Mutual?

I’m looking forward to the challenge of bringing more cutting-edge tech into the mix. Making sure Penn Mutual is focused on the financial adviser, but also one of the most tech-advanced companies in the industry — that we’re not tied to the old ways, but always reinventing ourselves.

Learn more about Penn Mutual and search jobs
Companies: Penn Mutual
Series: Women in Tech Month 2019
People: Shubhra Karmakar

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