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RealLIST Engineers 2020: Get to know these 16 influential technologists building #dctech

These developers and other pros are not only maintaining the software behind local companies, they're doing it all while taking on unexpected changes, and finding ways to make sure the tech community is supported.

Governor John Carney announces a bid investment in universal broadband. (Courtesy photo)
Update: Details about Shelby Switzer's hackathon work have been added, and their pronouns have been corrected. (11/20/20, 2:30 p.m.)
The end of the year is near and despite all of the unplanned changes and shifts, technologists in the region are still finding ways to solve critical problems.

As we’re still celebrating the wins through our reporting here at during these strange and stressful times, today, we are sharing the second annual RealLIST Engineers in D.C. (Check out the 2019 honorees here.) This list spotlights some of the most influential technologists within the #dctech community and surrounding areas.

These technologists are not only building and maintaining the software and tech behind local companies, they are doing it all while taking on unexpected changes, and finding ways to make sure the tech community is supported. Some of the technologists on this list have been a part of tech projects created to address coronavirus concerns, while others are teaching virtual courses and creating instructional content to share with aspiring technologists looking to continue learning new skills.

To curate this list, we started the process with a public call for nominations. Then, we consulted technologists and looked back through our own coverage. We considered how the person in mind was influential within their organization or community, how they overcame a specific technical challenge or how this person contributed to educating others on technical issues.

Here’s a look at the second annual RealLIST Engineers DC, in alphabetical order:

Gesna Aggarwal, co-executive director, Technica

Gesna Aggarwal. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Since beginning her bachelor’s degree program at the University of Maryland College Park three years ago, Aggarwal has become a co-executive director of five-year-old Technica, UMD’s student-run hackathon for women and nonbinary individuals. She became a part of the annual hackathon in spring 2019 after facing adversity during her computer science studies at the university. Aggarwal has completed software engineering internships at Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase, and in 2021, she will earn her bachelor of science in computer science with a minor in general business.

Paul Blackwell, full-stack software developer, Procurated

Paul Blackwell. (Photo via LinkedIn)

With more than five years of experience in software engineering, Blackwell is a full-stack software developer for Procurated, the #4 honoree on our 2020 RealLIST Startups. Blackwell has previously worked in software engineering roles at Arcadia, MotoRefi and EVERFI. Though he holds a bachelor’s degree in history, Blackwell got his start in the tech world after attending a full stack web development program in 2013. He mainly uses Rails and JavaScript in his line of work.

Jessica Dembe, front end engineer, Axios

After earning a community health degree from the University of Maryland, Dembe had a career switch and attended The Iron Yard coding school where she learned front-end technologies including HTML5, CSS, Sass, JavaScript, and JavaScript frameworks, per her LinkedIn. She worked as a technical consultant for two years at IT service management company Blackstone Federal before joining Axios last year as a front-end engineer. Dembe volunteers with Black Girl CODE and is a member of Women Who Code.

Charles DeVeas, director of engineering, Storyblocks

Charles DeVeas. (Photo via LinkedIn)

One of DeVeas’ team members described him as a “technical force at Storyblocks” and said that he has “architected many of the overarching technical objectives such as the movement from a legacy monolith into microservices” for the company. DeVeas has been a part of Storyblocks’ engineering team for six years and he was recently promoted to director of engineering in February. He’s also a mentor for several other engineering teams and he helped cofound Meetrics, a startup that launched in June that assess meeting data for productivity.

Jim McGrath, director of quality assurance, ChurnZero

Jim McGrath. (Photo via LinkedIn)

As ChurnZero’s director of quality assurance, McGrath most notably contributed to the company’s test automation framework that supports its entire development process and QA team: “Jim is a leader in the test automation space and acts as a mentor to other QA members on the team,” his nominator described of him. McGrath previously worked in quality assurance leadership roles at Under Armour, Red Owl Analytics and Vocus.

William Goode, lead instructor, Coding Dojo

Goode has worked his way up at Northern Virginia-based coding bootcamp Coding Dojo after first beginning as a student four years ago to now becoming a lead instructor.

“He is passionate about finding common ground with his students so he can clearly teach technical skills using real-world and physical examples to make the concepts click,” his nominator said, for Coding Dojo’s curriculum, including topics on functional programming, deployment instructions and middleware.

Asif Khan, CTO, Fifth Tribe

“Asif is not only a great developer, he’s a great mentor,” one of Khan’s team members said. At digital agency Fifth Tribe (which is currently piloting a four-day work week), he implemented the company’s first machine learning integration to help a client identify violent extremists online using text extraction from images, the nominator said. As an “avid indie game developer,” Khan has also participated in online video game creation competitions called game jams.

Tracy King, front-end engineer, Mariana Tek

Tracy King. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Rugby, anthropology and marketing— these are just a few things that have sparked King’s interest before she ventured into the technology sector. After working in some marketing roles on the West Coast, King was a junior software developer for a few years before joining Crowdskout in 2016, where she worked as a front-end engineer for three years. With nearly a year under her belt at Mariana Tek King is a lead volunteer for Women Who Code and she co-organizes a few other engineering groups in the region.

Melanie Laffin, senior lead data scientist, Booz Allen Hamilton

Melanie Laffin. (Photo via LinkedIn)

A mathematician turned programmer, Laffin focuses on machine learning in her data scientist role at Booz Allen Hamilton. In August, she joined the leadership team at D.C.-based Tech, Rebalanced, and began hosting the nonprofit’s podcast which highlight stories from people of underrepresented genders in technology in #dctech on their career paths. Prior to joining Booz Allen, Laffin held leadership roles at various universities, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Capgemini, and she’s also currently participating in the Carnegie New Leaders Program.

Sundi Myint, developer, SmartLogic

Sundi Myint. (Photo via LinkedIn)

After previously holding engineering leadership roles at Upside Business Travel, CAVA and AKQA, Myint joined SmartLogic four months ago.

“Sundi has gotten kudos from the team a number of times for her great work on improving photo upload performance on a mobile app we’ve been working on for some time,” Myint’s nominator said about her work. Outside of her full-time position, this General Assembly grad is an organizer of the Elixir DC meetup, as well as section chair of the D.C. chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Dan Naselius, CTO and president, CORAS

Naselius has spent more than 15 years helping build enterprise decision management software company CORAS’ SaaS-based platform.

“He is a modest and quiet person with a real commitment to making software that automates information reporting, analyzes project and program readiness yet remains configurable for the needs of individual departments,” one of his team members said. More recently, Naselius and his team built a tool to help the Pentagon continue operations through the pandemic.

Banjo Obayomi, senior research engineer, Two Six Labs

Banjo Obayomi. (Photo via Twitter)

In his senior research engineer position at Two Six Labs, Obayomi developed platform solutions for creating products out of various researched-based projects. He’s an active member of the Black Code Collective having spoke at multiple lightning talk events, and sharing his expertise in data engineering, one of his peers shared. Obayomi leads an online project focused on shedding light on police budgets on a local level, and provides a social media toolkit for users to spread the message in their communities.

Lee Richardson, “solutions samurai,” InfernoRed Technology

Lee Richardson. (Photo via LinkedIn)

With more than 20 years of experience designing full-stack technology solutions and building apps, Richardson leads a YouTube channel of more than 1,000 subscribers where he hosts a “Code Hour” show dedicated to instructional coding and tech videos. In his role at InfernoRed, he helps international startups build mobile solutions.

“You know the person who is first to answer a call for help on Slack? That’s Lee,” one of his team members said. In his spare time, he virtually hosts NoVa Code Camp and during this time, he’s helped build PPE for first responders and medical professionals.

Dilip Sam Sahayadhas, software developer, Ordway

“Dilip always goes the extra mile. In addition to his engineering assignments, he helps support the Ordway sales process [with] a technical perspective,” Sahayadhas’ nominator said about him.

Sahayadhas led the charge on setting up a set of engineering functionalities at Ordway, and he’s also led team meetings and worked with the product management team and Ordway’s CEO to find tech solutions for customers. Before joining Ordway, Sahayadhas held software engineering roles at QBust Technologies and StayNTouch.

Shelby Switzer, digital service expert, U.S. Digital Service

Shelby Switzer. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Switzer is always looking for new opportunities for technologists entering the civic tech space. Beyond their day to day work, they put on the inaugural U.S. Digital Service hackathon back in March, and followed that up with a second hackathon called “Hacksgiving” this month.

Among some of their other accolades, they’ve spoken on podcasts as an “API Activist,” organized a multi-day API Summit for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and mentored summer interns for the 2020 Coding It Forward Civic Digital Fellowship. They have also been leading a blog called Civic Unrest for the past year that focuses on topics in the intersection of technology and public infrastructure.

Brittany Walker, software engineer, Framebridge

Outside of her role at Framebridge, Walker is a cofounder and web developer for What the CSS?, a company building courses that teach CSS fundamentals, and a front end lead Women Who Code. After finishing her full stack web development intensive program at Thinkful, she went on instruct a few courses for the online coding bootcamp. Walker didn’t start her professional career in software engineering, she actually spent some time working in event management and even worked as a stage manager at SXSW in 2013.

Companies: Axios / Booz Allen Hamilton / Ordway / ChurnZero / StoryBlocks / Women Who Code DC / Framebridge / SmartLogic
Series: RealLIST Engineers / RealLIST

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