When Technical.ly first launched the RealLIST Engineers in Delaware in 2020, meant to highlight the state’s most influential technologists, there was some discussion over how we were defining an “engineer.” We knew the honorees would be problem solvers, community leaders and, ultimately, software and IT professionals. Fintech, of course, would be prominently represented on the inaugural list, but we’d also seek to include bootcamp heads and civic tech pros. In 2021, we opened it up a bit to include engineers in STEM fields working in some of Delaware’s growing industries, including greentech and healthtech.
This year, as the tech industry continues to grow in Delaware, we’re focusing again on software developers and technology leaders who live and/or work in Delaware, with a couple of less traditional roles mixed in.
As always, the search for our 2022 RealLIST Engineers began with a public call for nominations. Then, we consulted technologists — thanks to Ben Garvey and Anthony Putignano for their anonymous review of the noms — and looked back through our own coverage. We considered how the person in mind was influential within their organization and community, how they overcame a specific technical challenge, and how they contributed to educating others on technical issues.
Now, in alphabetical order, here are Technical.ly’s 2022 RealLIST Engineers for Delaware:
Tenny Agustin, engineering operations lead, Best Egg
This Zip Code Wilmington grad was the first from the coding bootcamp to be hired by Best Egg, a fast-growing fintech startup located in North Wilmington. The company culture was a fit for Agustin, who moved up in the company to a lead position, mentoring junior engineers and helping to establish Best Egg’s LGBTQ employee resource group along the way.
“I get to do behind-the-scenes stuff, a lot of stuff that I didn’t really have as much appreciation for just being a developer,” Agustin told Technical.ly in August. “I get to help with forming processes and protocols and such so that I can ensure that our engineers are successful and speedy and deliver quality code before it reaches the masses.”
Deanna Bledsoe, IT director at the Delaware Office of State Treasury and founder of Kai Coders
Bledsoe started using her software development skills to teach kids when schools and extracurricular activities went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What started as a fun way for members of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to earn badges while meetings were remote turned into a business teaching coding from her Hockessin home.
Now that schools have reopened, Bledsoe has added in-person community outreach events to Kai Coders’ offerings, including in-school lessons.
“I do a lesson, and then within 15 minutes we are coding, and at the end of that one hour you will have something to show to your friends or to your family,” Bledsoe told Technical.ly in July.
Ishet Dhar, chief digital officer at M&T Bank
Delaware is a central market for M&T Bank, and its commitment to prioritizing tech, both as a company and in its service, was highlighted in August when it hired its first chief digital officer, Dhar, a former SVP of digital consumer delivery for Bank of America.
The Wilmington-based position is just one that is helping build Delaware’s commitment fintech.
“It’s essentially a huge opportunity to supercharge the bank’s digital transformation and bring a more comprehensive and more seamless digital experience to our customers,” Dhar told Technical.ly in August. “M&T is a super regional bank that is growing while it maintains that strong community banking-slash-neighbor feel. And the commitment to diversity at M&T is unbelievable and starts at the very top.”
Jordan Eldridge, software engineer and youth work-based learning manager at Code Differently
Last year, we wondered if Code Differently’s first couple of coding cohorts focused on underrepresented future technologists would make an impact on future RealLIST Engineers lists, and we’re already seeing it. The tech education org’s Eldridge has developed hundreds of aspiring youth technologists over the last two years, according to his nominator.
“Jordan plays a major role in preparing Code Differently youth for partnership summer software engineering internships and projects,” his nominator wrote.
Before his current role, Eldridge was a software engineer focusing on production support of credit card services. He was recently featured by Oracle Academy for his part in making Code Differently its largest community partner in the United States.
Joseph McLean, CEO and cofounder of Quavo
Before cofounding Quavo, the maker of automated software that manages disputes for financial institutions, Lewes-based McClean spent 14 years with Bank of America, starting as a software developer and working his way up to SVP of consumer operations.
As for Quavo: “We saw an opportunity in the market to build a standard solution, so they wouldn’t all have to start from scratch,” McLean told Technical.ly in September. “There’s only so many ways to solve this problem. Let’s solve it once, and for everyone.”
He took on the role of CEO of Quavo in February. Who says you can’t do tech and live in Sussex County?
Matthew Saponaro, founder of A.I. Whoo
Saponaro founded the 2022 RealLIST Startups honoree A.I. Whoo (pronounced “who”) in 2019, using artificial intelligence to ethically capture data and to improve behaviors in large spaces, including measuring engagement at aquariums and parks.
The startup also uses its tech to measure athletic performance at sports combines and tryouts along with sportstech startup Hx Innovations and completed a pilot with the Delaware Technical and Community College volleyball team. Saponaro is also a former University of Delaware instructor.
Matt Sharp, founder of Momiji Studios
After more than five years of solo development, Sussex County technologist Sharp completed Video Game Fables, a retro style game with a game-within-a-game storyline.
“You get a lot of self doubt and anxiety about something like this, where you’re putting your — it sounds cheesy — but you’re putting your heart, sweat, blood and tears, your heart and soul, into something for four or five years,” Sharp said shortly before the game dropped to positive reviews on Steam. “You have no guarantee or no idea how it’s going to do, if it will sell.”
Sharp, a graduate and former teacher at Wilmington University’s Game Design program, now resides in Bridgeville, where he also works for a local IT company.
Scott Shaw, director of technology at Nemours
Known as Delaware’s “Godfather of Gaming,” the former director of the Game Design program at Wilmington University taught a generation of students how to create games and break into the growing industry.
Now he uses his skills to help hospitalized kids play video games at Nemours Hospital for Children in Wilmington.
“We’re using video games as a way to bring some normalcy and hopefully connect [patients] back to their friends and family,” Shaw told Technical.ly in September. “Making uncomfortable positions bearable and maybe even fun, that was the draw. Using my talents in terms of game development, gameplay, game theory, game-based learning — all of the things that I had done previously — in a way that could give back to a population that is not in the best place.”
Kalyn Smith, software engineer and curriculum writer for Code Differently’s high school work-based learning program
While working as a daycare teacher, Smith saw an ad for Code Differently’s ReturnReady program. After completing the bootcamp, she took on a role as a software developer for a small startup before joining her alma mater.
“Kalyn has always been a leader in the youth space,” her nominator wrote. “Her lessons are followed by hundreds of youth in and around Delaware. She is also a strong advocate of increasing exposure to computer science to girls. When it comes to her ability to connect youth’s interest with today’s technology, let’s just say, she’s writing the book on it!”
Alexandr Vinokurov, technology director for institutional client services at Wilmington Trust
Wilmington Trust (now a subsidiary of M&T Bank) has been part of the fabric of Wilmington since its founding 119 years ago. Today, it is a major part of the city’s tech industry, and Vinokurov currently plays a big part in its growth.
“Alex is the IT leader for everything Wilmington Trust is doing to grow its institutional client services business worldwide,” his nominator wrote. “That tech support work is taking place in Wilmington, where he plans to hire around 40 full-time employees at its renovated IT space in downtown Wilmington.”
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