At a time of constant shifts, we like to celebrate the good here at Technical.ly, alongside highlighting some of the challenges. In some cases, that means applauding the very people solving the challenges of the world around us.
To that end, we’re here to announce our 2021 RealLIST Engineers in DC, the group of software developers and technologists who stood out among many for their innovation and achievement over the last year.
With this list, we look to recognize the people behind the curtain, doing the hard work to create something new and make sure everything is running smoothly. They’re innovators, go-getters and you can often find them reaching back their hand to help out others in the #dctech community. Some are avid mentors and speakers. Others are shaping workplace culture, or creating projects actually causing social change.
You might ask, how do we decide someone is real?
To curate this list of luminaries, we asked the local tech community for nominations and consulted technologists — thanks to Ben Garvey, Anthony Putignano and Kris Molendyke — on who they deemed worthy of a spot. We also took a peek back at our previous coverage from the past year to see who stood out among many.
Then, we made selections by considering how each person was a tech trailblazer, creating something new or solving old problems. We also looked at how they helped out their community and influenced those around them.
You’ll find a list that includes technologists from DC’s most established business and technology companies, while others are from startups and DC’s ever-present community that works with the federal government. Throughout, you’ll also find the names of some of the leading groups bringing the tech community together. So if you’re looking for a place to plug in, take notes.
Now let’s get to it. Here’s the third annual RealLIST Engineers DC, with honorees listed in alphabetical order:
Johnny Ray Austin, CTO, Till
After starting as the VP of engineering at DC rental payment company Till, Austin moved up to the C-suite in 2020 (and locked in a sweet salary over $200,000). As CTO, Austin oversees the company’s cloud-based system, which has onboarded 150,000 homes and apartments into its system with 50,000 users — numbers Till expects to double by 2022.
Before he landed at Till, Austin held roles at plenty of well-known DMV tech firms, including iStrategyLabs, Lockheed Martin, Mapbox, EVERFI and Capital One. He’s also on the board of digital literacy nonprofit Byte Back.
Michaela Barnett, senior analyst, Accenture Federal Services
When she’s not busy moving up the ranks at govtech firm Accenture Federal Services, Barnett is also the founder and CEO of Blacks in Cybersecurity (BIC), an organization supporting diversity in the cybersecurity talent pipeline. Since its founding in 2019, the organization now hosts ambassadors in 30 cities worldwide, as well as conferences and mentorship programs. Thanks to Barnett’s work, earlier this year, BIC received a Black Badge award from hacker conference DEFCON — the highest award the event offers — for BIC’s cybersecurity event and training offerings.
Natalia Clementi, OSS engineer, Coiled
Having recently joined the company in April of this year after completing a PhD in mechanial engineering from George Washington University, Clementi is already a top team member at Coiled, a company that helps data scientists use Python.
According to Clementi’s nominator, she’s been critical in making sure key workflows run “consistently and correctly” through the company’s infrastructure and the Dask open-source library. Plus, they said she’s one of the company’s most crucial tutorial writers, and even holds office hours for users.
In the community, Clementi is also a member of local professional networks like PyLadies and Women Who Code, among others, and an active driver of Coiled’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Brandon Coates, senior cloud security engineer, Yahoo
Alongside his work at Yahoo to ensure cloud accounts are secure, Coates is also the executive director for Black Code Collective, the DC org that connects and supports Black technologists. A founding member, Coates now leads and oversees the 2,000-person strong community in technical assistance, job searching, salary transparency discussion and offering the general 411 about the software development scene in the DMV. Before he landed at Yahoo, Coates held roles at Scitor Corporation, Lockheed Martin, PatchAdvisor and Tenable.
Lonye Ford, CEO, Arlo Solutions
As cofounder and CEO, Ford has led the technology side of downtown DC cybersecurity firm Arlo Solutions since it started in 2014.
In over 20 years in government contracting, Ford coauthored the Air Force Fast Track Risk Management Framework (RMF) process, and she assessed and developed the RMF for the US Department of Agriculture. Under her expertise, Arlo has grown 2,758% and added five government contracts in the past three years.
Melanie Frank, managing VP of cyber engineering, Capital One
Progressing in a 21-year stint at the McLean, Virginia-based banking conglomerate, Frank is now in a key executive role shaping the technology used by thousands of Capital One employees, and leads a resource group for women in tech at the company.
While she has been with the company for two decades, her career has been a story of being open to taking on new challenges and embracing new roles. She moved up from a software testing position to the director of quality services, a senior director role in enterprise customer management and leadership roles in retail bank technology, card technology and associate experience. She has also helped the company in its move to go all-in on the cloud as well as add machine learning and AI tools.
Andrew Hian-Cheong, principal architect of AI and machine learning, FiscalNote
Hian-Cheong was one of the first engineering hires at DC policy software company FiscalNote. As the company has grown to become one of DC’s largest tech companies, he has held roles across data management, engineering and data science. He led architecting on many of FiscalNote’s data engineering pipelines, and is heading up the build of a low-code data ingestion platform. He also led integration of the company’s engineering and data management through multiple acquisitions, including developing a data lakehouse model.
According to his nominator, the Georgetown University grad has set the standards for many of the company’s development teams. He is also a willing mentor to others on the data engineering, data science and technical services teams.
“He readily offers to jump into pair programming sessions and is extremely transparent about philosophies for technical architecture tradeoffs,” his nominator wrote, adding that he is also “successful at building consensus for broad architectural projects.”
Charlotte Lee Jackson, data science lead, Medicare Advantage investigations, Anthem
In the latter, she has headed up one of the biggest projects from the organization this year: a data-driven project collecting car crash data from around the District. While leading the effort, which combined multiple data sources to create an easy-to-use database, her nominator said she onboarded developers for the project and created actionable tasks that made it easy to jump in. The project, which found that about one-third of car crashes go unreported, was so noteworthy that the leadership team managed to land a meeting with the DC Department of Transportation.
Jocelyn Jeriah, implementation engineer, Sorcero
After spending a few years in quality assurance, Jeriah moved into the engineering field after completing a program with the bootcamp Coding Dojo. Before landing an implementation engineering role at Adams Morgan-based AI company Sorcero earlier this year, she was a full-stack developer at companies including goblaq and Essteem. Going forward, she’ll be a contributor amid Sorcero’s huge growth plans for 2022. Following a recently-closed $10 million Series A round, Sorcero plans to invest in its infrastructure, scale its current products and add a few new ones.
Christoper Monroe, cofounder and chief scientist, IonQ
As a physics professor at the University of Maryland, Monroe was a co-leader in key quantum computing research that led to him to become a cofouder of IonQ in 2015. The College Park-based company specializes in trapped ion quantum computing, and is aiming to be among the vanguard of firms bringing the more powerful problem-solving machines from the lab to commercial use.
With Monroe serving as chief scientist, the company made a splash with a series of technical breakthoughs this year. It is now poised for growth after a debut on Wall Street. In September, IonQ went public in a SPAC merger with an estimated value of $2 billion. In 2022, the company is looking to break into the drug discovery, materials science and battery industry applications of quantum.
Sachin Nene, chief architect, GetUpside
Nene’s nominator describes him as “an extremely dedicated team member that wears multiple hats and gets things done with laser focus.” At GetUpside, a DC-based company which offers an app to provide cash back at local businesses, Nene implements precise code while also breaking down SaaS architecture into smaller pieces, allowing other engineers to understand the design principles.
According to his nominator, he has pinpointed a number of areas for improvement in the GetUpside marketplace and a plan of attack.
Nene also hosts a number of reading groups with company engineers and one-on-one mentoring with fellow employees. His previous credentials include stints on influential DC tech teams including Vox Media and Opower.
Juan Pablo Madrid, design director, Online Optimism
As the design director for digital marketing firm Online Optimism, Madrid led projects for the Technology Policy Institute in DC, Atlanta’s Decide DeKalb and the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission. Meanwhile, he’s also helping to manage the company’s growth, including developing and launching an intranet for the company and mentoring the design team. He also directly oversees Online Optimism’s interns.
According to his nominator, his enthusiasm and leadership skills have pushed the team to “bring their best work and selves to the table.”
Ajay Patel, cofounder, Plasticity
Twenty-six-year-old Patel cofounded Plasticity, a McLean-based company specializing in natural language processing products and APIs, in 2016. A graduate of the Y Combinator accelerator, Patel met cofounder Alex Sands while they were students at the University of Pennsylvania. After working as engineers at big tech companies including Google and Apple, the pair set out to build new tools to find meaning and insights from unstructured data and text.
The product-forward company has gone on to land research grants from the Air Force AFWERX program and national security contracts with the Department of Defense. The company used Plasticity to find 29 different fake channels on YouTube created by Russian bad actors to influence the 2020 American election. He’s currently at work on a new element in the Plasticity toolbox, and gearing up to launch a funding phase.
Tammy Perrin, software engineering manager, Google
A recent addition to the team at Google, Perrin is currently building out and leading teams in DC for the company’s news and search tools, where she’s working to understand and represent news content. But before she landed there, she was the director of software engineering at Capital One, heading the Engage and CreditWise products.
Perrin is also an avid mentor and community member, according to her nominator. She frequently gives unpaid conference and university tech talks, fireside chats and lunch and learns, particularly for underrepresented audiences. She had six mentees alone outside of Google, plus she was a mentor for Capital One’s Women in Tech Connected Circles program, where she mentored 11 women in tech.
Chad Rhyner, head of engineering, StreetShares
Since he joined the fintech company in 2017, Rhyner’s nominator said he’s been a driving force for innovation at Reston, Virginia-based StreetShares. When the government began offering Paycheck Protection Program loans last year, Rhyner was the guiding force for the company, helping banks and technology partners.
Altogether, his nominator said, his assistance in developing a software solution product helped thousands of business owners receive billions in funding in just under 45 days. Plus, they said, he’s helped to secure additional partnerships and a myriad of growth opportunities for StreetShares.
He also leads daily triage learning exercises with his team, and biweekly sessions with the whole company.
Tajh Taylor, VP of data science and engineering, Wikimedia Foundation
There are a lot of brainiacs on this list, but Taylor can actually be classified as a brain behind brains. Following a 10-year stint at Catalist, he joined the Wikimedia Foundation in 2020 — which powers research site Wikipedia — as VP of its cyber and data team. Plus, you can often find him sharing resources and connecting with technologists in the DC Tech Slack (#apple and #tech-culture channels, to be specific).