How LearnVest is transforming the financial services giant that acquired it

Plus more from DevOps conference AnsibleFest, which came to Brooklyn this week.

Azret Deljanin (left), David Miller (center) and Todd Barr (right) discuss the challenges of working in financial services as a software company at AnsibleFest in Downtown Brooklyn on Oct. 11, 2016.

(Photo courtesy of Andi Mann)

In May 2015, Milwaukee financial services giant Northwestern Mutual acquired LearnVest for $250 million.
One product of that new relationship?
LearnVest is driving Northwestern Mutual to look at themselves as a software company in order to keep up with the changing landscape and global economy, said Azret Deljanin, director of IT and infrastructure at the New York City financial planning tech company.
Considering Northwestern Mutual has been in business for about 150 years longer than LearnVest, this seems to encapsulate the word “disruptive,” which, yes, is often a cliche in the startup world. We’ve heard similar things from legacy companies, like Comcast, trying to adapt to today’s age: “If today, we’re a networking and hardware company, in five to 10 years, we want to become a media and technology company with software at the heart of it,” Comcast’s CTO Sree Kotay said Chief Network Officer John Schanz told him back in 2007.
Deljanin was speaking at AnsibleFest, a yearly conference for DevOps engineers, which made its first foray into Downtown Brooklyn Tuesday for a day of technical deep dives and networking. The conference has been held in San Francisco, London and Manhattan in the past. While “Silicon Alley” was the original term for tech startups burgeoning near Manhattan’s Lower East Side, many conferences have also seen the virtues of Brooklyn’s more spacious accommodations and slightly more laidback vibe. Today, for example, Fashion Tech Forum is being hosted in the Navy Yard’s Duggal Greenhouse.
Deljanin took the stage for a panel on “Digital Disruptors” with David Miller, vice president of tech operations at Manhattan-based small business loan company OnDeck, to discuss the delicate balance of software development agility and the stringent compliance laws imposed by the U.S. government. People piled into AnsibleFest’s main conference hall to hear them speak.
Miller characterized the beginnings of OnDeck as extremely focused on software engineering and improving their development practices. That’s because he knew the technology had to be perfect to acquire new customers when they first started. OnDeck went public in 2014.


The rise of dev confs in New York

Jet is a popular ecommerce company designed around saving online shoppers money by any means necessary. Roughly a year after launching, the North Jersey company got acquired by Walmart in August for $3.3 billion.
The company is probably best known for abandoning its subscription fee in 2015 and serving customers with aggressively low-priced items. But behind all that savings on paper towels and Swiffer sheets, there’s a massive, churning software engineering machine.
Justen Walker, senior software engineer for DevOps at Jet, took the AnsibleFest stage and shared how he and his team operate completely in the Microsoft Azure cloud. That makes perfect sense, considering Azure is a direct competitor of Amazon Web Services — and it’s safe to say the people at Jet would rather not line Amazon’s pockets paying for hosting while they try to beat them in the ecommerce/home-delivery game.
Alongside a passion for automating everything with Ansible, Walker works with containers and microservices, too. He pointed out that those heavy technical topics used to only be covered at conferences in Silicon Valley, but not anymore.
“AnsibleFest coming here shows that there’s a lot of draw in the tech space in New York for this kind of stuff,” Walker said. “People from Silicon Valley come out here for events now, and that’s great.”

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