"Do You Really Mean This? Because I'm Going to Do It": How Oliver Heneghan Advances Development and Diversity at Gravity

Careers at Gravity Part 6


“Hmmm….a few months is a little longer than we’d hoped. What could you do in a week?”

The question took Oliver by surprise. He’d just informed his colleague, Emery Wager, that he’d be happy to help Gravity build an API that would allow new clients to onboard with the company more quickly. Oliver was a self-taught coder who loved problem solving, but given that he worked in customer support full-time, he wasn’t sure he could pull off the feat of building a brand new piece of software in only seven days. But he certainly wanted to try.

“Okay, I can do it,” Oliver told Emery. “I can build you a workable version in a week, but it will have to be improved after that. It won’t be perfect.”

Now he just needed to find the time.

He approached his manager, Austin Roos, about taking a week off to work on the API full-time. “No problem,” Austin said. They’d need to figure out who would cover for Oliver while he was out, but, otherwise, it sounded like a great opportunity.

For the next week, Oliver coded like crazy and delivered a working API to Emery. As expected, it needed work, but Oliver was keen to help. Having worked in support, he was also familiar with many of the systems Gravity used to keep track of clients, and he realized that the company would benefit from having one unified CRM where team members could access all the information they needed. At the time, Gravity had no development team to speak of, just a website developer and a stable of contractors to fill the gaps. Seeing a void that needed filling, Oliver asked if he could split his role to be half development, half support and, once again, he received no pushback.

Oliver continued perfecting his API as well as taking on other development projects as needed. Over time, his programming role became more of a full-time pursuit. In the Fall of 2015, about a year after Oliver had been hired, CTO Tammi Kroll came on board. Still convinced the company needed its own CRM, Oliver sat down with Tammi at the first opportunity he got to discuss options. “I got the feeling that she was entirely skeptical of everything I proposed,” Oliver says. “But pretty soon she came back and said, ‘Oliver, you were right. Everyone I talked to, the top thing they say we need is a CRM. So let’s do it.’”

Since Oliver was still, at this point, a development team of one, he and Tammi started researching CRM platforms and recruiting people from both inside and outside the company to help. They eventually chose Salesforce as their preferred CRM program knowing it would require a lot of custom development, but they dove headfirst into the project and, after about six months, they had a solution to roll out to the company. Meanwhile, as Tammi became more settled within the company, she started hiring additional developers to oversee other projects until, eventually, an official development team was born.

As for Oliver, he’s content being part of a larger team, able to collaborate when necessary and work independently when it makes more sense to do so. “I work best alone,” he says. “But integrating with the team isn’t a problem, and our culture allows any work style.” Given the nature of his work and the autonomous environment at Gravity, Oliver opts to work from home full-time, coming into the office when necessary to meet with his team members. This flexibility allows him to set his own schedule and work in the environment and manner that best suits him. And, trusting Oliver’s abilities and the fact that he will always deliver, no one questions this arrangement.

But coding isn’t the only passion Oliver has brought to Gravity. In his free time, Oliver volunteers as a board member for GLSEN Washington State, a nonprofit which advocates for LGBTQ equality and anti-bullying measures in schools. As a gay man who is engaged in advocacy, he is also dedicated to promoting diversity within the work environment. This passion ultimately led him and a couple of his colleagues to start Diversity and Inclusion at Gravity, aka DIG, an open group committed to supporting inclusion, equity, and education among the Gravity team for all aspects of diversity.

The group started organically in mid-2015 after a coworker approached Oliver and another coworker and announced they wanted to transition to using they/them pronouns at work. Knowing that Oliver was an advocate in the LGBTQ community outside of work, this coworker saw him as a resource who could be trusted to respect their decision and provide advice about how best to announce it to the company. The trio wasn’t too worried about how people would react; the Gravity team is, on the whole, extremely tolerant and nonjudgmental. But they did wonder if some training was in order to help educate people who may not be familiar or comfortable with using non-gendered pronouns. Oliver and his coworkers approached Team Advocates (Gravity’s HR team) about hiring a diversity consultant to come and speak to the group. In the meantime, they began to draft a statement that could be sent to the company about their colleague’s transition.

In the end, everything went smoothly. The colleague sent out their announcement, which was welcomed by the company, and the company began upholding a new standard with pronouns. But, it turns out, the end was just the beginning. Having identified a need for more conversations about diversity within the company, the team started brainstorming other ways to be more inclusive and recruiting more members to join what would become DIG. One initiative was to include gender-neutral bathrooms in the design plan for Gravity’s new headquarters, which the company moved into in 2017. The group began holding monthly meetings and spearheading internal projects, such as a series of blog posts about diversity at the company and women in leadership, and an expanded recruiting pipeline to attract and hire employees from diverse backgrounds. The company also offers pronoun buttons at the front desk of its corporate headquarters so guests and employees can easily identify themselves.

DIG has also taken its mission public. In 2017, the company raised $10,000 to sponsor Seattle Trans Pride, an annual event put on by Gravity client Gender Justice League. This year, DIG is focused on veterans and in search of an event they can sponsor in an effort to raise visibility for veterans in the workforce.

Oliver himself has taken a shine to the role of Diversity and Inclusion leader at Gravity. Since he doesn’t have formal training in this area, he’s been teaching himself by attending local events and workshops and learning all he can about various backgrounds within our community. He hopes that DIG will eventually become a resource for everyone at Gravity. “I want people to know that DIG is there as part of the system,” he says. “I really want them to know that DIG is there to protect anyone’s interests no matter what background they come from because it’s something that’s really important to me. I want Gravity to become a leader among small to midsize businesses in this area. I want us to be able to distinguish ourselves in that way.”

Although his activities for DIG are quite different from his day-to-day programming role, he views both as integral and illustrative of his career at Gravity, particularly the flexibility he has and the lack of pushback he’s received when pursuing a new idea. “My experience at Gravity has been true to the message the company puts out there in the world, which is that you develop your own career and everyone is their own CEO, and you’re a creative leader and you should be thinking like a small business owner yourself in terms of your day-to-day work,” he says. “I almost feel like I challenged the company in some way by taking the approach I have. As if I was asking them, ‘Do you really mean this? Because I’m going to do it.”

As for the future, he’s not sure what it holds, but he knows one thing: at Gravity, he has the freedom to choose his own path. “If I come forward with an idea and a plan, no one stands in my way. I think my career is free to go in any direction at Gravity. If tomorrow I decided to try out sales, no one would say no. They would just ask ‘Why’ and ‘Is that a good move for you?’ and ‘What we can do with your existing work?’ More doors would be opened, not closed.”

By Brooke Carey, Content Editor

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