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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Mar. 1, 202205:10 AM EST

Hashrocket keeps programmers with views, 35-hour workweeks

The software developer has developed more than 200 applications.
by: Dan Macdonald Staff Writer

Hiring and retaining programmers is the biggest challenge facing software companies.

Remote work is nothing new in the industry but with the change in workplace culture, even more software professionals are moving from expensive parts of the country to Northeast Florida.

 The liberation has put small area software developers in a bind. There are talented people living in Northeast Florida but they are working for out-of-state companies that pay higher wages.

Hashrocket is a Jacksonville Beach-based software developer co-founded by CEO Marian Phelan in 2008. The company has 20 employees working in Jacksonville Beach and in its Chicago offices. 

As a private company, Phelan declined to disclose Hashrocket’s revenue.

She said sales dropped by 15% in 2020, then recovered in 2021. She projects a 12% increase for 2022.

“Retaining and keeping developers, that’s the key. There is a lot of opportunity in software. I’ve told people that I can’t afford you,” Phelan said.

“On average, the West Coast (industry) pays 70% more than smaller software companies can pay.”

Because of the salary differential, Hashrocket concentrates on creating an optimum work-life balance. Hashrocket’s glass-enclosed offices are on the seventh floor at 320 N. First St. in Jacksonville Beach and all of the employees have an ocean view.

Her team works 35 hours a week. Overtime is rare. She tells customers upfront that her employees will not be grinding out code late into the night.

“Long hours are just not sustainable. We want our employees to stay, to be challenged and not become burnt out,” Phelan said.

On Fridays, five hours are devoted to Open Source Time. Employees are free to pursue their own projects and collaborate over programming problems and solutions. Phelan said the interchange keeps staff motivated and engaged.

From the company’s offices on the seventh floor at 320 N. First St. in Jacksonville Beach, Hashrocket CEO Marian Phelan shows the company’s “Today I Learned” website that helps computer programmers find solutions and fixes and share ideas.

Hashrocket developed the Today I Learned (TIL) website. Her team posts and invites other programmers to post programming solutions and fixes. Screenshots show the actual code. The website is searchable.

TIL also serves as a marketing tool. By allowing access by programmers from outside the company, Hashrocket’s name and reputation is made known to the programming community. 

“We’ve had people go into TIL to find something and recall that they already solved that problem before,” she said.

Phelan promises her employees that they will be challenged. 

Hashrocket customers need specific software to carry out functions unique to their business. Clients are in the financial, automotive and medical fields. 

A recent project involved creating software to track the refurbishing of used cars being prepared for the tight car market. 

Because of the semiconductor shortage stalling new car production, demand for previously owned cars is at an all-time high.

Hashrocket also employs a linear corporate structure. Her programmers are considered consultants. They report only to her.

This structure demands that Hashrocket hire only senior programmers. There are no junior programmers to mentor.

Hashrocket specializes in writing code in the Ruby on Rails framework. It has proven more adaptable as customers need changes, she said. 

The company has created more than 200 Ruby on Rails apps over the past 10 years. Her team averages seven years of experience using the programming method. 

Hashrocket is so committed to Ruby on Rails that it opened a small office in Chicago, where Rails is headquartered.

Phelan, 60, comes from a financial rather than a computer background. 

An immigrant from Limerick, Ireland, she and her husband, Gerald McCarthy, moved to South Florida in 1989 where he worked in the aerospace industry. 

They came to the Jacksonville Beach area in 2003 for what she thought was going to be a two-year stay. She formed Hashrocket with two former partners who since have left. She has run the company since 2010.

When the company was starting, she developed a reputation for closely watching the finances. Her partners gave her a special piece of swag - her company shirt sported a “Cashrocket” logo.

Hashrocket holds a distinction rare in the software industry.

“On average we have people who work for us for 10 years. The industry average is a year and a half,” she said.

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