Volano Gives New Developers a Shot

Omaha-based Volano Software not only builds custom business software, they help build the IT workforce. “We’ve hired a number of folks that have not coded professionally before and helped them become technology professionals,” said Rod Smith, co-founder and partner of Volano, which specializes in developing customized workflow design software, databases, portals and more.  Over the…

Stavneak and Smith
Don Stavneak, left, and Rod Smith have hired many first-time developers at Volano.

Omaha-based Volano Software not only builds custom business software, they help build the IT workforce.

“We’ve hired a number of folks that have not coded professionally before and helped them become technology professionals,” said Rod Smith, co-founder and partner of Volano, which specializes in developing customized workflow design software, databases, portals and more. 

Over the years many first-time developers fresh out of code school or a university computer science program have helped engineer Volano’s software.

Luis Pineda

In fact, the company’s first hire, Luis Pineda, had never really written code before. “We took him from selling cars and made a technologist out of him,” Smith said. “We still get thank-you letters from him occasionally.”

Born in El Salvador, Pineda became interested in technology through a fifth-grade computer class. 

“The class was mainly games that we did and some Word Art and stuff like that. It wasn’t coding languages or anything, but I always found it interesting from that age,” Pineda said.

Other than that, he said, tech options were limited in El Salvador.

At 15, Pineda moved to the U.S., planning to study computer science. But he took a job at a call center, became a manager and decided to begin a degree in business management instead. 

Instead, he bounced around between jobs for a while and became a payment validation specialist for a company in the field of fraud detection called IntegriGuard. That’s where he met Smith and Volano co-founder Don Stavneak. Still a few years away from starting their business, Smith and Stavneak were building internal systems to help IntegriGuard make good on a government contract. Pineda, meanwhile, had long given up his childhood dream of becoming a developer.

Both Smith and Stavneak took an instant liking to the ingratiating young man. Smith recalled Pineda’s more-than-casual interest in the work that he and Stavneak did.

“Luis became an advocate of ours and wanted to see us make his department as successful as possible. As part of doing that, he really wanted to dig in and be a more integral part, rather than just an advisor,” Smith said.

To that end, Pineda opened up Microsoft Access and modeled an idea he’d come up with to make his own job easier. He asked Smith and Stavneak if they would be able to build his idea into the enterprise software the pair was creating at the time. They said yes, developing the germ of Pineda’s idea into a more robust system. 

The three went their separate ways: Smith and Stavneak to a large IT enterprise with limited room for growth, and Pineda to a car dealership.

“I didn’t talk to them after that for about two years,” Pineda said. “And then they reached out to me.”

By this time, in 2008, Smith and Stavneak had formed Volano. Their business was growing and they needed someone to help them with entry-level tasks. 

Pineda immediately came to mind. Volano hired him and began teaching him how to build software, first by having him debug code.

“Really it was just, ‘Find out what breaks in this application, write down the line code, and get back to us,’” he said. “Eventually they showed me how to fix some of the bugs, and after that, they gave me enough room to start building applications.”

Smith said Volano has given 11 developers their first coding opportunity. 

To be clear, the team relies on a mix of senior, mid-level and junior developers, not just novices. Smith said they are currently looking to hire a senior developer.

For his part, Pineda worked four years at Volano, sharpening his development skills while the company grew. Eventually, he took a developer job in Florida, craving a warmer climate. Volano happily recommended him to his future employers.

“We wrote some great references for Luis,” Smith said. “We’d like to think we helped him move up in his career.”

Thirteen years into the tech career he grew up dreaming of, Pineda now works as senior IT developer for the insurance corporation ASI.

“I owe it all to Rod and Don, really,” Pineda said. “I haven’t looked back.”

Tom McCauley (MFA, University of Massachusetts Amherst) is a writer, comedian, and musician living in Omaha, Nebraska. His work has been published in What Rough Beast, The Superstition Review, Leveler, and Omaha Magazine. His essay “Introductory Element Comma Independent Clause: a Study of the Moon and Bees” is forthcoming from Willow Springs. Currently, he works as interim managing editor for Silicon Prairie News, digital content production manager for the AIM Institute and adjunct professor of creative writing for the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

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