CSE Software: High-Tech Triumphs

Secrets of the Great Workplace
by Jonathan Wright
Photos by Kelli Drake

CSE Software has been wowing clients with cutting-edge technology solutions since it was founded nearly 30 years ago. From its headquarters in downtown Peoria, the company provides custom software and mobile app development, simulator software, eLearning modules, web development and more—serving clients in industries from healthcare and heavy equipment to warehousing and education.

When CSE moved into the Maxam Building in 2012, the space had sat mostly vacant for several years, littered by boxes and papers left behind by former tenants. Today, its third- and fourth-floor offices exude that “industrial loft vibe”—with exposed brick, high ceilings and oversized windows—while nodding to local history with black-and-white prints on its century-old walls. Within this large, open workspace, software developers collaborate in various stages of work and play, bringing new-world technologies into a distinctly old-world space.

Creating the Future
Because tech companies are quite literally creating the future, their industry is a perpetually trendy one. As the world further embraces AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality), the developers at CSE Software have front-row seats to emerging technologies like the Oculus and VIVE Pro VR headsets; the Microsoft HoloLens, a pair of “mixed-reality” smartglasses; and Apple’s ARKit—the world’s largest platform for building AR experiences.

“We get the opportunity to get our hands on these tools and think up ways they will serve customers in the real world,” explains Nick Striegel, creative director. “CSE trusts and empowers its people to experiment and learn the technology so we have unique, innovative solutions for our clients.”

“We always have developers conducting R&D and learning how to develop for the latest hardware and toolkits,” adds Brandon Reynolds, mobile/AR/VR team lead. “We then take the lessons learned through R&D and turn them into fully developed solutions for customers like Caterpillar, OSF HealthCare, Growmark and others.”

For software developers, the chance to work with technologies as soon as they are released is quite attractive. It’s also a prime opportunity to showcase their capabilities to potential clients. “During a recent tour of our office space, the 3D team was able to demonstrate some trending AR/VR developments that intrigued our customer to a new level of confidence with how technology is moving our society,” notes Sami Sarraf, project manager.

In exploring these capabilities, CSE’s developers also achieve a great deal of intellectual satisfaction. Several years ago, the firm was contracted by Caterpillar to expand the functionality of its Dozer simulator in order to demonstrate certain sound features. “The proof of concept… led to the approval of the first-generation machine sound simulator,” notes Stacey Burris, account manager. “David Copley, a senior engineering specialist in [Caterpillar’s] Global Sound Solutions division, is now writing a whitepaper on the technology.”

CSE Software

Employee-Centric Culture
Beyond offering opportunities to experiment with the latest and greatest technologies, CSE has carved out its own unique workplace culture—“making it a place that’s worth working for,” Striegel declares. “Teammates are smart and creative, and we are encouraged to have fun with our teams. The culture is flexible for your personal workstyle… and people are trusted and pushed to try things out of their comfort zone. Also, there’s beer in the fridge!”

“The culture is family first, and that does not just mean your home family. CSE is family at work as well,” adds Andrea Lusher, support manager. “Many longtime friendships have been formed here, and we are treated as family from the top down.”

Besides offering flexible schedules and options to work remotely, the company welcomes innovative ideas from its staff. “For example, we initiated a program called ‘We Speak,’ in which employees meet in an open forum and discuss areas of improvement with the CEO,” explains Andy Grabenstetter, development architect. “These ideas have already been successful in helping to improve our business and the work life of our employees.”

From workshops to outside certifications, CSE is also focused on the growth and development of its employees. “On-the-clock” time is provided so they may pursue technologies or passion projects that interest them—and there is always something new to learn. “The recent boom in AR/VR technologies has really given our 3D development team an opportunity to expand their knowledge and expertise,” Sarraf notes.

“We strongly believe that if each of us nurtures our strengths and works to improve upon them, then we will have a workplace full of happy, passionate and fulfilled employees,” Lusher adds. “In taking care of our employees first, this will flow to our customers.”

Judging by their clients’ success stories, the approach appears to be working. In the meantime, CSE employees know they’ll never get bored with their jobs. “Every year we’re learning new tools and deployment methods,” Striegel explains. “Right now it’s VIVE, HoloLens, and Oculus… next year, who knows?” iBi

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