ITA Spotlight: Enova, Dan Kirsche, Head of Software Engineering
Friday, February 8, 2019
Posted by: Kaylin Berg
Dan Kirsche, Head of Software Engineering, Enova
Learn how Dan Kirsche went from owning his own wine website to leading the Software Engineering team at one of Chicago’s most innovative $1B companies, Enova.
Chicagoan by birth or relocation?
Birth - I grew up in Skokie.
How did you come to work with Enova?
Enova is the most successful Chicago-based Fintech company. They are innovative and investing heavily in Software Development and Predictive Analytics. I knew I wanted to work somewhere that would allow me to do challenging work and innovate at scale. It checked all the boxes for me.
What about Enova was appealing?
Values were a big driver. Enova has a strong focus on giving back to the community. We have an apprenticeship program where we train those looking to get into software development. This includes a close partnership with a bootcamp focused on veterans, Code Platoon. We have groups like Women@Enova and founded ChiWiTCon, an annual conference designed to bring the achievements, aspirations, and career interests of women in technology to the forefront.
As I previously mentioned, innovation was another driver. Enova is a leader in its industry and has built that lead by leveraging tech and analytics to benefit our customers. In particular, we have access to a wealth of data from our 5+ million customers and over $20 billion in loans issued. We leverage machine learning to build better risk and fraud models so that we can serve our customers better and make sure we are providing hardworking people with access to fast, trustworthy credit.
What other roles have you held in the industry? How did they lead you to where you are now?
I started my career as an entrepreneur, founding, scaling and selling an e-commerce wine business. This gave me an opportunity to innovate on a smaller scale and develop my passion for innovation. For example, we added an online shopping cart option to our website at a time when that was virtually unheard of. I then went on to start a few other disruptive businesses.
I realized I enjoyed building and scaling software engineering teams, which led me to become the Director of Engineering at Groupon. My teams leveraged machine learning to optimize our supply and pricing. We ultimately built a machine learning platform to quickly train and onboard new models.
Most recently, I was Vice President of Engineering at Project44, one of the fastest growing tech startups in Chicago. All of this led me to Enova, where I’m focusing on leveraging cutting-edge technologies and building new products like our machine learning platform behind our decisions-as-a-service offering, Enova Decisions.
Out of all the positions you've held, which one is the most interesting?
Each one has been interesting in its own way. It’s probably not fair of me to say Enova just yet, since I’m relatively new here, but so far Enova is my favorite because it has the right mix of innovation and culture that I haven’t seen at any other Chicago tech company. I get to work on scaling technology at a $1B-dollar company in the financial sector and developing forward-looking tools for our business and our customers. The opportunity for continued innovation in this space is exciting. Enova has fostered a culture and values that have “grown up” with the company in a way that really works. We have smart people who, to use one of our values, “Operate as an Owner” and take control of their projects while leaving their egos at the door. It’s inspiring to be a part of it.
If I had to pick another one, I would choose my time at Groupon for two reasons. For one, it was a unique opportunity to truly experience engineering at scale. Second, I had the opportunity to build an advanced machine learning platform, which gave me a unique experience of integrating predictive models within a typical service-oriented architecture.
I’ve been lucky and am able to take all my previous experiences and build on them at Enova at a different scale, in a different space, using different technologies.
What do you like most about what you do?
My personal mantra is providing customer value through technology. At heart, I am a blend of entrepreneur and engineer. I look at everything from the lens of how to make it better, and then I go off and build it. In all of my roles, I have made it a focus to empower others to think innovatively and then go build it.
I believe that the most exciting space and opportunity for providing customer value is in the Fintech space. Enova is able to leverage its analytics-driven decisioning capabilities and technology platform to offer credit to hardworking people across the world who are not served by banks. There is so much disruption going on right now in this industry, from mobile, blockchain, digitization of currency and predictive analytics. The field is changing rapidly, and I am excited by the tremendous opportunity ahead of us.
Which achievement at Enova are you most proud of?
The achievement I’m most proud of is an Enova-wide achievement. We’re now licensing the same software we use to run our $1B business to help other companies make credit decisions. The decisions-as-a-service offering called is Enova Decisions.
What’s your outlook on the local tech industry?
I am a native Chicagoan, so my opinions may be biased, but I see Chicago as one of the best cities for tech. Enova is also based in Chicago, along with our entire engineering organization. We have always been active in the tech community, and this year we will continue to do so.
I have personally seen too many talented folks move from Chicago to the Bay Area. I am optimistic that this is a slowing trend, as people realize all the benefits Chicago has to offer. We have amazing engineering schools, top MBA programs and a reasonable cost of living. I have also been seeing some VCs recommending startups be based in Chicago.
What do you think are the top issues facing the Illinois tech community?
Talent - The midwest has top engineering universities and a great tech community, but many of the graduates head to the west coast for one reason or the other. We need to work together as a tech community to keep this talent local.
Funding - Many Chicago based startups head to the west coast for their rounds because the funding opportunities are far greater in the bay area.
Despite these challenges, Chicago has been doing well. Fintech has been particularly hot, with such a strong Finance sector.
This one is all you! Tell us anything. Any topic at all.
I have to put in a plug for Enova’s SE team: We’re hiring. We have a lot of exciting work ahead of us this year, and we’re looking for talented team members to help us grow. You can hear what it’s like at Enova directly from our SE team members on our blog and see open positions on our careers page.