Mortgage companies that want to take advantage of the latest tech solutions have more options than ever before, but figuring out the right infrastructure for their business is complicated. After a panel on managing infrastructure at the MBA Technology Solutions Conference in Detroit on Wednesday, we sat down with Stacey Caster, vice president of technology communications at Quicken Loans, to find out how she approaches this task, and what advice she would have for other companies. 

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges to migrating to cloud?

A. I think it’s understanding what the cloud really has to offer. There’s incredible competition out there with vendors, so they will say they are in the cloud, but a lot of vendors are just doing lift and shift, where you just pick up and move to the cloud, versus lift and optimize. If it’s just a lift and shift, you’re not taking advantage of everything that you may want or need. Just being in the cloud doesn’t make it very different from being on-premise. When we talk about server-less cloud, it’s not about hardware anymore, but how the product works itself. That’s not something people are used to with an on-premise situation.

Q. When you look at vendors, what are some things you should look for to see if they can deliver what they promise, cloud-wise?

A. I would say, look at their previous version versus their cloud version. If there’s not a lot of difference, that could mean they aren’t optimizing what’s available in the cloud. You want to see how it will change your effectiveness and grow with your business.

One thing I like to ask is: If we go with you, how fast can you implement cloud? Some vendors will say they can get you up in a week, but truly, if the vendor is really optimizing cloud like they should, you should be able to make a phone call and they get you up in an hour. That’s the real difference — that’s one thing cloud does.

Q. How you do you know you have the right people in place to evaluate and then implement what you want in the cloud?

A. You look for the people who have passion around it — the people on your team where it’s a hobby, as well as a job. They’re digging in and they might have online groups where they talk to other people, or they go in and learn on their own. There’s formal training, but with the big companies like Microsoft, Google, etc., you can go in and teach yourself. So even small companies that don’t have a training budget can take advantage of all the free learning that’s out there and available. You want people who understand the vision of where you want to go and how to move the company there. Finding one person who can do all of that is unusual — that’s why I think you have to have a team of people who complement each other.

Q. What do some of those team members look like?

A. I believe there is a new role coming called an infrastructure engineer. This is someone who knows all the different pieces — network, server, database, etc. They may not be an expert in any one piece, but they know about all of them. Of course, a system architect could be an advantage too. And you need a product manager or leader who not only understands the product but also has a business view to tie all the threads into the technical view. Sometimes this person used to be in the business area but has a technical aptitude and interest. There are a lot of people in technology who don’t have technology degrees and they are doing wonderful.

Q. Where do you look for your ideal technical candidates at Quicken Loans?

A. Quicken Loans is unique because we want people to come to Detroit and stay in Detroit, so that’s step one. We look at the different schools and see if maybe people came for school but will stay for their career. Then step two is looking at certain degrees. You may need a specific knowledge, such as a data science degree, and then also people who have a technical major but they minor in something else. For instance, a software engineering major, but an accounting minor, and then they understand how the two pieces work together.

Q. How does Quicken Loans encourage its technical people to innovate?

A. We have dedicated time to innovate, called bullet time. It’s four hours once a week where all technology team members focus on something different than their everyday jobs. It could be getting their hands dirty or reading. We do a lot of proof of concepts, some of those come to fruition in production and some don’t, but we don’t know unless we try, so let’s try and see what happens.

We also ask ourselves lots of questions and we are constantly challenging each other. If you are stating the status quo, you will get challenged. “Why not now?” or “Isn’t that what everyone else is doing?” Multiple times a day I get challenged on my plans or ideas.

Also, we watch what those in other spaces are doing with technology, whether that’s retailers, automotive — don’t limit yourself. We see what they’re doing and see how it ties back to what we can do as well.