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ESOPs, Cooperatives, and Sputtered Optical Filters: Elijah Snow-Rackley ’20 at Chroma Technologies

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I can tell you what makes an optical filter a ‘sputtered optical filter’, but here at Chroma, that’s what we do. An optic filter is a flat piece of glass that is coated in order to filter out different wavelengths of light and color. These are used in a variety of technologies including microscopes, biomedical equipment, and have military applications (although Chroma does not work with the US Department of Defense – a decision made by their democratically elected board of employee owners). I’m not very well read in the sciences, but as a political economy major Chroma Technology Corp had a definitely pull. Chroma Technology is an employee owned company meaning that the owners of the stock in the company are the workers themselves. The company also has, as I mentioned before, a democratic structure which means that the workers all have a shared stake in the operations of the company. While Chroma still supports a hierarchy that can be found in many workplaces, the employees have more of a say in the day to day work operations than usual. Paul Millman, a founder and the current CEO of Chroma, professes that socialism is his religion. Follow this link to find out more about Chroma Technology.

My role is in the IT department helping to facilitate the 130 employee company’s move from Microsoft tools to Google’s enterprise package: G Suite. Since the workers here are also the owners of the company, many employees have been here for years. As a result, it can be very hard to implement large scale changes in the day to day processes in both the office environment or on the production floor. Moving all of our tools over from one software suite to another was a serious challenge. It didn’t help that I arrived at a time where the Chroma campus was undergoing serious construction as the company moves to double the size of their facilities. My job was to develop a curriculum and host training sessions for the employees to help ease the transition and to make sure that people understand the features of the new software.

To start things off, I took surveys of the company in order to determine which tools would need the most attention. Unfortunately, Google Forms, the survey tool I used, didn’t produce individualized reports for the respondents. It was difficult to use these initial results as a benchmark for much of anything. Here I was able to put my background in software development to some use and, using a scripting language known as R (typically used for statistical analysis), I was able to generate a complete set of reports for each of the respondents which I could use to develop the curriculum to cater to the needs of the company’s employees. It doesn’t seem like there’s much sense in going over material if people are comfortable with certain features already. Since we have such varied skill levels here at Chroma, I think it’s crucial to make sure that the course curriculum addresses the needs of each employee individually.

A view of my desk/work station in the IT office.

 

From here I was able to develop a set of eight presentations and schedule and host over twenty two-hour training sessions on the new software. To go along with these presentations I developed a set of evaluation materials which could be entered into the company training record so that they could track employee proficiency in the software. In-between the training sessions I would act as a helpdesk analyst helping to troubleshoot problems at other employee’s workstations while addressing questions/concerns they had over using the new software. Where needed, I was also able to provide one-on-one training sessions which is useful if employees have trouble scheduling or working with the material in a group setting.

As a whole, I feel like I’ve gained invaluable experience during my time with Chroma. I have a better understanding of how employee owned companies operate, a more complete perspective into the inner-workings of the IT departments in larger scale companies, and a set of skills in presentation, teaching, and curriculum development I didn’t have before this co-op experience. If I didn’t have to get back to classes I would seriously consider continuing on with a company like Chroma.

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Elijah T. Snow-Rackley is a first year student at Antioch College. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he's currently studying political economy with the intention of going into education. He is currently working with Chroma Technology Corp, an employee-owned biotechnology company based out of Vermont.

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