Troy Allen joins Railz at EVP, Engineering
Railz is excited to officially announce that Troy Allen, formerly of the Checkr Data Companies, Atrium Health, and other great companies has joined our fast-scaling team as EVP of Engineering! Troy joins us in furthering our mission of building the largest financial data network to empower financial institutions to make sense of messy accounting data.
Troy has an extensive background as a senior information technology (IT) executive and leader — sporting 25 years in the field. His focus throughout his career has been on not only enterprise user-centred application design, but also the high-performing infrastructure needed to support these applications within mission-critical environments. He believes in servant-style leadership and indulges us with a look into his early career, what he’s excited about for the future of Railz, and his day-to-day as an executive in engineering.
Railz: Tell us about your early career, Troy. How did you get to where you are today?
Troy: I graduated high school early at age 16, and enlisted in the Marine Corp on my 17th birthday (my parents had to come with me to sign the paperwork). All I ever wanted to do growing up was be a military pilot. Only commissioned officers can fly, however, and you need at least a four year degree to get your commission. Although I had the grades, I didn’t have the money for college, so I enlisted hoping to gain my commission “the hard way.” During the first Gulf War, I was selected for Commissioning in the highly competitive MECEP program.
I attended the University of Washington for four years, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Human Centred Design & Engineering. I was an Active Duty Marine Sergeant while at university, and I was charged with training the Marine Option Midshipmen in the University of Washington Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (NROTC). Upon graduation, I received my commission and after a few years, I received an honourable medical discharge as a First Lieutenant.
After over a decade in the Marines, for my first civilian job, I worked for the former CIO of Apple (who served under Steve Jobs). He had the idea of using the first web browsers for deploying true “thin client” applications. The term “intranet” had not even been coined yet, but that was what we were doing for companies like Netscape and Wells Fargo.
For the past 25 years of my career, I’ve been focused on the Enterprise Web Application space, with about an 80/20 split between browser and mobile front ends. My career path spans healthcare, telecomm, direct sales and has targeted both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) markets. Most recently, I was Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the Checkr Data Companies. We were charged with collecting court records from over four thousand court systems and over fifty departments of motor vehicles, cleansing and normalizing that data, and making it available to Checkr to perform background checks for their customers (and also provided that data to other background screening companies as well).
How has the financial technology (fintech) industry impacted your career?
I have lived in Charlotte, North Carolina for most of the past 20+ years. Charlotte is the retail banking capital of the world. Despite this, other than consulting engagements, I’ve never had the opportunity to work in the financial sector, as often banks and fintech companies want you to have “grown up in finance.” I could never break through the barriers without going backwards — until now!
I am no stranger to the financial industry, however, and the needs and even struggles of small-medium businesses (SMBs). I have run my own consulting company for over twenty years as well, and have maintained my own books and do my own taxes, so I understand the challenges small businesses face. Beyond that, I am really interested in alternative currencies and the blockchain as well.
When I was young growing up in Minnesota, my parents lived their dream by opening a motorcycle dealership. My dad was our motorcycle expert and my mom was our accountant — she was working as a bookkeeper for a law firm when they opened their doors. My parents had to put their home on the line twice for the business; once to get it started, and another time to keep it going. Both times, my dad only had his “personal credit” and assets to use for what should have been SMB loans.
This is the story for SMBs everywhere, so I am super excited about the alternative credit scoring we’re creating for them. To qualify for financial support, it should not be about someone’s personal finances, but about their business finances — this is what Railz truly believes in. I feel I can contribute greatly to our mission of providing real-time small-medium business (SMB) data to financial institutions so that financial institutions can make impactful decisions for their SMB customers. Based on my past experiences, Railz is doing it the right way with not only data collection, cleansing, and scalable systems for the small businesses’ financial data, but also by normalizing and performing advanced analytics with this SMB data.
What is a day in the life of an executive in engineering really like?
Being an executive in any field is about striking a balance between all aspects of a company and your role.
For example, in a smaller startup environment, we usually don’t have a separate Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO). In Railz’s case, when data is your service you need to do all of the software development, plus the infrastructure and servers, security and compliance for both the internal and external customers. Beyond that, there are also all of the internal IT tasks: everything from setting up employee laptops to email accounts, to all of the internal operations systems to track development, communications, and more.
We have to not only keep developing new products, features, and accounting package integrations, but also at the same time have to keep improving “the machine” that runs it all. The analogy you may hear is that we’re asked to change the oil in the car as it’s going down the highway at 100km an hour. Regardless of how big a company becomes, that’s the level you need to perform at consistently, while always putting the customer first.
Right now, my job is a big Tetris puzzle — do we have all the pieces in place and do they fit together in the best way possible? As our company scales, and our customer base scales alongside it, we have to support our customers in the most effective way possible. Similarly, as our employees and teams scale, we have to support that efficiently and continue to lead effectively.
Speaking of leadership, what is your leadership style like?
I try to be a servant leader, that’s passionate about organizational health. Beyond team culture and proficiency (and not just in technology), I focus on people’s personal growth, wellness, and education as it pertains to both career paths and personal lives. The further along I get in my career, the more I learn that just like with technology, you can never master it all. So I have shifted my focus from “the finer details” of the latest tech to more interpersonal and leadership skills. I feel my Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is more important than my IQ at this stage in my career.
Companies struggle on organizational health. People aren’t resources to be managed, they are people to be led. It’s always important to remember, especially from an engineering perspective, that people and their careers and wellness don’t break down to simply widgets and spreadsheets. The best type of leadership I can offer is to be an empathetic, servant-style leader to my team and the company overall.
What is your favourite thing about working at Railz, so far?
The technology that Railz is building excites me! Railz is providing new data that no one else is providing.
When working in the motor vehicle record space, I saw a lot of similarities in handling data to what I’m seeing at Railz. In that industry, companies may connect to state motor vehicle departments and collect the data, but it’s an intimidating mess of data, and the formats vary greatly from state-to-state. This forces most of the providers to “pass it on as-is” as a text blurb, with no ability to perform analytics on that data. At Checkr for background checks, we chose to normalize this data into a nested data object that could easily be traversed and consumed by our clients and our internal reporting tools. When I saw Railz was doing a similar normalization of data through machine learning (and their competitors are not), I was immediately excited and knew we were doing something different in the FinTech space.
I’m looking forward to all the new stuff that’s coming up for Railz. The team has built a very solid foundation, and I am honoured to join this team to help take everything to the next level.
Do you have any advice for someone who is interested in joining fintech or Railz?
The same advice as I’d give someone for any type of program or career path: You need to find something you connect with that interests you. When you find that fit, you’ll happily do your own research and education, and therefore your best work. And as the old saying goes, “Find work that you truly love and you will never work a day in your life.”
Try to learn as much as you can and just go for it. At Railz, we’re open to the best engineers and we do not focus on what type of companies they worked at prior. You don’t need fintech or financial industry experience — if you want to apply for a Great Place to Work®, we invite you to do so!
Samantha Lloyd is the Director of Marketing at Railz. We're building the largest financial data network to support the future of finance. She has a decade of experience building organic growth, brand, and digital marketing for startups and technology companies. In her free time, you can find Sam SCUBA diving, snorkelling, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.