MC grads helping put Knoxville on the software map

MC grads helping put Knoxville on the software map

May 5, 2016

Don’t tell Brandon Bruce that liberal arts graduates aren’t suited for the tech industry.

Bruce, chief operating officer and co-founder of software development company Cirruspath, has an office full of Maryville College graduates and interns to counter the argument.

And as the Class of 2016 prepares for graduation, he hopes to bring more on board.

“At Cirruspath, we hire problem solvers and creative thinkers who want to be part of a fast-growing software startup,” he said. “We value working hard, working smart, working long hours and having fun.

“We’ve hired 14 fantastic Maryville College graduates and student interns, which is about half of our Knoxville team, and we look forward to hiring more.”

Bruce, a native of Los Olivos, Calif., started Cirruspath five years ago with friend Ryan Huff. At the time, Bruce was working as a regional advancement officer and grants coordinator at Maryville College. His wife, Dr. Tricia Bruce, joined the MC faculty as a sociology professor in 2007, and continues to teach there.

Since their college days at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Bruce and Huff shared an interest in building a business from the ground up so in 2011, when Huff, who was living and working in Irvine, Calif., suggested that they build and sell a customer relationship management (CRM) application that would integrate Salesforce software with third-party services like Gmail and Outlook, Bruce was on board.

Huff and a team in Irvine got busy architecting the application (which they later named Cirrus Insight); Bruce resigned his position at the College and started developing the company’s sales, marketing and customer support efforts. When the application took off nine months later, Bruce turned to his friends at MC to recommend students to hire.

“Having worked there, I got to know a lot of Maryville College students and know the quality of the College’s academic programs,” he said. “I know almost all of the professors and most of the staff, so we benefitted from what we as an Internet business would call a ‘network effect.’”

Daniel Gomez ’10 was one of the first four employees hired.

“We put the word out at Maryville College that we were looking for top students as interns but also folks who were graduating, and a lot of our initial employees came from the College. Still today, we recruit primarily from Maryville.”

Start-up success

Currently, Cirruspath employs 56 people: 35 out of its Knoxville office; the rest in Irvine. The majors of the MC graduates in the Knoxville office span the disciplines: math and computer science, of course, but also management, finance/accountingdesign and writing communication. One employee majored in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL).

“We don’t recruit by major,” Bruce said. “Increasingly, employers are looking less at ‘Do you have a specific major?’ and more ‘Do you bring the energy and enthusiasm and skills and talents that we’re looking for in a particular job?’

“For us, we’re almost always looking for utility players because we don’t know if we’ll need to shift folks from Sales to the Success Team or from Success to Marketing or ask some folks to jump in and work for the Analytics Team,” he continued. “So it’s great to have people who have a breadth of interests.”

When he interviews potential employees, Brandon said he looks for evidence of critical thinking and an ability to articulate an opinion yet be open minded about new ideas. With their liberal arts education, Maryville College students have these skills, he said.

“It’s not specifically the content of what you’ve learned in class, it’s the way in which you interpret that content,” he said. “We’re a company that has to be nimble. We have to move fast, so we benefit from folks who have really strong opinions that will help move the company forward.”

Currently utilized by approximately 100,000 salespeople in 4,000 businesses and organizations around the world, Cirrus Insight is one of the highest-rated applications of all time on the Salesforce AppExchange. The businesses and organizations served range from Fortune 500 companies to small non-profits to institutions of higher education.

While Bruce touts East Tennessee as a good place to be an entrepreneur, he does acknowledge that Cirruspath is unique.

“There aren't very many software companies in this part of the country,” he explained. “A bunch of MC grads are helping to put Maryville and Knoxville on the software map.”

Paths to Cirruspath

In addition to Gomez, the MC alumni and students employed by Cirruspath include: Geoff Bokuniewicz ’14, Allen Brady ’13, James Buckley ’14, Erika Collins ’14, Maxwell Davison ’13, Susie Davison ’16, Wyatt Dryja ’14, Ariana Hansen ’16, Jake Holt ’12, Joshua Loomis ’15, Kevin Nolan ’10, Nathan Phipps ’13 and Kegan Rinard ’14.

Many of them credit Maryville College for getting them to Cirruspath.

Nolan majored in mathematics at Maryville College, earning a minor in statistics. While working toward an MS/MBA Business Analytics degree at the University of Tennessee, he applied for an internship at Cirruspath at the urging of Gomez, his MC classmate and former soccer teammate. He got the internship and, after graduating from UT, was hired on, full-time. Today, as a business analyst, he assists the sales team with work flows and software automation within the Salesforce platform.

“I don’t think there’s any way I would be here without Maryville College – on so many levels. Beyond the math [education] … the core curriculum sets up a great base of knowledge.  Getting into UT – Maryville was crucial in that. Also, the contacts I had from Maryville really helped me get to this point.”

In a previous job, Dryja, a computer science/business major realized that he enjoyed sales and was good at it. Desiring to work for a start-up and knowing others from MC employed at Cirruspath, he put in an application and was hired last September. In his role as a customer success manager, he calls and emails current customers to train them on Cirrus Insight.

“Our product sells itself,” he said. “The hardest part is just getting in front of people.”

On his own initiative and outside work hours, Dryja decided to pursue an administrative certification in Salesforce, which gives him an even greater understanding of the platform his current customers and potential customers use. He convinced other Cirruspath employees to join him in studying for certification.

Maryville College taught him how to learn, Dryja said, and he expects that will benefit him throughout his life.

“Especially considering how fast computer science moves,” he said. “You can’t teach what’s out, what’s new; you’re always going to be behind. But I think Maryville College does an excellent job at teaching you how to teach yourself for a lifelong career.”

Written by Karen Beaty Eldridge ’94, Director of Marketing & Communications

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,154.