Member Spotlight: Don’t Panic Labs

For our February Member Spotlight, we spoke to Lincoln-based Don’t Panic Labs about their work to create solutions for their customers through software development and their passion for developing talent right here in Nebraska.

Tell us about Don’t Panic Labs.

Don’t Panic Labs creates successful software product outcomes through innovative product ideation and management, thoughtful design, and disciplined software engineering. We marshal the necessary resources for entrepreneurs, development teams, and technology-based organizations to succeed in a world of increasing software complexity.

Over the past 14 years, we have helped launch hundreds of solutions, reinvented numerous existing systems, trained new software developers, leveled up the skills of hundreds of software engineers, and launched our own product to help organizations align their practices.

We were founded as the software development arm of the Nebraska Global software investment fund in Lincoln in 2010. Our goal was to accelerate the creation of software products and companies funded by Nebraska Global. After we helped create several local software-based companies, we began working alongside businesses to create great software products and development teams.

In 2022, we purchased Nebraska Global’s interest in our company and embarked on our own journey.

What products and services do you offer?

We collaborate with a wide range of roles in organizations of all sizes. Whether our partners are creating new software products, looking for ways to level up their development teams, or seeking to improve their internal development processes, they learn from our engineering-minded and product management approaches to achieving sustainable business agility. We help impact organizations in six unique ways:

Imagine – When an entrepreneur has an idea for a new software product, we collaborate to discover the right problem-solution fit, design their product, and help them validate its place in the market.

Empower – Our educational programs identify, create, and level up the software development skills of individuals and teams. Our Pathways Program, an academic partnership with Doane University, collaborates with organizations needing to recruit, grow, and retain employees. Organizations sponsor participants by paying their tuition and salary during the program. We work with the organizations to ensure participants receive mentorship during and after the program. After the program, organizations hire their sponsored participants as software developers.

We offer four pathways covering different levels of experience:

  • Optimization – This 20-week pathway prepares participants already employed by sponsor organizations to be productive entry-level software developers.
  • Discovery – This 20-week pathway identifies high-quality community participants seeking a career change and prepares them to be productive entry-level software developers.
  • Transition – This 15-week pathway levels up existing developers by equipping them with the knowledge and skills required for modern software development.
  • Elevation – This 10-week pathway is designed for developers with little or no professional experience and is ideal for recent graduates needing exposure to modern agile methods and best practices.

Align – Achieving alignment between business strategy and software development is vital to any endeavor. Tenzing is our business alignment platform that bridges the divide between business strategy and software development. By connecting to existing project management systems, Tenzing quantifies change, helps with objective decision-making, and strengthens organizational trust.

Launch – Our proven tools and processes ensure products experience sustainable business agility. We use minimum viable products to help products rapidly grow and evolve as we learn more. Design thinking and designing for change help reduce risk along the way. Our approach to software architecture ensures that products evolve quickly.

Transform – We guide organizations as they integrate business and technology, level up individuals, teams, divisions, or entire organizations, and help them tackle the various complexities of modernizing an existing product.

Defend – Software products need continued attention. We ensure that the ongoing evolution of products adheres to the underlying architectural principles already present in the systems. As products evolve, we defend their conceptual integrity to protect the investment and ensure that product owners continue reaping the benefits of thoughtful architecture and design.

Why is Nebraska an important location for Don’t Panic Labs?

Don’t Panic Labs is dedicated to invigorating the software ecosystem here in Nebraska. Before our founding, Nebraska was ranked 52nd in the U.S. for tech-based startup investment (behind the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico). In the following years, Nebraska built a flourishing startup scene, with many investors providing access to capital for early-stage software product development.

We also believe that the work ethic of Nebraskans is a differentiator. Our core values of “Empathize Then Own It,” “Build Smart,” “Deliver With Pride,” and “Be The Change You Seek” ask a lot of each of us, but we’ve been able to build a team that takes these values to heart – and it shows in what we do every day.

What are ways that you work to recruit and retain Nebraskans?

One way we recruit and retain Nebraskans is through our internships. We employ Computer Science and Software Engineering university students each year as interns. Quite often, these internships turn into full employment. Since our founding, we have hired over 100 interns to work on existing products and even develop their own ideas to give them a taste of what it’s like to create a new software product.

The Pathways Program also helps recruit and retain Nebraskans through its Optimization and Discovery pathways. By providing them with a way to learn new skills and grow their careers, organizations retain great employees and build loyalty with them.

We’re proud that everyone at Don’t Panic Labs lives in Nebraska communities. We do not employ any remote employees.

Beyond Nebraska, how large is Don’t Panic Labs’ footprint?

Don’t Panic Labs is a Nebraska-based company with headquarters in downtown Lincoln. Our entire team is based in Nebraska, with everyone living in the Lincoln or Omaha areas. Our hybrid team management approach provides for how each person works best. They can work from home or collaborate in person at the office.

How many employees and/or who are key employees for the company?  

We currently have 52 employees. Our team includes software developers and engineers, project integrators, product designers, and project guides and leads working with our partners. We also have an accountant, an HR manager, an IT technologist, two administrative assistants, and a marketing manager to support the organization.

Our leadership team is Doug Durham (CEO and Co-Founder), Bill Udell (Chief Operating Officer), Brian Zimmer (Chief Product Officer), Lori McCarthy (Ops Lead), Chad Michel (Sr. Software Architect), and Andy Unterseher (Sr. Software Architect).

Who are your customers, and where are they located?

While many of the entrepreneurs and companies we collaborate with are in our backyard, our reach spans the United States and includes Canada and Europe.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing your industry today and how do you play a role in helping overcome those challenges?

The software development industry is facing a major challenge today as the complexity of the problems being solved with software is increasing. We must approach software development with the rigor of any other engineering discipline (like structural or electrical engineering). Fortunately, there are tools to help our industry grow, but we need guidance on where to start. This is where the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) comes in. SWEBOK maps out the body of knowledge, breaking it down into 15 knowledge areas essential to software engineering. We often mention SWEBOK and its importance to our industry when we attend or speak at developer conferences. It guides us as we build our education offerings, grow our team, and create software products for our partners.

Underrepresentation is a real challenge for our industry, as it is for many others. We must create environments where everyone feels welcome and contributes their unique perspectives. We hope that opportunities like our Pathways Program can serve as an on-ramp for those who have not had the chance to realize their full potential. We’re honored to have helped play a part in several of these success stories over the past four years, and we’re looking forward to many more yet to come.

Another challenge is the growing adoption of AI. It holds the promise of changing our world in new and exciting ways, but it also carries risks. We are currently using AI tools on many of our projects, so we are learning how to leverage them ethically, maintain safety and security, and fulfill our responsibility to verify and validate the content being generated.