A Dayton Startup is Modernizing Air Force Software from Behind the Scenes

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How Hellebore Consulting brings software expertise to the defense industry in Dayton

In most industries, the companies, organizations and people who are shaping the future are celebrated and publicly lauded for their work. But in the national defense industry, a more secretive approach is necessary, and the next wave of tech and security coming from within the industry requires a bit more secrecy. That means you’ll have to take their word for it, but the software experts at Hellebore Consulting in Dayton are confident in knowing that their work is making a big difference in such an important industry that keeps us safe..

“We help our clients move from traditional software engineering practices to modern development, security, and operations (or DevSecOps) practices,” said CEO John Farrier. “The Pentagon has an initiative to drive modern software engineering practices into the Department of Defense, so we’re at the forefront of that and help consult at the Pentagon level and here in Dayton. We’re shaping some policy while helping local clients bring their teams into that modern way of doing software engineering. We found that a lot of organizations look to the coasts for high-level talent, so we wanted to show that we have that talent right here and focus that on the defense industry in our backyard.”

Hellebore was founded by veterans of the defense industry who wanted to escape the grind of large corporations and use their expertise for more meaningful, strategic work. They created Hellebore to allow their team to sit side-by-side with clients to provide a higher level of technical expertise. By acting as partners with those organizations, the Hellebore team can augment their capabilities and improve their work. That work, Farrier said, is one of the major driving factors of the job.

“It’s hard to articulate — because of the nature of our work, I can’t talk about our specific clients — but this is the most impactful work I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “I think, at some point, we’re going to be able to talk to our kids and our grandchildren about where we were and what we were doing and how we changed for the better the state of our national defense. This has been bigger than we ever could have thought, and we see the cultural changes we’re making both in defense and the industry. We’ve seen a lot of big players take our lead and we’re continuing to provide leadership for some very large corporations. And it’s catching on more than we thought.”

Even with that kind of impact, Farrier says Hellebore’s niche is “culture even more than technology.” In addition to building a company that does exactly the kind of work they wanted to do, Hellebore’s founders wanted to create an environment where their employees were appreciated and company culture was a priority. That came from the company’s very founding, which was the result of a conversation about the jobs, projects and companies that made them the happiest in their careers.

“We thought about the projects where we had really good relationships with our team members on projects that were interesting and made an impact,” he said. “So we decided to take that opportunity to start a company where we have the right culture in place, and that differentiates us. We’re radically transparent and open-minded about things. We do continuous improvement on ourselves; it’s not just an annual review. And we go after clients where there’s a mutual relationship of building value for them and us. We didn’t start the company with growth targets, we started the company with culture targets, and that’s where we’re staying.”

To build that great culture, the team had to stay in the right location. And for Farrier and his team, Dayton represents exactly that. Not only is it a hotbed of activity for their specialized skills and expertise, but they’re able to offer their employees the kind of lifestyle and career they refuse to compromise on.

“Wright-Pat is the right place to be,” he said. “It is really the hub of activity for the Air Force, and if you’re going to be in the business of doing Air Force work, Wright-Pat is a great place to have your headquarters. And a lot of us are Dayton natives who went to colleges in the area and had interactions with the defense industry here. A lot of us grew up in a defense mindset while learning how to do their engineering. That gives people the right context. Dayton is this technology center that not only really understands tech, but really understands the application for defense. You don’t get that by just grabbing a great engineer out of some other industry.”

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