Meet a Minnesota [startup] CTO: Courtland Caldwell

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CourtlandCaldwellThank you to Andcor Companies for underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series.

Courtland Caldwell is the co founder and CTO of Cympel, creators of an interactive advertising platform that’s coming off the back of Straight Shot Accelerator.

What it like being the CTO of a startup?

Paris in early summer; usually very sunny, with abrupt, brief, and torrential rain.

How long have you been in the technology field for and what is your technical background?

I’ve been in the technology field all of my life. I graduated from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (www.rose-hulman.edu) in 2004 with a BS in Computer Science and Software Engineering. My thesis, titled Qualitative Difference Theory, was an analysis of algorithms that are well suited to finding many varied solutions to a particular problem, or set of problems. The application of this theory was aimed at multi-agent systems for autonomous robotics.

I wanted a job at Boeing to work on drones so I moved to St Louis, while waiting to get a job I took a gig at Best Buy and never managed to leave – I found myself at the corporate headquarters developing the “New Employee Toolkit”.

Earlier this summer, I left Best Buy to focus full-time on Cympel along with two other Best Buy expats.

What are the some of the technologies you use within the company?

MySQL, PHP, RHEL, Symfony 2, BrowserStack, numerous cloud providers, payment APIs.

What is the size of your tech team?

There are two of us. Myself and our product designer and UX guru Juliano Dasilva.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?

We are in the early stages of setting the Cympel culture. Here are some of our philosophies around hiring and retaining talent:
Smart people are attracted to working with other smart people.
Provide a flexible — even quirky — environment and the team will thrive… and have fun!
Pay well. People give you a major amount of time, thought and sometimes stress. Make it worth their while.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

It takes a dedicated focus — daily. I use StackOverflow and Twitter … and the Percona guys as vehicles for keeping me informed and up-to-date. I also challenge technologists to engage in industry conversations and events. For example, I am participating in a hackathon this weekend with the Cympel founders. Do we really have time for it only days away from Demo Day? Probably not. But the energy and ideas that will come out of that 48-hour coding spree will be fuel for much longer.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

Overall, I am thrilled that our communities — even those outside of the iconic Silicon Valley — have embraced technology as a solution. The increased commitment from corporate America is providing needed funding and networks to make the tech startup ecosystem thrive.

And… I cannot wait for the day when I will be able to interact with a computer through my thoughts alone. I don’t want total integration, I want to decide which thoughts to share with machines and when I decide I don’t want to have to use a keyboard, mic, or mouse. I type quickly, faster than a computer can understand my voice if I speak to it, and yet I think much faster than that … the interface is the bottleneck — please Google solve this FFS.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Irresponsible or incompetent individuals tasked with protecting the privacy of millions of people. As an entire tech community, we need to formalize and shape ethics surrounding big data. Then we need to collaborate with major centers of power and influence (i.e. NSA) to ensure we’re not overstepping or oversharing. I challenge anyone in our field to get smart on this, quickly.

What are you into outside of technology?

These days I spend most of my non-working life playing with my son of 22 months. Never have I been so in love with someone as I am with him. I love literature and reading in general. I really enjoy reading The Economist, Harvard Business Review, The Financial Times, The New York Times, and The Chicago Tribune because they are often well written and thoughtful.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

I moved to Minnesota for a job and I was impressed with its beauty. The tech industry seems pretty solid, and especially for med-device. There’s more to be done there — as is in the entire Midwest — to continue to evolve, foster and improve the industry. A broad focus on talent development; startup acceleration and incubation; and collaboration between private companies, government and the startup community. We can look at cities like Kansas CIty as models for propelling the tech industry and setting the stage for a successful ecosystem.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

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