Meet A Minnesota CTO: Mark Benson



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

Mark Benson is the CTO of Exosite in Northeast Minneapolis, a cloud-based data platform enabling the Internet of Things and M2M solutions.

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

I’ve been working with technology for 15 years. Growing up, I wanted to be an artist or psychologist and the last thing I wanted to do was work with technology. However, in college I stumbled on computer science and loved the way in which it combined math, art, and psychology in a way that could make real impact in the world.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to design and/or lead teams in the development of complex electro-mechanical systems such as implantable medical devices, industrial instrumentation devices, battery-powered consumer products, military combat radios, head-mounted displays, laser radar detection systems, and all kinds of enterprise, mobile, and desktop software. Now the next generation of connected devices is coming around the corner, and the insights we’ll be able to derive from the data to make people’s lives better is truly exciting.

What are you focused on right now?

Right now I’m focused on building teams to develop and position the Exosite brand and technology stack in a way that helps the world’s largest durable goods manufacturers make the transition from traditional products to smart connected products that open up an entirely new set of use cases and business models. The Exosite software platform is a massively-scalable, highly-available, and secure multi-tenant SaaS platform that runs on commodity infrastructure and is very good at talking to embedded devices, integrating with enterprise web services, and powering responsive user experiences.

What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?

The Exosite SaaS platform leverages a variety of best-in-breed technologies to enable large volume scale including Linux, Apache, nginx, MySQL, PHP, Erlang, Lua, C, Python, Go, MongoDB, Javascript, Cassandra, and standardized RESTful APIs for HTTP/TLS, UDP, XMPP, CoAP/DTLS, and a number of others. Embedded devices use C, C++, Java, Python, C#, eLua, among others. Exosite also integrates with R and a number of other professional data analytics systems. These technologies are combined in proprietary ways that are highly tailored and optimized for the needs of enterprise connected product deployments.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

Exosite is in the business of helping OEMs align IT plans for connected product fleets with business outcomes. For Exosite internally, we employ a wide variety of leading agile-oriented lean tools, development processes, automated testing, automated deployment, and remote monitoring tools to ensure that our team can efficiently support massive global deployments.

What is the size of your department (headcount) and how is it organized/managed?

We have 85 people right now and are growing fast. Seventy five percent of our organization is technical or engineering focused. Exosite has strong industry partnerships that creates significant sales leverage so we can stay lean. Teams are organized into Sales/Marketing, Design Services, Support Services, Software Products, and Admin/Finance, and we have a global footprint with offices in the US, APAC, and EMEA.

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

Hiring top talent is difficult to do. We are fortunate in that we are in an emerging field that intrinsically attracts high quality sales, marketing, engineering, and leadership talent and have developed a peer culture that many times sells itself. Beyond our team’s professional networks, we use local recruiting firms and university partnerships to expand our reach.

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

Keeping up with the flood of new technologies and rapidly changing ecosystem is difficult. I tend to just follow my curiosity which fortunately lines up very well with what Exosite does. I’m ever curious about how our lives can be made better, how jobs can be created, and how organizations can make a meaningful impact in the world with technology. I follow blogs, key people on Twitter, read magazines, and most importantly I talk to customers so I can understand their pain points and opportunity.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

I’m excited when I see products being created not just for personal enjoyment — although those often drive innovation in adjacent industries — but ones that create true economic and social value by helping us understand the health, well being, and cognitive performance of people, machines, environments, and cities. Pumps that can be remotely monitored and controlled based on safety events, smart compressors that can predict their own failure, devices in our homes that make our families safer, or sensing systems that remotely monitor and alert on pressure loss in HVAC systems saving millions of dollars all remind me of the bright future we have if we find creative solutions for difficult problems in the world instead of merely creating purpose-void products looking for a problem.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Technology moves fast, and so keeping up with it (or not understanding it) can cause us from losing sight of the goal. With the Internet of Things right now there is such a flurry of excitement about the technology that is now available to us that I worry that we are losing sight of the problems we are solving, the business models that need to be created, and the personal data that needs to be protected. I’m concerned that we’ll see over the next 5-10 years many Internet of Things applications be launched in the marketplace with bravado only the falter due to high profile security breaches or by missing the point about what problem it is they are solving in the first place.

What are you into outside of technology?

Outside of technology, I’m into running, art, music, tennis, triathlons, cycling, photography and spending time with my lovely wife and three energetic kids.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

Minnesota has a rich tech industry rooted in industrial, agricultural, and medical products and services. Some of the best hires we’ve made at Exosite have been local farm kids, electrical/computer engineering majors from the University of Minnesota, and liberal arts majors from Bethel, St. Olaf, and Gustavus. Sometimes Minnesota gets a bad rap because it seems difficult to attract top talent from larger markets with better weather. The truth is that we have a wealth of talent right here in the midwest that once rooted here tend not to leave. We should continue supporting programs such as the Minnesota High Tech Association STEM scholarship program and other efforts such as Technovation MN that is helping teen girls get into mobile application development so we can foster the next generation of Minnesota high tech talent from the inside out.


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