Meet A Minnesota [Startup] CTO: James Schwarzmeier

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Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 8.42.57 AMThank you to Andcor Companies for underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series.

James Schwarzmeier is the CTO of Minneapolis-based LogicStream Health, a medical software startup offering EHR analytics and optimization for healthcare providers.

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

I have a B.S. from UW-Eau Claire and a M.S. from the University of Minnesota, both in computer science. I’ve been working professionally in software development for around 12 years in various roles. It’s been all over the board: web to mobile to back-end processing, using a variety of technology stacks and languages.

I joined LogicStream Health a few years ago, initially architecting early versions of our app, and moving into a higher-level view of the world as we grow.


What are you focused on right now?

LogicStream builds SaaS to help healthcare organizations manage and measure the effectiveness of the decision support tools they have in their electronic health record systems and solve difficult healthcare problems. We also provide consulting services built on the capabilities our software product offers to health systems who may not be fully resourced. We recently moved into a growth phase, so our primary current focus is aligning those two product lines and preparing to scale our business and software as we grow our customer base.

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

Internally we use as many cloud-hosted services as possible, such as Salesforce and Office 365. The less we have to manage ourselves the better.

Our software product is built in C#, with an ASP.NET MVC app in the cloud connected to components running within each of our customers’ data centers. We host on Microsoft Azure’s “platform as a service” offerings, meaning we don’t have to stand up and maintain servers or even middleware.

On the front-end we mostly use HTML5, SASS, KnockoutJS and TypeScript. The combination of KnockoutJS and TypeScript in particular have addressed many common sources of pain in front-end web development and resulted in a higher level of productivity than I’ve personally experienced in past roles.

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

It’s hard. It is easy for any team (IT or otherwise) to operate in a bubble. As an early growth-phase company, we can’t afford to have competing agendas. To combat this, we make a conscious effort to cross-pollinate. For example, members of our development team help with marketing research, while marketing and sales provide input on product planning. You have your own responsibilities and primary role, but everyone is a member of LogicStream first. Sometimes that means going outside your comfort zone, but it does help keep everyone in sync.

We also operate with an agile methodology, and other areas of the business have started doing the same. Explicitly taking the time to re-evaluate one’s priorities every few weeks helps to ensure no one team ever goes too far in the wrong direction.

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

We are small but growing. We have four individuals working full-time on software product development, plus other stakeholders not on my team who contribute to product planning.

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

Nearly every hire LogicStream has made, in development or otherwise, has been through personal connections or word of mouth. For certain entry-level positions, we also do contract-to-hire from staffing firms.

In roles where it makes sense, we give people a high level of flexibility in when, where and how they work. If someone wants to go for a run during the day and would rather work more in the evening, we encourage that so long as their work gets done and they are present for meetings. We find once people get used to this environment, they really value it.

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

There are so many great resources for learning online. Almost every day I take a little time to learn something new, either by reading an article, watching an instructional video, or building a tiny proof of concept. My team often does the same. While I’m not a fan of “flavor-of-the-month” tools and frameworks, we do require ourselves to be unafraid to adopt new technologies when they appropriately meet our needs.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

I am excited about the convergence of computing. It’s great seeing operating systems, software and services be available from any device from a phone to PC to television. The details of accessing something from a phone vs. a desktop shouldn’t matter. Ultimately it’s about a person using a tool to accomplish something useful or fun. Apps and services that eloquently pull this off cross-device and cross-platform can be amazing.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Nearly all applications are built around data in some way – collecting it, storing it, processing it or visualizing it. While this is incredibly powerful and can do so much good, I do have concerns around what companies and government could do should that data be misused. I believe privacy has value, and worry culture and law may not always be fully caught up to what technology is capable of.
What are you into outside of technology?

Helping to build a company from the ground up is extremely time consuming, as one might imagine! When the weather is nice I do unwind with long walks outdoors. (Every year I try running, and every year rediscover I really don’t care for it!) Audio books are also a great way to “read” when one otherwise wouldn’t have time to, such as during a morning commute or when out on a walk.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

As an employee there’s a lot of opportunities in technology, though many of them are in larger non-tech enterprises such as SUPERVALU, Target, General Mills, etc. Some of these companies are doing innovative things, but life in a big company (especially when technology is not the primary business) still suits some better than others.

We are also fortunate to have a growing base of technology startups. The key to promoting more growth in this area will be institutions whose purpose is to grow companies from early stage to midsize businesses, such as local angels or VCs, incubators/accelerators, etc. LogicStream currently lives in one such accelerator, TreeHouse Health.

I hope Minnesota and the Twin Cities see continued growth in this area to compliment the rich set of larger enterprises we already have.

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