Thank you Andcor Companies for underwriting the Meet a Minnesota CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies.
How long have you been working in technology for and what is your background?
I have been working in technology for over 22 years. I started professionally back in 1993 developing custom database applications for small to mid-sized companies. My background has been pretty broad-based but focused primarily on back-end database and business logic code.
I do UI development as well, but I find middle tier and backend to be my strength. In the more recent past I built an enterprise system that provided a web app and mobile apps for a number of school campuses across the country.
I managed a team of developers and did a lot of the coding myself. This is my standard MO, managing a team while working on the code myself. I can’t let everyone else have all the fun.
What are you focused on right now?
I am working on helping Learn to Live provide seamless online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy solutions for people looking for mental health support. Individuals can sign up through our website and go through one of our three programs: Social Anxiety, Depression, and Stress, Anxiety & Worry.
We already have three successful programs, but we want to take our technology to the next level. I am strengthening the foundation of the application to better position us to offer a more versatile platform for the type of pedagogical tools we are currently developing. I am also positioning us to respond favorably to increased demand for white labeling opportunities as well as simplifying the process of integrating new mental health and wellness programs.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
I work very closely with our business leaders so I know and understand what the business priorities are. I recognize that the business goals drive the company, and technology is a tool to help achieve these goals. I stay in tune with these goals, and I keep business leaders in tune and educated on my proposed technology solutions. We made a strategic decision to bring all of our tech work in house to ensure that all of our technology solutions are aligned with business goals.
What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?
We are a startup transitioning from an outsourced IT model to one in which the IT is in-house. Currently, I am the developer / IT manager / IT infrastructure / PC support…you get the idea.
Like any start up, we’re always weighing the costs and benefits of partnering with an IT vendor vs. bringing talent in house. In my case, bringing the IT specialist in house has already saved the company valuable time and money.
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?
There is no question that this is a big challenge for anyone looking to hire talented IT personnel. We offer a competitive salary and benefits as well as an opportunity to be part of a leading-edge technology solution. Software engineers love to work with new technologies. We are using the latest and greatest technology solutions to build something that changes people’s lives. It is an opportunity to be part of something really special that I believe the right people will want to be a part of. We have a great mission and we are continuing to build a great technical architecture to support it.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
That is definitely an important part of my job. Fortunately for me, I am always interested in the latest technologies. I subscribe to developer networks to follow trends and have access to the latest development software. I also spend a lot of time reading blogs and watching training videos to figure things out. And I’m not afraid to pick up a book and read. I love the pace of reading. I have been self-motivated and self-taught all of my career.
Most importantly, I love to code and I don’t mind change. As a result, I spend a fair amount of my time doing hands-on development with some of the latest technologies. I have to get my hands dirty. For me, that will never change.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
It’s a much more agile environment now, more user-focused. When I started years ago, the development team drove the software process. The stakeholders were happy to get something (mostly) functional. The end user had little say in the process. The point was to get the job done.
That has changed, and the results are much better.
Now, we are building software that does more than just function; it is easy and fun to use. Users and business stakeholders are more involved. We have product owners that drive requirements and the user experience. The shift from UI to UX marked a shift from user-friendly to something emotional. For us that means designing a platform that allows users to seamlessly engage in ways that influence positive behaviors. It’s only recently that we have begun to think of development in these terms. I love this.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
I think that technology is such a dominant part of our lives that we often view it as a solution to every problem. I feel strongly that it’s not. Technology is a tool that helps us find and realize a solution.
This is why I’m particularly excited about Learn to Live. We are using technology as a tool to build solutions to serious problems.
What are you into outside of technology?
My wife and I have two children, a son in college and a daughter deciding on her college choices. I enjoy spending time with them. I love history. Somehow we got into collecting presidential memorabilia as a family. Our collection includes old campaign pins, signed letters, photographs, magazines, and many other miscellaneous objects. The fact that we all participate still amazes me.
I also enjoy fishing. I am not particularly good at it, but I enjoy doing it. Fishing is my opportunity to unplug and disconnect.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?
Broadly speaking, the Minnesota tech industry is thriving. The state is full of incredible tech talent and strong tech companies. But the healthcare sector of the tech industry is absolutely phenomenal. Healthcare technology is growing nationwide, but Minnesota companies are leading that growth. Minnesota companies provide a context for healthcare innovation, an ecosystem that benefits new ventures in that space. Learn to Live has benefitted from and contributed to that ecosystem. In a place like Minnesota, you bring together talented people in healthcare and tech and you end up with some amazing output.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It’s an exciting time to be a start-up in healthcare IT. Our code is being used to provide thousands of people who suffer from depression and anxiety problems with an easily accessible, private way of starting the healing process from the comfort of their own homes. That’s amazing to me.