Meet A Minnesota CTO: Andy Grant, VoiceHive

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andycocoThank 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?

Like many fellow techies my age, I got my start when I was a kid, around 8 years old, on an Apple II. My dad, who at the time was a math teacher, was just getting into bringing computers into the school. He brought one home to work on for the summer, showed me a few simple Apple BASIC statements, and I never looked back.

Professionally, I’ve been working in technology for about 22 years. I have a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota. I consider myself a generalist and have worked on all kinds of products including web, mobile, controls, desktop, and embedded.

What are you focused on right now?

Managing the growth we’re experiencing at VoiceHive, as well as continuing to keep up with customer feature requests and expanding our capabilities into more areas of event management. We are also in the process of adding more horsepower, so to speak, to our server side of things.

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

We use tried and true PHP and MySQL. For the UI we use the usual suspects; Angular, Bootsrap, jQuery, jQuery Mobile and some others. Since we still have some large customers that still use older versions of Internet Explorer, we have to temper our desire to use the latest and greatest HTML5/Javascript frameworks…for now.

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

We are fortunate to get a constant stream of feature requests from our customers. It is awesome, as our customers tend to be, I think, more on the forward thinking side of things. The requests we get frequently become VoiceHive features. The criteria for a new feature is simply, would any of our other customers – prospective or current – find this useful? If yes, then it makes the list.

We do have some objectives that don’t result from customer requests and they are more along the lines of happy problems like scaling and supporting more and more users, better analytics, and better system health monitoring.

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

I still do much of the development, but we also lean on our on-demand workforce that consists of a few very talented developers, a VoiceHive specialist who helps setup and oversee events, and some on-site event support folks. This has worked well for us so far, but I can see that changing in the coming year as we continue to grow.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?

We are always on the lookout for possible new VoiceHive talent. We mainly find people within our own network of connections. I also make it a point to attend some of the various meet-ups and tech community events and keep a stack of cards, virtual and paper, of possible candidates to call when the need arises.

As far as retention goes, we try to keep it interesting. Working at events, on events, and with the VoiceHive framework can be fun. Really! It’s so rewarding to see it all come together and work well, and see audiences engage in ways they may not have done before.

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

Since we are an event technology company, I’m required to make sure we are ahead of trend in that area, or at least in the areas we choose to be ahead in. Second, I also need to make sure we are pointed down the right path with the technologies we use to implement the VoiceHive platform.

For the event technology side of things, I get a lot insight from talking with our customers and prospective customers. Simply by listening to what they are asking for effectively keeps me on trend. As a company, we don’t get too worried about what other event companies are doing and instead focus on listening and responding to our customer’s needs and requests. Our unofficial motto here is – “Yes” is the answer, now what’s the question?

As far as keeping up with the technology that we implement VoiceHive with, I like talking with peers at various events and meet-ups. Shout out to TECH.MN here. I often check out the “Upcoming Events” listing to see what’s going on at any given time. I like that it’s a mix of meet-up listed events and others that run outside of that.

I’ve also found Hacker News to be useful in keeping up with tech and tech business. I usually scan the top 30 posts each day. It doesn’t hurt that I LOVE this stuff! I feel fortunate to love what I do; it’s just so darn interesting!

What excites you about where technology is heading?

What is exciting to me is the insanely rapid pace technology is advancing and how seamless, powerful, and obtainable it is. This is very evident at home where my kids do their studying and homework on their school issued iPads. They are emailing and texting their teachers, collaborating with classmates on projects, and also watching some really hilarious YouTube videos. It is so different than just a few years ago. It’s awesome, mostly.

Also, rockets landing on barges excite me. Seriously.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

We are becoming so immersed in a constant stream of communication, information, and entertainment that, at times, we are so connected to our virtual life that we become disconnected from our visceral life.

Sometimes we need to disconnect for a while. In fact, at home we sometimes have “no media time”. It lasts between a few hours and up to a week; length determined by a parental gut call.

It’s not a punishment; it’s just what we do to be healthy and happy.

My youngest just had one this weekend. After a little complaining, out came the board games, sketchpads, and he even voluntarily helped my wife and I lay mulch and weed the backyard. And, he had fun doing it. Much more fun than I, I’ll admit.

Those red flowers with the thorns are called roses and you should smell them form time to time.

What are you into outside of technology?

I like to take as many family vacations as possible. They don’t happen often enough, bet we get a few, some big some small, in each year.

I also enjoy mountain biking and manage to do a race or two each year just to keep me honest and in shape. I’ve also been known to do a triathlon here and there, which are a lot of fun.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

Great and getting better! Many moons ago I tried starting a company with some engineering friends and the experience was remarkably different than it is now. The presence of entities like TECH.MN, MinneDemo/Bar, and other events and organizations, makes a big difference compared to then. Now there is a community of cheerleaders for you, in a way, that seemed to be absent back then.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes. I’m thankful for organizations like Tech.MN for bringing a focus onto the tech scene in Minnesota. It’s such a great asset to have and I find it very useful. Thank you!

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