Meet A Minnesota CTO: Joel Young, Digi International

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Joel Young Digi InternationalThank you Andcor Companies for underwriting our Meet a Minnesota CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies!

The CTO: Joel Young, Digi International

How long have you been working in technology for?

I have been in the technology industry for over 30 years, going back to my college days.

I have an electrical engineering degree and a graduate degree in computer science from USC.  After graduate school I spent 10 years with Bell Labs in New Jersey and did everything from signal systems processing to voice encryption, the works.

I then went to Lincoln, Nebraska of all places for a small startup that was focused on security in modules, radios and cell phones. I got to experience the process of what it’s like to take a company public and then came up north to join Digi International in 2000 as part of a turnaround with a new management plan.

So my last 16 years have been with Digi as we continue transforming in the internet of things space.  I also accumulated 16 patents along the way.

Andcor CTO

What are you focused on right now?

My primary focus is making connectivity and IoT really easy. Tying embedded products to things have have never been connected before and integrating them as applications. That’s the single hardest thing — it’s got to be easy and secure, and a broad offering. I spent a lot of time talking with customers, to marry their needs with technology.

The IoT ecosystem is not about just one piece of technology, but about stiching things together to drive business value.

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

I’m externally focused, so for me, the big area is wireless — Bluetooth, ZigBee, Narrowband, etc.  — a applications embedded within there, and especially security.  I think security as less of a technology and more of a methodology in the IoT/M2M world.

Even though I’m not responsible for internal IT, what we try to do is to use all of our own technology internally to test drive our own processes. Because if it’s not good enough for us, it won’t be for someone else.

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

That’s a good question. When I meet with customers the big question is: “What is your pain point?”. Beyond an IoT strategy, what are you really trying to solve? How do you want to increase revenue or decrease cost with Digi’s solutions? You have to start with the real objectives and put together a plan that aligns with that.

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

As the manager of R&D, I have 130 reports developing Digi’s own products and offerings, organized in areas of: cloud, cellular, embedded, and quality. In addition to those 130, we also have another 30 or so involved with professional service development for customers directly.

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

A lot of people may think the key to hiring great engineers is just about a competitive salary. While of course we have to pay attention to that, what I’ve found is that if we’re providing engineers with interesting and challenging work, along with the resources to excel, then they will stay for a long time.

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

I spend a lot of time traveling for work conferences like mobile world congress, ces and other trade forums. I’m also chair of the IoT M2M Council, a worldwide organization that brings adopters and suppliers together. I spend a lot of time there. I’m also on the IoT Fuse advisory board here locally.  A lot of learning through reading and synthesizing.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

The most exciting thing is how we’re connecting things in ways like never before. There’s so many new business models emerging and some are really changing culture and how we do things. Look at low power wide area networks and how cellular is going to be transformed over the next few years. Everything will be cellular and tied to the cloud, completely different from how we were thinking not that long ago.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

My biggest concern is security and the lack of concern with security. There are a lot of great tools and frameworks out there, but I run into more scenarios that I care to admit whereby security is an afterthought. We need a new mindset of security on the front end.  We need to think more like hackers.

What are you into outside of technology?

I’m a tinkerer at heart, not just electronic stuff but different materials like wood and metal. I do a lot of running, I play music, and my favorite thing is traveling with the family in search of new experiences. Anything from camping to London.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It’s a great time to be involved in technology. I feel blessed to be on earth at this time given the pace of change, and I’m sure that a decade from now things will be going even faster. As part of this company it’s fun to see the difference we are making around the world.

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