Meet a Minnesota CTO: George Reese



George ReeseThank you to Andcor Companies for underwriting the new Meet a Minnesota CTO series.

George Reese is the CTO of Enstratius (formerly Enstratus), a public, private and hybrid cloud company he co founded in 2008. Reese is the author of several books on cloud computing and enterprise technologies, his most recent is The REST API Design Handbook.

How long have you been in the technology field and what is your background?

That question has a bit of a fuzzy answer. I started out in the early 90’s doing television broadcasting in Hollywood and later in Maine. As part of the Maine job, I had to do some Unix programming and eventually transitioned into a role as a programmer. Technology has been my professional focus since 1993.

What are you focused on right now?

Cloud computing is my core area of focus these days. In 2003, I started a local marketing software firm called Valtira. We began moving our operations into Amazon’s cloud in 2007/2008 and I built up some tools to manage the Valtira software in Amazon. We spun out that software into enStratus (now Enstratius). I spend most of my time these days dealing with infrastructure clouds and their RESTful APIs.

What are the more important technologies deployed in your IT environment?

Obviously, infrastructure clouds play a huge part in what we do. Amazon, Rackspace, IBM, OpenStack, CloudStack, Eucalyptus, VMware, and many more. Also, APIs are involved with everything we do. We leverage APIs to talk to the clouds, and we focus on our REST API as the first place where new features are exposed. Most of our systems are written in Java backed by a Riak NoSQL key/value data store and use RabbitMQ for message processing.

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

We’re a small enough company that communication is not the challenge that it would be in large companies. Having said that, we are more distributed than most companies. Half of our employees are in the Twin Cities, but we have offices in Auckland, New Zealand and in Edinburgh, Scotland. We also have a presence in the Bay Area, a QA team in India, and others spread across the USA. For the most part, communication centers around Skype. Because of that, issues are fairly centrally communicated and visible to the entire company. Finally, next quarter, we will move to a Continuous Integration model of application lifecycle management that will integrate the processes of product development with the IT operation of the product.

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

18 people, broken down between R&D roles, engineering, and QA roles. Engineering is further divided into front-end systems and backend systems. IT operations falls under a different group called CSE that handles both integration of the product into customer environments as well as management of our internal operations systems, including the SaaS offering of our software. All teams are spread across the globe which provides us with 24×7 ability to do development and support customers.

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

For us, the key is that we are not constrained by location. We have selected locations that provide us with the ability to hire in a number of different countries with minimal bureaucratic overhead. Our Auckland office allows us to recruit in Australia and New Zealand. Our Scotland office enables us to recruit in the EU. And, of course, our Minneapolis office enables us to recruit anywhere in the USA. Given access to that large talent pool, we primarily leverage social media and personal connections as the mechanism for identifying great talent.

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

Because of where we are in cloud computing, I end up living it. Cloud computing is such a cross-disciplinary phenomenon, that you end up touching everything in technology: cloud, mobile, social media, DevOps, NoSQL, “design for failure”, configuration management, systems management, monitoring, ITIL, etc. I have to deal with all of those things every day, and every customer introduces new things.

What excites you about where technology is headed?

The value in technology is always in that it enables individuals to do things that were formerly in the realm of governments and large organizations. Cloud computing, in particular, enables people to make mistakes which is a valuable part of innovation. Faster failure, less risk associated with failure, more iterations, more innovations.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

The other edge of the empowerment of technology is that it enables people to do the kind of evil once left only to governments and large organizations. In some cases, the kind of things that technology empowers are things we don’t fully understand the ethical implications associated with them. Drones, location-based services, RFID tags, and so on. I’m not saying any of these technologies have any inherent moral value. They can be used for good and ill. But how we keep innovating while understanding the human impact of our innovations is likely the most important question in technology.

What is something you’re into outside of technology?

Sports and film. I am a big football fan. In fact, I play in a local touch football league and I ski, run, swim, and do yoga. The New England Patriots are actually my football team, but my oldest daughter is a die-hard Vikings fan. I think I’d love to see either one in the Super Bowl, but I don’t think I’d survive my daughter’s wrath if they faced off in the Super Bowl.

As far as film goes, I originally wanted to make movies until I experienced life in Hollywood. But I still love going to see just about any movie, even bad ones.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

Minnesota has some stark contrasts when it comes to technology. It has a great community of entrepreneurial technologists, but it has traditionally lacked an infrastructure to support technology entrepreneurship. It’s so much easier to get access to support and capital for technology start-ups elsewhere than it is in Minnesota. As someone who moved to Minnesota from outside 20 years ago, my perception is that Minnesota culture has a limited tolerance for risk or standing out. This disconnect leads to a level of brain drain of Minnesota tech talent to the coasts. But I’d pick Minnesota tech talent over Silicon Valley tech talent 100 times out of 100.

Previous CTO’s in this series include: Irfan Khan & Ben Nielsen.