How long have you been working in technology for, and in what capacity?
I’ve been working in technology for about 16 years. Going into college I wanted to be an electrical engineer, but several weeks into my freshman year I stumbled upon web application development and pretty quickly realized that was where I wanted to focus. In the last two years of college, I founded a small web application development shop helping local businesses create a maintainable web presence.
At the same time, also pursuing a few different technology-related start-up ideas.
In 2003, I graduated from St. Cloud State University with a BS in Business Computer Information Systems. Shortly after graduating, I took a Software Engineer position at NativeX (then Freeze.com) when the company was still in its infancy. Since joining NativeX I’ve been in several different technical and business leadership roles mainly focused on building scalable advertising technology.
What are you focused on right now?
NativeX provides ad technology for mobile games. We blend together both native ad formats with strong data science capabilities to create superior experience and value for both mobile publishers and advertisers.
As CTO & COO, I lead our Engineering group, HR and organizational strategy and planning.
In regards to my CTO hat, we recently moved our entire infrastructure from a co-located data center to AWS, which has been a both challenging and rewarding project for us. There’s been a lot of re-tooling and architecture changes we’ve had to make to leverage the cloud effectively. Before we started the move to AWS we made the decision to re-build our environment from the ground up using Chef. Using an automation platform such as Chef along with cloud resources has tremendously improved our ability to quickly respond to growth within our network.
What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?
We have unique tech stack. It’s a mix of Microsoft and open source. Historically, we’ve been a Microsoft shop, but it’s been evolving more towards open source over the past 3-4 years. Our core API is currently written in .NET/C# and is backed by both MSSQL and Cassandra. Our data pipelines use Kinesis, Lambda, Hadoop, Spark, SSAS, JAVA, Python and R. Our SDKs are written in Objective C (iOS), Java (Android), and C# (Unity). Infrastructure wise, we run entirely on AWS and use Chef for automated provisioning.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
At a strategic level, every few months we spend time as leadership team reflecting on our progress towards our vision and make adjustments to product direction. Mobile advertising tech is a fast moving space and we are constantly learning more about what our customers need and adapting our products.
From an operational perspective, we try to break things down into the smallest deliverable possible so that we can get features into production quickly and receive feedback. Our release cycles are short; we’re usually releasing to production 1-2 times a day.
We also make sure we have clear measures around what we think success looks like. Measurement is really baked into our culture. We spend a lot of time instrumenting and reporting on specific measures to ensure features are providing their intended value.
What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?
We currently have 22 employees within our Engineering group, between our Sartell, Minneapolis and San Francisco offices. The group is split into three functions, Product Engineering, Data Science / BI and Infrastructure.
How do you approach recruiting and retention in an increasingly competitive market?
I’ve found that some of the best hires come through networking. I’ve spent a lot of time at local tech meetups or at colleges drumming up awareness and trying to find bright people who would fit well in our organization. The key here is investing early. Networking doesn’t always get you a hire next week, but it does build awareness which usually pays off 6-12 months down the line when candidates are looking for new opportunity.
We have a fun, fast paced environment which keeps employees engaged. We also run a really transparent organization. For example, we openly share daily revenue, gross profit and earnings with all employees. Not every organization is that open with their information. We believe it creates trust and accountability.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
I am pretty curious person. When I see or hear something new or interesting, I’m immediately wondering how how it works under the hood. One evening I might be researching a new distributed data platform and another googling something as odd as how the sanitary sewer system works. It’s just how I tick.
I also have a lot of really smart people within my group that I learn a lot from. They each have different areas of expertise that I often leverage for perspective. Outside of my organization, I try to attend local meet ups in either Minnesota or San Francisco to get perspective from other organizations working on similar tech stacks or solving similar problems.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
The amount of data the world is producing today is astounding. There is an enormous opportunity within the computer science discipline to add tremendous value by finding ways to create meaning or positively change human behavior using this data.
In particular, I think there are huge opportunities in the area of personal health. Over the past several years we’ve seen consumer health technology start to gain mainstream adoption. Fitbit, Garmin and Jawbone have all made inroads into this space, mostly focused on helping people measure and achieve their fitness goals. As these devices gain more measurement sophistication and can be combined with healthcare provider data, I think we’ll start to see an entirely new segment within healthcare and tech that has the potential to dramatically improve lives.
On a lighter note, I also think consumer drone space is pretty cool, yet slightly frightening.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
I think the tech industry still has a lot of work to do around consumer privacy & security. As more and more data is produced from just about every device, there are all kinds of questions that need to be answered. Who owns the data? How long should it be retained? What can or should it be used for? The industry has walk a fine line between innovation and consumer privacy.
What are you into outside of technology?
I have two sons and enjoy coaching both their baseball and hockey teams. Coaching hockey recently ignited my interest in the game and I now play in an adult hockey league year round. As a family we spend quite a few days in the summer on the lake wakeboarding or tubing. I’ve been a Lego maniac since I was a kid and enjoy brick building with the kids. I also enjoy snowboarding, running & mountain biking.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?
Over the past 10 years Minnesota tech has seen a big transformation. Today you see more tech talent willing to take a risks by starting something on their own or joining smaller growing organizations. I believe a tech community is much stronger if there is a good base of independent innovators and entrepreneurs. It creates energy. Organizations like Minne*, TECHdotMN, CoCo and Startup Weekend have really been catalysts in making this happen.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for the opportunity.