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 technical background?
I’ve been working in technology for about 10 years now in various roles. My technical background is in software development and design. I’ve always had an affinity for both. It started when I was in 6th grade. It was the era of AOL and the 56k dial-up modem. I remember trying to wrap my head around Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver on my parent’s newly purchased Gateway computer. Good times!
My professional career started as an unpaid intern at Activision; one of the big video game publishers. I was there for four years in a number of roles; from quality assurance to game designer. After Activision, I spent a year at a startup wearing many hats before deciding to start Digital Canopy––a web agency that designed and built WordPress websites for all sorts of clients. Digital Canopy lead me to John Brownlee, my business partner at vidscrip, where today I am responsible for all things technical.
What are you focused on right now?
The next big iteration of the vidscrip app. It’s a really exciting evolution of our technology where we’re finally going to be able to realize all of our learnings over the past three and a half years. Healthcare is an unwieldy beast attempting to transition into something more agile and capable. Health systems are being held more accountable and are learning how to provide better care to their patients. Our app enables this by maximizing the value of their most valuable asset––their expertise––and I can’t wait to see how patients, doctors, and our industry partners benefit from it.
What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?
The current vidscrip app runs on Apple’s iOS. It’s what doctors, nurses, clinicians and other healthcare experts use to record short video answers to questions their patients ask them most frequently. Those video answers are then bundled up into playlists we call “vidscrips” and prescribed to patients. The vidscrip app is free to download from the Apple App Store.
Our web platform is designed for patients. It runs on WordPress Multisite (WPMU) and a custom plugin that networks each user’s blog instance (we call them “channels”) into groups to make it easy for patients to find members of their healthcare team. Sort of like Buddypress. The web platform uses HTML5, jQuery, AngularJS, SASS, and many other commonly used web languages that make web developers lives a bit easier.
The WordPress setup has served us well (mostly) over the past years. Alas, the next iteration of the vidscrip app requires us to move to a stack that can serve up a better API. We looked at a number of hosting solutions and decided Catalyze.io would meet our needs best as we continue to scale and improve upon the product. The vidscrip API service will be coded in NodeJS. Data will be stored using MongoDB.
For the IT nerds, 99% of what we use are Apple products. We work off iMacs, Macbooks, iPads and iPhones. For meetings, we AirPlay to an AppleTV hooked up to a monitor on a stand we roll around the office. The remaining 1% are a couple of old Microsoft Windows laptops still running ancient versions of Internet Explorer that I use for testing and quality assurance.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
Continued collaboration and communication between IT and the business sides are essential to our success. We make it a point not to silo our responsibilities apart from one another. I work closely with our business development and client services teams to understand what those plans, projects and objectives are. I make sure to meet formally with both teams at least once a week, and plan to meet informally at least once per day. That may seem like a lot of collaboration between the IT and the business sides, but because I’m so heavily involved with the development and quality assurance of the product it’s absolutely necessary.
What is the size of your department (headcount) and how is it organized/managed?
The size of my department is one. The good news is that it’s easy to organize and to manage. If I’m not performing up to my own expectations, I fire myself, and rehire a better version of me. :: insert TV laugh track ::
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?
For now, we’ve made a conscious decision to hire a development partner instead of building an internal development team (hence the IT department of “one”). This strategy has allowed us to keep our internal development costs low, and to be flexible in how and when we invest in the development of our product.
I will say our approach to recruiting for any position at vidscrip has always been to start with our personal and professional networks. We take recommendations very seriously, finding those referred to us fit in best with our company culture, and are capable of making a positive impact on our business immediately.
From a retention standpoint, the competitive advantage we have over others is that, because we’re a small team, members of Team Vidscrip see their work appreciated, their ideas respected, and their influence play a key part in making our company stronger and our product better. You are not a cog in a wheel on Team Vidscrip. You are very much the engine driving us forward. I should also mention we have beer in our fridge.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
I stay connected by utilizing social media and news-aggregator apps. I use both Twitter and Facebook to stay connected with technology influencers and news resources. I also use social media to connect with other developers, designers, and tech-centric bloggers who are often sharing new technologies and apps. I’ve been using LinkedIn’s Pulse app for years (the old one, not the new one) which is basically a tool for aggregating RSS feeds.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
In healthcare, I’m excited to see how technology is empowering patients to become more engaged in their own health. You’ve got hardware and software connecting you to your own health like never before. Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc. These devices are influencing us to become better patients––patients that are smarter, and demanding better, more valuable care from those providing it.
Outside of healthcare, I’m excited to see how technology will transform our transportation system. We’re seeing companies like Uber, Apple, Google, as well as many of the auto manufacturers, all investing in creating safer, more efficient vehicles that drive themselves. No more traffic. No more drunk driving. No more speeding. No more road rage. No more distracted driving. Yes, it will take time for us to realize this reality, but it’s definitely a reality I’m excited to watch come to fruition.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
One concern is how our attachment to our smartphone has lead to an increase in distracted driving. It’s a big issue. There are technology solutions out there which help prevent the use of a smartphone while driving, but, as I mentioned earlier, I think the real solution lies in the way technology is going to transform our transportation system over the next 10 to 20 years. If you don’t have to drive the car that is taking you to work, to school, wherever, you can do all the texting you damn well please and not put your life, or the lives of those around you, in jeopardy.
What are you into outside of technology?
Outside of technology, I love hanging out with my wife, Irena, and our dog, Stewie. We love how spoiled we are by the Twin Cities’ restaurant scene and are often visiting our favorite places as well as trying new ones. I literally can’t stop talking about Parlour’s burger. I’m also enamored by the recently-opened Tattersall Distilling.
I’m a bit of a music fanatic; currently listening to Coheed and Cambria’s new album and something called “The Neighborhood”. Coheed’s album is solid. The Neighborhood is growing on me.
I enjoy a good run when running and I are on good terms. Find me on Strava.
I love Minnesota sports; Vikings, Wild, Twins, Timberwolves, you name it.
My buddy, Rob, and I have been trying to homebrew our own beer, but it hasn’t been going all that great.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?
Hm. My impression is that Minnesota tech industry is ‘on the rise’ but there’s still a lot for us to learn. We’re seeing a boom in tech startups here in the Warehouse District and the North Loop. We’re hearing about more investments in these companies as well, which is encouraging. That being said, I had a conversation recently with a transplant from Silicon Valley. His impression of Minnesota’s tech industry, as it relates to startups, was less than favorable. He was surprised by the lack of venture capital, as well as the lack of resources (e.g. incubator programs) for startups trying to get going.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
No, thank you.