Meet A Minnesota CTO: Alicia Cermak, ArcStone



Alicia Cermak ArcStoneThank 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: Alicia Cermak, ArcStone

How long have you been working in technology for and what is your technical background?

I’ve been working in technology professionally for nearly 15 years, and have been interested in computers for almost as long as I can remember. I got started when my dad brought home our family’s first computer (a Tandy 1000 HX) and gave me free rein on it, which led to web design as a hobby in my pre-teen years, web development and computer repair in my teens, and eventually a traditional computer science education.

Professionally, I’ve worked as both a developer and a systems administrator, which I find gives me something of a unique perspective.

What are you focused on right now?

Like everyone else, I wear a lot of hats, but currently my primary focus is enhancing our SaaS product (AMO – Association Management Online) and its supporting technologies. In the last year we’ve transitioned to a fully distributed hosting environment, overhauled the product’s front-end, launched a new website, and released a WordPress plugin….. and we’re just getting started!

Andcor CTO

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

ArcStone has been in business since 1997, so we have an eclectic mix of platforms and environments. As a consultancy, we need to be somewhat flexible with our technology stack because we never want to put a client’s brand new project on a stale platform. Part of the fun in our line of work is constantly learning about what’s new and how we can leverage that for our clients.

In recent years we’ve primarily focused on developing applications using Laravel, and creating websites using WordPress, but in the past we’ve worked with technologies ranging from ColdFusion to Ruby on Rails to Node.js, and just about everything in between. One of my biggest challenges is the constant balancing act between staying on top of trends and avoiding becoming magpie developers.

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

I have a split role in that my team manages internal IT operations, technical consulting services, and web hosting operations, so some of those disciplines more effortlessly align with business objectives than others. We’ve found that sometimes technical groups can get caught up in the minutiae of implementation challenges prior to fully understanding the scope of work, and that can lead to poor project outcomes, or worse, damaged relationships. By instead learning about our clients’ (stakeholder’s) goals, constraints, and desired outcomes before delving into any technical specifics, we create a foundation to support a healthy relationship and overall project success.

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

Our technical team consists of seven full-time employees and four trusted contractors, with roles ranging from devops to programming to support. Our org chart reflects both our broad professional disciplines (technical, design, marketing, etc.) as well as functional groups that reflect the members of teams for specific types of projects. Our tech team meets weekly to discuss overall trajectory, standards, trends, and anything else that’s primarily of concern to us nerds. Simultaneously, a project manager will be assigned to manage a specific project for a client (or stakeholder) and the members of the functional team (developers, designers, marketers, copywriters, QA, etc.) who are working on that project.

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

Happiness is one of our core values, and we’ve found that if we live up to that as a company, our recruiting and retention efforts follow. With the rise of remote work and the influence of companies like Amazon entering our local market, there has been a lot of emphasis on salary as the driving factor in recruiting and retention, but we’ve found that challenging projects, strong core values, and fantastic company culture can be just as compelling.

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

To stay on top of the basics and overall trends I keep my RSS reader chock full of a diverse list of blogs and tech news sites, subscribe to a few quality email newsletters, and do my best to make it to as many of the local conferences and events as I can. For hands-on training, I make a point to get my hands dirty as often as possible, whether it’s throwing in on the support queue or running through a quick online code camp for a language I haven’t used before.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

I’m not a confident enough futurist to make any predictions, but I’m really excited to see how these glimpses into the future that we’re getting tastes of right now – IoT, virtual reality, AI, cybernetics, data science – will converge to change our lives.

I love reading old articles about the early days of the public Internet, and comparing the author’s expectations to what actually has come to fruition. What’s been fascinating recently is that some of those laughably earth shattering ideas from the 90s, like ecommerce making brick and mortar stores obsolete, are (for better or worse) starting to become reality.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Right now, from a business perspective, commoditization and automation are what tend to keep me up at night. As technology becomes more sophisticated, work that previously needed to be done by a skilled worker is increasingly done by non-specialized staff or automation tools. Like all technology companies with longevity, we’ve been reinventing ourselves since our inception, but sometimes that next evolutionary step is not clear until you are already in the midst of it.

What are you into outside of technology?

I have a huge passion for history and historical pursuits – genealogy, historic preservation, antiquing, history focused travel, and working with my husband to restore our Edwardian-era home. I also love to bake, and especially enjoy decorating cakes.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?

It’s really exciting watching the startup culture here come into its own – I love seeing our coworking and maker spaces full of energy. Meanwhile, large companies are increasing their presence here, cementing what we already knew – our tech workforce is talented and worth investing in.


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