Thank 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: Kelly K2 Heikkila, Accessible360
How long have you been working in technology for and what is your technical background?
I certainly don’t come from a traditional tech background. I was working in the film industry during the 1990’s when my first son was born. I decided I needed a more stable lifestyle and had done a little HTML and Perl during that time. A friend’s husband started a tech consulting company called Kinetic Data and took a risk bringing me on in 2000. It turned out I really enjoyed coding and happened to be pretty good at it. Like every tech services company we wanted to transition to building products. I helped make that transition first as a developer, then architect and product manager. I’ve started and sold a web and mobile development agency. I’ve built products for some of the world’s largest organizations and local startups. It’s been a lot of fun along the way.
What are you focused on right now?
We help organizations get their websites and web and mobile apps accessible to people with disabilities. And, more importantly, help keep them accessible. There’s a lot of work to do. So that’s my focus at A360. Helping make the world a more digitally accessible place.
What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?
We’re a startup and try to keep it simple. Our stack includes: Ruby/Rails. React. Postgres on Heroku and AWS. We also do a lot with Selenium. On the IT/Operations side: G Suite, Salesforce and Harvest for project tracking.
We need to make sure the tools we use are accessible for everyone, which can sometimes be a challenge and limits our choices. That is changing, but slowly. Fortunately much of Google’s productivity suite is accessible. We use Skype and Slack for communication. Slack’s mobile app is decent in terms of accessibility on the mobile app side but not on the web or desktop client. Our blind developers and auditors use IRC clients integrated to Slack as an alternative.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
On the positive side we have some very defined long-term goals and metrics we’re trying to hit. With that focused lens it makes it easier to determine whether a technology or other decision will help us hit those goals.
However, our business is also changing very quickly often causing priorities and tactics to change very quickly. And it’s great that we can adapt and adjust to these changes. We work hard to stay agile, but that ability can also be problematic. It’s easy to chase distractions and also need to work hard to stay focused. Again, some simple, well-defined goals help with that.
What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?
We’re a startup, so we have a small, flat organization. Everyone does a little bit of everything, but we all also know who is responsible for what at the end of the day. We’ve got an incredibly smart, driven and focused team. Our company is under 20 people right now but growing quickly.
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions in an increasingly competitive market?
We’re lucky and have a lot of things going for us. Greenfield development. A great business environment. A positive culture. A team with an outstanding track record. Family oriented. And to top it off a great mission. People want to enjoy where they work and want that work to make a difference. That’s us.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
Like everyone in this industry I do a lot of reading. It’s a significant part of every day. I also still like to code and most days do at least a little bit. So, I get to try out new tools, new strategies, new languages.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
I love to build things. And I love that through technology, building things is becoming more accessible. Accessible to people with disabilities, to kids, to non-coders, to anyone with a problem to solve. The barriers to entry for software and hardware are now low enough that a single person can create things that change the world. Plus, driverless cars.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
The gap between those that have the opportunity to learn how to benefit from technology and those that do not. Everything is moving so quickly, it will be easy to leave a whole huge segment of the population behind. Screen time is also a struggle for me as a developer and as a parent. Deciding how much is too much is something I think about every day.
What are you into outside of technology?
I love spending time with my three boys, the eldest graduating high school this year. I like to be active, mostly running, biking, doing yoga and skiing when we actually have snow. I love reading and watching sci-fi and am lucky to have a wife that loves the same. Our passion is also travel, but unfortunately haven’t done much lately. Hopefully that will change soon.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry?
We could certainly use a more active investment community around technology, particularly software. However, the size of our community suits me well. I love that I know many of the developers here but not all of them. I love that there are enough tech events going on that I can’t come close to attending every one, but not every conversation is about the next billion dollar startup. Big. Small. Bit a both.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m very excited to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2.