Meet A Minnesota CTO: Bob Grogan, eLumen

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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: Bob Grogan, eLumen

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

I was raised around kit computers, electronics and oscilloscopes.  Earlier on, I went to school for engineering at Northwestern in Chicago, and fell into the computer industry shortly after graduating. I’ve been working in the computer field in one capacity or another for 20+ years.

I was with Plato Learning (now called Edmentum) for over eight years. Working in education technology is a special place where business, technology and mission all meet. So when I had the chance to join eLumen, just around two years ago, I couldn’t turn that down.

What are you focused on right now?

We had an established product for a while now, though there is a plan underway now to integrate multiple products into one suite. Of course this is always challenging, though the goal is to shift from faculty and administrative support to student success.

Our platform has always monitored and fed into continuous improvement on the campus for departments, and now we’re getting into the student body for them to monitor and manage their own progress with competency and badging.

What is your tech stack?

We’ve been hosted on AWS for many years now, primarily a Java deployment. Now, as we evolve, we’re using more Angular and Node on the front end with MongoDB on the back.

As part of what I mentioned above is a transition we’re going from straight Java Strut to something more modular and modern.

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

I always had one foot in the business side, even as a developer. The agile school of thought has evolved so nicely that nobody in our company thinks they are just one thing. We all think about what the user wants, and the product is for. This includes exposure and interactions with customers success on a constant basis.

What’s the size of your department, how do you manage it?

Our headquarters and executive leadership is in Minneapolis, along with some developers and user experience people. We have a fully dedicated team in Paraguay with scrum masters, more developers, devops, customer support, etc. Overall, there’s about 25 of us on the tech side.

How do you approach recruiting and retention for technical talent?

Recruiting is as hard for us as it is for anybody. I know many members from the recruiting community, which helps, but really you have to leverage referrals.  We’re an interesting company to join because we are young enough and people can wear many hats and gain diversified experience.  I think that success breeds success internally.

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

It seems like, at least for me, that the annual convention budget has gone down over time…and the meetups will pull together

Stack Overflow means that bugs which used to bedevil me for weeks now can be solved in hours.  Small investments in quality tools and training goes a long way. Experimentation, conversations, and continuous learning is my approach.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

Cloud and server less architecture is awesome in terms of what can be done very quickly. The languages out there now, depending on the need, such as the NoSQL movement make our jobs better and funner.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

The same thing, really. I’m uneasy about investing my infrastructure needs into technologies that come from any one vendor…that consolidation can be hazardous. If our needs change significantly, I don’t want it to be costly to change from one vendor to another.

Companies that have started to rely on vendors to solve the hard problems and are focused on the simple stuff will lead to a sort of “deskilling” in the industry. Though, there are definitely creative and capable people out there building the next generation of technologies already.

What are you into outside of the office?

I really like mountain biking around Minnesota, and play a lot of racquet ball depending on the season.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s technology industry?

Great trajectory over the last ten years! I’ve written mobile apps and done side projects forever and it’s only getting easier to find others and collaborate and learn from.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the interview.

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