Meet A Minnesota Tech CTO: Mike Thyken, CaringBridge

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Thank you Tarmac for underwriting our Meet a Minnesota CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies!

Mike Thyken is new CTO at CaringBridge, the Minnesota-based nonprofit social network dedicated to helping people stay connected with their loved ones during a health journey.

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

I have been in technology since the early 1980s and have held a wide variety of roles in many different industries. I started as a developer/analyst, went into technical sales, made a move into management consulting, and then into management and leadership including two CIO roles. I have worked for companies in industries ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies. I think this variety is a real advantage as an IT leader since I have seen many different models and situations and have a broad playbook of what works.

What are you focused on right now?

I am leading the technology for the nonprofit social network, CaringBridge, which was the first social platform created to support people going through a health journey. Strong support is critical during a health crisis and technology can enable the community to come together to support the patient and their family.

CaringBridge has a huge opportunity to grow the number of people we serve by making our platform easier to use and by partnering with other organizations to provide the services that can help make the health journey easier. As an example, financial stress is typical in a health situation, so we have partnered with GoFundMe to enable a person’s community to provide financial support directly through a person’s CaringBridge site.

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

We are a web based consumer platform and have just re-platformed onto Amazon Web Services and implemented a micro-services architecture. We are also integrating our core system with SalesForce’s CRM to replace our current donation and email marketing systems.

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

This is often the most difficult part of IT and requires constant engagement and communication between the leaders throughout the business and IT. I estimate that I spend 50% of my time working with folks outside of IT to ensure the strategies, plans, and projects are aligned and prioritized. I am fortunate to have a strong IT team that allows me to focus outside of IT, rather than having to deal with the day to day details of project delivery.

What is the size of your department (headcount) and how is it organized/managed?
We have a small IT team operating under the Agile model. I am a firm believer in the power of small, focused and accountable teams to deliver projects quickly.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?

We screen carefully for cultural fit. CaringBridge is a nonprofit and our mission has to resonate with anyone who joins our organization. At CaringBridge we don’t just come to work, we have a passion for what we do and how it helps people going through some of the most difficult situations a person can face in their lifetime. We routinely get feedback from our users on how we have helped them get through a tough time in their life – most of the stories are quite moving and emotional. Life is short and everything we do should have meaning.

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

Frankly, it is almost impossible to keep up with all the changes in the technology landscape. I try to keep connected with a wide network of people in Minnesota’s technology arena. They help me keep up with what is not only trendy, but also what has a likely payback. One of the best venues is the St. Thomas Graduate Programs in Software’s Advisory Board. We start our meetings with a quick around the table of interesting tidbits of what each of these leaders in technology have been seeing in the technology industry. There is a tremendous amount of innovation in our technology community that you can tap into if needed.

What excites you about where technology is heading?

The combination of computer power, big data captured through IoT and massive consumer systems, and the sophistication of mathematical computing models has the potential to really accelerate Artificial Intelligence capabilities. This will have dramatic positive impact on our world in many different areas.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

Sometimes the implications of technical changes aren’t always readily apparent or predictable. There are often unintended consequences to new technology that require adjustments and refinement to prevent inappropriate or ineffective use. The rapid pace of change means that people will have to learn and adjust faster than they ever have to keep up.

What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry – how could it be better?

Minnesota has a strong STEM culture and business community. I am concerned that we do not have enough of a pipeline of technical resources coming into the labor force to meet the need to the business community. That is one of the big reasons why I have become so involved with STARBASE MN and the University of St. Thomas.

What are you into outside of technology?

I have a passion for working with other Minnesota organizations to help them grow. I share my time and expertise as a member of the Board of Directors of Braun Intertec, a leading engineering firm, and Summit Brewing Company, the largest craft brewer in Minnesota. I also Chair the Board of Directors for STARBASE MN, a STEM oriented educational nonprofit, and am deeply involved with my undergraduate alma mater, the University of St. Thomas, as Chair of the Strategic Advisory Board for their Graduate Programs in Software, and as a member of the Board of Governors for their College of Engineering.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Collaboration within our industry has the potential to make all of us faster and more effective. I hope we can all work together to share best practices and good ideas. We are competing on a global stage and need to work together to be able to compete most effectively.

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