Thank you Tarmac for underwriting our Meet a Minnesota Tech CTO series, where we get up close and personal with Minnesota’s chief techies.
How long have you been working in tech for and what is your technical background?
I have been working in technology for 25 years. I’ve had a passion for computers since my grade school days (sparked by my first computer – a Commodore VIC-20 with its screaming 4K of memory and no drive). I started out in network administration and quickly expanded into web development.
Those early days of routers, switches, and firewalls gave me a leg up when it came to programming that has proven to be very valuable.
I’m currently the CTO for a healthcare technology company called Learn to Live. We provide digital mental health programs to meet the needs of individuals suffering from mental health problems who will never seek face-to-face care due to accessibility issues, cost concerns, and social stigma.
What are you focused on right now?
My team has several focus areas, but we prioritize using an agile approach. I am always focused on our product and enhancements for our members, but recently a lot of my energy is going into making sure our high level of security and compliance has minimal impact on the usability of our systems and productivity of our team.
I would characterize us as a “Microsoft shop” using the ASP.NET platform to deliver our core app. We’ve started using Vue.js to create “SPA islands” within our app which enables richer interactions but without a ground-up rewrite. We’ve also been introducing Google’s Progressive Web App approach into our platform to allow more app level capabilities on mobile devices. Reporting and Analytics are a large part of our value for our sponsoring clients and Microsoft Power BI has been driving advancements in that area.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
We run all IT work with a Scrum based process which focuses on collaborating closely with the business stakeholders throughout. In addition to development, that process is used for infrastructure, reporting, and design efforts. Some key elements of success have been defining stories in terms of an outcome metric, collaborative prioritization, and developing separate pipelines for different business units. At the leadership level, a lot of work goes into making sure we are aligned as a company around strategic goals, and those drive activity throughout the organization.
What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?
We’re a small development group, but we’re still able to contribute at a high level on a sustainable pace in large part because of the quality of the individuals involved. There is an effort to be a cross-functional team, but we often end up with quite a bit of specialization in roles. The team largely manages itself where every team member is committed to meeting incremental goals together.
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?
Recruiting for Learn to Live is primarily done through word of mouth referrals which has so far served us very well. We have one of the most effective teams I have ever experienced. Retention is largely a matter of listening to individuals for motivating factors and ensuring they are getting what they need. We are a company where people are driven by a social cause and helping people feel a connection to that is a huge motivator for all of us, myself included.
How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?
I read a lot, and I have a few pet projects that are mostly small apps to fill a personal need like an exercise randomizer. Those projects allow me to explore emerging technologies without a lot on the line. I have a great network of other technologists to communicate with and learn from. I’m not quite sure how common the sentiment is, but the ever-changing nature of technology is one of my favorite things about the industry.
Why do you do it, what inspires you?
I do technology because I’m just a tinkerer and a problem solver by heart. Learn to Live specifically inspires me because it gives me an opportunity to use those skills to do something meaningful for people. Helping those with mental health concerns is more rewarding to me than selling widgets or putting items in a shopping cart. So many people in my circles deal with problems that can be helped by the digital mental health programs and tools that we produce – there really is nothing I would rather be doing.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
I’m pretty enthusiastic about VR/AR and the potential there. If you sit me down with a pen and paper and ask me for 10 fantastic ideas for Augmented Reality, I’ll give you 20. I’m also fascinated with how assistive and adaptive technologies are enabling people to live fuller lives than would have been possible in recent history.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
The internet at large has some very crucial questions about privacy and security that haven’t been figured out. People will continue to have a lot of friction in that area if we can’t come to some agreements about what is right and what is wrong. By extension, the escalation of nation states using information warfare without clear rules is very disturbing. These are problems we haven’t been able to get in front of so far.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry – how could it be better?
It’s hard for me to be critical here. One thing I would love is if we can figure out how to get more technology into the education system from a young age. Every kid who gets their spark of interest kindled is another contributor in the future. Bringing that spark to as diverse a group as possible is a building block for the future of Minnesota.
What are you into outside of technology?
When I’m not working on technology, I’m often playing with technology: amateur radio, games, retro-computing, robotics, and others. When it’s time to take a break, I love to get outdoors with my family and go hiking or camping. My son has joined scouting and that has been a great activity for us together.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would ask that everyone try to help stop stigma around mental health and learn how to check in with those around them about how they are doing.