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 and what is your technical background?
I started working as a software developer when I was studying towards my math major in college in the early 1990s. My technical background includes software development in a variety of different technology stacks, enterprise architecture, and distributed systems design and implementation. I’ve had the pleasure of working for Coherent Solutions since 1997 and became the CTO in 2001.
What are you focused on right now?
I’m responsible for guiding the strategic direction of the company’s technology services, including application development, mobile solutions, data services, cloud computing and DevOps. One of my favorite parts of the job is heading up various R&D activities to develop competencies in emerging technologies. These initiatives provide our customers with top-notch technology capabilities in many areas including IoT, blockchain and AI, among others. We were also recently named an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner so that initiative took up a lot of the team’s time – but it is so rewarding when we think about what it means for our customers and an expanding portfolio of services.
What are the some of the technologies within your company and IT environment?
When it comes to working with our customers, I can’t even begin to describe all the technologies we use to build solutions for them. We are really trying to focus on picking the right tool for the job, as well as aligning with customers’ existing technology portfolios. We do a lot of work in Microsoft stack which we now see shifting a lot to .NET Core and containers. Java Spring stack is used a lot along with MEAN/MERN in various combinations. But by no means does it stop there. We use a standard solution for managing and enabling collaboration for internal and customer-facing engineering and development teams, which includes Atlassian Cloud and Slack.
How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?
First and foremost, we make sure that those business outcomes are clearly defined — in some measurable way, prioritized, agreed upon and understood by the team. For our client-facing projects, this requires the teams to understand client’s business, which is something we really invest into. From there, it boils down to applying good engineering practices to ensure that we have quality and product that meets the requirements, and a project methodology that lets the team work efficiently. We primarily use Scrum for customer-facing and internal software development initiatives, and Kanban to manage internal engineering teams and some other activities like technical sales support.
What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?
I operate a 10-person IT and InfoSec team that manages and secures our internal infrastructure and supports service delivery organization in running customer projects efficiently and securely. I also run a “virtual” 40-person strong technology department of senior engineers and architects fromacross the company that identifies and implements best engineering practices for our internal applications and customer-facing solutions, performs technical R&D, provides technical sales support, and manages our application security program.
We are trying to remain as flat of an organization as possible, so I work with many of these people directly on a day-to-day basis and have a few managers and leads that help everyone stay on track.
How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?
We have an elaborate resource management and staffing process that relies on full time in-house recruiting teams in our European development centers and, for local recruiting in Minneapolis, we use LinkedIn and networking/personal connections.
The great people that make up our teams are one of the primary differentiators for us. We have a set of core values that we hire against and it is a great help with retention. All employees have a specific set of goals each year that are designed to keep everyone interested and challenged, and we have a number of mechanisms in place to provide and receive feedback to and from your peers, which helps most people find something that they are really excited to work on.
How do you personally keep up with the ever-changing technology landscape?
I try to dedicate up to an hour a day to review various online publications and resources. While I usually don’t have time to go to meetups, I keep an eye on the topics that are discussed at various gatherings around town. For any topics or areas where I have further interest, I would rely on online courses (Coursera, Udemy, edX) and vendor webinars to advance beyond initial understanding.
Last, but not least, I try to stay in touch with our development teams and our customers who do some really cool things!
Why do you do it, what inspires you?
There are three reasons this work motivates me:
1) It is fun to learn new information and think about different ways it can be applied in our business.
2) Staying on top of latest and greatest helps me motivate my team members and help them stay
interested and engaged — which hopefully, in the long run, helps retention.
3) Last, but not least, the knowledge I gain allows us to better help our customers solve their
All of it keeps me energized and ready for whatever comes next.
What excites you about where technology is heading?
I am really excited about overall democratization and simplification of technology. The capabilities and capacity that are easily available to a small development team these days – based on various open source and commercial efforts – and what those teams could do with those capabilities is simply amazing.
What concerns you about where technology is heading?
The technology evolution opens a lot of potential but at the same time presents a lot of risk if misused or improperly applied. So many devices used in our daily lives are based on technologies that are only a few years old. Realistically, there are opportunities and concerns with these devices that are still unknown.
Technology also has a significant impact on the social fabric of our lives. It changes how we spend time with our family, how we communicate with others, how we shop and run our daily errands — and the impact is not always 100% positive. With the number of connected devices that are pervasive in the environment around us, security is also a big concern – from relatively small things like my smart house to modern cars to the power grid.
What is your opinion of Minnesota’s tech industry – how could it be better?
We have a strong technical and innovative culture here in Minnesota. There is solid diversity in terms of people’s skills, interests and ideas — and with companies and organizations where those capabilities can be realized and applied. Working for a company that has talent both in Minnesota and Eastern Europe, I see a lot of similarities and ways to create advantages across the teams. I also notice how collaboration across different cultures and continents provides a lot of benefits to a technical community. We should not be afraid to open ourselves up to the world and take advantage of what it has to offer.