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When To Be Monolithic and When Not To Be , with Phil Borlin

By Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Audio Version

To be or not to be monolithic, that is the question. Here with the answer is Phil Borlin of PluralSight and Veyo. Phil and I met a few years ago when he moved to San Diego to work with PluralSight.

On this episode we discuss when to break up a monolithic app, why you should start that way but not stay and when self-contained systems are a good solution. Join us to hear the details on those topics and more on today’s edition of CTO Studio.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • How does he define self-contained systems?
  • When should you break up a monolithic app?
  • Why you should have your front end and back end developer on the same team.
  • Are they doing mob programming? Why or why not?
  • What does a healthy exec team provide, according to Phil?
  • And so much more!

Although he grew up in southern California, Phil went to Salt Lake City for his undergraduate degree and then to Colorado State for his master’s. Both degrees were in computer science, with his master’s focused on software engineering.

After talking about his background briefly, we get into the monolithic discussion. Phil says we should be doing things two or three times before breaking things out because we don’t understand where our abstractions should be until we do that. So if we are starting out start as a monolith, the reason to break out is to lower communication costs between teams.

The time to do this is when you’ve grown to your 10th or 12th developer and can split up into three teams, then you should start thinking about this. And the reason is because it’s more about team efficiency rather than scale.

We also talk about self-contained systems as a subset of service-oriented architecture. Phil advocates keeping your front end and your back end and your databases close to each other, giving teams their own code bases and their own databases and then using some kind of data replication or some kind of calling into other people’s APIs in order to cross those boundaries. By doing so you can have small communication boundaries between other teams and lots of room to innovate on your own team.

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I was curious to know more about what Veyo does exactly. Phil explains that

Medicare and Medicaid programs are two fantastic programs that give certain groups of people access to healthcare, people who may not normally be able to afford it.

These groups of people often struggle with getting to their appointments, they may no longer drive or they may not have someone who can take them. This is where Veyo steps in and provides transportation for those people to their medical appointments at no cost to them, Medicare and Medicaid pays the fees for these people.

While it might sound like a gig economy type of service, Phil says it’s a more holistic approach than lyft or uber. People can use public transportation and be reimbursed for it, for example. In Connecticut Veyo mails out the bus token to the person and the person then uses it to get on the bus and go to their appointment.

The point is to not have these people pay for their transportation by pooling federal and state funds to cover the fees. Of course these are non-emergency medical transportation needs only, typically for appointments like follow-ups, dialysis, etc.

Next we get into the actual app experience and more of the “geeky” details. Phil has been the Director of Engineering for about 5 months or so. it was a dot net shop when he got there, much of the code stil is today.

Also on today’s show we talk about which aspects of the Veyo app he has identified as monolithic and what he’s done as a result, Kubernetes, Azure and Google cloud, and why you would do containers or not depending on the situation. Lastly he shares what tech is most exciting for him now – TLA Plus. Join us to hear more about what that is exactly on today’s edition of CTO Studio.

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Why All Companies Need a Code of Conduct, with Daniel Norman

By Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Audio Version

Welcome to today’s edition of CTO Studio! Does your company have a code of conduct? Do you have a verbally understood code of conduct, or an actual written one that is in your workplace for everyone to see?

Our guest today, Daniel Norman, explains why you need the latter and why it’s so important to the health and longevity of any company, including yours. Daniel is the current CTO of gudTech whose love for technology began when he was a kid with a Commodore 64! Today he shares how he went from playing with Commodores to his CTO role today. Join us to hear his journey on our latest episode of CTO Studio.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • What is most impactful on the success of a company?
  • Why did gudTech brand Retail Ops separately?
  • Why does language in code of conducts matter?
  • What happens in the absence of a code of conduct?
  • Rust vs. Go: what are the pros and cons of each?
  • And so much more!

Daniel’s first exposure to technology came early on as a kid. He quickly moved from the Commodore 64, then to the 128 and on to working in a school district servicing their computers. His undergraduate work was in technology and he interned with several engineering firms and then was employed by QualComm for several years before finally landing with gudTech.

When I asked Daniel to tell me more about the concept of codes of conduct and why they matter so much, he explained within our organizations we should be talking about them, formalizing them and making them a pillar of our business.

They are not meant as boilerplates but are meant to be celebrated as part of the daily discourse and daily water cooler conversations within our companies. Codes of conduct should be official documents that outline the values of our companies.

They can vary depending on the company but codes of conduct make it clear to everyone what are the values of the company. When these values are in bold print employees aren’t surprised by them, everyone knows these are the values you uphold as an organization. In a nutshell, whatever your values don’t just talk about them, write them.

Also be aware of the subtleties of our everyday language, like using the term “guys” to refer to an abstract group of people. If you can name the group you are speaking to and they are all men then guys is appropriate. But there are so many disparities in gender and for various other protected groups that it behooves us to be conscientious of our language and our values in our organizations.

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Next we moved on to talking about Rust versus Go (two programming languages). I wanted to know if they have used Rust in their Retail Ops product. Daniel said they don’t but they do have a good amount of Go. In fact, they are moving more towards Go for application programming on the server side and using Rust for systems programming.

He explains why and how they use each. For example, Rust would be something to use to write a very high performance piece of your code like a database or a network stack.

While Go has addressed a lot of their systems programming issues, and there have been databases written in Go that work pretty well, it isn’t as good as Rust.

Go does a good job with certain types of problems as long as you are okay with the starting assumptions the language makes like you’ll have a garbage collector and green threads in everything. He recommends using it on a case by case basis, you have to decide when it’s okay and when it will be bothersome for your users.

As far as Rust, safety from data races is the #1 reason to use it. Any time you are building mission critical code there are a host of subtle errors the programmer can make and inevitably will make, unless you have a language like Rust which enforces certain invariances. Rust is very strict.

It’s so strict that Daniel says your first few weeks with Rust will involve a lot of swearing and you will hate the compiler! The compiler will be your enemy. But somewhere around week 2 or 3 something flips and you’ll learn to love the compiler because when it does finally compile it will probably be right. There’s a host of different problems your program will not have that it would most certainly have if you used another language other than Rust.

After talking a bit more about Rust and its strictness regarding the key concepts of ownership and borrowing, we also touch on the San Diego Meetup group for Papers We Love before finishing up with some of Daniel’s biggest learning lessons as a CTO.

Join us to hear the details on those topics and what Daniel is reading and listening to on today’s CTO Studio.

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Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, with Michael Saul

By Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Audio Version

Welcome to another episode of CTO Studio! Today I’m sitting down to talk with my close friend and colleague, Michael Saul. Michael is the cofounder of 7 CTOs, and is a dear friend, partner, and mentor.

On this episode, you’ll hear about how Michael came to be my work partner, as well as the value of emotional intelligence in the business world. You’ll also hear his advice for better communication among CEOs and CTOs, how his interest in emotional aptitude came to be, and so much more!

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • What exactly is emotional intelligence?
  • How can you become aware of and in control of your emotional responses?
  • What did Michael learn from first venture in the business world?
  • Why people are so invested in their outward appearances.
  • The reasons why CTO and CEO can be such lonely roles.
  • And so much more

Michael’s interest and experience with emotional intelligence began at a young age. As he recognized different emotions he also discovered there was often a root problem attached to those emotions, just buried underneath them. That knowledge would go on to serve him well in business, and other areas of his life.

This same process he uncovered with emotions – the problem being buried behind people’s emotional responses – is similar to the reverse engineering process people in technology and tech-related businesses often use to get to the heart of an issue.

When I asked about his early days in business, Michael explains his journey in business was deeply rooted in his love for the outdoors combined with problem-solving. His initial business was a white water rafting company as well as a beginner’s kayaking school, both of which he founded at the age of 20.

Shortly after he expanded his businesses to include winter sports facilities, he experienced devastating fear when all three of his new businesses went bankrupt and collapsed. Those losses left him fearful his business image had been permanently damaged in the outside world.

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But Michael persevered, picked himself up and carried on. He took the lessons he learned and applied them well to overcome adversity in the future, and has been successful as a result.

I was curious to know more about how emotional intelligence and recognition can play such important roles in the business and technology worlds. Michael has witnessed firsthand how the CEO and CTO roles can both become very lonely, if the people in those positions allow for it.

He gives two main reasons for this: being the person who makes decisions that affect everyone in the company and being the one in charge of so many employees.

In order to combat that loneliness that can set in, proper communication between the CEO and CTO is vital. It can certainly seem as if the two partners live in extremely different worlds, but when you look deeper you’ll see the two roles have so much in common. Both roles have similar goals, drive, and vision.  

Continuing on that train of thought, we discussed what Michael has observed in current CTOs at 7 CTOs. He says that he has been pleasantly surprised at how wholeheartedly the CTOs have embraced their roles, and that he is looking forward to seeing what happens when CTOs begin collaborating with one another and using innovation as a tool.

You can hear more from Michael on emotional intelligence and other topics when you tune in and join us for this episode of CTO Studio!

Episode Resources:

Michael Saul on Linkedin:

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Being a Female CTO, with Sigalit Tsadok

By Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Audio Version

Welcome to another episode of CTO Studio! Today I’m sitting down to talk with my good friend Sigalit Tsadok, current CTO for the start up company Kelvi. On this episode, you’ll hear about Sigalit’s journey to working with Kelvi, as well as how she become interested in being a CTO.

Today, you’ll also hear about why Sigalit would love to see more women in CTO positions, how computer science became her passion, and so much more!

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Why diversity in the tech world is so important.
  • What is Kelvi and how is it helping physical therapists?
  • How can networking help in a technology role?
  • The importance of having appropriate vendors in a start up.
  • What have been the biggest challenges and rewards in her career?
  • And so much more!

Sigalit’s experience in the technology world has not always been dedicated to computer science. In school, she enjoyed her science classes, but computer science never felt like the right fit until she graduated and began working in her first job.

After discovering her love and talent in the field, she began working for Pet Wireless, a company with a unique purpose and product. Pet Wireless, or Tailio, tracks and monitors cat health by placing a sensor under a litter box. The program can track features such as weight and trips to the litter box.

On this episode of CTO Studio, I spent some time talking to Sigalit about what exactly Kelvi is. She described Kelvi as a device used by physicians and physical therapists for patients who need cryotherapy or heat therapy. It changes temperatures within seconds, and can function from a mobile app that is downloaded by the person administering the therapy. How it differs from others on the market is it requires absolutely no ice in order to become cold!

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After joining Kelvi, I was curious to know about initial hurdles she encountered when she first began working there. Sigalit shared that one big issue the team had was a difficult vendor. Through networking she was able to find a better, more suitable vendor to work with and they have been beneficial to Kelvi’s ongoing growth.

Next we move on to a topic quite near and dear to her heart: why more women are not taking on roles (such as CTO) in the technology/business world.

She theorizes that one prominent reason may be due to the lack of confidence for women in the STEM world, or the lack of interest. She mentions that there is a common fear that technology-based positions are extremely math-heavy, when in reality they are multi-faceted.

Sigalit stresses the importance of women not shying away from technology positions, including being a CTO. As a CTO there is a need for the person to embrace creative solutions and do so in an individual way, something to which women are well suited.

Continuing on a similar thought, we then discussed how we as a society can change to encourage more women to pursue careers in the technology world. She mentions that one huge help would be to change our culture, our TV content, and what we consume to be more inclusive of technology-based women. That way young girls will learn that a career in technology can be awesome!

You can hear more thoughts from Sigalit, as well as her current favorite books and websites, when you tune in to this episode of CTO Studio!

Episode Resources

Sigalit Tsadok on LinkedIn

The Phoenix Project, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

The Goal, by Eliyahu Goldratt

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

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How to Transition from CTO to CEO, with Robert Swisher

By Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Audio Version

Welcome to another episode of CTO Studio! Today I’m sitting down to talk with my friend Robert Swisher, CEO of the new mobile app Frendli. Today, you’ll learn from Robert what the differences are between a CEO and a CTO, how to transition between the two, and how to successfully begin a new start-up.

Today you’ll also hear the ups and downs of transitioning from one business model to another, why he wanted to employ different methods for this company than he’d previously used, and much more!

 In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Why city is the best in the world, according to entrepreneurs?
  • Why did he decide to depart from his first CTO role?
  • How Robert created the idea for Frendli.
  • The differences between technical CTO and a non-technical CTO.
  • Robert’s advice for successfully creating an advisory board.
  • And so much more!

Robert’s experience in the business world began when he was only 19 years old. He originally began and operated a technology consultancy company for small businesses in Colorado and ran that for several years before deciding to move back to his home state of California.

Robert’s most recent venture before Frendli was being CTO at where he served as the CTO for 6 years. Eventually he decided to exit the company after selling it in June 2016. He says the sale of the company took about 3 to 4 months, from the original letter of intent to the final purchase, and was a pleasant experience by all counts.

One of the other topics we talked about on this episode of CTO Studio is how Robert created the idea for Frendli, and what he did to ensure his new startup would be as successful as possible.

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Robert said that he created the idea for Frendli and spoke with several friends to get their reactions and feedback. He was excited when they all gave him positive reviews! It was a dream come true for him – he had always wanted to create a startup as a true founder rather than someone who just came in early to the business. And he had done it with Friendli.

I asked him to expand on what Friendli is exactly and how it is different from other apps out there. Robert describes Friendli as a unique mobile app which matches users based on common interests and hobbies. The next step is for companies to market themselves on the app by posting deals for those matched friends, based on their mutual interests.

The app is still in progress, the development for Friendli is expected to wrap up in early April 2018, and should launch in late April or early May of the same year.

Out of all the advice Robert lends on this episode, one of the most prominent things we discussed was the importance of creating a sold advisory board to help through the process of launching.

Robert says this has been key in the development of Friendli. So even though he does not currently have a direct mentor, he has made sure his advisory board is made up of people with different perspectives and ideas so he is getting a host of viewpoints.

For example, he has people on his board with whom he has worked in the past. These are people he knows to be dependable and to have experience in this particular field. He also has advisors with an academic perspective on his board.

He did this because this is his first experience being a CEO, and he knew he wanted and needed to surround himself with the best group of advisors possible from a variety of walks of life.

Continuing on that same thread, I then asked Robert for his advice on making that transition from his previous roles as CTO to his current role as CEO of Friendli, and what different methods or approaches he wanted to employ within Friendli once he became the CEO.

You can hear those recommendations directly from Robert, as well as his most helpful books for startups, when you tune in to this episode of CTO Studio!

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The Due Diligence Process and Handling Transitions, with Krijn van der Raadt

By Podcasts, The CTO Studio

Audio Version

Welcome to another episode of CTO Studio! Today I wanted to share my friend Krijn van der Raadt’s wisdom with you. Today Krijn (sounds like crime but with an “n” instead of an “m”) helps businesses maximize their exit strategy. But before starting this business he had several acquisition and due diligence experiences as a CTO.

On this episode, you’ll hear what he’s learned about integrating teams, his advice for going through the due diligence process as a CTO and his recommendations for things you can do right now to make that process easier down the road.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • Why being transparent during the due diligence process is critical.
  • Why did they stick with a flip phone even as smart phones became popular?
  • Is the due diligence process about more than just the technology?
  • When should you start preparing if you are thinking of selling your company?
  • Why you can’t just buy technology without the people supporting it.
  • And so much more!

Originally from The Netherlands, Krijn met now lives in San Diego with his San Diego native wife and their family. His education includes undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of technology, including a year spent at UCSD.

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His first job was in Holland working at a small dev shop building ecommerce sites. He joined there as a team lead after finishing his undergraduate degree and eventually took on bigger and bigger leadership roles (including being CIO) as the team grew in size and scope.

When I asked if he has a set way of integrating incoming teams from acquisitions, he gives one particular example. When the company he worked at acquired a small start-up, Krijn’s company was around 1200 people and the start-up was very small.

So Krijn and his staff were mindful of the incoming employees, making sure they wanted to stick around. Because of that they didn’t make an org chart and split up the start-up employees to fill in the chart.

Instead they took it easy and made sure the leaders from the incoming team stayed on staff. Krijn and his people tried to make it as easy as possible for the acquired team to get used to the larger company.

Krijn explains it’s important to be mindful of where the incoming company employees are coming from and to do everything to make those people feel at home and at ease. If you don’t do that you’ll have a much bigger mess to clean up later.

In a situation like that people feel insecure about their future and they are in unfamiliar territory so you want to make sure they don’t leave right away. If you buy a company and everyone from that company leaves it is very hard to make something good out of that company.

On this episode of CTO Studio, we also talk about his role as CTO in the Great Call acquisition along with his advice for anyone who goes through the same process.

Krijn says the first time they went through the due diligence process it was awful. He had asked for advice from investment bankers about how best to prepare for the process. They were helpful on the business side but he was on his own on the technical side.

But that first exposure was helpful later on. It became their roadmap for fixing issues and it also helped Krijn better prepare himself and his team to go through the process next time.

On that note, I asked if he would give a few of his own recommendations that CTOs can do right now to make the due diligence process easier down the road. You can hear those recommendations directly from Krijn when you tune in to this episode of CTO Studio!

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