Jimmy Tomczak’s depth-interview with Chris Myers, Chief Technology Officer at NewFoundry
What’s special about what you do at NewFoundry?
When we get ideas… when we get client engagements, I look at them as opportunities to think about the bigger picture and think about how a platform solution might be the Bigger Idea. I always ask, “Is there a more fundamental problem here that needs solving?”
Give me a specific example.
Say a client comes to us with a problem. We have their exact problem, but guess what – if you look at the problem the right way, there are three other completely separate industries out there that have the exact same problem and could also use the same or similar solution. That’s a Big Idea.
That’s what’s so unique about what I bring to the table. Here at NewFoundry we have the both the right expertise and the right infrastructure to build something well beyond what was originally envisioned. This day in age, there are so many building blocks… it’s never been like this before. It means that big ideas are within reach for all of our customers.
How’d you find yourself in this space?
I started writing software in the 80s, and wrote a lot of software in the 90s. I was completely hooked. I laugh thinking about it now because back then it seems like we’d take a full day to do what takes a few minutes now. I suppose it’s just all about paying your dues. I can appreciate what I have today because everything was just so difficult with no building blocks, no real programming community that I knew of, and worst of all no internet!
It used to be so hard to get something delivered that just functioned properly. Now we can spend time to make something beautiful in both form and function. That’s a sign of a maturing discipline and it feels great to be at this place in time.
How does this design-centric thinking translate to innovation?
We’re able to think about what the ultimate experience should be and worry less about whether it’s possible to build it. We’re able to spend so much more time designing. Right from the start we ask, “How can we make this a beautiful experience?”
So how do you create beautiful experiences?
Beautiful experiences are not just about functionality, but a certain feeling that you get when you use something. It’s really about concentrating on delivering that feeling. That can take a lot of time and a lot of iteration, but today’s client understands that there is a premium on good design and we’re here to deliver.
Everybody has their unique view on life. You could say we see the world through different lenses. What is your lens and how are you using that to anticipate the future?
The way I look at the world really is very software and solutions focused. It’s not like I think in code or something cliche like that, but I am continually fascinated by the inter-workings of things.
A specific example: LED street lights. I wonder, “Where is the power source located? What is the average wattage? Where are the control electronics? Are they controlled on a per-unit basis or is it controlled city-wide?” And on and on.
When you break things down you start to see opportunities. “Oh that’s what they did! That’s amazing.” I can take that idea in the abstract and apply it to a totally unrelated project for a totally unique solution.
This kind of software is all around you. It’s always been there but now more than ever, People are aware of the ways it’s changing their lives.
Looking into your iPad as if it were a crystal ball, what would you want to know about the future?
In some ways, I don’t want to know. That’s the best part about all of this: Each new innovation, each new step — just noticing it, accepting it — you want to be a part of shaping it and seeing where things lead. It’s the journey that brings happiness.
How do you see the role of technology in the future?
Of course it will change the way we do everything.. but only if we let it.
I really want to see how people will react to all of this change. How will they see technology? Since everything is happening so fast, will most people reject technology like the human body rejects an organ transplant? Will people be able to keep up?
I hope that people feel good about the role of technology in the future and that the world’s a better place because of it.
What do we need to make that happen?
We need more willingness to manage and continually re-negotiate our relationship with technology. Not to mention that we need more folks who can code or at least understand how important those skills are.
Imagine this same conversation 10 years out. What’s different?
Smartphones made access to data ubiquitous and context sensitive. The phone knows where I am. If you look at the evolution of it all, we’ve gone from orienting ourselves around the technology and access to information, and now that information and technology orients around us.
Monolithic becomes microlithic. We have lots of specialized devices that help accomplish tasks.
Automobiles will have far more integration with you as a person. A lot of things are going to be more about you. Everything will react to the way in which you use it. We’ll also be a lot better at creating those types of experiences.
What are some problems with all this connectedness?
Psychologically, we’re having a lot of issues with attention and focus. It’s harder to be “in the now.” People will have to learn to adapt, especially during their formative years. Maybe they’re already doing that. Kids are immersed and accepting of what they experience. My kids are 3 and 4 years old and very comfortable with the notion. It will be interesting to see if there are any adverse side effects like a lack of focus when they get older.
I know I have to work hard to put a lid on all sources of interruption. That means setting aside time to unplug and really focus.
How will that affect people?
Connectedness can mean managing different digital personas, different extensions of yourself. Your “voice” in-person is different than your voice on Twitter is different than your voice on LinkedIn. Managing those different personas is a challenge for people from what we see. I suppose it will just become more natural over time.
What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked?
When we have our daily interactions with friends, family… “Hey, how’s it going?” and all the rest. You can be in violation of a social norm if you answer anything other than “Well. You?”.
I remember I had a friend who would ask instead, “What are you thinking about?” as a greeting. He actually cared about the answer. It was a real seed for meaningful conversation. That question made me think about what I was I thinking about and why I was thinking it.
If more people asked that questions like that, society would be better in general. We would place a higher value on ideas and thought. If the premium is on thought, philosophy, and ideas instead of just commonplace social interactions the world would be a better place.
On that note, share something you’ve never shared before.
Something that gives me anxiety is trying to keep up while the world is changing all around at an ever faster rate. I ask myself, “Can I keep up in a meaningful way?”
What do you do about that fear?
Once you start to engineer something, it can take months or years to develop. Invariably, you have to choose a set of technologies and stick with them for a while to be successful. You can’t just jump on every new trend that comes along. That can feel scary at first because it seems like the community moves on to something new… some new framework or library is all the rage. As CTO, it’s my job to stay up on things and the only thing that saves me is seeing how every new thing relates to every old thing. Luckily, seeing those abstract connections comes fairly naturally. It’s also important to realize that those different frameworks and technologies are just a means to an end. It’s not always important what’s under the good because it’s ultimately the end user experience that really matters.