Leading the way: 6 Austin technology leaders on trends they’re watching right now

by Katie Fustich
September 26, 2018

The tech world is filled with many, shall we say, enigmatic leaders: your Mark Zuckerbergs and your Elon Musks.

But then there are these six Austin tech leaders who are leading by example, motivating their teams to be their best selves and driving innovation across industries. We had the pleasure of hearing from these leaders about emerging tech trends and learning about the habits that help them succeed.

 

RetailMeNot
image via retailmenot

RetailMeNot helps individuals save money and make smart shopping decisions through their partnerships with more than 70,000 international brands. CTO Vivek Sagi walked us through his journey from an “introverted engineer” to leading his tech team by example.

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I gravitate toward transformational leadership, and I’m equally passionate about hiring and growing talent. With a high-performing team around me, I operate as a servant leader solely focused on clearing roadblocks impeding the team.  

 

What habits make a truly great leader?

Great leaders are always willing to change their minds. They don’t wait to be proven wrong, but spend time searching for the full answer. Reading and writing are not to be understated. I also find great leaders know their weaknesses, and fill those spots on their teams and in their lives. Finally, great leaders rely on mechanisms to toggle between the highest level of strategy work and diving deep into the low-level component work. They use these mechanisms to really understand their teams and businesses.

 

What is your favorite tech trend or emerging technology?

The proliferation of AI and machine learning. It’s not really a tech trend any longer, but more of a democratization of this esoteric science. AI is now accessible as an off-the-shelf capability to every software developer looking to build intelligence into their products. Machine learning has gone mainstream, and we’re still in the early days of voice technology. While I am fascinated by voice as an interface, I am intrigued by all of the devices now talking to each other. The proliferation of “smart” means we’re at a point where more machines can “think” as humans do.

 

BigCommerce
image via bigcommerce

BigCommerce helps companies leverage the tools they need to sell like million-dollar businesses. Lisa Pearson, the company’s chief marketing officer, shared how her leadership style revolves around constantly learning and evolving.

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

One of my biggest leadership influences was something I learned early in my career. By putting customers and employees at the center of every decision, you’re creating a simple way to filter out bad decisions. This has become the center of my leadership philosophy.

My leadership style is highly imperfect and constantly evolving, but I maintain a steadfast focus on my team. I aim to build high-performing teams that have a high degree of camaraderie and trust with each other, and have found that if I can successfully instill this mentality with my own direct reports, it organically cascades to their teams.

 

What habits help make a truly great leader?

It’s a very rare case that someone can lead a high-performing, tight-knit, successful team without taking time to understand their motivators, stresses and day-to-day experiences. Beyond that, great leaders always return to the “why” of their decisions. A massive part of your job as a leader is to be the voice of why what you are doing matters, and then making sure that it is an integral part of ongoing communications with your team. A business won’t be successful all the time, but rather than making a change anytime something doesn’t go as planned, a great leader stays the course because they have conviction in both the original strategy and the reason behind that strategy.

 

What is your favorite tech trend or emerging technology?

One of the great things about working at BigCommerce is that I get to be part of this constantly-evolving industry that people touch every single day — and it’s been incredible to watch how our own shopping habits shape industry trends.

It’s no secret that e-commerce sits at the center of gravity for the retail industry. Even so, it still only accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all retail transactions. It gets really interesting once you start to dig into all the in-store purchases that are influenced by some digital element.

 

ShipStation
image via shipstation

ShipStation helps online merchants streamline their shipping processes with software that integrates directly with e-commerce platforms. Dalton Kane, the company’s engagement and marketing design director, explained how he leads with curiosity and creativity.

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

There are two things I really believe in as a leader: people and process. With the right people, you can do anything. With the right people and right process, you can do anything quickly. I like to build out a solid framework and then set talented people loose in it.

 

What habits help make a truly great leader?

When I think of good leaders, I think of people who have a strong and well-defined vision and uncanny ability to see truth through muddy water. They are able to clearly see what really is, and a path to what should be. From there, it’s about inspiring talented individuals to come together in an aligned way to solve problems and remove roadblocks. If each individual understands their role and how it connects to the overarching goals of the company, they understand their importance. We all have a desire to feel important and for our efforts to help create and support things bigger than ourselves.

 

What is your favorite tech trend or emerging technology?

Over the past few years, I’ve taken a special interest in the application of big data and machine learning. I want to say I read that 90 percent of the data that exists was created in the last two years alone. Now that we’ve got it, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface on how to use it. How it will impact the world in the next few years or decades is incredibly exciting. It could be a great power for good if we guide it well.

 

EverlyWell
image via everlywell

EverlyWell’s healthtech solutions help people perform lab tests at home  — and understand the results. Given the delicate nature its product, the tech that powers EverlyWell is all the more significant. Fortunately, CTO Nick Parker is at the helm of the team, with the experience and know-how to get things done.

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

Inclusive. I get to know everyone on my team so that we can help each other, both in our current roles and in our future careers. I think of my role as CTO as just that: a role on the team, with the key job of bringing in the right people and making sure they work well together toward a clear goal. If you set clear expectations, communicate well, remove impediments and involve your team in decisions, they can do great things.

 

What habits help make a truly great leader?

First, work with your engineers to make sure they deeply understand the business, from short-term goals to long-term vision. Specifically, they need to understand metrics they affect with each project. This gives them the context they need to make good decisions, and watching those metrics come in makes launches much more exciting and fulfilling. Second, and this sounds obvious, but make sure they always work on the right thing. At EverlyWell, we use design research, early prototypes and hallway usability testing to solve problems as quickly and early as we can. If you can get your team involved in that thought process, you can use their talented brains to the fullest extent and make work a lot more fun.

 

What is your favorite tech trend or emerging technology?

Just like everyone else, I love containers and serverless because of what they enable. Here at EverlyWell, we started reworking our deployment process less than two months ago, and now have our services building on demand in disposable environments in minutes. We can deploy nearly instantly, and scale the services as needed. It enables rapid and frequent iteration between devs and QA during the development process, and allows for rapid, low-risk changes in production.

 

RunTitle
image via RunTitle

Since 2012, RunTitle has worked to elevate transparency and efficiency in the oil and gas industries through the creation of the country’s largest database of mineral ownership information. CTO A.T. Fouty chatted with Built In Austin about the technology and the attitude that powers his team.

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

Right now, we are expanding our machine learning pipelines and normalizing all incoming data to centralize tracking and monitoring. We are using predictive models to analyze the way assets have been traded in the past and look for unique opportunities. We aim to provide more information to unsophisticated asset owners to help them make informed decisions on assets worth less than $1 million. Lastly, we are focusing on scaling our online marketplace for this awesome category of financial assets.

 

What are the biggest technology challenges you’ve faced in the past? How did you overcome them?

I have been fortunate to work with amazing engineers who are up to any task. In the early days, we processed, ingested and normalized hundreds of thousands of paper documents — many from the early 1900s. Initially, data cleanliness and completeness was a struggle, so we made investments in systems and architecture to lower friction and have built a system that allows us to overcome many of those early challenges.

 

What are lessons you’ve learned about working in Austin that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

This is less of a revelation now than it was in the past, but it was once thought that building a high-growth company outside of Silicon Valley was difficult, and that the successful ones were the exception. In fact, being in Austin is one of the primary reasons for our success and growth. This town allows employees a greater quality of life, amazing cost of living, ability to focus on family and relationships, and, often, greater enjoyment in the workplace. The importance of these things cannot be overstated.

 

Datical
image via datical

Datical is changing what databases are capable of with its technology that helps speed the release of database information. CTO Robert Reeves shared his journey from a green-haired dreamer to the creator of his dream role, leading the Datical tech team with an on-the-ground style.

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

Never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do yourself. Leaders don’t dictate, they set examples for people to follow. My style is very active and front line. Good CTOs serve the other leaders in the company.

Every quarter, I work with my team to evaluate my performance and understand their needs and expectations. I do not end the meeting until they answer the question, “Where was I wrong?” Too often, leaders confuse seeking feedback on their performance with weakness. That’s absolutely wrong. What is weak is cowering from criticism. Good leaders seek out areas to improve.

 

What habits help make a truly great leader?

Listening, empathy and trust. First, you must listen to everyone in your company, because you never know where a spark of greatness will come from. Second, while listening, you have to bring empathy: try to understand their perspective. Third, trust people. Ask them to offer solutions to problems you can’t or won’t solve. You hired them for a reason. Ideally, they are offering strengths that minimize some of your many, many weaknesses.

 

What is your favorite tech trend or emerging technology?

Automation. Manual tasks, like changing a database schema, are neolithic. It’s fun and amazing that we can automate that. I also am very bullish on machine learning. I love the concept that we can create a system that can identify problems on its own and try a solution. When we start applying that to healthcare, we’re going to start curing a lot of diseases.

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