This is the next blog in the continuing series of interviews with top-echelon and renowned professionals. In this blog, I have an interview with Stephen Forte, Chief Strategy Officer for Telerik. Stephen’s extensive success history includes: CTO, Scrum Master, Author, Serial Company Founder, Microsoft MVP, and sought after Keynote. In our discussion, Stephen shares valuable tips and lessons from all of his executive roles and in starting companies. Stephen goes on to talk about the value in being a certified SCRUM Master and the steps required to become a SCRUM Master. Within the Microsoft technologies, Stephen shares his insights on .NET and SQL development, Azure and the Cloud, his work as a Microsoft Regional Director, Microsoft MVP, Author, founder of a .NET user group, and INETA speaker. Stephen shares his top challenges and opportunities, trends that executives need to embrace, predictions, social lessons, the value of participating in the World CIO Forum where Stephen is also speaking and his thoughts on IT as a profession. It’s an extensive interview with a top-ranking technology leader where there is much to learn.
Stephen Forte is the Chief Strategy Officer of Telerik, a leading vendor of developer and team productivity tools, automated testing and UI components.
Stephen is also a certified Scrum Master. Involved in several startups, he was the co-founder of Triton Works, which was acquired by UBM in 2010 (London: UBM.L) and was the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Corzen, Inc., which was acquired by Wanted Technologies (TXV: WAN) in 2007. Stephen also speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on application and database development including Programming SQL Server 2008 (MS Press). Prior to Corzen, Stephen served as the CTO of Zagat Survey in New York City and also was co-founder of the New York based software consulting firm The Aurora Development Group.
He currently is a Microsoft MVP award recipient, INETA speaker, and is the co-moderator and founder of the NYC .NET Developer User Group. Stephen has an MBA from the City University of New York. An avid mountain climber, Stephen leads a trek in the Mt. Everest region every fall to raise money for charity. Stephen lives in Hong Kong with his wife.
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Stephen, can you profile your eclectic history prior to your current role, and three valuable lessons you wish to share from these roles?
"....For entrepreneurs, recessions are the best time to start a business....You're never going to implement that original plan. Every startup needs to (what I call pivot); there's going to be some kind of inflection point where you and your cofounders see that the original plan is not necessarily going to work and will need to go to Plan B...."
Can you profile your current role and the value you are delivering through your products and services?
"....I make the argument from a business model point of view that when the gold rush was going on, a lot of people had train tickets out to California. The people who made all the money were the people selling the shovels to the people and that is actually what Telerik does. My job is to find new areas for shovels – whether it's do we invest in emerging markets, do we invest in different product lines? That is where the Strategy Officer title comes from...."
What are your top five tips for founding companies, engaging VC, and then selling companies?
"....Just get started.....Minimal viable build, ship early, ship often....You need less money than you think....Look for very low types of capital infusions in the very beginning....Don't get too worked up on the Letter of Intent...."
With your long history as company founder, CTO, chief strategy officer, what are your top leadership tips?
"....Leading by example....Symbolism is important....A problem with an employee is a problem or failure in management....A leader has to be personable and engaging....A leader has to make a team feel proud...."
As a certified SCRUM Master, what special insights and success stories can you share to benefit the audience?
"....I fully believe that you can 'bend the rules' and you don’t have to call it Scrum. Just say that I’m using an agile methodology that's based on Scrum and everyone will be happy...."
Let’s pretend I'm a listener out there and I want to be a certified Scrum Master. What are the 3 or 4 steps that I have to take to become a certified Scrum Master?
"....The first thing you need to do is to convince your boss to pay for it....All three of the groups that do the certification do a great job...."
What special tips can you share on .NET and SQL development?
"....The advice I would give is, take a look at SQL Azure which is the SQL server database that's up in the clouds. It has almost zero learning curve if you are using regular SQL server....Once you've gotten into SQL server and SQL Azure and exploring some of the CTP, then you can start to look at things like what does it mean by putting my application in the cloud and does it make sense?...."
What lessons can you share from each of these roles: Author, Microsoft MVP award recipient, Microsoft Regional Director, INETA speaker, and co-moderator and founder of the NYC .NET Developer User Group?
"....If you do a good job, at worst you are contributing to the community so that when you Google something and look for things in the community you'll get a response and at best, if you contribute a lot and do a great job you will build a name for yourself...."
In your current role, what are your top challenges and top opportunities?
"....My role is partly a senior management role so most of my challenges and opportunities are interwoven with the company....Challenges: Keeping the great culture of the company intact as we grow....Finding the right people....Communication....Opportunities: Emerging markets....Cloud plus business intelligence....Application Lifecycle Management...."
What specific technologies should business and IT executives be embracing today and in two years, five years?
"....We are entering the device plus cloud era...."
What are your current projects and what one lesson can you share from each of your major projects?
"....The biggest lesson from that is you make these assumptions that the markets you're entering are slightly different (maybe you need to localize the product into the local language and you're done), not realizing there are sometimes drastic cultural differences...."
Please make predictions for the future, their implications, and how we can best prepare?
"....The platforms that we use today will not exist in 5 years or if they exist (and they are called those things), they will exist just in name only. They will have to be radically rewritten to deal with the multi-core parallelism environment...."
What valuable insights can you share from the side of your life that encompasses Nepal, Mt. Everest, and charities?
"....If you are affected by an issue, go out and do something about it. You'll be surprised how many lives you can touch and how much of a difference you can make...."
What social lessons can you provide from the work that you have done in the developing world and the Middle East?
"....One of the things that you can do if you have speaking skills, go an speak at a Pakistani Developer's Conference....Connecting with the people, I've built relationships with which I still have to this day, which gives me a unique insight whenever there is unrest going on in these places...."
Why should IT executives attend the IFIP World CIO Forum or WCF? [Editor's note: For more information go to: www.worldcioforum.com; Call for papers; WCF news in the IFIP Newsletter].
"....When I go to these events I learn as much from my fellow attendees as I do from the lecturers. The event itself is only half of the equation, the other half of the equation is networking and learning from your fellow executives, peers and people you collaborate with...."
If you were to speak at the WCF, can you profile your expected outcomes from your talk?
"....I've always said I don't judge my sessions' success or failure at my software conferences by the evaluations that people submit....I judge the success or failure of my sessions by the number of emails I get from people after the session...."
What are your thoughts on computing as a recognized profession like medicine and law, with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, and recognized credentials?
[See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....I actually consider myself more of a libertarian, kind of like a Milton Freedman....The reason why I say that is if we went down the road of building a recognized profession in the way we have with medicine and law, then you will actually have true degree programs for software engineering. Today if you hire somebody with a Computer Science degree they're not going to really know how to write a line of business applications. They could build you a compiler and they could work at places like Google and Microsoft or Apple, but they're not going to want to go to work at places even like Facebook. They're not going to know about things like Semantic markup, Java and .NET the way that we use it in the business environment....."
If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....Were you nervous the first time you went to Pakistan?....Did you take your laptop up Mt. Everest?....Do you need an MBA to succeed in this business?..."