Driving Change Episode 14 with Chief Technology Officer Jamie Thingelstad
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Business is moving faster than ever, in tech it is moving even faster. In order to stay ahead we need to be constantly learning. This is Driving Change, where we go for a ride with tech leaders to gain insights on their beliefs, habits, routines and influences.
Today we go for a ride with Jamie Thingelstad Chief Technology Officer of SPS Commerce. On the ride we talk about trusting your intuition, connecting your passion with what you do, and solving problems that matter.
DRIVING CHANGE WITH JAMIE THINGELSTAD
Jamie Thingelstad is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at SPS Commerce, a cloud service platform that represents the world’s largest retail network.
We got together with Jamie to find out about his current role and how he got there, and to talk about his role as CTO. He also offered up some sound advice about trusting your intuition, connecting your passion with what you do, and solving problems that matter.
First, let’s find out a bit about what Jamie is doing within SPS Commerce.
THE ROLE OF CTO AT A COMPANY LIKE SPS COMMERCE
“At SPS we run the world’s largest retail network. So that means we connect 65,000 people in retail together to exchange fulfilment information, buy product, find new products, find new trading partners, and understand how products are selling.”
Jamie’s been there a little over three years, and in that time they’ve been focused on evolving their technology organization to meet the needs of the growth of the business.
They’ve built up shipping velocities, scaled their platform, and made sure that they have the culture they need for growth.
The role of CTO is defined differently in different companies, so what’s Jamie’s role in all of this? He’s responsible for leading the technology organization that covers four continents, including a team of about 350 people, all of the software development, the 24/7 operations of the production environment, building out new retailers, corporate technology functions, and security functions. He definitely has a larger role than many CTO but knowing Jamie, he wouldn’t want it any other way.
THE CTO’S ROLE IN RAISING MONEY
Jamie explains that if you’re building a technology company, investors want to know who is leading the technology organization, including how they execute and how they build a team.
“One of the things that I’ve found interesting is what different people think a CTO does. So, for example, when we were raising money in the Valley, I would talk to some investors and they would think as a CTO that you were the idea person, and not able to run a team and build a team, and deal with operational matters. In my background, I always look at building and operating the technology team, all parts of the technology.”
FINDING THE RIGHT COMPANIES TO JOIN
If you were to ask most tech people many would prefer to join a growing software company over working in corporate IT. However it is not easy to find and get employed in software companies because outside the valley fewer exist. Jamie’s clearly good at finding them and knowing which ones to join. So how does he do it?
“For me, I think about things like the culture of the organization. I think for technology particularly, understanding the culture of the team is really important. Personally, I look for companies that are building platforms and are at the centre of an eco-system. I always want to find something where the product and service that we operate is kind of the key to the eco-system, not a peripheral.”
Jamie also looks for the right type of technology. This involves looking for companies that are forward-thinking and finding new and innovative ways of solving problems. He also talks about the importance of matching these things with your personal interest.
25-YEAR-OLD SELF ADVICE
“Trust your intuition. Certain decisions are really good decisions to make with data. Other decisions, you should trust your intuition equally as much.”
“Always focus on the team. One of the things I think leaders can forget is that, you know, star engineers are great, but if they’re not a good member of the team, that’s not a good fit for your organization.”
WHAT DID YOU DO SPECIFICALLY TO GET INTO YOUR CURRENT POSITION?
“Work really hard.”
Aside from hard work, Jamie believes that timing and luck always have something to do with where things end up. He explains that he was in college when the web was being created and he happened to be there to be around the first generation of companies that were building on the web.
He also advises to always focus on what matters. “Always think about how you’re learning and evolving your skills. And connect what you’re doing to your passion. I am fundamentally passionate about technology and I often tell people that if there wasn’t a great career to be had in technology, I’d just be in technology without a great career. I love it. It’s what I do and I think that connecting your passion to what you do is a really important part of being happy.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE RIGHT NOW
Growth! “We’ve had an amazing track record of growth for the last decade plus. But I think that I’m very interested in understanding and figuring out how our platform of products can enable even more growth.” He adds that he believes there’s really innovative stuff that can be done in this area over the course of the next few years.
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