Our latest Geek of the Week, Delane Hewett, has been around the Seattle region’s tech community for years, at Boeing and then Microsoft, and now as the technology chief for fast-growing DataSphere Technologies.
Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire — including his favorite causes and technologies; a great take on the present state and future promise of television technology; and the story of an inspiring geek role model that will be very interesting to people who follow Microsoft and VMware.
Name: Delane Hewett
Job, hobby and/or other geeky pursuit: CTO of DataSphere Technologies, a technology startup focusing on hyper-local web and mobile experiences, and hyper-local advertising for major media companies.
Coolest thing about what you do: Most of my time is spent in front of a whiteboard with very smart people. We look at a problem, twist it around, approach it sideways, and turn it into a very cool opportunity. Every feature can be cool if you do this. We built our software platform to operate a Site Factory that is multi-tenant, Software as a Service (SaaS). We currently run over 1,500 sites on one instance of the platform. When you build things like this, you really have to think differently. We originally asked ourselves, what kind of platform would you have to build to power thousands of sites in ten languages with a catalog of products in the millions? Why can’t we build semantic search now? Where do you want to go for lunch? Answering these questions is what we do.
I also organize the “Ditch work to see the cool new movie” initiative.
What does it mean to you to be a geek? Geek = Passion, generally not romantic passion, but passion for something that is generally not mainstream or possibly not generally socially acceptable. Society today tries to homogenized everyone: the same classes in school, a small set of acceptable alternatives, eat your vegetables, one hour of TV, etc. Pursuing a specialized passion while growing up is only supported in certain “acceptable” areas. Who wants to be an instance of something that someone else defines? Centuries ago, you could be a prodigy from an early age and devote your every waking moment to one thing that you were good at and it was not only encouraged, it was expected. Be a prodigy for your passion.
Geekiest thing(s) you’ve ever done, built, or worn: Two college friends and I flew to Detroit to attend a friend’s wedding. While picking up our rental car, we saw an advertisement for GENCON taking place that weekend in Milwaukee (about 6 hours away) and so we thought, we can make it. We drove through the night and went to the conference. It was undoubtedly the geekiest event in history. We didn’t dress up but we so wanted too. Unfortunately we missed the wedding and somehow we ended up in Toledo due to a navigational error. We didn’t try explaining this to our girlfriends. The wedding was beautiful …
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life: Take the high road; plain and simple. If there is a right choice, choose it. Do what you are passionate about, celebrate your victories and forgive yourself and others for things that don’t go as well as planned. Share in the work. Help each other. Ensure that everyone knows the plan. Aim high.
Mac, Windows or Linux? I love Linux on the servers but love my Windows on the desktop, except when I don’t.
Kirk, Picard, Janeway or Sisko? What, no Malcolm Reynolds? If it wasn’t for stupid Fox management canceling the series, he would be on the list … Kirk is definitely cool.
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time Machine, definitely. After I’m done traveling through time, I’ll just travel back to my original choice and pick Transporter. The cloak sounds a bit creepy…
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I have several ideas here but I’m in an explosive growth company now and need to focus all my energies. We grew from 37 people 18 months ago to over 450 now and we’re only going to be hiring faster in the future.
If I have to tell you areas I’ve thought about, there are some amazing opportunities in the areas of Personal Finance, Radio Frequency+Gaming, and social asset sharing just to name a few.
I once waited in line for … The first Xbox. I waited for nearly six hours. I was already a 10+ year veteran of Microsoft at the time and I still had to wait in line with the unwashed masses so my game-deprived children could get their X-on.
Your geek role models: When I was a dev lead in Visual Studio back in the early 90’s, I got to interact with Paul Maritz on several occasions. His son Ben was my summer intern. Paul was absolutely phenomenal as a technology leader. He inspired all of us to crush the competition (Borland), not because we were more competitive or that we wanted the revenue (we did) but because we had a moral obligation to release developers from their mortal bonds of servitude to the old technologies and we were blessed with divine abilities to bring this change into being. At least this is how he made us feel.
MacGyver’s pretty cool too. We often have to MacGyver solutions. In our case we use entity-attribute models, programmable state machines, and Map Reduce instead of hairspray, cold capsules, and a potato.
Greatest Game In History: Wow, which history? Super Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Diablo II, Call of Duty. I loved them all at different points in time. Again I want the Time Machine so I can go back to the time when I could play for hours (OK, days).
Best Gadget Ever: The iPhone. Yes there may be better devices out there now but none that replaced my desktop to the extent that this tiny device did. It was an inspiration for me. Anyone what to buy a slightly used Crack Berry?
First computer: The first one I used was an IMSAI 8080 microcomputer, then an Apple IIe. Finally the one I actually owned, the Pièce de résistance, a TRS-80 Model 4 with dual floppies and an external 5MB hard drive. I used this computer all the way through college and was the envy of my professors. Hard to believe…
Current phone: iPhone but looking at either the HTC Sensation or the Galaxy S 2
Favorite app: My current favorite is one we developed. It’s always difficult to discover things to do this weekend or next weekend that may be cheap or family oriented, or indoors/outdoors depending on the weather and within your own neighborhood. Have your own event or know about one that’s missing? Add it easily. We are rolling these out across the nation with many of our Media Partners. This is a 1.0 product so expect a lot more in the coming months including Mobile experiences. Here is KOMO TV’s in Seattle as an example: http://events.komonews.com.
Favorite hangout: Olympic Mountains, I really need to head for the hills to recharge the batteries from time-to-time.
Favorite cause: We are really getting some great traction in the treatment of Cystic Fibrosis (http://www.cff.org/). Amazing progress is being made and CF really can and will be cured.
Most important technology of 2011: Android OS. An open-source solution for mobile in all forms is ground breaking. This will have the same impact on mobile that DOS had for the personal computer but at an accelerated rate.
Most important technology of 2015: Fixing the stupid TV… <rant> My TV is stupid and so is yours. It doesn’t even know that I’m the one watching it. Yes I have on-demand and recording and TiVo. It’s still stupid. It doesn’t remember what I’ve watched, it really doesn’t know what I like and when my wife and I are watching it is still lets the channel change to “We” and “Oxygen”. Pathetic</rant>.
The new TVs will simply be really big monitors (or 3D glasses) hooked to your “Smart TV Device”. Your computer will hook into the Cable/DSL. Not like Media Center, Google TV, or Apple TV but perhaps these will grow to become the dominant players here. Imagine FaceBook-meets-iPad-meets-SmartHome; I’ll “Experience” TV with my friends but they’ll be at their house. We can talk, pause the show, and set up a “meeting” to watch again. It will know when my wife and I are both present, what we like and what we’ve recently seen. Instead of spending 5 minutes each time we want to relax, we’ll just look through a few recommendations and watch one. Big Brother and Desperate Housewives suddenly become available when I’m “not” home. I’ve threatened to “fix” the TV on many occasions.
The massive subscription losses in cable and satellite and the rapid adoption of Netflix streaming will eventually kick the slumbering content giants into making progress here. Add in local and hyper-local targeted advertising and there is no way that rational minds will not solve this in the next couple of years.
Words of advice for your fellow geeks: There is no status quo; it is a false ceiling that the uninspired use to maintain their paltry existence. If you can imagine it, you can do it, at least in the software field. Spend some time in a big company so you can learn good habits and understand process but leave for a small startup before you internalize the bad habits. Life is too short for politics. Do not chase tail lights, pass and then lead!
Geek of the Week is a regular feature profiling the characters of the Pacific Northwest technology community. See the Geek of the Week archive for more.
Does someone you know deserve this distinguished honor? Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Geek of the Week photography by Annie Laurie Malarkey, email@example.com.]