Seattle’s evolving tech landscape can catch you by surprise, especially if you leave the city for a couple years and then return. That’s what happened to Kevin Goldsmith, CTO at the online legal marketplace Avvo.
Goldsmith is a veteran of the tech industry, and built his career at companies like Spotify, Microsoft and Adobe. He was part of Carnegie Mellon University’s very first School of Computer Science graduating class. After graduation, he moved to the Bay Area to work at Silicon Graphics. A couple years after that, he moved to Seattle to join the new Microsoft Research organization in the Virtual Worlds Group (now Social Computing), and would later join the Windows Media team.
After several more years at different streaming startups and Adobe, Goldsmith left Seattle in 2013 to lead Spotify’s Consumer Development team in Sweden. Last summer, he moved back to Seattle take the role at Avvo.
“It’s amazing how much Seattle changed while I was gone, there is so much more going on in the city now,” said Goldsmith, our latest Geek of the Week. “The startup scene has really grown and is thriving here. And of course, Amazon’s expanding presence has changed the physical landscape of downtown and South Lake Union. ”
As tech companies jockey to compete for talent in the region, Goldsmith feels like Avvo is well positioned.
“One of the great things about being in legal tech is that it is still such a green field,” he said. “There are a ton of interesting startups, but we all have a long way to go before we start stepping on each other’s toes.
“One of the reasons I was attracted to Avvo, and this role, was that it was different than anything I’d ever done before — from a product and tech perspective. I like that I can take things that I’ve learned at Spotify and Adobe and apply them in new ways here at Avvo. This organization has continually given me the chance to keep learning and get outside of my comfort zone.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Kevin Goldsmith:
What do you do and why do you do it? “I build strong engineering organizations, creating a culture where people can do their best work, develop and grow as technology professionals. I love building products that help and delight people, that make their lives easier. And I love technology and how being in technology means constantly learning. Our field changes so fast.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “This industry is still very young. You haven’t seen anything yet. Never let what has been done or what is being done today limit your imagination.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “I love talking to folks at other companies, especially in very different industries, about how they approach their work. Many are trying to use software development techniques in radically different contexts. I find that fascinating and inspiring.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Evernote. I track everything there. It contains all my knowledge, saved papers and articles, to-do lists.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My office is mostly a conference room for my 1:1s, and a place to make calls. Whenever I have some time to work, I try to go and sit with different teams instead of hiding out in my office. My desk itself is a bit of a mess. I tend to leave Post-its for myself all over every surface.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I block out big recurring chunks of time in my calendar. This makes sure that I have focused work time during the day so that I don’t have to bring work home. It may make it hard to schedule a meeting with me, but emergency stuff can always get through.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac. Hardcore.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Sisko!”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine. I would love to see history up close. Also, I love having long flights or train rides to get some things done; so I don’t mind having transit time. Although if traffic doesn’t improve around Seattle, Transporter might pop to the top.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Grab three friends, and launch a product in three months.”
I once waited in line for … “An Apple messenger bag at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in 1985, in a hurricane.”
Your role models: “Frits Habermann (former boss at Adobe, current CTO at PicMonkey). I learned a ton from Frits about how to be an effective senior leader, with transparency, clarity, pragmatism and good work/life balance. Manny Vellon (former boss at Microsoft, now CTO at Level 11). Manny was a great mentor as I was getting my start in the industry, taking my first real management role. He showed amazing calm, presence, technical depth and good humor. Bill Hensler (former Adobe, now CPO at Pixvana). I never worked for Bill, although I would have liked to. He is amazingly pragmatic, inspiring and funny. He inspires his teams like few others I’ve seen.”
Greatest game in history: “Tetris.”
Best gadget ever: “The iPod. I once owned over 3,000 CDs. Being able to carry a big chunk of my music collection with me at any time was amazing.”
First computer: “TI-99 4/A (owned) or RadioShak Model 1 (at school).”
Current phone: “Pixel XL.”
Favorite app: “Reporter. I am a huge quantified-self geek and this app is great for me.”
Favorite cause: “Diversity and broadening opportunity in the technology industry.”
Most important technology of 2016: “Perovskites for solar-cell energy generation has got me super excited. While things like self-driving cars are really interesting, how humans can have a lighter footprint on our planet will determine the future of our species. I hope that the ability to create cheaper, more energy-efficient green power will improve our collective future.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Genetically engineering immunity cells make cancer a treatable condition. Like many people, I have lost friends and family to cancer. Too many, and some very young. This technology is looking very promising. I hope that it will come to fruition in the next couple of years.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “The culture of the place that you work will be much more important to your success and happiness than the specific technologies that you work with or the product that you work on. Find a place that helps you grow and thrive, first and foremost.”
Website: Kevin Goldsmith
LinkedIn: Kevin Goldsmith