February 28th, 2013 Tech in Motion: Inaugural Speaker Series featuring Peter Miron, SVP of Engineering at Bit.ly
OLC attended Tech in Motioni's inaugural Speaker Series featuring Peter Miron, SVP of Engineering at Bit.ly on Thursday, Februrary 28, 2013. The meetup revolved around the moderator questioning Peter Miron about his background, how he became the SVP of Bit.ly, and advice to give to aspiring CTOs and VPs.
The moderator asked Peter Miron what got him started in technology. "It actually started with my dad brining a Commodore 64 home," Miron said. "Then I read books about BASIC and started to show that I can control these characters that would pop up on screen and it was pretty cool." Miron went to say that in 1995, he held a summer job that required him to make automated tasks, which furthered his interest in technology. "Netscape 2 had just come out and at school, I read through the documentation on how to make websites and I realized there was a platform that could be used to show the world," Miron said.
"What was your first app that you created?" the moderator asked. "The first real app I wrote was in BASIC and it was a ASCII kung fu image, but I moved to website design and dynamic websites. Most of what I learned about the business was in college. I was originally an architect major, then I fell in love with the internet so I looked for a major that would let me leave in four years, so I took up art history," Miron said.
"Was your background in liberal arts helpful in applying your skills to the engineering career that you ended up pursuing?" the moderator asked. "There's no right answer," Miron replied. "A lot of things you're developing—there's a lot of building and creating and everything you're building, it's all up to you. You have to have something to show to the class—the pace of iteration was better than getting the perfect design. The most important thing is getting something done and showing it to people."
"So did you get right into software after college?" the moderator asked. "I think one of the biggest challenges I found was getting a job in software. The first job I had out of college was in finance. The code I wrote for them actually locked up the database and traders couldn't buy or sell for about an hour. The CTO sat me down and helped me correct the code. There's a fair share of fatal mistakes in the engineering world and a patient mentor is extremely helpful," Miron said.
The moderator asked if there was anything Miron learned as an engineer. "I learned to work quickly," he said. "I learned to read other people's codes, how to port, all without even having a computer science background. Having great examples of code to read was helpful," Miron said.
"How was it like working for a disruptive company like Vonage?" the modeator asked. "Getting customers to use a different service was a challenge, but that was overcome before I got there. For the most part, telecom has very little fans," Miron said. "The pitch was put into place and we saw this insane ramp up to millions of users from hundreds of thousands. We had rickety servers and we had ours on the second floor, so we had to get HVAC systems, punch holes in floors, get giant fans; the progression was to generally punch holes," he said.
The moderator asked Miron about education technology. "VCs kind of stayed away [from ed-tech] for a bit," Miron replied. "I felt that Knewton was one of the first to get buzz—until recently. Most of classrooms teach ways to make presentations easier. In the next three to five years, you're going to see more and more connectivity and ways to capture information. Now we're getting to a point where we can capture how people are asking questions," he said.
"What does adaptive learning mean for students? How do we build a platform for that?" the moderator asked. "It's focused on courses—but it's a much tighter problem than that. Most of what we started out with was syllabi and lesson plans," Miron said.
"What got you passionate about education?" the moderator asked. "I think the next level of educational disruptive technology is content disruption," Miron said. "Companies like Knewton will be responsible for creating unique education content that will make the learning experience enjoyable."
The moderator asked Miron to explain Hack Interactive. "What got me interested in Hack Interactive was that there's a lot of ways to teach students. I don't think there's much ed-tech. I think giving people opportunity outside of class is important," Miron said. "This gives real work experience to build software. Hack Interactive gives kids opportunities to code."
"Were there any unique challenged you've faces along the way?" the moderator asked. "There's always unique challenges with teams and new companies. I think one of the new challenges of moving into a new company is looking for places to improve the team and figuring out who your team is, who your customers are. It doesn't matter what your domain site is," Miron said.
The moderator took this time to probe Miron about Bit.ly. "What are the capabilities at Bit.ly?" he asked. "We started with shortening links," Miron said. "We eventually became integrated with major Twitter platforms and the thing that's unique about Bit.ly is that we get to see a cross section of the internet. This gets your insights about who your users are. We have data for all of the years we've been in business, but no content, so it's difficult to analyze that data."
"Big data is hyped up right now, what would you say is the biggest challenge at Bit.ly?" the moderator asked. "Over the last couple of months, a friend of mine tried to find new ways of analyzing data sets. We're looking at new ways of caching data. When people talk about big data, it's about how we're going to sit there and sift through the data," Miron said. "One of the challenges of new technical founders is that they are very prescriptive about what they want, but they need to let the developer come up with the structure. As a technology manager, there's an impulse to solve a problem for your team, but that has to be resisted. For an engineering team, I think it's bad to always be that person."
"What about cool challenging problems that you've solved?" the moderator asked. "I feel like I haven't solved any problems," Miron joked. "I never built or developed anything that was really done. The parameters always change."
"Do you have any thoughts about being a veteran in the New York City tech space?" the moderator asked. "Things focused a lot on the financial industry in the mid-2000s. Five years ago, a lot of tech startups began popping up. Ad tech is a big thing in New York, but there's a bigger spread around now and I don't think it's hype," Miron said.
"Do you have any advice to aspiring CTOs?" the moderator asked. "Let your team solve problems," Miron began. "Teach other people to solve problems and learn who your users are. Think about who they are. First and foremost, think about how you're going to solve problems today," he said.