CTOs to Know: meet Techstars' Jud Valeski

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Published on Mar. 15, 2016
CTOs to Know: meet Techstars' Jud Valeski

When people think of Techstars, what usually comes to mind is the ecosystem’s accelerators and venture capital wing. But powering a network of founders, mentors and investors in different markets around the world also requires a lot of tech, and that’s where Jud Valeski comes in.

Valeski has more than 20 years’ worth of experience in tech, including time as CEO and CTO of Gnip and nearly five years at AOL. He left Gnip in 2014, chronicling his time “off” on his blog. It’s also where he announced he joined Techstars as CTO.

Now a few weeks into the role, we caught up with Valeski to talk tech trends, taking advantage of Colorado’s community and what kind of people he looks to hire:

 

What technologies power your business?

Techstars is in the business of connecting founders, mentors and investors. The software we build to ensure this network can thrive leverages Digital Ocean and Cloud 66 for virtual hosting of computer resources. Ubuntu for OS, Node.js and Rails for applications and APIs and MongoDB for storage. As you'd expect, we use a wide array of scripting languages for tactical efforts.

 

What technologies are playing the biggest roles at Techstars this year?

We're considering diving into LookML which sits on top of a bunch of SQL flavors underneath. There is an inordinate amount of intelligence in our backend datasets, and powerful tools to interrogate and understand that data are a must. Enabling all areas of an organization, not just data science / engineering, to ask questions of the data is one of our main goals.

 

What upcoming tech project are you most proud of?

I'm personally too new to the company to have any pride connected to a particular effort. However, the team just deployed the Discourse discussion platform in our ecosystem to replace some homegrown infrastructure we'd built over the years, and that's gone smoothly.

We enabled new and powerful ways for our network to connect and interact through that service, and the migration to it, integration itself, and rollout has gone great! I'm really excited for the team, and our users, about this. Build vs. buy decisions are always tricky, but this one is spot on!

 

What are the biggest technology challenges you've faced in the past? How did you overcome them?

Our infrastructure and platform have grown up via a variety of means over the past several years. Lots of technologies and approaches woven together. In addition, recent mergers have yielded even more technology to leverage and manage.

One of the biggest challenges facing us in the near term is effectively weaving everything together, eliminating technical duality when we find it, and keeping the right tools for the job running.

Data set — and infrastructure — normalization is a challenge as well. When you have bits of data here, and bits of data there, rolling it together to get questions answered is challenging. Getting applications to adapt to more consistent data storage and access can be a chore. Software, and people, get set in their ways.

 

What lessons have you learned about working in Colorado that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

Take advantage of Colorado's outdoor activities. Be it mountain biking, running, skiing, snowboarding, road biking, whatever. Just get outside and breathe a bit between efforts. Endorphins matter. Balance on this front yields better software.

Give and you shall receive in this community. We have a strong collaborative ecosystem here and it only works when you give first. Taking is fine, but strive to at least balance it with giving.

 

What sort of people do you look for when hiring?

When hiring I look for independent thinking and a generalist mindset. Software is a constantly evolving thing. Trends come and go, and I look for folks that can see through what might be a flash-in-the-pan technology, to the challenge they're trying to solve, and pick the best tool; not just what's hot at the moment. I look for folks that think in general computer science terms, not language specific terms. The language should almost be an afterthought.

I look for folks who can think critically about storage system dynamics. From read / write rate differences, to data access models (SQL? custom code interfaces?) and storage redundancy paradigms.

I look for folks that have consciousness around software... folks who think about all the components as instruments in an orchestra, and themselves as the conductor.

 

How would your team describe working with you?

I've only been part of the Techstars team for a few weeks now, so they'd only have a first impression thus far. In time, I hope they describe me as practical and as someone who deeply considers the user's needs in everything we do.

 

What trends do you see happening in your industry over the next three years? How is Techstars anticipating those trends and working towards them?

I see a slowdown of new languages and data storage models coming on the scene. There will always be innovation on these fronts, but we've seen a lot over the past several years, and the system is digesting what's useful and what's not right now.

There were a lot of unnecessary — though sexy and cute — frameworks and approaches that people tried to formalize, and we're in the process of cutting through the chaff in there and getting back to what works and what's necessary to get a job done.

The simplest example of this was the explosion of data storage frameworks that were intensely optimized for very specific use cases and walked away from relational storage / access. These were often overused to the detriment of the product / customer / infrastructure, and/or used in the wrong place.

Folks are realizing that their data size and access patterns aren't as specialized as they thought they might be, and they're reverting more more tried and true, and generic, storage facilities (e.g., relational databases and their associated UIs (e.g., SQL)).

 

What else do you want the Colorado startup community to know about Techstars?

We're hiring; join us!

 

Photos via Techstars. Some answers edited for clarity or length.
 

 

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