An Interview

Mario Di Vece - Interview - Managed Solution

On November 30th 2017, I was interviewed by the awesome folks at Managed Solution. I really enjoyed the questions and their approach, and I thought I'd share some of my responses here.

What super power do you want most?

Given that I already possess the ability of advanced foresight, I would like to have the ability to learn and understand anything I wanted in 1 second!

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Mexico. I was born in a city called Puebla. That's where my family from my mother's side is from. I grew up mostly here in Guadalajara then I went on a few exchange programs in the US and Canada including Milwaukee and Calgary. When I started college in Guadalajara, I had this teacher and he told me I should apply to some government program going on between Alberta and Jalisco. Jalisco is the state Guadalajara is in. He said that he could help me get in that program and I ended up going to college in Edmonton at the University of Alberta for electrical engineering for four years.

How do you go from electrical engineering into the IT field? How did you transition?

Since I was 14 years old I have always worked with computers and I was always interested in physics and math. I started to make money out of software engineering when I was about 17. It was a good way to pay for my expenses and for my passion in physics and electricity. I had always been fascinated by trains and Lego bricks and electricity. When I was about five, I was amazed at the fact that a battery, something that just seems completely inanimate was supplying power to my moving train and that's when it all started.

I just immediately knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer. Now what paid the bills? Software engineering. Not that I don't like software engineering. I'm passionate about it as well. I had software engineering skills for a long time and I wanted to learn something different, more advanced and more related to physics and statistics and math.

If you won the lottery what would you do?

I already did! $25! Once! A long time ago! I can't think of much to do with $25, but in any case, I would advise against spending any money on lottery tickets altogether. In the hypothetical case I won the lottery grand prize, I would invest most of it in advanced educational and research programs in universities I appreciate the most. The rest I would use to buy something nice. I don't know what that would be. I guess owning more stuff is not too exciting for me.

What can you share as your area of focus that you're concentrated on?

For the last 18 months and all of 2018, my team and I are focused on improving our organizational units to achieve a level of sophistication in service delivery that makes our competitors look primitive. Speaking specifically about IT, we are focused on implementing and enforcing our infrastructural standards in our new locations, and expanding our research efforts in the areas of embedded systems, software development tools and internal applications.

What are you doing to support innovation in the company to deliver better solutions?

Innovation has always been a key component to the Unosquare culture. It all started when I began building our ERP from scratch in early 2010 which we still use and maintain today. Then, a couple of colleagues and I decided to build a framework to rapidly develop web applications in PHP. We deployed a couple dozen projects using this technology and open-sourced it (see WebCore). It allowed us to provide cost-effective solutions to our clients in very little time. These were the early days of Unosquare. When we realized the gains and success of innovating in tools for our clients, we further expanded our efforts into different languages, areas, and stacks. Today we have almost 30 open source projects hosted in Unosquare's GitHub. With about 100,000 downloads of our software packages , we believe that we are enabling ourselves and others to deliver high quality applications in smaller timeframes. By open-sourcing a lot of our software, we accomplish a level of quality that would otherwise be impossible without the collaboration of the rest of the world or whoever wants to use these tools.

As far as proprietary software goes, we have developed about half a dozen applications that we use internally and have the potential to be marketed as complete software products. The plan is to decouple research and development from IT. Right now, those two areas are closely coupled just because R&D is not our core business. We don't provide a software as a service solution yet because we just don't have the time and it requires a completely different marketing approach.

It is in the plans of 2019, it's in our vision, it's in our future, but it's outside of our core business. We developed enterprise applications that solve physical security problems, inventory management, monitoring, and even email routing. There is similar stuff that is out there in the market, but what's available just didn't fit our needs.

What is your view on the public cloud?

When I started the company in 2009 with my business partner Mike, we were already leveraging colocation services and IaaS to run our identity management solutions, databases, email servers, internal applications and websites. There were severe disadvantages in many areas, specifically those of vertical and horizontal scalability, license management and security. The term Cloud Computing was not being used very much at the time and it specifically referred to the horizontal scalability capabilities via PaaS. It still does, but people tend to abuse the term and refer anything Internet to as The Cloud.

When Windows Azure first appeared in 2010, we started moving all our infrastructure to Windows Azure immediately, as it was much more cost-effective and it eliminated all the concerns, inconveniences, and disadvantages of IaaS and colocation services. It also added so much more in terms of PaaS. When Microsoft saw our success in moving to their cloud service, they hired us to migrate countless of their Java and .NET enterprise customers to Azure.

By the beginning of 2012 we had already made the move to Office 365. There was no more of that tedious, manual license management, we had automatic office updates, no email server downtime, no spend on infrastructure, no backups to worry about! It gave us much more time to do the things that are important to the business and allowed to easily offload service management tasks and helpdesk issues to a wider base of IT engineers.

We have, and always will recommend our clients make the move to services such as Azure and AWS. We will also help them to do so. While it is common for companies in the Financial Services and Healthcare spaces claim they can't do it because of PCI and HIPAA compliance, I want to take the opportunity to encourage them to research how those requirements are well covered by major vendors of cloud services such as Microsoft and Amazon.

Did you build your company for a purpose?

Sometimes building a company can sound really fancy and people congratulate you all the time. People immediately assume that you've got a ton of money just because you started a company or that you've been running the company for four years. I often head them say, Oh this guy must be loaded. I'm doing this because I like owning and running a company and because I have a social purpose. My social purpose is to increase the amount of middle class people in Mexico. That's my purpose. And even though my social purpose is mostly with Mexico, it doesn't mean that I'm not going to care for my out of country employees, or that I'm not interested in advancing their families and their income. Everybody is important. It's just that as Mexicans, we're the least advantaged. We're the least developed and we need the help.

That's why it was so exciting for me to start a company. I wanted to raise the income for as many families as I could. That's still my goal. It's nothing fancy. It's about being careful and conservative. It's about accounting for your company finances solely on a cash basis. It's about leaving the promises aside and counting on the facts. It's about counting on the hard numbers. It's all about what you can do today and not what could be done tomorrow. It's all about leaving optimism behind.

Unosquare is certainly in a different category today. Our financial reserves are very healthy. Nobody's going to lose their job here. But it took a lot of sacrifice to get to where we are today.

Are there any hiring challenges that you're having?

There always are. I believe the software engineering talent crisis we have been experiencing will remain at least until the end of this decade. On the good side, I continue to see the investments from governments around the world to push for education in science and engineering. This is starting to pay off and we now have a much better flow of young engineers coming out of college. But these engineers need training and experience -- a process that takes approximately 3 to 5 years. As companies, I believe we are responsible for providing internship programs that matter, provide entry-level engineering jobs, and prepare young engineers to take a professional approach to problem-solving.

Our mission, the reason we exist, is that of enabling the development of our employees, the individuals in our company, with the sole purpose of creating a true impact at the personal, professional, and social aspects of our lives:

At a personal level we want employees to come to work and make friends. We want the office to be the place where you find your friends. If you're waking up in the morning and you say, 'Oh God, I got to go to work', You're not enjoying your life. You spend a lot of time in the office, so you might as well have friends in there and have a good personal life.

At the professional level, if you're not liking what you're doing and if you're not enjoying it then don't come here. Just don't be part our company. That's not the way this works. If you're going by the pay check, then it's not worth it. Not for you, not for the company and not for everybody else in the company. We always encourage and even pay for training in the areas that the person wants to get developed.

For most people living in first world countries, I know it might not be much but trust me: here in Mexico, most companies are very different. I wanted to create a place where I'm the not the 'Patron' - a totalitarian owner. I socialize with everybody here in the office and I consider them my friends. We frequently get together. We go out for lunch or dinner. We have parties and video games here in the office and we have a foosball table. We have a bunch of fun activities all the time. So, I tell them: If you don't feel like coming to work or have some personal issue to attend or if something is going to prevent you from doing the work you enjoy doing, you can just maybe stay home. It's like you're a little sick. Don't come here and take away from the culture.

We are hearing so much about the internet of things - what does or could the internet of things for your business look like?

The Cloud, Big Data, IoT, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Serverless. These are all terms that seem new, but these technologies have existed for a long time. I understand that these terms are used to easily refer to a certain generation of an existing technology but they never cease to slightly irritate me when used vaguely, incorrectly, or merely as buzzwords. Enough of my rant. IoT basically refers to nothing more than embedded systems that connect to the Internet. As a services company, we do not offer or market any IoT products currently, but we have invested quite a bit of R&D to create our own connected embedded systems. The most notable example is a distributed biometric security access control system that can be managed online and connects to our identity management system. We have been successfully using these devices to secure and control access to our facilities. As I stated before, we require a specialized marketing strategy to be able to offer these products.

If you could give guidance to any IT director or VP, someone looking to broaden their careers. What advice could you give them?

If you want to succeed, ensure you make the problems of the organization your own. Make it personal. Performing the work you are hired to do is a way to keep your job. Delivering value and advancing the organization is the only way to grow.

If you're selfish about how you can advance your career, that's just going to destroy you and you're going to swim without direction. Always be concerned about the problems of others and how you can take ownership in solving other's problems. All my executives, all of them really started from the bottom. They are people who have proposed changes. They are people who have made the changes themselves and taken the responsibility -- and without any extra pay or even expecting anything in return. They have made everybody else's lives better. There's so many ways to make things better, that the chance and the opportunity to advance careers is truly endless. Advancing your career is never a systematic process. It always takes a selfless, creative and continuous effort.