DR. MIK KERSTEN: CEO, Tasktop

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Bio:

DR. MIK KERSTEN spent a decade creating open source developer tools before realizing that programing was not the bottleneck of large-scale software delivery. Since that time, he has been creating a framework and tools for managing the Value Stream Networks needed to connect the business to software delivery.  Prior to founding Tasktop, Dr. Kersten created the Eclipse Mylyn open source project as part of his PhD in Computer Science, pioneering the first integration of programming environments with Agile and DevOps tools. As a research scientist at Xerox PARC, Dr. Kersten was on the team that created the first aspect-oriented programming language. For the past decade, Dr. Kersten has been an award-wining CEO of Tasktop who loves working with transformational leaders on bridging the gapbetween the business and technology in order to help organizations thrive in the age of software.

How did you get into the industry?

I spent a decade building open source software development tools.  The feeling of delivering value to a community of developers at the pace of an open source software project was exhilarating.  I wanted to bring the same benefits to more organizations, and started Tasktop to do just that.  However, as I learned about how much more complex enterprise software development was, due to the sheer number of projects and specialists involved, I realized that there was a much more fundamental problem preventing organizations from scaling software delivery.    

Any emerging industry trends?

To survive the next decade, almost every enterprise in every industry is going to need to master software and digital.  Today, the tech giants are getting better at moving into new markets than traditional business are at mastering software.  And its software that is transforming those very industries.  

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Most large organizations are already aware that they need to undergo digital transforms, and are adopting new software delivery practices such as Agile and DevOps.  However, in my experience the majority of these transformations are failing to produce business results in a meaningful timeframe, and some are failing outright.  The biggest problem I see with enterprise software delivery is that organizations are applying a project management paradigm to the creative and product driven work of delivering value to customers through software and digital experiences.  Seeing IT and business leaders struggle with this became the foundation of my upcoming book, Project to Product.   

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

The inspiration for Tasktop came from the need to connect developers to what we call the software “value stream”, ie, all of the people, process and tools involved in delivering value to customers through software.  But the bigger epiphany and inspiration came when we were selling that to an initial set of customers and realized that there was a much bigger and more fundamental problem at play.  Rather than being a developer problem, we found a whole layer of infrastructure missing, that we are now calling the Value Stream Network.  

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Tasktop’s goal is to make it easy for organizations to create and connect their Value Stream Networks, making it possible for information to flow seamlessly across the many specialists and teams involved in software delivery.  Each of these teams tends to use a specialized tool, and today the disconnects between all of the various tools and teams are becoming the biggest limiting factor to delivering software at scale.  In my book I introduced the concept of the Flow Framework in order to make it possible for organizations to see and to manage software delivery, while focusing on the flow of business value as well as the productivity and happiness of the delivery teams.  This is exactly where all of our product and services offerings are focused and evolving to help today’s enterprises become software innovators.  

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

I’m most closely involved with the overall company strategy, and with ensuring that we are evolving and delivering as rapidly as our market is changing.  This means working closely with not only the teams at Tasktop but with our key customers, partners and industry thought leaders in continually identifying and evolving this new approach and tool category that we are creating.  

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

The most difficult part was realizing that the developer tool and open source strategy that we were pursuing for the first few years of the company was a dead end.  The concept of pivoting is well documented in entrepreneurial literature, but that does not make it any easier to have to shift the business model of the company.  We transitioned from open source and services, with some developer tool product sales, to an infrastructure product company, in the course of a year.  The company was still bootstrapped at the time, so we did it on a knife’s edge.  But the lesson there is that if you’re taking the customer development and lean startup approach seriously, you will have the insight of knowing when to pivot and when to stay the course.  If we had not done the pivot, risky as it was, we would never have made it to the successful and scaling company phase that we are in today.   

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

What always excites me most is seeing a large customer using our product at a massive scale.  There are always some interesting insights and new problems that they solve with our offerings that we hadn’t envisioned before.  For example, when a Fortune 100 insurance company used Tasktop’s integration facilities in order to reorganize thousands of IT staff across hundreds of teams into an organizational structure more closely around to product delivery.  I had never envisioned this kind of use, so it was a fascinating learning experience.  It’s these kinds of learning experiences that shape our product strategy.   

How do you motivate others?

I try to motivate our teams and our customers by sharing my vision for the tremendous impact and opportunity that lies in transforming how software is built.  

Career advice to those in your industry?

Figure out what you need to learn next to successfully execute on your vision.  For example, early on in my career, the most important thing to me was to become a great developer.  But after founding the company, I realized that I need to take a similarly disciplined approach to learning leadership and management.  And as the company has evolved, every year or so I find myself needing to gain substantially more depth in a part of the business or domain, and it’s that approach to learning that I find so useful and encourage others, whatever the state of your career or business. 

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What do I do best?

Learn.  

What makes me the best version of myself?

Passion for delivering value

What are my aspirations?

Business: Create a company and body of knowledge that transforms how software is built.

Personal: Be good to my family, friends and community while balancing the business aspirations and goals.

My Biggest Success?

Writing Project to Product while running the business (Tasktop).  Given what that took, it is not a success I would like to replicate.

My Most Challenging Moment?

Deciding to leave a very lucrative position in industry to forego salary and focus on my passion by going back to school and doing a PhD.

My Motto?

Work hard, be grateful and have fun.

My Favorite People/Role Models?

I admire authors who have changed the way I think as a technologists and business leader.  This includes Peter Drucker, Geoffrey Moore, Clayton Christensen, Patrick Lencioni, Steve Blank and Gene Kim.

My Favorite Places/Destinations?

Vancouver, Canada, where I live.  I travel a lot for work and there is no airport that makes me happier to land at.

My Favorite Products/Objects?

New 15” MacBook Pro which keeps me productive when travelling, and the two 27” 4K displays that it hooks up to in my office.

My Current Passions?

Skiing powder with my wife and our 8 and 10 year old kids.