Terry Coatta: Internationally Acclaimed Technology Executive and Platform Software Architect and Developer
By Stephen Ibaraki, Interviews NA Editor, June 2012

Terry Coatta
Terry is currently the President of AssociCom, a Vancouver-based start-up that builds online communities for professional and trade associations. Prior to AssociCom, he worked in a number of Vancouver-based companies as a technology leader. His expertise in software architecture and software development processes has allowed him to make significant contributions in all of his roles. As CTO for Vitrium Systems Inc., he led the development organization through the release of three new products and the customer base expanded from under 10 to over 200. From 2001 to 2005, he was the VP of Development at Silicon Chalk Inc. where he led a team developing a unique real-time collaboration tool for use at universities and colleges. Terry was also a founding partner in Network Software Group Inc. (acquired by Open Text Corporation, 1996) and Director of Software Development at GPS Industries Inc. Other links: http://www.linkedin.com/in/coatta

Overview information about AssociCom:

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Managers Connection (IMC) forum where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

Can you discuss your major past roles and some good lessons from each role that will provide value to our audience?
"....A valuable part of my career was understanding how research works and its role within the evolution of computer science....Another lesson has been if you want to be involved in startups and smaller organizations you've got to be prepared to wear a lot of different hats. On the flipside, in order to be effective as a technology leader I've always found that you have to spend some time stepping back down into the trenches and cranking out code....I've often found myself at the intersection of the customer and the technology, mainly because I've got reasonably good communication skills so I could interact with customers, understand what they are doing and at the same time was able to translate that back to the world that the developers understand...."

What are your research interests and how will they have lasting impact?
"....I was part of a worldwide group of researchers who were dealing with this notion of distributed object oriented systems, and the work of that group of people has gone on to have a very significant effect in what's happening in computers pro software development today, primarily with respect to technologies like object relational managers....At pretty much every position that I've held one of the things that I've been responsible for is creating architectures for the systems, kind of the foundational layers on which the allocation is constructed...."

Terry talks about his experiences working with Maria Klawe.
"....Maria Klawe in some ways was the original founder of Silicon Chalk....She wanted to do something which would give back to the community and she had a number of different ideas of ways we could build software, but the core idea of Silicon Chalk was something she came up with...."

Terry comments on the value of networking and the relationship aspect of doing business.
"....It's more than who you know; it's about the relationship that you have with them. It goes beyond simply being acquainted with somebody and that has a relationship to what's going on with social media today....To do business with somebody I think there has to be a level of trust and understanding, which means there has to be a real relationship, a kind of back and forth and give and take...."

Terry shares about the early days when he started working with computers.
"....I come from the deeply geeky school of computer science....To think about the amount of memory that we have now is just astounding. In some sense it is impossible to comprehend having gone from where we were about 30 years ago to where we are nowadays...."

Profile what makes for good architecture and how can it best be done?
"....In some sense a good architecture is not brittle and something that is easy to maintain over time....That's always been at the heart of how I build systems...."

Do you know the creators behind DTrace?
"....I use it as a tool because of my work with ACMQueue. The creator of DTrace, at least the one that I'm certainly familiar with, is Brian Cantrill and he is another member of the Queue board...."

Some of the listeners may not be familiar with the ACM. Can you elaborate?

"....The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the world's largest professional society dedicated towards all aspects of computers both software and hardware....The ACM is a very broad organization which spans both practitioners, research and participation in public policy and in education as well...."

Can you profile the evolution of Microsoft technologies to support better design?
"....Microsoft in my opinion has undergone this huge journey in terms of creating systems where it is possible to do better designs...."

In the previous question, you gave several examples in terms of the evolution of Microsoft technologies and things that you like. Can you provide some links to some articles or papers that the audience look into?
"....Some articles on LINQ — Erik Meijer "The World According to LINQ" (http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2024658) — Erik Meijer "A co-Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks" (http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1961297) — Oren Eini "The Pain of Implementing LINQ Providers" (http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2001564)...."

What specific “valuable” insights you can share in software development?

"....Requirements matter....One thing I cannot live without is strongly typed interfaces....Architecture matters....Continuous integration systems are amazing....Software development methodology...."

Apply the last question to leadership insights?
"....Treat people like people....I'm going to distinguish between a manager and a leader. A manager's role is a support role. I think a leader's role is to inspire people to be passionate about what they're doing. You can be a leader and a manager...."

What kinds of resources do you use and what are your top recommendations of the top resources that they could use?
"....www.stackoverflow.com....http://www.martinfowler.com....Queue magazine....Microsoft blogs (development teams)...."

From your experiences, what are the disruptive technologies and how will they have impact?
"....I think mobile technology is really just the thin edge of the wedge of real ubiquitous computing....Integration is a logical place for interesting stuff to start to happen....Big data is also going to be increasingly important...."

What innovations should we be watching for in the next five years?
"....There is definitely some overlap....We should definitely keep our eyes open on what's happening on the big data front....The stuff to do with mobile technologies....Integration frameworks....We've got possibilities for new layers on the memory hierarchy....Functional programming...."

Describe some areas of controversy in the areas that you work.
"....There is a lot of controversy right now in associations and what their business model should be. The business model for an association has started to really clash with the way that people view their participation in professions or trades, and associations can see this. How do they have value in this new world where people are hyper-connected, where there are no barriers of time and space anymore between individuals getting together?....In the technology front I think there is a lot of tension between the Open Source approach to doing things and the Closed Source model of doing stuff...."

Can you share with the audience what is a working business model today for an association?
"....I have a very particular point of view on this and I'm not convinced that it's shared by most associations....I think this is a pivotal moment for associations...."

What are your thoughts on computing as a recognized profession with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, and recognized non-licensing based credentials?
[See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....I really think as a collection of individuals we need a sense of being a profession....I absolutely believe in a Code of Ethics and a sense of responsibility in ensuring everyone has a minimal understanding of the societal responsibility that they bear, and if licensing were restricted to some of the more ethical aspects of computing that would be perfectly reasonable to me because I think that is somewhat firmer ground to be on...."

What is the value in general of professional associations for computing professionals?
"....I think there is a value in belonging to a community of your peers, primarily as a mechanism to ensure that you are engaged in a lifelong learning process....The primary value that an association has is their members...."

What specific challenges and opportunities should computing practitioners and businesses embrace today and into the future?
"....There's a lot of discussion about the role social media is going to play in commerce....Communication....Relationship oriented...."

How can organizations effectively use social media for outreach/market development?
"....I can talk about my experience with social media and I come at this from a particular angle, primarily the small startup....It gives you the opportunity to reach out to markets in a way that it would have been very hard to in the past....You need to find out where the audience is and engage with them in a way that is natural for them and that varies from business to business and niche to niche....[See the latest into social media experimentation: http://www.associcom.com/Landing/TwitterChat]...."

From his extensive speaking, travels, and work, Terry shares some stories (amusing, surprising, unexpected, amazing).
"....The notion of online community, the notion of computing being a platform for social interaction goes back a huge long way; certain people seem to be able to capitalize on that...."

If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask, and then what would be your answer?
"....What is it that somehow got you from where you were to where you are?...."

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