Executive Spotlight: Ted Collins

by: VITAC

Our executive spotlight this week is on Ted Collins.

Ted joined VITAC on March 1, 2017 and is a highly regarded senior technology executive who has worked in leading edge high-technology companies where he has built, led, acquired and developed world class systems and solutions. Ted’s career experience includes executive leadership with Playrific, InterAct, Mission Mode, Divine Interventures, OpinionWare, and Platinum Technologies among others. His notable accomplishments in the kitchen and commerce notwithstanding, Ted is also an inventor and the developer of a distributed software system for which he was issued US patent number 6286041 on September 4, 2011.

Ted gave us a peek into his duties here at VITAC, what makes him tick, and a little bit about what he enjoys in life.

Q: What’s your role here at VITAC?

A: I am privileged to be Chief Technology Officer (CTO), starting about a month ago. My wife and I live in a suburb of Boston. I try to split my time between Greenwood Village and Canonsburg.

Q: In a few words, what does that entail?

A: Mostly, my job is to take credit for the hard work my team does. I am on a team that does Content Management (sometimes called encoding), Network Administration and Support, Software Administration and Support, and Software Development. The team has very talented and experienced folks managing the daily workload. We try to stay abreast of the technology in this market, and how we can use it to best advantage. We don’t sell technology, but we use technology to deliver everything we create here. If my team does our job correctly, our clients only notice our reliability and excellent quality, and never the technology we use to deliver it. Our captioners are artists, not technologists. So, our team has to strike a balance between providing technology for their work, and not causing them to be distracted by technology so that their work product gets impeded. As with everyone involved in delivering product, our clients rely on us to know the rapidly advancing technology involved, so that they don’t have to.

Q: In general, what does your workday typically look like?

A: My day is equal parts interacting with clients, working out designs and decisions with my team, researching and understanding technical advances, and isolating problem spots in our service delivery that reduce quality of service – and working to eliminate them. I try to start about 6a and I usually wrap up my last emails around 10p. I try to listen more than I talk. I try to read more than I write. If I can eliminate one meaningful problem per day, that’s a success.

Q: What is the most engaging or your favorite part of your role?

A: I get to work with people who push me intellectually. If you have interacted with anybody on my team, you know that after about the third sentence, it’s time to Google what they said and try to understand what they meant. They (foolishly) believe that I should not be stumped by anything they ask, nor baffled by anything they propose.

I choose to spend time working, and it consumes the majority of my waking hours. If I’m not at the office, I’m driving or riding on a plane, or reading in a hotel room, pre-occupied by thoughts about VITAC. If I’m going to take that time away from my family, I want to do the most with it that I can. Like Thoreau, I want to live deliberately. Being pushed by my team to learn as fast as they learn, and understand most of what they understand is worthy of my energy.

Q: What is the most challenging part of your role?

A: Being right. I would actually classify that as the scariest part of my role, too. There are a whole lot of people here that rely on my decisions being correct. We can probably recover from daily mistakes. However, if we design our technology badly, or construct a network that collapses, or overlook technology that our competitors exploit . . . those are hard things to overcome. Here’s the good news for everybody relying on my decisions: I am not really making the decisions. My technique is to keep asking questions of really smart people until we agree that we have the right answer. And then we sleep on it. If it looks the same in the morning as it did the night before, then we move on. Lincoln said, “I don’t walk fast, but I never walk backwards.” Technology decisions happen so fast that we cannot waste a second re-making a decision. In very, very rare cases, I break a tie. By “break a tie,” I mean that if the team cannot agree on the right decision, and the decision can’t wait, then I do my best to break the tie. Then we move on to the next challenge. Fortunately, this happens very, very infrequently.

This is the opposite of my marriage. My wife Brenda and I have an arrangement: I make all the big decisions in our marriage. She makes the small ones. We have been married 15 years now, and we haven’t hit a big decision. But the second we hit one, she will let me know, and I get to make it.

Q: How did you become interested in your field?  What drives you?

A:  Peripatetic would best describe my career. I firmly believe that education is the very best investment you can possibly make. Nothing you can invest in has a return which even approaches the lifetime return from money spent on education. I took my Juris Doctor in 1991, and was admitted to the bar the same year. I’m still licensed to practice law. I have undergraduate degrees in Mathematics, Computer Science, and English Literature. I have never regretted a cent I spent on education. Never stop learning. Be curious.

I am a firm believer in good judgement. Good judgement is the direct result of experience. Experience is the direct result of bad judgement. I believe in making as few mistakes as possible – but I believe that mistakes are a natural part of life. I have explained to my team that I only have one rule for the team: Don’t do anything stupid. Mistakes aren’t stupid. Making the same mistake repeatedly might be unwise. However, I expect mistakes, and I expect independent thought. I demand creativity. I openly applaud curiosity.

I am drawn to technology. I have always been especially drawn to technology which connects people (e.g. networks). Networks of people fascinate me because they produce far more than a simple sum of the members’ output. I have done seven startup companies, from scratch. I have taken them all to liquidity. They all revolved around network technology. I have run 1000-person groups in large technology companies, and have had some nice “wins.” It always centered on networks and combinations of people. One of my companies built http://caps.fool.com/. It’s a forum for researching under-followed stocks. The genesis of this was a body of research, of which Wisdom of Crowds (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FCKC3I/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1) is illustrative. The summary is this: if you get a sufficiently large crowd, and get them to express an opinion with a sense that they have something at stake (i.e. “skin in the game”) then the distribution of their opinions will form a bell-curve with the center almost exactly at the correct answer. The “caps” system is unbelievably accurate – they have built several mutual funds that invest according to the community’s voice. I am drawn to groups of people working out complex problems together. I am driven by constructing technology to make that happen. I believe that everybody has something to contribute. Everybody deserves my attention.

Q: What do you get up to when you’re not working?

A: I view work as a somewhat inconvenient interruption in my fly fishing. I mentioned my wife Brenda earlier. She is a better fly caster than me, she is a better wing-shot than me, and she is a better boxer than me (this list gets lengthy, I’ll stop here). She’s also vegetarian, which I don’t subscribe to. Dinosaurs were vegetarians, and look where that got them. When I’m not at work, I’m usually with Brenda, doing something outdoors. We recently wheezed our way up Machu Pichu on part of the Inca Trail (altitude is hard on use sea-level dwellers).

Q: What’s making you happy this week?

A: I have two sons and a daughter, all adults living in warmer climates. They are all three terrific. My youngest, my daughter, graduated from Clemson a few years ago. Watson ending up in Houston was not how I would have used my draft pick. I am Roman Catholic, and my middle son and I recently went on a retreat at a Trappist (Cistercian) monastery. My father, who lives in Minnesota, has organized this annual event every year for the past sixty-plus years. This year my son Sean is flying from Charlotte to meet me in Chicago, and we will drive up to meet my father near Dubuque, IA for a weekend of silence in a Trappist monastery. Monks take time out of prayer for work. I like that enormously. Monks also take the long view; they are currently part-way along their current 1000-year plan. For anybody that is curious, there are many such opportunities all over the country. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Give yourself the gift of silence and contemplation. I’m a firm believer in pondering things; I urge everybody to do more pondering.