Speaker 1 00:00:08 This is the workflow show media production, technology stories, discussions about development, deployment, and maintenance of secure media asset management solutions. And one of the tools in your workflow therapy toolbox I'm Jason Whetstone, senior workflow engineer, and developer for Chesapeake systems. And I'm Ben Kilburg senior solutions architect. It just speaks systems in the next few episodes of the workflow show. We'll discuss cloud technologies with Clinton foundation, chief technology officer Eric White, Eric has more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry. He worked for Microsoft and he founded utopia systems, a pioneering cloud hosting services provider, and previous to his current position at the Clinton foundation, he was the chief technology officer of cloud-scale three 65, a hybrid cloud and managed services provider. He has a deep understanding of cloud architecture networks and software development with a focus on the strategic use of innovative technology to create impact and improve the organization's ability to perform its work.
Speaker 1 00:01:09 We had a great discussion with Eric, so we decided to break our discussion into a few episodes. And today we'll share the first part of our discussion. We'll focus on Eric's background and journey to becoming the CTO of the Clinton foundation. And then we'll discuss what a CTO does, responsibilities and challenges that accompany that role. Finally, we'll discuss how the goals of the Clinton foundation and public service and civic engagement affect the needs of the systems and workflows within the company. Before we get into it, I'd like to remind our listeners to subscribe to the workflow show because the technology bully can be intimidating. And when you feel intimidated, you need some work flow therapy, right? Also send your suggestions for topic or guest ideas in general, feedback to workflow [email protected]
We're at workflow show on Twitter and LinkedIn, and now to our discussion with Eric.
Speaker 1 00:01:57 Thank you for joining us, Eric. Great to be here. Thanks, Jason. Yeah, let's let's, let's focus on yourself a little bit in your journey, and I like to start start discussions with that. You attended the university of Delaware and you, you focused on agricultural business and environmental economics. What prompted the switch to go into the, to the it field? Sure. A little bit of a backstory. When I got to university of Delaware, I was undeclared. I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. And even to this day, I still feel like, uh, I haven't really decided exactly what I want to do for a living. I actually had early exposure to technology when I was, I wanna say eight or nine, my mother had bought me a radio shack, TRS 80 color computer, right. And got a book. And it was a book on basic programming. And then when I got to high school by mother, I owe a lot to her vision, bought a IBM PC compatible and a dual floppy drives five and a 400 floppies. That was like a big deal on my phone. Yeah, definitely only
Speaker 2 00:03:00 At single floppy drives. And I had four color, uh, CGA, which was like, wow. Instead of mono. Uh, and so it was just an early exposure to all that that really led into when I got to college to partially pay my way through school. I got a job at Sears business system center. So Sears at the time had a chain of business centers where they sold to small, medium and enterprise businesses in their local area. But when I started there, I was the configurator. So we would sell a compact four 86, instead of it coming with compact memory in a compact car drive, we'd get it bare bones and put in Kingston memory Seagate hard drives. Yeah. So you're building, you're building these, these systems from parts in a sentence. Yeah. Name, at least name brand parts. So really I've always done technology. And when I went to, I got to college, I said, well, I want to learn something different.
Speaker 2 00:03:59 Not that I knew everything about technology, but I didn't really want to go for an it degree, uh, based on what I felt like I had learned and knew, and being in the industry already for a number of years. So a friend of mine decided to go into the ag business program and I always liked agriculture and kind of feel like even to this day, I'm kind of a closet farmer. We have a lot in common, so not to go into it too deeply. But at the ag school, uh, there was a professor Dr. McKenzie, who was one of the leading thinkers on environmental economics, kind of one of them were pioneers in the field. So how does managing environment, environmental disasters affect the economy? What are some of the economic models that could be drawn up to not only address if there's an environmental disaster, what the cost is to clean it up, but what are the opportunity costs where the impacts on the area, all that interests me and was really happy to be able to get into that program there.
Speaker 2 00:05:02 Gotcha. But then my junior year rolled around, I was running out of money effectively. So I thought, well, let me take a break. So I thought I would take a break turns out that I had an opportunity to interview at Microsoft and that was directly related to having worked at Sears. Gotcha. So I wound up getting the job and that kind of really set the tone for really being in the technology industry for the last 25 35, 30 years. This is what LinkedIn says. So what did you end up doing at Microsoft then? Well, I started out oddly enough, in the reseller channel. So basically on the other side of what I did at Sears, so going around to software stores, working on product placement, doing demos, and then that led into, we add a partner channel that we would work with Microsoft partners that later turned into like the Microsoft gold certified partner program of which the Chesapeake or Microsoft certified Microsoft partner. So I ran that channel for the last year and a half before I left, uh, started it at its inception in the Philadelphia region. Uh, got brought on our first partners, got that hell hole channel kick-started
Speaker 3 00:06:20 And you founded a, uh, a company called utopia systems. Right. So tell us a little bit about that.
Speaker 2 00:06:25 Yeah. The transition between Microsoft and founding of utopia was I did professional training and consulting for about seven years. So I got a number of sort of like 22 different Microsoft certifications back then, in order to be a Microsoft certified trainer, you had to be certified on that product. And generally that map to a course. So once you pass the test, you could teach the course, started out doing windows networking and then sequel and exchange. And the light bulb went off that with my knowledge of exchange, you know, with the web hosting industry, really, you know, in the late nineties, early two thousands with web hosting, this whole notion of an application service provider. So kind of pre-dating SAS started to bubble up and there had been some companies that just started to do full time outsourced exchange for companies. And I thought, well, maybe I could do that.
Speaker 3 00:07:24 Okay. Just to define, uh, something you guys heard here, SAS software as a service in case anyone is, uh, uh, not aware of that acronym. Um, we will be talking about that and other AA S acronyms and a little bit. Yeah, there's several, but basically whenever you hear that, it means as a service, meaning that you're only paying for what you use. So utopia systems, uh, back in the early two thousands, what is a cloud hosted service provider doing back then? It sounds like we might be doing a lot of web hosting, things like that
Speaker 2 00:07:55 When you would look around. Most of it was web hosting predominantly that was really the Chrysalis of the cloud industry back then was web hosting, various flavors with it, with the advent of exchange, 2000, this notion of multitenancy came started to come into focus instead of setting up a siloed system for customer a another one for customer B, which comes with it. A lot of costs, a lot of duplication of efforts, a lot of overhead, this idea of multi-tendency came along and it's really one of the cornerstones of scalable hosting these days, right? There's one Google cloud effectively, and you can have multiple virtual clouds within it. We know that there's one Amazon cloud. Yes. Multiple locations. Yes. You can have multiple instances within it, but effectively it's one cloud. And when you provision resources, there are shared resources and you can do dedicated and they have models for that. But essentially where the cost comes in is to leverage their shared environment. Right? So Microsoft started to build into their products, specifically exchange this concept of multitenancy. So the ability to spin up multiple customers on a single instance of exchange that logically were separated from each other. So when you look up a user, you can only see other folks that are in your organization. You can't see other, some of the data might be in a sense in the same database, on the backend, but effectively from a security access provisioning, it's all separate, right.
Speaker 4 00:09:29 It reminds me a little bit of a single family home versus an apartment building, right? Yeah. There are shared resources in plumbing and electrical that all go into the infrastructure there. And you're just in one small portion of the wider.
Speaker 2 00:09:45 I love that analogy. Coburg. Thank you for sure. Just think if you bought an apartment building and lived in it by yourself and you had to eat the whole thing,
Speaker 4 00:09:53 The whole thing and pay for
Speaker 2 00:09:56 It would be cost prohibitive. Yeah. Just a bit, just a bit. Let's fast forward a little bit. How did you get to the Clinton foundation and how, what are some of the differences in working in an environment like that versus a for-profit company? For example? So in 2016, utopia was acquired by a company called cloud-scale three 65. I was informally their CTO for a period and then formerly their CTO. Uh, they'd made a number of acquisitions to kind of be that full service it company with not only doing customer support, desktop support, but also supporting your cloud environment, hosting your email web hosting. So kind of what utopia was kind of working towards, but just in a, in a broader scale through acquisition. So in working with them, I'll fill in one blank. During the time of utopia, the Clinton foundation was a customer and for many years, so had some connection with the Clinton foundation, supported the Clinton foundation in many ways.
Speaker 2 00:11:04 And it just full circle came up that they were looking for a CTO and just pause for a moment and said, well, what would that look like? It would be a different role, something that I've never done up until now. It's one thing to be in a run, a technology company. It's another thing to be a CTO for, you know, a global foundation and just did some soul searching and thought this is the right time in my life to pursue something like this. That's pretty much, I went through the process and I became their next CTO. Oh, that's fantastic. So that's a great segue Eric, into, um, what, you know, what are some of the responsibilities that you carry as a CTO for the organization? Well, as the name and the title implies, I run for the whole organization. I have a great team and we're, we're able, we've been able to really accomplish a lot in the last couple of years that I've been there. It's been two and a half years of also in that period on what we call operations. So kind of the running of the foundation in terms of our offices, the office infrastructure, not just servers, uh, there's some good synergies there to kind of have all that under, under one umbrella, but basically making technology choices, technology policy to put the foundation in a good position, you know, over the next five to five to 10 years.
Speaker 3 00:12:35 Yeah. Yeah. W one of the challenges I know just that, that a lot of CTOs have is maintaining the current environment and making sure that it's working and up to date and everything, but also, you know, reaching out and looking for newer technologies and making sure that you're sort of keeping abreast of all of that.
Speaker 2 00:12:52 Well, like anything, there's always the break fix part of it, where you're coming in and you know, what's old, what's what, what can we live with now? What do we need to address right away? Not long after I arrived, we did a full across the board. It risk assessment to discover on the continuum of things, you know, like I said, what we need to do address now, you know, what could we kind of come up with a plan for all that then moving into, and it's been a trend in it instead of having this sort of break fix mentality of, you know, its about systems, it's about technology kind of waiting until things kind of bubble up or break and how do we get ahead of it? How do we play a more consultative role within the organization? How do we partner with different parts of the organization?
Speaker 2 00:13:40 They kind of get ahead of what their needs are and being much more consultative and how we, how we approach. And I think that then feeds into being more service oriented. And that's been a trend in internal it organizations for, for a while now it's just being more service oriented. Well, I'll tell you another thing that would help give context is the Clinton foundation of course, was founded in 2001. So actually this year is our 20th anniversary, which is amazing congratulations. And the really hallmarks of the foundation are, uh, improving economic opportunity, improving public health and inspiring civic engagement and service, public service. And in, and amongst all that really highlighting the legacy of president Clinton and his time in office. And how many of the things he instituted back then were really well ahead of their time. And still we benefit from today. We, we have like nine initiatives within the foundation and they all operate in many ways, autonomous from one another.
Speaker 2 00:14:46 And it's very entrepreneurial in nature. So you can imagine we have the Clinton development initiative, which works to pull together a small shareholder farmers in three countries in Africa, Rwanda, Malawi, and Tanzania, uh, to help further educate them on sustainable practices. And I should say, we've actually can learn as much from them on sustainable practices. In some ways we can teach them. Thank you for saying that, but also access to higher quality seed access to better financing, more favorable financing, many ways, forming agribusiness groups, where they can knowledge share and share information has been very powerful and then injected just an incredible amount of money into their, into their communities. So helping farmers in Africa to early childhood development with our too small to fail initiative and talking about the importance of talking, singing, and reading to your child before they're two years old, that science tells us that a lot of brain development is mostly done by the time you're two years old.
Speaker 2 00:15:54 And so getting even before we can speak, uh, they call it brain scaffolding phenomenon that occurs. That's actually something that's very fascinating to me as well. I remember listening to a story on NPR a few years back about, uh, how different languages can effect, uh, it was related to languages and inflection and a perfect pitch. And I have perfect pitch. It's a blessing and a curse. And you know, it was fascinating to learn that, uh, that folks that have a different language than English, because the language is so focused on inflection and sounds people that are, that, that grow up learning those languages tend to have a much better chance of having perfect pitch because of the brain development that happens that early in life, when a person is learning a new language or learning a language. Sure. I'd imagine they're there's tonal language, right?
Speaker 2 00:16:45 So if you think about a Japanese Mandarin, Chinese where there's right, and you could have the same written, uh, written word, if you will, or character, but if given a different tone can have a different meaning. And I always feel like that links your left brain and right brain, it's not just, I'm going to speak this word. I'm going to say it exactly this way. Wow. That's really interesting. That's fascinating. Yeah. We should talk more about this offline sometime. Yeah. I've tried to call out some of my Delaware tonal language, for example, you'll find most people here say water and I I've decided I'm not going to say water. And I'm going to say water. Interesting. Shifting, shifting the focus from one side of Pennsylvania to the other. Right. Exactly. Well, so just to go back to the challenges. So given we have so many initiatives and I could name others CGI university, which is an offshoot of Clinton global initiative that engages students in a program every year that they go through a curriculum of learning more about, uh, social entrepreneurship, uh, life in public service.
Speaker 2 00:17:57 And then typically they commit to doing a project that further improves, you know, some community or some condition. And so we have all these initiatives. We also have the Clinton presidential center, which is president Clinton's library and little rock where we've now just surpassed serving our 700,000 meal, uh, during COVID, uh, started out as a partnership with world central kitchen, which is chef Jose, Andreas, his organization, and partnering with the city of little rock to bring meals to underserved communities during COVID in little rock. And so that picked up in earnest in early summer and paused a bit towards GRN. Does things look to be improving. And then once things really heated up again in terms of the COVID crisis towards the end of the year, it was decided to kind of reignite that. So we're really proud of that work with all these initiatives.
Speaker 2 00:18:54 We've spent a lot of time socializing the importance of standardizing on technology being on common platforms. If folks are shopping technology, you know, that it actually has an ear or a hand in it so that we can really streamline and operationalize a lot of what we're doing. Whereas in former years, they've really operated independently from one another so much like a large organization that has multiple business units with potentially their own it leadership. That would be a similar kind of analogy. So just really spending some time on that and which is leading into later this year, we're going to be leaning into a broader look at data governance and what data governance looks like for the, for the organization
Speaker 4 00:19:43 That for a second, talk a little bit about data governance, because that's not a term I'm really familiar with.
Speaker 2 00:19:48 Sure. It's a broad term. It can mean a lot of things, but most simply, uh, what it means is let's take a look at what information we have in the organization. And it's really information it's very little to do with the technology, but what information do we have? Where is it located? Where, and in some cases, not only where, but where is it stored? And that can be, there could be a tech component to that. Is it in the cloud? Is it on premise who has access to the data? How are you classifying the data what's effectively private and which is public internally, what's private. What does generally everybody have access to as long as you're an employee of the foundation, but what may only be accessed by executive leadership or be available to be viewed by executive leadership. So if you can think about, if you're writing a story, you're a journalist, the who, what, why, where, when, how think about that in terms of your data. And if you can answer those questions, you're, you're somewhat your way to figuring out what data governance is all about.
Speaker 3 00:20:50 This is great. And this is where, you know, just what, what we've been talking about in the last few minutes here is really, I think, you know, that's gonna, uh, I think have a special place for a lot of our listeners. When you talk about, uh, you know, information security, number one, uh, we, we often see that, um, you know, media production, uh, entities within larger corporations, uh, you know, we have all these tools in the media industry that we work with and bridging that gap between the production it and the corporate it, or the general. It can be a little challenging sometimes because there's a perception there that, that the, it generalists are in our way of getting our work done. We've talked about this on the show in the past and how beneficial it is to get everyone on the same page and get buy in from everyone involved to make sure we all understand what we need, what our expectations are, what we're doing, what ports need to be opened on the firewall, that kind of stuff that really helps to get everyone on the same page and get these, some of these solutions implemented
Speaker 2 00:21:51 One of the things that was new for me, and it kind of feeds into, I think one of the questions that you were going to bring up was, well, not only what some of the challenges are, but what maybe are some of the more difficult aspects of like one's growth in a given field or growth as a CTO and coming from running a technology company where you're really focused on the operations, the customer experience, you know, you're involved in, you know, legal, legal elements and the, your, your kind of image out there in the media and different things. And just kind of picking your head up from all that, as you're leading an it organization at a foundation to really socialize in concepts, you know, amongst other senior leaders and highlighting the importance of certain initiatives and it's really the people part of technology, and yes, you have to make solid decisions. We're lucky that we have a solid team, but really just to be the translator and the buffer between the kind of operational work and the broader senior leadership and the goals of the foundation.
Speaker 3 00:23:02 Right? Yeah. And that can be challenging. And I know it's also, we at Chesa work with, um, you know, many different types of organizations. We work with those corporate or organizations that have a media production department or group. We also work with post-production companies that just do the media production and don't have an overall, like, you know, corporate overlord per se. And, you know, the mentalities, there can be quite a bit different in terms of what we are allowed to do what we want to do, where we want to take our, our technology, for example. So that's, it's interesting that you, that you mentioned that, you know, we, we often see some, sometimes we have, um, you know, some of our creative users moving between different organizations, they might go from a corporate organization to a more media production focused organization or vice versa. And it's just important to understand the reasons
Speaker 1 00:23:46 For those differences, right. For sure. Absolutely. That's it for the first part of our discussion with Eric and the next episode, we'll continue our discussion focusing on cloud technologies, we'll define some of those AAS acronyms. We talked about today and discuss how this technology has affected infrastructure and workflow in the media and entertainment industry. Thanks for listening. The workflow show is a production of Chesapeake systems and more banana productions. Original music is created and produced by Ben Kilburg. Please subscribe to the workflow show and shout out to [email protected]
or at workflow show. Thanks for listening, Jason.