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Dominic Holt, Co-Founder and Leader of Lockheed Martin Shark Tank® Organization, Top International Software Engineer and Innovator, Entrepreneur, ACM Practitioner Board Professional Development Committee Member

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Dominic Holt.

Dominic HoltDominic Holt is Co-Founder and CEO of Divine Intervention Software and Senior Software Manager at Lockheed Martin. Dominic has a zeal for bringing together amazing technologists in pursuit of building world-class software and inventing revolutionary technology that changes the world for the better. He is passionate about entrepreneurship and designing, architecting and conceptualizing software that makes an impact in the lives of its users.

In 2008 he co-wrote an Xbox game that won the PAX10 Top 10 Indie Games of the Year and demoed the game at the PAX festival with 70,000 attendees. From 2009 to 2012 he wrote mobile and web geospatial intelligence applications for the US Military. Since then he has moved on to leading an elite skunk works group of Software Engineers in emerging technologies at Lockheed Martin. He also serves on ACM's Practitioner Board Professional Development Committee.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the IT Manager's Blog where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.


Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:49: Can you share some value metrics of things that you wish to accomplish as part of the ACM Professional Development Committee (PDC)?
"....I think there's been a lot of focus on academics in the past and while the ACM is a very well-respected organization in the software community, I think we could do more to get the practitioners involved with ACM....Specifically I think we should provide high quality resources to make their jobs easier....There's never been a better time to start a software company, especially if you are a software engineer. I'd like ACM to embrace the massive wave of growth we've seen with entrepreneurs in the software community and help them be successful in getting their companies off the ground....

:03:08: What specific value do you feel the ACM practitioner board PDC provides to computing professionals?
"....I think the ACM is an excellent platform to promote things that are important to us as a software community and to make sure that the software industry as a whole continues to move in a positive direction...."

:03:42: You lead the top young engineers in the world with the Shark Tank®, which you co-founded, are involved in capturing $2B in revenue and growing rapidly. Based upon your global expertise what are some of your top predictions, trends in each of these areas: Cyber Security, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Mobility, Modeling & Simulation, Web Technologies, Autonomous Systems, Rapid Hardware Design, and Blue sky (out of the box thinking)?
"....What you have to know about Shark Tank® is that there are a number of really incredible people involved and it's not just me – it's a team show. Let me touch on some of the areas that I have more involvement with....Cyber Security. People are going to start being more careful about who they do business with and Business to Consumer and Business to Business companies are going to invest significant amounts of money in this area going forward....Cloud computing has just exploded over the last couple of years. Everything is hosted in new, scalable environments online nowadays. I think the top trend I've seen in this area however is the huge shift in the development community towards this DevOps concept of developers and operations synched together....Big Data. What data analytics are going to do for people who are making important decisions, I see data scientists being the oracles (so to speak) of future companies where they prophesize market shifts and strategic moves for executives at massive companies....Mobility. I think we are on the cusp of a massive push into the wearable space and I don't think that's much of a surprise to anyone. As far as mobile phones themselves, they are just going to find more ways to make your life more convenient so you don't have to carry around so much stuff...I also see companies and brands taking more advantage of consumer mobile devices and see a world where apps will provide contextual data to users based on geo-location....Web technologies. We've seen a number of great new frameworks popping up to make JavaScript less cumbersome. Mainly I'm talking about AngularJS which has really run away with the show...."

:10:03: How have you adapted Kelly Johnson's (founder of the original Skunk Works® organization of Lockheed Martin) 14 principles? How are members of the original Skunk Works® helping you move forward in your goals?
"..... I would break how we took Kelly's principles into 3 main areas. He had 14 points and we didn't use all of them because not all of them applied to us....First, is autonomy....Second, is recruiting. Getting a few really good ones together can really boost your efficiency....Third, one of my other co-founders is always saying that Kelly Johnson was the first Agile practitioner even though he wasn't necessarily building software....The more we learn the more we realize we are just following in his footsteps rather than coming up with original concepts, even though we came to these thoughts on our own. He was a pretty innovative guy...."

:16:07: Describe the journey in your founding of the Shark Tank®?
"....Let me caveat this with saying these are my own opinions and ideas and they don’t have anything to do with Lockheed....Originally 5 or 6 years ago a bunch of other people and I got together. They were brought together as part of a strategic process, business process improvement group. They gave us a real opportunity and a window into how the business was run at Lockheed. I was a young upstart engineer and it really opened my eyes to how big companies work and how in particular Lockheed worked. As you would find in any big corporation there were a number of inefficiencies and problems we found and we ended up making a bunch of suggestions to the division president at the time about how maybe we could improve some of those inefficiencies. Some of them turned into really great ideas and they were implemented and some of them fell by the wayside....One of the co-founders was enamored with Skunk Works® and shared his wisdom of Skunk Works® with us. So we were thinking about ways we could provide all these things together for the business and the best way we could possibly come up with (after discussing it at length), was creating a new brand and creating our own organization and that's how Shark Tank® was born....Every company has a different culture but we manufactured our own culture by crowdsourcing and what it meant to be a Shark and part of a group that was trying to do innovative things. We came up with a different group of core values and we went from there...."

:21:05: Do you encounter any confusion with the TV show called Shark Tank®?
"....We both actually have a registered Trademark, the TV show and Lockheed Martin. From what I understand (because people are most likely not going to start a TV show at Lockheed Martin especially not one called the Shark Tank®), I don't think there's too much of an industry there....Being such a large defense contractor, things can be a little siloed sometimes and people hear about you who hadn't previously heard about you and ask you how you are related to the TV show, so certainly we have to clarify those things for people...."

:22:14: You have this history of engagements in many, many projects and delivering real value where you've been able to unlock and solve challenges. Do you find that funding is easier now?
"....The simple answer is no. It's a variety of different things.....We've seen a lot of economic cultural change in the business and it is always a moving target for hitting funding....Interestingly enough, running and being a part of Shark Tank® has taught me a lot about entrepreneurship. I don't think we intended that to be the case when we originally started it but we've moved further and further towards that direction just because it was a natural shift for us. I think as we've gotten more acquainted with and learned more about entrepreneurship and venture capital we've gotten better at pitching to executives internally...."

:24:38: You've won some awards, can you talk about that?
"....The award that I'm most proud of was actually kind of a fluke. It was in college and I was taking this elective course called Foundations of 2D Graphics at RIT. A bunch of my friends were taking the class and I thought that it would be cool to make a video game because that's the dream of every software developer on the planet before they actually become a software developer....The professor said this is a really hard course and I'm going to grade you exactly like you're going to be graded in the gaming industry....We had to develop an entire 2D video game experience in 10 weeks, deliver it and do a presentation and it had to be fun (we accomplished that). After we finished, one of the members of our team read this webcomic called Penny Arcade (they have this massive festival every year for the Video Game industry called PAX and they started this competition called the PAX 10 where the top 10 independently developed games of the year are showcased), and a team member submitted our game. Maybe a month later we learned that we won....It was a great experience and I got to meet people in the Video Game industry and that was interesting, and it was incredible to be able to showcase something I had built with a team of really great guys at such a venue...."

:27:53: Do you have other stories (perhaps from your co-op days) where you are drafted onto a project where there was some sort of impossible challenge involved but you took it on anyway?
"....The first co-op I got was working for a signal processing company which was an interesting gig. They gave me this project to work on which was one of the worst pieces of software that I had ever seen in my life (it wasn't because it wasn't written by smart people, it was because it was started in 1970 and it was slung together by CORBA with different parts in C and C++, Java and all this stuff). I told my boss that I could write the whole thing from scratch faster than I could fix the bugs. At that time they weren't sure what to think of me because they'd never had an intern before, so he said give it a week and if I couldn't get progress on it then maybe I could rewrite it. After a week I hadn't made much progress obviously, and I said I could maybe fix this (or part of it) in the rest of the 3 or 4 months that this co-op runs or I could write the entire thing from scratch in a month. He absolutely didn't believe me and he thought I was crazy because there was no way I was going to write a program in a month that took 30 years to put together, but he agreed that I could have a month to do it, and if I didn't then I would have to go back to the other one. I was very motivated to make this happen and after a month I had a fully working version. That was a great personal success story for me and one of my first forays into the actual software industry...."

:33:04: Talk about your top ideas around building prototypes in promising new areas using your own governance model based on the Lean Startup approach coined by Eric Ries?
"....To me really great ideas happen when amazing people come together and that's what we try to do at Lockheed. We try to increase the amount of time these talented individuals talk to each other and run into each other in different meetings and events. What became the hard part was deciding which ideas were the most viable and had the most chance of surviving out in the market. After we chose an idea we had to rally the team around it so that they would put all of their efforts into that one concept...."

:34:57: You did something with TEDx; can you talk about launching your own TEDx? Because it was so successful, what are your recommendations when people want to do the same thing?
"....It's really important to build a community first if you are going to host a TEDx event....Find a good location that is accessible to a lot of people....Spend plenty of your time advertising to get the word out and encourage folks to come in person rather than just watching on their computer....The people who are speaking at your event probably won't be professional speakers so find some good coaches that will sit at the venue and listen to speeches and give your speakers input before the actual event...."

:38:04: From a business process standpoint do you have to formally talk to the TED organization to tell them you want to do this?
"....There is a website that you can go to and fill out a form and that makes you the official appointed contact for your organization. They have a bunch of rules that you have to follow before hosting a TEDx event at your company. Definitely make sure that you follow the rules and guidelines that TEDx and TED provides...."

:38:42: How about some of the problems associated with videoing the event (which you have to do), did you hire your own crews, etc.?
"....That was actually a major expense....."

:39:05: What are some of the lessons that you can share from developing one of the top 10 indie games showcased at the PAX festival?
"....When you're younger you think that creating video games is this magical fantasy job. The truth is making video games is nothing like playing video games....In my own personal experience, I learned some interesting things....One thing our team suffered from in particular despite being incredibly talented folks (and this goes back to the whole Lean Startup mentality), is we had people offering us money for this game and major distributors willing to distribute it for us but we literally turned all of those things down because the game was never perfect for the team as a whole. Perfection was more important than success at that juncture in our lives and nobody wanted this stigma of having a bad game released in the industry with their name on it. So ultimately the game went nowhere....Perception is a crazy thing...."

:42:07: We have many seasoned developers in the audience, can you provide some of your top software engineering and developer tips?
"....There are so many good tips and so many amazing software engineers out there so I'll try not to bore everybody, but I will give you a few things that I think about on a regular basis. The most important thing to any piece of software is taking the time to get the architecture right first. It may seem like a good idea just to jump into writing code because it feels like you are making progress, but ultimately this is going to lead to a lot of rewrites, defects and ultimately bad architecture. The worst part is it's going to take you significantly more time to write your software if you don't plan out a good architecture.....I think it's important to draw inspiration from the things around you, especially when it comes to designing beautiful interfaces that elicit joy out of people. I think that's a really interesting twist that's happened in the software industry and I attribute that mostly to Apple...."

:47:27: Can you talk about Divine Intervention Software and Roo?
"....I'm really passionate about building things that matter and working directly with customers, and figuring out what's important to them and seeing their eyes light up when you hand them something that solves the problem for them. I think that's what Divine Intervention Software is about – creating software that makes a difference in the lives of people and all the founders really believe in that mission....Roo is one of our first apps. Roo is a social networking app that allows you to meet professionals to do activities with while you are travelling or when you are at home...."

:49:00: Do you have any other stories you can share of 'impossible' challenges you were able to master?
"....My personal favorite was when I went to my boss at the time and told him I was bored (this was quite a few years ago). I asked him for some more work to do because apparently I enjoy shooting myself in the foot. He got one of those ominous smiles on his face and he told me he had just the thing (which is usually not a good sign)..... It's really a miracle that it worked at all but it did in fact work and that senior engineer told me that he was very impressed since it was an impossible project...."

:51:25: Because you did something impossible were there some unintended consequences?
"....I had taken this shiny gem to my high-level stakeholder and he just pointed out everything that was wrong with it so I learned after that to make high quality prototypes and also clean looking interfaces etc., so that I wouldn't have to deal with that scrutiny again...."

:52:53: What additional important lessons can you summarize from the last question?
"....Dealing with 'impossible projects' – when you work for a large organization you get used to hearing things like: that will never work or that's impossible or we shouldn't waste money on this because it's hard. Don't be that person, be the person that's willing to do and create the hard things...."

:53:39: In your current role, what top resources and lessons can you share with the audience?
"....Resources change all the time especially in the software development community, but I can share some of the lessons that I've learned and some of the resources that are tied to them....Words are an imperfect mechanism for conveying ideas, so as a software engineer or as a leader of software engineers learn to draw or learn to use one of the wonderful prototyping tools that make it easy like Balsamiq....True power comes from influence and not legitimate authority and I used to think it was the other way around....The biggest indicator I use to determine if someone is going to be a success is audacity...."

:56:37: Do you have some predictions for the future?
"....It is only a matter of time before you can Google things with your brain.....Robots will probably handle all the mundane tasks that you don't want to do. You can speak any language and have it instantly translated in real time to someone speaking in a different language and vice versa (that one is probably coming pretty soon)....3D printing is really big and I think 3D printers will be in everyone's home and will replace all shipping and manufacturing...."

:58:01: How can executives act on your predictions?
"....Hire smart people, give them your vision and get out of the way. If you are looking for specific areas to invest in, nano-technology, the crossover between bio-technology, medicine and software, robotics obviously and 3D printing are great places to start...."

:58:28: As a successful senior technology executive, what are some of your leadership lessons that can be used by others?
"....In my personal career....Never underestimate someone who works for you just because they are new or younger than you or they have a different perspective. Diversity is really important....Pay attention and respect to your young people....Find out who your talent is and make sure they have no reason to leave the company. Replacing your talent is much more difficult than you think...."

:01:00:04: Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See and the Global Industry Council,]
"....Do I think software engineers should be well trained and perform with excellence on the job and not take advantage of people? Sure, of course. But that being said, government oversight rarely solves these types of problems and I know a lot about government oversight because I work in aerospace and defense. They just have a lot of red tape and bureaucracy and confound things...."

:01:01:09: You have many interests and you are very eclectic in what you do. Can you talk further about any of these other areas?
"....I don't want to keep you here all day so maybe I could just talk about one thing. I've always been very much into creating music....Music has always been my psychology. If I have a bad day, I will sit down and play something, then I will feel better about the world...."

:01:05:01: From your extensive speaking, travels, and work, are there any stories you can share, outside of the ones you have already talked about (perhaps something amusing, surprising, unexpected or amazing)?
"....We've been talking about technology a lot, as we should, this is the ACM. But I will mix it up a bit....One thing you should know about me is that I am a terrible surfer, but I love doing it..... When you are surfing you get this instant feedback and the ocean is your critic...."

:01:08:02: You choose the topic area. What do you see as some of the top challenges facing us today and how do you propose they be solved?
"....There are a lot of problems out there today to be solved and I think that's why entrepreneurs are so great because they are trying to tackle some of these problems. Education is a big one for me....Government is another big problem.....Extremism is a big problem we are facing today...."

:01:10:56: If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....We've learned a lot about me today and speaking of turning the tables I actually want to turn the tables on you because I'm really interested to learn more about you. I'd like to turn this around a bit and ask you three questions....What makes you get up every morning? What gets you excited about starting the day?....Making the world a better place but doing it in a way that's demonstrated and implementable....What is the reason you got into the technology field?....I find that technology allows you to be creative and to make dramatic shifts at a regional, national and global level. And because it can be integrated into every aspect of our lives, it's the greatest tool (s) that one could use to have that impact to make the world a better place....What is the one thing you would like to accomplish before your time is up on this earth?....What I'm doing now and that is to get into a position where I can set up Foundations to work on some of the serious issues that are out here in the world today...."

:01:12:56: Dom, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.