Breaking new ground: How 7 LA tech leaders stay on the cutting edge

by Drew Housman
March 28, 2019

Without great tech leadership, it would be impossible for LA companies to innovate. If it weren’t for great minds at the helm, Silicon Beach would become Silicon Leech as companies desperately copied competitors instead of building the next great thing. 

Thankfully, the City of Angels is full of creative, driven and forward-thinking tech leaders. We talked to seven of them to learn about how they utilize tech to surmount challenges, what products they are excited about most and the future technologies they’re keeping their eyes on. 

 

simple practice engineering
photo via simplepractice

SimplePractice helps health and wellness professionals grow and run their practices. Co-Founder and CTO Ralph Zimmerman talked about how it’s critical to learn new programming languages if you want to stay relevant. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve?  

Staying current is not a trivial task. The hours of a day are limited, so I use a three-pronged strategy. 

I monitor social media ― Twitter, Hacker News and Medium are my primary sources to discover trends and follow them.

I read and do hands-on learning ― I enjoy reading about management, major trends in technology and society. While I’m not spending time coding every day anymore, I make time to learn at least one new technology or programming language each year. This year I’m focused on learning TensorFlow.

Finally, I discuss technologies with my engineering team or with external people at meetups. 

We are experimenting with services based on machine learning which have the potential to improve many day-to-day workflows for our customers.”

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects?

There are many new technologies we are going to introduce this year into our platform in order to improve security, performance, reliability and scalability as more and more customers join SimplePractice. We will also adopt single page applications (SPA), using EmberJS as the technology across our product. 

On the research side, we are experimenting with services based on machine learning which have the potential to improve many day-to-day workflows for our customers.

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

One is an enhanced client management system which will provide our customers with a much better way to manage clients. Another is an overhaul of our billing system. With more than 35,000 customers, we have been able to gain a lot of insight into what works and what does not in the billing process. We’re aiming to create a more streamlined process with improved reporting capabilities. 

 

next trucking engineering
photo via next trucking

NEXT Trucking is using next-level tech to optimize shipping logistics. Director of Product Management Shana Zheng said implementing customer feedback into new tech products is critical. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve? 

Our team is very hands-on and dedicated to our customers. We consistently meet with our shippers and carriers, run focus groups and work in collaboration with our internal operations teams to identify and fix pain points. Our goal is to apply the best advancements in technology to improve the logistics industry.

 

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects? 

We take pride in being the leading technology solution for trucking and providing real-time shipment tracking and visibility to our customers while also giving more flexibility to our carriers.

Our team is very hands-on and dedicated to our customers. We consistently meet with our shippers and carriers and work in collaboration with our internal teams to identify and fix pain points.”

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year? 

We are excited to build an end-to-end technology solution for trucking, bringing transparency to our customers. We continue to evolve our carrier mobile application with smart recommendation and intuitive route planning. Our shippers will have complete tracking and freight visibility.

 

patient pop engineering
photo via patientpop

PatientPop is on a mission to help healthcare providers grow their practices and thrive. Their CTO, Christophe Louvion, said that the team is committed to using data science to improve the customer experience. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve?   

As teams encounter challenges or opportunities tied to their mission, they have the freedom to evaluate new tools, practices or technologies that have the potential to solve problems in much better ways than technologies already in use. To avoid siloed discoveries or duplicated work, teams have a channel to demonstrate their research and prototypes ― a Tech Council. This council is formed from senior engineers from across the company. This allows us to vet if a local solution could have broader applications.

 

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects?  

We’re committed to a microservice-based architecture. I am particularly interested in extending the applications of event sourcing, domain-driven design and command query responsibility segregation. 

 

I am particularly interested in extending the applications of event sourcing, domain driven design and command query responsibility segregation.” 

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year? 

We are fortunate to have data on the whole patient journey, including when they search for a provider, the time they book an appointment and the experience they have at the practice. This gives us tremendous opportunities for data science projects to provide unique actionable insights to our customers, and to build “smart features” to help practices thrive by bringing not only more patients but the right ones. 

 

inspire engineering team
photo via inspire

Inspire’s goal is a noble one: build the world’s most consumer-focused clean power platform. VP of Product Chris Brereton said he is excited by technical advancements that could lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve? 

I try to stay ahead of the curve by always seeking to learn. I have an endless thirst and curiosity for exploring new technologies, new processes and new frameworks or mental models. I love identifying patterns across different industries or disciplines and using them to inform the future we seek to build at Inspire. My thirst for knowledge is quenched by endless reading, listening to podcasts and, most importantly, by connecting with, learning from and building a community of other product, tech, marketing and industry leaders.

 

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects?

I am especially interested in distributed energy resources like battery storage at the residential level, PV and how the Internet of Things (IoT) can drive high-impact outcomes for the world we live in. Most companies are not thinking about how to connect energy and the IoT, yet it’s one of the biggest underserved opportunities we have to make a major impact on climate change. We can use it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the residential level and meet the global climate goals set by the Paris Accord. 

 

My team is now building an IoT platform that manages and connects the climate-centric devices in a home, like the thermostat and HVAC system.”

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We’re building products that sit at the intersection of energy and IoT. We’ve created a new type of financial model — similar to what you’d see in SaaS-based businesses — effectively turning the traditional energy model on its head and aligning our business objectives with our member’s values. 

My team is now building an IoT platform that manages and connects the climate-centric devices in a home, like the thermostat and HVAC system. Soon, we’ll have the capabilities to respond in real time and increase the overall efficiency of a home, while driving maximum comfort. 

 

hyperloop one engineering
photo via hyperloop

Virgin Hyperloop One is building a brand new form of transportation that aims to transport both freight and people with more speed and efficiency. Helen Durden, who serves as a senior manager of structural analysis on the systems engineering team, said that the company is making huge strides — and pushing their partners to create new technologies to keep up. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve? 

We have so many different disciplines working here ― software, mechanical, civil, safety, materials, autonomous controls, legal and regulatory ― that we really need to stay ahead of many different curves.

On my team we work with analysis software and regularly attend trainings and conferences for the providers to keep on top of the expanding capabilities. We have some really unique design spaces that lead us to the cutting edge of what is available, and we actually wind up pushing many of our partners to create new technology. 

 

We are really excited about advances in industries normally considered more static, like construction and material processing.”

 

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects?

We are in a unique position of building something big without having to hold to a legacy of already outdated methods. So we are really excited about advances in industries normally considered more static, like construction and material processing.

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

The world’s first hyperloop! We have some really exciting things coming up, but I can’t share any details yet.

 

ecosense lighting engineering
photo via ecosense lighting

Ecosense is an LED technology company that’s building adaptable and upgradeable systems to light the world. Power Electronics Engineer Anthony McDougle said that a huge part of their success comes from building a diverse team. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve?

For me, it always starts with a childlike wonder about the world around me, which brings with it a feeling that pretty much anything is possible. 

After that, it’s about building a talented team that’s as diverse as possible ― different ages, cultures, backgrounds, technical expertise ― anything and everything that can allow the team to approach a problem from as many angles as possible. Each member of the team must be an expert in an area that is unique within the group. This allows each person to learn from everyone else and gives everyone a chance to teach, building a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. 

 

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future products?

Wide Bandgap semiconductors. The technology is really starting to penetrate into the consumer market, so I’m excited to get into the lab and play around with them.

At a more accessible level, open-source hardware has the ability to speed up technology development. Open source software has become a widely accepted part of tech, but the cost of developing hardware has historically prevented companies from opening their designs. Opening the hardware design to use and collaboration gives the tech community a base of solutions, allowing us to focus on solving problems that are core to our new ideas.  

 

We are developing technologies which unify communication interfaces and data very similar to how USB, ethernet and internet protocols unified PC interfaces years ago.” 

 

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

We are developing technologies which unify communication interfaces and data very similar to how USB, ethernet and internet protocols unified PC interfaces years ago. This will create a set of tools which will allow lighting designers to “paint with light” in such a way that people find their environment more pleasing, and more healthy, all while saving energy versus other forms of lighting!

 

relativity space engineering
photo via relativity space

Relativity Space is creating the first autonomous rocket factory and launch service — by 3D printing entire rockets. CTO and Co-Founder Jordan Noone is excited by what they can create as they combine machine learning with 3D printing. 

 

Tech moves fast. How do you stay ahead of the curve?

We design both the company and our rocket for quick iteration time. Technology is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and we’re prepared for our company to either invent or adopt those changes.

We’ve built Relativity with intention. We have processes in place that keep us simultaneously focused and nimble. As individuals, we are constantly learning and reinventing the way we think. With the rate of technology growth in the world, much of what we learned in school will be obsolete by the end of our careers, and we need to be prepared to adjust.

 

What new technologies are you excited about or eyeing for future projects?

I’m excited for advancements in engineering product design and manufacturing tools. I’m passionate about aerospace, and the industry is now able to move much quicker than before. Certain projects, even in recent times, moved at a snail’s pace. We’re seeing a reinvention of manufacturing that allows for significantly quicker iteration time.

With the rate of technology growth in the world, much of what we learned in school will be obsolete by the end of our careers, and we need to be prepared to adjust.”

What are the biggest tech projects your team is working on this year?

Relativity is flying the world’s first and only fully 3D printed rocket in 2020. This year, we will be finalizing the design of both the rocket and the 3D printer we created to manufacture it, named Stargate.

Our rocket, Terran 1, combines cutting-edge 3D printing technology with machine learning to create the world’s cheapest, quickest to manufacture rocket. By the end of this year, we will be prepared to build and fly Terran 1.

 

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