Plato Member Spotlight Series: Meet Daniel Miller, CTO at Modern Message

Dec 3, 2018 · 6 min read

At Plato, we love highlighting the amazing members of our community. In our new Spotlight Series, we’ll be introducing you to some incredible engineering and product leaders who have managed to build strong and thriving teams.

Meet Daniel Miller, CTO at Modern Message. He shares with us his path into computer software, his responsibilities as a CTO and how Plato has helped him thrive as a technical leader.

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First things first: How did you originally get into computer software?

I was intending to go to post-grad for psychology — not really the usual path. But instead, I got into the workforce. Since I have always had a strong interest in computers, I got into teaching basic stuff. I started with the Office Suite then through that, I got into teaching HTML, PhotoShop and other basic web stuff. At my next job, my boss basically realized he could hire me as a trainee for more than I was making at the training job. I started as a trainee and then worked my way up as a trainer, then a consultant. I got to fly all over the world and train customers on our enterprise messaging products. That’s how I started in computer software in the enterprise space!

Now, I have been doing this for about 20 years. I’ve done a lot of different things both as a developer and as an entrepreneur. I’ve worked in a lot of different stacks. I did end up focusing on front-end development towards the latter half of my career until moving to leadership at my previous startup, and now I am CTO at Modern Message.

What does your current company, Modern Message, do?

We are the creators of Community Rewards, a resident engagement platform for the multi-family industry. We create opportunities for residents to connect with their onsite team, the brand, and their neighborhood. Residents engage with our web app and are rewarded with points, which they can cash out for gift cards or other rewards.

As the technical leader, what are your responsibilities?

My main responsibilities are to align the efforts of engineering with the business and to make sure engineering is running in an efficient way. I am also making sure critical engineering priorities like stability or security are heard by the leadership team and can be prioritized as well.

My typical day or week is filled with meetings: either prepping for meetings or following up post-meeting. Meetings are a good way for me to have visibility into what’s happening on different teams. So I will attend stand-ups, sprint planning, and retro meetings and demo days. I am also interviewing a lot of candidates right now since we are in a growth phase. We currently have 15 people in engineering, but we are looking to hire a lot more.

What are some of the challenges you have run into as you have continued to scale the organization, but did not anticipate?

I would say two things: people problems, and the speed at which you have to change processes to accommodate growth.

For people problems, it’s hard to figure out where you have the control to reduce them. It was also about a mental shift for me. I now have to get information rolled up to me as opposed to seeing it all happen as it moves through our development pipeline.

On processes, you don’t have to be too precious about how things are currently, but think more about scaling the organization. It’s a different mindset to have.

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What made you consider Plato and join our community?

Part of it was good timing. I was at an inflection point where I was already thinking about how I could get a mentor, specifically around how my role is evolving into more management and leadership. When I saw how great the Plato mentor’s profiles were, I pulled the trigger pretty quickly.

Then, I was really impressed by how smooth the onboarding process was. Plato’s customer success team was really caring and willing to receive feedback. They have worked hard to find me an awesome long term mentor, Matt Tucker, CEO and co-founder at Koan. So that kept me around.

What concrete benefits have you noticed with Plato?

My long term mentor has been very valuable to me. We dive in really fast and we get to some actionable things really quickly. I have just to follow through. He is also awesome at reading people. Sometimes, I feel isolated in my role and he’s always here to cheer me up and shares stories I can relate to. I feel that he has been in my shoes and that’s helped me a lot.

I also really appreciate being able to speak to different mentors. It gives me different perspectives on the same issue.

Last but not least, I’ve benefited a lot from AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) sessions when you basically have a group discussion with a Mentor and several mentees. One I particularly remember was held by Brett Huff, engineering manager at Trello, about why managers don’t need to know everything that their reports know. He has such a presence and his insights were eye-opening. I had an incredible time!

What other things are you doing to further develop your skills?

At Modern Message, we have an annual budget for participating in conferences which is a great way to meet new people in the tech scene. We also have a monthly budget to buy books and broaden your knowledge.

Based on your experience, what advice do you have for other leaders such as yourself?

Pay attention to cultural fit and empathy. When interviewing a candidate, it is really important to assess those two traits because it’s what makes a hire successful in their job later on.

Ask specific questions when interviewing a remote candidate. How do you communicate?

Have you done this before? How do you document a meeting? How are you going to anticipate your daily work? Do you have a dedicated space to work in? Those are the most important questions for me to ask a candidate who’s applying for a remote position. Find your set of questions that fit the job and your culture.

What’s one leadership book you would suggest to leaders that had a profound impact on you?

I would definitely recommend the Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford. What I like about this book is that it’s about DevOps but in fact, it’s applicable to any process-driven organization.

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Curious about Plato? Here’s a bit more about us:
Plato is on a mission to help engineering + product leaders develop soft skills and build better teams. Plato does this through a powerful mentoring platform, where new leaders connect with seasoned professionals for 1–1 sessions, AMAs, and a comprehensive knowledge base.

Plato Mentors have extensive experience in management and come from top tech companies like Google, Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Netflix, and Spotify — among others.

Founded in 2017 by two French entrepreneurs, Quang Hoang, and Jean-Baptiste Coger who met while attending the prestigious ISAE-Supaero school of engineering, Plato is one of the fastest growing engineering + product mentoring platforms in the world.

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