Alumni Spotlight: Mike Calvo
Mike Calvo has been busy in the local tech scene, working at levels the Twin Cities has to offer, from large multi-national corporations to boutique startups. He currently leads teams in Target Digital developing e-commerce guest experiences for target.com, creating mobile apps and high scale APIs to enhance web experiences and optimize browsing, but before this, his work has brought him experience with some of the largest technological leaders in the world like 3M and Microsoft, working on such notable products as Internet Explorer, Visual Studio, and Expression Blend. He has stepped foot in nearly every corner of the local tech scene, having done consulting work for a variety of companies and going on to launch his own startup in 2013. Throughout all this, he found time in his busy professional life to also pursue his masters degree through the Master of Science in Software Engineering Program and going on to be one MSSE’s most dedicated and influential instructors and mentors.
What drew you to the software engineering field as opposed to other areas of computer science?
I’ve always been passionate about the delivery of software products. Software engineering goes beyond the programming (which I love) to include all the things required to ship software. Creating software is clearly a technical challenge but it’s also a people challenge. Getting groups of engineers, testers, designers, scrum masters and product owners to work together in a productive and collaborative manner is something that I’m passionate about. While best practices in Software Engineering have evolved since my time in the MSSE program, the foundations of what’s required haven’t (design, prioritization, testing, usability, planning, defining requirements, etc.).
What were your early experiences with computing that inspired you to pursue computer science and software engineering?
As a kid, my grandfather bought me a Commodore Vic 20 computer. It had an external tape drive and some games and programs that came with it. I found that after you loaded the program off the tape drive, you could list the program and actually make changes to it. It was the first time I understood the creative potential of computer programming. I spent countless hours in my bedroom making changes to games and writing simple programs teaching myself. I recall those days fondly. They still stick with me today as an early source of inspiration leading me to this field.
Tell us about the startup company you founded.
Mind Gamez was a company that was focused on bringing educational travel games to kids and families. It was based on the idea that kids have more fun visiting the world’s most famous museums and historical locations when they are engaged in a scavenger hunt to find things. My co-founder came up with the idea while traveling with his own family. We spent about 3 years developing, enhancing and promoting an app called History Hero. We developed scavenger hunts at 50 of some of the most travelled locations across Europe and North America. It was an incredible learning experience and one that I am grateful to have been a part of.
Tell us about returning to the MSSE program to teach. What inspired you to do so?
When I completed the MSSE program in 1999, I knew I wanted to stay involved with the University but wasn’t ready to launch into another degree. I reached out to Mats Heimdahl and Joe Konstan and asked them if they would be interested in graduates of the MSSE program to help out with curriculum or program development. To my pleasant surprise, Joe invited me to co-teach a course with him on user interface toolkits. I shared this course with him in 2000 and have been involved teaching courses and giving talks ever since.
Do you have any advice for current or future MSSE students who aspire to your career trajectory?
The biggest thing is being open to new things and opportunities. When I converted from being a contractor to full time at Target, I wasn’t completely sold on returning to life as an employee and manager at a major corporation. I came very close to passing on the opportunity. Because I took the attitude of "let’s see what this adventure brings," I put myself into a position where I had the opportunity to be part of transforming the tech culture at an iconic American company. It’s been a career highlight that almost didn’t happen because I was too comfortable in my role as a consultant. Move past your comfort zone and don’t stop trying new things.
What do you think about the tech landscape locally as compared to the coasts or other more well-known tech hubs?
The Twin Cities offers a seemingly limitless amount of variety of tech work at large corporations, mid-size companies as well as startups. The presence of tech industry stalwarts like Amazon, Oracle, Adobe and others shows that the talent locally is on par with that on the coasts. Non-software companies like Target, United Health Group and Medtronic are all recognizing the need to evolve and advance their software maturity creating an abundance of interesting, high-impact work. What I think many people appreciate in addition to the opportunities here is the lifestyle you can have in this metro area. Many people find the Twin Cities to be a better place to raise a family than places like Silicon Valley. We also have a vibrant and accessible food, arts, sports and outdoor recreation scene here. When you add the outstanding local education options like our excellent public schools and world class universities like the University of Minnesota it’s a pretty compelling story for anyone interested in moving here in the software industry.
What in the tech industry has you most excited or motivated about the future?
There’s an opportunity to make our industry stronger by being more inclusive. The industry is looking for ways to welcome more women and people of diverse economic background into our field. I am excited to be part of this. I look forward to the benefits this diversity will bring to our field in the form of new ideas and perspectives that will fuel innovation.