Built in Austin

CTOs You Should Know: Aaron Allsbrook, Clearblade

September 1, 2015

ClearBlade’s platform helps companies connect the old with the new. The Austin-based company assists corporations in integrating their old data and technology with new advancements like mobile apps. CTO Aaron Allsbrook leads the technology team at Clearblade, bringing experience from IBM and a thirst for IoT. Built In Austin caught up with Allsbrook to learn more about what’s powering Clearblade’s technology today.

What technologies power your business?

ClearBlade is an Enterprise Platform that powers the backend of Mobile and IoT. We use GoLang, Postgresql and Nginx as our core technologies. We provide SDKs in Objective C, Android, Java, NodeJS, Cordova, Javascript, and GoLang. We use Atlassian products for our Agile process, source management and communication. We leverage Jenkins for continuous integration, Ansible for deployments and Nagios for our cloud monitoring. We use leverage cloud instances within RackSpace, Google, Amazon, Softlayer and DigitalOcean. On premise, we install on many x86 64-bit architectures (physical or virtualized). We target many distributions of Linux including Debian, SUSE, and RedHat. Lastly, our platform uses MQTT, an open standards messaging protocol that is now the most popular protocol for IoT communication.

What technologies are playing the biggest roles at ClearBlade this year?

GoLang is the biggest, most important technology for us. Its ability to provide amazing performance while also being very simple to deploy has been critical to our products success and competitive differentiation. The second most important technology for ClearBlade is MQTT as a standard for IoT. ClearBlade has built a broker from the ground up that complies with the complete specification while adding horizontal scaling and an oAuth security model.

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

The ClearBlade Platform v2 launches on September 8, 2015. We have been singularly focused on this launch for 8 months and it represents a huge leap forward in capability, performance and simplicity of use. Powerful features like timers and triggers will allow for large enterprises to greatly simplify their devops, while also continuing to leverage their existing systems of record to reach Mobile and IoT clients.

What are the biggest technology challenges you’ve faced in the past? How did you overcome them?

ClearBlade’s value of a single, run anywhere platform that provides security best practices, along with “NetFlix”-type scalable architecture, is an extreme challenge. This includes a large amount of research and expertise and avoiding typical developer shortcuts that result in performance/scalability issues or security vulnerabilities.

The need to design and create security models for IoT that complement oAuth and other best practices.

The capability to allow developers to write and execute custom code in a co-tenanted / secure model that can integrate with many legacy systems. In our case this involved creating a highly performant bridge between a c-based javascript interpreter and GoLang.

What trends do you see happening in IoT over the next three years? How are you driving those trends? Although IoT will remain popular with consumers it will experience its true growth in the enterprise. Industrial process will add quality control, utilities will implement asset management, factories will have complete manufacturing traceability, and smarter hospitals will increase performance and improve outcomes. ROI in these environments is easily calculable in terms of real dollars, and not just novelty. These initiatives will not be isolated, they will require new backend systems that are capable of communicating with devices, smartphones, web, and existing systems. ClearBlade provides the ability to do this securely at scale. Companies that use ClearBlade will get their solutions to production faster.

What are lessons you’ve learned about working in Austin that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

Austin provides a huge value for entrepreneurship in the form of a vibrant community of ideas, leaders, inspiration and willingness to reject the status quo. The core lessons I have learned:

Enjoy the moment – The mentors with success stories are numerous, but in every case they all look back to a small team working on a hard problem as the best of times.

Build the right thing – As an entrepreneur its tempting to think about exits and fund raising… as a CTO its my job to ignore shortcuts to those events and instead focus on making the right technical choices for our customers and product offering.

Its about the team – When things get hard it’s the team that will rise to the challenge and produce amazing things. Supporting the team and building the team is priority 1. Even when people move onto new challenges they are your allies by validating features, becoming customers, and building market awareness.

Austin is known for having a large talent pool of thirsty, young workers. What are the top characteristics you look for in a potential hire?

While Austin has a ton of talent that is in high demand ClearBlade is looking for very unique backend developers. The two characteristics I look for are:

Inspired by the hardest type of software development. At ClearBlade we build the hidden 80%, least glamorous, most grueling part of an app or web which is the secure scalable backend. A potential hire must have the patience for building such a beast and love the associated challenge. It goes without saying that person needs staying power to hang on and keep pushing with the team when things are hard.

Passion to learn the latest and legacy. We have made some fantastic choices on GoLang and MQTT. Those technologies are much more popular today than when we started years ago; but very often the job requires that a developer learn a new language or protocol that might be outside of their comfort zone. Additionally, we believe strongly in the need to integrate with the often ignored and underserved legacy systems. Integrations with these systems has meant we rolled our own Javascript SOAP clients, remotely called RPG or built raw socket communication to OPC protocol which can be challenge not everyone wants to take on.

How would your team describe working with you?

The biggest thing I hope to achieve as a CTO is a willingness to be all in with the team – to push hard with them, to make mistakes with them, and to learn with them.

What else do you want the Austin startup community to know about Clearblade’s technologies?

The nature of being a startup is that you are the little guy – whether you are competing with enterprise software from IBM or social interactions at Facebook. We have created a startup program available for companies locally that want to build unique solutions as quickly as possible. Our hope is that the best practices we have built for the enterprise also become a differentiator for Austin startups facing their own challenges.

Have a tip for us or want to recommend a CTO for this series? Email us via tips@builtin.com.

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