Five Questions With... Stephen Atwell

It's time again for Four, wait no, Five Questions with one of our unsung heroes here at Apptio. This week, we pose questions to Application Architect, Stephen Atwell:


Name: Stephen Atwell

Title: Applications Architect

Previously Worked at: HP, Opsware, IConclude, Wing-It Productions, The Museum of Flight, Seattle Public Schools  

What do you do at Apptio? As the Application Architect, I’m responsible for Apptio’s applications technical strategy. I’ve designed and built the first versions of many of Apptio’s applications, and work closely with the Applications Engineering team to ensure that we are building new features and functionality into our applications in ways that will support each application’s long term goals. 

Most challenging project you've worked on at Apptio? That’s a tough one. When I started here, there was almost no idea what the applications team (then called the templates team) would be doing. Everyone knew we needed some form of reusable product that could be sold on our platform. Figuring out how to build apps, and how to make them valuable to our customers was definitely a challenge. The most challenging application to architect was definitely Apptio’s Demand & Resource Planning application. This application is unlike anything I’ve seen any other company do, and it flips a lot of Apptio’s traditional technology upside down (literally). I distinctly remember that when working on D&RP was the first time in my life I’ve ever wished a particular mathematical law didn’t exist…

What inspires you? While I’m inspired by many things, some of my oldest inspiration comes from Star Trek. Star Trek filled me with several notions that have gotten me where I am today. It motivated me to view technology as a way to improve the world; to make somebody else’s life easier. A lot of the products the applications team has built do this. I remember when I was talking to our first ever budgeting customer, the head of IT Finance discussing how much better Apptio had made his life. He explained how they used to send out spreadsheets to all the various budget managers, and then IT Finance would manually merge them, and do weeks of manual number-crunching in order to answer the questions that the CIO had about the budget. With Apptio, this time consuming function was automated, enabling his team to focus on improving how IT was being run, instead of just trying to answer questions. When he answered this I knew Apptio was the right place to drive forward that silly life-goal I picked up from Star Trek – finding a way to change the world for the better. Anytime we start on a new application, I try to think how it’s going to make someone’s life easier. I research what they’re doing, and try to understand their goals, and the challenges that are hindering them. I try to put myself in the end users shoes, I try to feel, and sympathize with their pain. Then, I start thinking about how we make that pain go away. 

What technology company do you most admire? I’m not sure it qualifies as a company, but I’d still have to say NASA. They've really done some amazing things. While they set out to explore, getting there required them to build a lot of the most innovative technologies of the twentieth century. They opened our eyes, and our minds to whole new realms of exploration. On the way, they made life better here on earth. Without NASA, I think computing would be at a 1980s level today. I doubt I would have scratch resistant lenses, and I know I would never have gotten to watch a shuttle launch. While I’m excited by the privatization for the space industry, I worry about what it may mean for the future of the most innovative organization I know of.

Little known fact about you? I can't pick just one, so I’m giving two. Fact number 1: when I’m not at Apptio, I enjoy stage managing for a local improvisational theater called wing-it productions. Fact number 2: I’m currently building a sailing rig in my garage that I plan to attach to my inflatable kayak. Most of my friends think I will either pop the inflatable on a splinter, or flip the kayak in the wind, and sink to the bottom of the lake… My current theory is that the mast is going to snap in two. But with a little bit of luck…