Mike founded Topcoder, then left and joined Appirio. Appirio acquired Topcoder. Wipro then acquired both Appirio and Topcoder. Very interesting storyline.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Mike Morris: I was born in a town outside of Boston and grew up in a fairly large family. I’m the youngest of seven and went to Catholic schools for the majority of my life. I went to Boston College High School and I continued on into Boston College. I played sports my entire life. I got into two fields of interests. One was physics and the other was computers. I had an older brother who was pretty much a mentor to me.
He had always said to me, “Be thinking about computers.” So computers was always at the back of my mind. At Boston College, I was a Physics major the first two years. My brother already had his Master’s in Computer Science. He was out in Silicon Valley. He succeeded in convincing me that I should move over to Computer Science. I graduated BC with an Arts and Science degree in Computer Science.
Sramana Mitra: When did you come out of college?
Mike Morris: 1997.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do right after you graduated?
Mike Morris: I had worked for a software company Marcam Solutions throughout my senior year and I just kept on working there. They built a MRP product. When I graduated, I expected this big shift. I was like, “What do I work on now?” I was told, “You keep on working on what you’ve been doing.” I asked, “What about when that’s done?” The answer was, “We do the next version.”
I, all of a sudden, realized that this was not something I wanted to do. I was a developer, so I was working on whatever piece of code they gave me. I had interviewed in a lot of companies while I was in BC that I didn’t decide to go to. I went back to one of them that really stuck in my mind. It had a good culture. It was a company called Tallan and was a very technical consulting company.
What drew me to that was I realized I was building the same thing in this other job and as my career advances, there might be other things I work on but not drastically different, so traveling, working on different industries, and different projects was something I wanted. So I started working for them as a software developer.
Sramana Mitra: For how long did this next stint go on?
Mike Morris: About three and a half or four years.
Sramana Mitra: What year?
Mike Morris: In 2000, Tallan was sold at the height of the Internet bubble. It was sold to CMGI for a pretty good amount. Tallan had around 625 people. When I joined, there were 80 people. It was a very interesting experience for me. I moved up the ladder fairly fast. My advice to people is to always be careful of that because ambition can bite you. I had my brother always chirping in my ear, “Don’t stop being technical. Don’t forget that that’s what’s getting you to where you are today.”
I tried to keep that. I went from Developer, to Architect, to Project Manager, to Director, to Vice President running the Pacific Northwest of Tallan. That was all within four years. I did try to always stay technical and current. I learned on my own. Even though I might not be coding every day, I can learn from the people who are coding every day and keep that technical edge. I made it a point in my early career not to lose that. That would be the summary of my experience at Tallan.