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Genesis to Acquisition: Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder (Part 1)

Posted on Tuesday, Jan 2nd 2018

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.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Genesis to Acquisition: Mike Morris, CEO of Topcoder
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