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Serial technologist comes home to PowerChord

Margie Manning

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John Adams

As chief technology officer at PowerChord, John Adams serves as a key link between the technology and business operations at the St. Petersburg software firm.

It’s a role he’s grown into over the course of his career and life experiences. He got started in programming as a child, by working on a project to impress his older brother. In his first job, he automated key tasks for engineers at Raymond James.

He’s worked at PowerChord on and off since 2010, initially as a senior application architect, then a senior software architect and director of engineering, before his current job as CTO. In between those jobs at PowerChord, he worked for Bringhub which was invested in by Forbes/IAM, as well as American Express and Triad in St. Petersburg.

He returned in November to PowerChord, a software-as-a-service company that creates brand-specific websites for its clients, which are companies that have hundreds or thousands of dealer distributors or franchisees. Those websites become “digital storefronts” that help manufacturers protect their brand, engage customers and grow local revenue, while giving independent dealers the ability to compete against large, online retailers.

“Power Chord is in a good position to optimize local marketing. There’s a lot of companies and big brands out there that operate through independent sales channels, and what we’ve found is that established marketing solutions don’t address their needs. By leveraging local marketing as well as scalable technology, we’re hoping to solve those problems for those brands,” Adams said.

The St. Pete Catalyst talked with Adams about his career moves.

You’ve worked at PowerChord, left and come back several times. Why?

PowerChord has been one of those companies where I admire the leadership and the people, and where I’ve made a lot of great connections. But I’m a serial startup guy, a serial technologist. I tend to try to kick off new things. For the last four years, I was at a different startup doing distributed commerce and building a contextual advertising network for the Forbes Media Group. It was exciting, but I felt PowerChord is the only company I want to work for in St. Pete. The culture is great, the technology is great, the people are approachable.

I try not to burn down any bridges. I’m planning on staying here for quite some time. It allows me to stay technical and stay close to the code while being a CTO and providing engineering leadership and technical strategy for the company.

What’s involved in your day-to-day work at PowerChord?

I like to think of myself as a servant of my team, making sure my engineers are taken care of and they have everything they need. If there’s a roadblock or something crazy going on, I can solve it for them. I’m just trying to be more of their servant, their employer.

The same thing on the business side, making sure that if the business has opportunities I can make my team and our product department’s strategy align with the company’s overall goals.

Day to day, I definitely have more meetings than I’d like to, and I definitely will write less code than I’d like to, but  I still find time to keep abreast with new disruptive technologies.

What kind of skills are required to straddle both the business and technology parts of your job?

I can talk to people. I’m more of a social butterfly than most engineers. I like talking to people. I love trying to convey things that are overly technical in simpler terms. It’s being able to read your audience, knowing when to be overly technical and when to water it down a bit, just talk about general principles that most people get. Try not to be the smartest guy in the room. Be humble and willing to learn. There’s quite a few things I know and quite a lot I don’t know, and just listening is probably key.

What education helped you did prepare for your job?

I went to school for physics. I actually didn’t finish my degree. I got an internship at Raymond James. While there, I realized I needed a job and I wanted to keep that job, so I went around and started talking to all the engineers and found out what aspects of their jobs they didn’t like and then I automated them. So if I could take over a job and automate it for them, then I became irreplaceable. That was the start.

I always had been coding as a kid, always playing with tech, but not in a professional environment until Raymond James. I got the opportunity to join the trading systems team there, and I learned a lot from people who had been doing this for years. It was a great way to cut my teeth on high-performance. systems.

After Raymond James, I went into consulting. I was exposed to a wide breadth of different industries and technologies. I think the biggest thing was just always trying to learn, every day to learn something new. I never went for a formal education, but I made sure that before I do something I don’t assume I know the way. I try to look at a couple of different ways of doing it, best case scenario, you learn a better way. Worst case scenario, you have learned a way not to do something.

I don’t think going to school for this would have helped me. Well, probably on the management side, learning how to work with people. But even then it’s treating people like human beings, and trying to be a better person every day is my goal and it seems to be working.

How did you get involved with technology? What was your first tech device?

My parents made a point of having a computer in the house. I was born in 1982 so I remember life without computers everywhere but I was introduced to them early enough that I wasn’t scared off.

My parents had me on Math Blaster and things like that, always interacting with the computer.  I wanted to make things work a certain way, so I wrote a couple of little games when I was younger. Eventually, my brother annoyed me, so I wrote a script so when his machine would start up, it would drop sheep across the screen, continuously generating sheep. He thought it was amazing and hilarious and he couldn’t figure out how to do it. It was the first thing where I was like, this is something I could be interested in doing.

I was more interested in science going into college, but in the end I had an opportunity to get a job at Raymond James and it made sense at the time.

Where did you grow up?

I was an Army brat. I was born in Vicenza, Italy, then I lived for six years in Germany, then Maryland and Missouri.

Why St. Pete?

It’s been my wife’s home for a long time. It’s a great environment. It’s progressive. There’s a good mix of people from New York, from Chicago. My last startup was out of Los Angeles, but most of our development happened here in St. Pete. It’s a very cool city, it’s not overly stuck up, it has that cool beach, laid-back vibe and checks a lot of the boxes. And it’s getting better. You are seeing more companies come here and you’re seeing more interest.

What gets you into the office every day?

The people. I get to work with people who I truly respect and care about. Some of my engineers have been with me at three companies. I get to be creative, I get to solve problems, I get to learn  something new every day and I get to be around people I admire and respect.

Who are your mentors in the industry?

I’m a Golang fanatic.

What is that?

It’s a language that came out of Google, a systems language for people who aren’t systems engineers. It’s super easy to write and you can do crazy scalable things with it. A couple of people in this market —  Brian Ketelsen, Erik St. Martin, Rob Pike — these are all people I admire.

Also Marcin Zukowski. He’s not a Go guy, but he’s the cofounder of Snowflake, which is probably my favorite  tech now. Snowflake is a  data warehouse built for the cloud. It’s amazing scalable technology that we use here.

What blog or podcast keeps you motivated or up to speed in your job?

The Go Time Podcast and the Startup Chat from Hiten Shah and Steli Efti.

What is your favorite tech gadget?

My kids and I play a lot of VR so I’ve been doing more and more with  my HTC Vive, virtual reality system. And I like cross-stitching, too.

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