Wade Minter wears many hats, and that has nothing to do with the fact that he has no hair. (Full disclosure: he shaves his scalp admirably clean, rather than clinging to the past like the transcriber of this piece.) Minter has spent nearly two decades working as a software developer and engineering manager at tech companies, and is currently the CTO of Custom Communications Inc. in Garner. And we at GrepBeat certainly want to hear about that. But we have a feeling that his distinguished career as a tech team leader isn’t the first thing he’s asked about at cocktail parties. Or the second, or the third.
Instead, it’s what Minter does in his spare time that sets him apart — far apart — from the typical CTO. Well, let’s just hear it from him:
Q. How did a software developer end up as the P.A. voice of the Carolina Hurricanes?
A. The short answer is “I auditioned.”
The long answer is that my main school activity in high school was Forensics – not the crime scene investigations, but the public speaking activities. So I trained myself to get comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Then I picked up ComedySportz-style improv in the late 90s, and spent a lot of that time as the Announcer character in the show. I started doing professional wrestling ring announcing with GOUGE Wrestling about seven years ago, and started calling games for NC State ice hockey about four years ago. In October of 2015, all of my extra-curricular activities came together at the time that the Canes were looking for a new announcer!
Q. What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever had the chance to say as the Hurricanes PA announcer?
A. I got to announce a “Fat Trick” over the mic.
So for non-hockey-fans, a Hat Trick is when a player scores three goals in a game. Last season, the Hurricanes had three different food promotions: A Bojangles Bo-Berry biscuit for a power-play goal, 50% off Papa Johns for the team scoring three or more goals, and free Moe’s queso if Justin Faulk scored a goal.
On Feb. 13, 2018, Justin Faulk scored a power-play goal to make the score 3-0 Carolina, thereby activating all three food promotions on one shot. Or, as I called it over the mic, the “Fat Trick”! It was a spur-of-the-moment improv decision to announce it over the mic, but the crowd loved it.
Q. What have you learned from doing improv for 20+ years that helps you lead tech teams?
A. Active listening is one key thing. We, as humans, tend to stop listening to other people after about the fifth word or so. We start then formulating what we’re going to say in response. So people just start talking over each other. People who have been in meetings with developers are probably nodding in agreement right now. Improv teaches you to fully listen to what other people are saying — it’s really where the magic of a scene comes from. So by using that skill and teaching it to my team, we can have much more efficient conversations because everyone is actually listening to what their teammates are saying.
Beyond that, just the ability to slow down and stay calm when everything’s burning down. In improv, you learn to trust yourself to make good decisions and iterate quickly when you don’t. So when the site’s down or people are throwing conflicting requests at you, improv teaches that you can remain calm, reducing the chance that you panic and make things worse.
Q. You’ve spent much of your career as a manager of engineers. You also spent a year not long ago as a product manager. How do you compare the two roles?
A. My take on it, after having performed both roles, is that an engineering leader has moderate-to-high responsibility, and also high authority. A product manager has very high responsibility, and almost no authority.
So an engineering manager is given a team, department, company, what have you, and a mission to accomplish. And, within the bounds of their level in the organization, has a high degree of authority to make changes in order to succeed in that mission. They can hire, fire, reorganize, and take those sorts of direct actions to control their own destiny.
A product manager has an extremely high responsibility on their shoulders – the company looks to them to ensure that high-quality products get shipped to customers. It’s generally a very visible role to the company. But (in many organizational structures) they have nearly no direct authority to get anyone to do anything. They have to sell the vision, cajole, use soft power and influence, but if the people building the product are doing so in a way that won’t lead to success, there’s not much they can do directly.
The thing that I learned during my time in product management is that I need my level of responsibility and level of authority to be pretty much equal if I’m going to be happy. Give me a big problem to solve, awesome! But I’ll also need the ability to structure things in a way that gives me the best chance of success.
Really, what I learned was that I wasn’t a very good product manager.
Q. What gets more physical: NHL players fighting for a loose puck in the corner, or engineers fighting over the last LaCroix?
A. Engineers tend to be more subtle, psychological, and vindictive over the fizzy beverages — it’d be much more likely for them to sabotage the email account of the person who drank the last LaCroix than to get physical.
In the NHL, two players will beat the tar out of each other on the ice, go to their respective penalty boxes, and laugh with each other about the punches each one threw. They hold few grudges.
Q. What is one thing that you wish more non-technical CEOs knew about how to get the best out of a development team or process?
A. From my perspective as an engineering leader, the biggest thing is that software development is a creative, artistic exercise. And, as such, the developers need to work in a high-trust environment that allows them to understand the business and develop creative solutions. I’ve found that my dev teams don’t really clamor for free beer, ping pong, open office plans (especially not open office plans), or the other perks that you frequently see on job postings. Instead, they want the ability to focus, the freedom to work with their team on a creative solution to a problem, guidance to avoid building the wrong thing, and flexibility to be able to work when they’re most creative and check out when they’re mentally not there.
I’ve seen (and worked in) some very low-trust environments, and it’s brutal on a dev team. So I run my teams in a very high-trust environment, and people seem to enjoy working with me.
Q. What is the bitterest feud: Montagues vs. Capulets, Tabs vs. Spaces (in programming code), or ComedySportz vs. ComedyWorx (improv)?
A. The Shakespearean feud had a higher body count, and Tabs vs. Spaces has burned a higher character count in blog posts, but the schism between ComedySportz and ComedyWorx makes me the saddest.
Q. You’ve worked for some locally based startups (like Adwerx), but more often for companies headquartered elsewhere. What challenges come with managing remote teams and/or working in a branch office?
A. With remote teams, communication is job number one. If you fail there, good luck; you’re not going to succeed. You have to get everyone in the habit of communicating in a standard, shared way. If information starts getting transferred in hallway conversations instead of Slack and Github, you will fail.
This is especially magnified when you have a semi-remote team: One (or more) central offices, and a portion of the team working remotely. In that case, you need to train the in-office team to work as if they were remote – put things in Slack even if you’re right next to the person you’re talking to, for example. It seems counterproductive, but you don’t want to get into a situation where the office team are the “haves” and the remote team is the “have-nots.” At TeamSnap, we built a really good culture that could absorb both co-located team members as well as a far-flung network of remote folks.
Many companies that try remote attempt to treat it (and their communications) the same as they would do for an in-office team. Then it fails, and they blame the “remote work” part of it, instead of their inability to recognize the management and communication changes needed to make remote succeed.
Q. Please list all family members who have won at least five figures on a TV game show.
A. Barring any third cousins twice removed on my mom’s side that I haven’t met, there’s only one. My oldest daughter Hayley, currently a sophomore at Raleigh’s Enloe High School, won $20,000 on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. She did a great job on TV, and her plus-one was absolutely no help. Her plus-one also looks a lot like me.
She wasn’t really happy when I told her that, at today’s rates, she’d paid for just one semester of college.
Q. What item in your bio — whether personal or professional — would most have surprised 10-year-old Wade?
A. The 10-year-old me would probably be unsurprised that he was out in front of people doing public speaking and making jokes. And he was a big enough nerd on his IBM PCjr that a career in technology would be expected.
But he never would have believed that one day, he would be featured on ESPN SportsCenter and in national sports news for scoring a goal in an ice hockey game. Especially because he was 1) Extremely unathletic, 2) Living in the tobacco fields of southern Virginia and had never had on ice skates, and 3) Wouldn’t find out that hockey was a sport until he went to college.
Yet there I was, in the 2016 Carolina Hurricanes Alumni Fantasy Game, scoring a goal off of a pass from Canes legend Glen Wesley, then skating over to my mic and announcing my own goal to the crowd. Apparently that went a little viral.
I lead a weird life.