A Peek Under the Hood: An Interview with Aaron Brongersma, VP of Engineering at NaviStone

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Aaron Brongersma joined the NaviStone team in January 2018 as the Vice President of Engineering. His role includes managing product development, internal tools and DevOps engineering teams. This week’s blog takes a peek into the opportunities and challenges Aaron is faced with in his new role and what he predicts will happen for tech entrepreneurs in 2018.

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A Peek Under the Hood: An Interview with Aaron Brongersma, VP of Engineering at NaviStone

Q: Aaron, in a few sentences can you sum up your experience prior to NaviStone?

I’ve worked for large, publicly traded companies and small, focused startups. I got my start in IT as a Linux Systems Administrator. As the Cloud became more prevalent, my focus shifted to DevOps and software development. Most recently I’ve been managing infrastructure and software development teams.

Q: Can you recall the moment you felt most inspired to pursue a career in engineering management?

I was on an infrastructure team that battled with the development team constantly. Neither side could agree on a consistent release cycle. There was frustration when deployments didn’t go according to plan. In hindsight it’s because both teams had conflicting directives. Infrastructure was charged with increasing reliability and uptime, while development was measured by the number of new features they shipped. That’s when I put on the management hat. My responsibility as a manager is to make sure that all teams involved in the software development process are working towards the same end goal. 

Q: Why NaviStone?

Potential. Technology. Culture. NaviStone has the potential to change the way that brands interact with potential buyers. The current state of digital advertising is a mess. Social influencer programs are difficult to track ROI. Social media ads are in a constant battle with the limited attention span of viewers. Direct mail provides an excellent medium to communicate to potential buyers without interfering with their web browsing experiences.

The technology that powers NaviStone is exciting. There’s a combination of reliable industry standard tools and bleeding edge data processing tools. I’m looking forward to adding some new tools that enable new product features and business opportunities.

Startups often talk about their culture but fail to deliver past the office beer keg or the foosball table. NaviStone has just the right balance of empathy, responsibility, growth and fun.

Q: What does success look like for your role at NaviStone?

My goal is to transform engineering from being a bottleneck to becoming a force multiplier. Improving the software development process lifecycle to improve reliability, time to market, and visibility throughout the entire organization. I want to make more product and engineering decisions based on data while creating a team culture that fosters growth and challenges existing norms.

Q: NaviStone is a data-driven marketing firm. When people see the word “data”, they immediately think about privacy. What is NaviStone doing from a technology perspective to protect consumer data? 

First, we limit the scope of data that we collect. NaviStone does not collect or store personal information. The data collected is anonymized clickstream activity that is encrypted in transit to and from our servers, preventing it from being shared with unauthorized parties. Data is stored safely inside of our tightly controlled cloud environment, where we actively monitor server access, firewall security and operating system vulnerabilities to keep our data safe and secure. We enforce a number of policies that limit the scope of data our employees are able to access in our cloud environment.

Q: What’s the greatest opportunity you see for engineers in the marketing technology space?

Most of the tools used throughout the space are open source and have become somewhat of an industry standard. If the product streams data then you’ll likely be using Kafka. If you’re processing data then it could use Hadoop or Spark. Each new tool you’re exposed to provides you with another building block. It’s incredible how these tools work together to build a foundation for data ingestion and processing. You no longer need to build everything from scratch.

Q: If you had a list of “best-kept-secrets” (websites, books, coaches) you’d recommend, which would you recommend?

I spend too much time browsing https://news.ycombinator.com/. I love the depth of discussion in the comments.

If I’m driving I’m probably listing to https://hbr.org/2018/01/podcast-ideacast or https://a16z.com/podcasts/. One of my favorite episodes covers when to hire a VP of Product and how long it takes to realize the impact to the business.

Q: What do you think will be the next big change in technology for marketing?

I believe that the next big push in the data-driven marketing space will be for more real-time behavioral analytics. It’s fairly common for this information to be processed daily. I see a huge opportunity for companies that can make decisions when buyers are currently browsing the site. When you provide a truly personalized shopping experience with real-time recommendations based off of the buyer’s past and present behavior, the possibilities are endless.

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