Cloud Brigade CEO Chris Miller spoke with Lookout about being involved in the early stages of tech, running a small technology business and how students can break into this industry.
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Chris Miller is an entrepreneur and CEO of Cloud Brigade, located on Cooper Street in Santa Cruz. Miller began his technology career in July 1996, working part-time at a startup internet service provider in Santa Clara, formerly called NetGate Internet, now iStrata. At the same time, Miller also worked full-time as an automotive mechanic.
Miller eventually quit his mechanic job and became a full-time contractor at Sun Microsystems in 1996 while still working at iStrata. He left Sun Microsystems in 1998 to work full-time at iStrata as a systems administrator. After nine years there, Miller decided to go out on his own, and opened Cloud Brigade in 2005.
Being an entrepreneur means wearing a lot of hats, Miller says. He describes the tech industry as a “hamster wheel that always keeps going.” Not just a CEO, Miller takes on any tasks or jobs that need to be completed. His job is to create technical solutions for companies, but Miller is proudest of his impact on the community. That impact includes connecting with high schools and colleges to offer internship opportunities to students.
Outside of his work, Miller enjoys coding and spends a lot of his free time working on personal technical projects, such as building an application that takes all your health data from smart devices to easily track your dietary goals. Sometimes he involves interns on these side projects to build their skills. Besides his technical projects, Miller loves immersing himself in the Santa Cruz community, paddleboarding and bicycling.
Lookout: How did you become involved in the tech industry?
Chris Miller: Out of high school, I was a mechanic, and worked at that job for 10 years. As a mechanic, you’re working with the craft of troubleshooting, and the process of troubleshooting carried directly over to my contractor job. What also helped was that I took computer classes in junior high and high school.
Before I began working in tech, I took two college courses at De Anza College back to back. I wanted to begin to build my résumé, so I looked for an entry-level position and began working part-time at the internet service hosting provider in 1996. I was still working as a mechanic, so I worked from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., then from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. working at the internet service provider.
December of 1996, I quit working as a mechanic and took a full-time job at Sun Microsystems. My brother worked on the same team, which got me an interview but didn’t get me the job. The people who interviewed me didn’t want to hire me, but I advocated for myself and they gave me a shot.
When I got hired at Sun Microsystems, I continued to work at the internet service provider and still had crazy hours. But I was learning two different sides of tech: Sun Microsystems was the corporate enterprise and IT side of things, whereas the internet service provider was more of a scrappy startup and open-source software.
After a year of working at Sun Microsystems, I left to work full-time at the internet service provider as a systems administrator. This job lent me free time that I wasn’t used to, so I took that time to self-teach. Then in 2005, I left my job at the internet service provider to open up my business, Cloud Brigade.
Lookout: What does your company do?
Miller: We create technical solutions. In business, everybody, on some level, is trying to do more with less. What we do is look for opportunities to use technology to automate processes that are being done by hand. This gives time back to business owners to focus on things that computers can’t do well. Another thing we do is help founders achieve their dreams by being a technical team that can build and implement software solutions that the founder created.
Lookout: What does a typical day on the job look like for you?
Miller: We meet with our team every day. We have a stand-up meeting every morning with the team to check in with them to see what kind of blocks they have. I’m in meetings most of the day, making sales calls, doing working calls for existing clients and meeting with team members.
Lookout: Are there any specific requirements for your job?
Miller: We’re at a place where people should have a core technical skill or direction, such as software development or IT technical knowledge. We all need to be generalists. Your knowledge and abilities should go beyond your subject of focus. This will allow you to pivot any time in your career without having to start over. It also takes a special set of qualities, not qualifications. You need to be committed to being a lifelong learner. You need to learn how to work smarter and not harder. There are lots of things you have to learn along the way. You should be able to be one-third entrepreneur, one-third technical person and one-third business person.
Lookout: What type of person is best suited for this type of job?
Miller: A crazy person. You have to be able to handle uncertainty; this job isn’t for everyone. A really big skill you should have is conflict resolution — a lot of this job is resolving conflict. You have to take initiative and be able to maintain communications.
Lookout: What is the proudest impact that you’ve seen?
Miller: The biggest impact would have to be curating talent and setting up people for success. I remember when I first started the company, the first 10 employees were interns. I took them under my wing and began to train them. Aside from people who have been interns, I love working with the colleges to foster more support. We work with people from UCSC, Cabrillo and the county through offering internships.
Lookout: How can students get involved in these programs?
Miller: What is available changes year to year. Previously we had training programs, along with teaching people technical literacy for five years. We will announce internships on the website and promote through campus. While there are currently no internships, you can still access updates at https://www.cloudbrigade.com.
What advice would you give a new graduate or career-switcher interested in pursuing this job?
Miller: Early on in your journey you should make sure you have options. You want to engage in community and work with people who you can lean on. The most important thing is networking. Never burn bridges, never discount a relationship and be generous with your knowledge.
Lookout: What can someone do to stand out in this field?
Miller: Trust is a key thing when selling to a customer. A customer should know they can understand what the person is saying. You should be able to complete the things you agreed to do, even if it costs you money. As you go through building your business you can misjudge things and miss out on connections. You have to walk the walk and you have to be accountable.