TechBrew: Linc Kroeger on Pillar Technology, The Forge and video games

One Des Moines tech executive announced his love for video games Friday morning during the Technology Association of Iowa’s monthly, “TechBrew AM.”

On the second Friday of each month, the Technology Association of Iowa hosts a networking event at West End Architectural Salvage in downtown Des Moines with a Q&A between a local tech executive and Brian Waller, President of the Technology Association of Iowa.

Linc Kroeger—Vanguard of Future Ready Iowa at Pillar Technology—explained what’s going on at Pillar Technology, The Forge and tech in rural Iowa.

At the end of each conversation, Waller presents each guest with a vinyl record of their choice. Kroeger selected the 1983 Yes album 9015.

Their conversation is below; It has been edited for conciseness:

For previous TechBrew guests, click here:

What were you doing in 1983 when this album came out?

LK: I was in high school…Independence, Iowa which is northeast.

Talk about leaving high school, heading to college and where was that…

LK: The 80’s in northeast Iowa were dismal, Dubuque was the highest unemployment in the country, 24 percent. There was really nothing in Iowa and I knew when I graduated high school in 1986, I was a ‘techie’ so I knew I was either going to go to college and go into debt or do the military and the GI bill. It took me 15 years to get my computer science degree.

But I had to leave Iowa because there was really nothing in tech. I had a great education but there were no jobs.

So you left Iowa and went where?

LK: The Air Force, it was a great experience. I worked as a software developer, lots of technologies. I never touched an Air Force plane, it was pure technology my whole time in.

Graduating in 1986, what type of educational programming did you have back then?

LK: There were two basic programming classes: beginning and advanced, that was it. And sadly enough I recently visited the school and that was more than they have today, 32 years later. The computer science of actually writing software was probably more developed than it is now in a lot of the rural Iowa areas.

Growing up what were you tinkering with as a young kid?

LK: Super socially awkward then, I was super introverted. So it was video games and music. That was pretty much life.

In the IT world a lot you see a lot of the same stories, where socially awkward people self-identify and overcome that. Talk about that journey…

LK: I came up through the ranks of software developer, computer science and spent a lot of time doing that. After the military, I went to a software company.

My dad worked for John Deere his whole life. He was very strong union and very anti-management. I always growing up heard people with briefcases rob more people than people with guns. So I always had this bias that management was bad and the companies I was working for kept trying to bring me into management and I was like no way, I’m not going there. It’s a moral thing.

Then I helped hire this individual to run a team and thought, they suck at this. The people need hate jobs, and I was like I’m going to do it and can’t do worse than they did.

But I was still very introverted.

So I did this presentation to a CEO of a $4 billion company and my CIO said I’ll never do that again until I go through this development. So I was fortunate to have somebody invest in me. So progressively they kept having me speak, it just forced me into it.

So…Pillar Technology, what is it?

LK: Pillar is a company that solves business problems with technology or people, and creates products. Software products themselves.

And The Forge…when did it open and talk about the philosophy

LK: The Forge was developed for really two reasons: Companies weren’t getting their technology problems solved and we said capacity is not the problem, we looked at how to do it differently.

For example, the first philosophy of The Forge is, “Don’t Be Straight Thinking,” meaning when you enter to solve a problem, the first thing you say is, “Is there value if this gets done?” Because when you bring up an idea, people love change when it’s their idea. But we naturally have this sense of resistance to change. So we condition ourselves to say, is there value in that idea? If there is, what are the possibilities of that happening?

The second reason is Pillar use to have 40 percent turnover, which is really high when you are a premium technology company. So now we’re under eight percent and it’s because you create an environment people want to work in. They don’t look at a clock they just love what they do.

Anybody that wants a tour they can contact you for a behind the scenes look?

LK: We’re expanding into the bottom two-thirds behind Magnolia, we’re putting in a design thinking studio, commercial kitchen, so if you haven’t seen it recently you should stop by.

Coming back to Iowa, what was your impressions of the Iowa technology industry?

LK: Obviously Des Moines has flourished since I left in the 80’s, and I tried to get jobs in Iowa over the last 30 years. I love Des Moines, but home to me is northeast Iowa and just really, there’s still nothing there.

But Des Moines has done a phenomenal job and Cedar Rapids is really in the tech community now. Comparing and contrasting, I spend time out in San Francisco and Columbus, those are areas that are very leading edge, but Des Moines is definitely up and coming. It’s great to see all these companies that are really advancing in this area. It’s more insurance and finance-centric, so it’s much more risk-averse. It’s not like we’re in the areas of autonomous driving vehicles and major medical disruptions. The sexy-cool tech stuff we’re doing is mostly around precision ag in Iowa.

You are exploring putting a Forge in a rural Iowa community?

LK: It’s amazing that you invited me to speak today because yesterday we signed our first agreement with a rural community to open a Forge. And again you need to go visit to know what that is, but we will be opening our first Forge. I can’t say where—yet—but Governor Reynolds and Senator Grassley have agreed to do the unveiling in April.

If you think about what this means to a rural community, you can talk about money and say 50-75 tech jobs, but forming relationships with the community colleges. Having students go through that program whether it’s high school, after or people my age who choose to do a career transition.

We are going to have a 12-18 month academy to teach them software craftsmanship. Our goal is to have this be as free as possible, and it’s about a $30,000 program. At that point, they can work in that community doing technology.

21-22 years old, with no college debt, making $60,000 a year which is near the top 20 percent in rural Iowa. But growing up in rural Iowa, you have to leave because there is nothing there. I had to do the 15-year route because my family had no money, this is, besides economics, there’s a lot of really great things. I’ve visited many rural communities in Iowa, and they all want to do this. My goal is to do 20-30 in Iowa.

Advice to 18-year-old Linc as he drives to college?

LK: Should you go to college? Why are you going?

Favorite curse word?

LK: Corn

Favorite caffeinated beverage

LK: Coffee

Crash at a friends place or stay at a hotel?

LK: Easy, stay at a friends house.

Favorite word?

LK: Love

Least favorite word?

LK: Just

Comedy club or dance club?

LK: Video game room.

By the way, I have the best video game basement in the state of Iowa for anybody that likes video games; Dedicated 1,400 square feet, 14-foot screens.

What sound or noise do you love?

LK: Laughter

What sound do you hate?

LK: Tormenting sounds humans make when they are in dire pain

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

LK: I don’t think I have one

What profession would you absolutely not like to try?

LK: A nurse or a truck driver

Last question, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the pearly gates?

LK: That I learned to love him with my whole heart, soul, mind, strength and learned to love others as myself.