Tech founder and executive, Roger Deetz grew up on a dairy farm in northeast Indiana. He loves the country and wilderness, however is a self proclaimed urban dweller. Roger has been fortunate to travel all over the world, and there isn’t any place he won’t go and plans to spend the rest of his life going to as many places as possible. He’s a dad to two daughters, Lucy and Lainey, and husband to Amber. On the DISC scale, he shows up as a “flexible” C and generally considers himself to be introverted, although in certain situations he can be rather outgoing so admits that his “personality type” is hard to pin down.
He’s a well-known name in the Indy tech scene and a rising male ally in the startup space. You’re going to love learning about how this Startup Ladies Ambassador is helping to eliminate gender disparity. He's a great person to know in our community.
You founded IN Tech for Progress - what made you do that?
I was frustrated with the politics in our state and our nation, and I knew a lot of tech folks in my circle felt the same way. But, I didn’t see a lot of engagement in those circles, so I felt like there was an appetite for bringing the skills and resources of folks together to do something about it. We started the group last fall, and collaborated with others to build Indy Vote Times, which was a new site that voters could use to see the estimated wait times at Marion County vote centers, particularly during early voting. It was successful beyond what we were expecting, so I think that validated the idea that there is a huge opportunity to rally tech folks and make a difference.
Since the election, we’ve been quiet, because we’ve been planning how to structure the group and set it up to scale for projects. We don’t have a specific initiative we are tackling at the moment, but there are a lot of priorities on our agenda: redistricting, social justice, and working against this disturbing trend of the legislature interfering with local control in Indianapolis, among others. Stay tuned for our public “relaunch” coming in the summer; we will be advertising ways for folks to get involved then.
Working a side hustle while working a full time job can be exhausting, but it helps a lot to have a cause that you really believe in.
It was also something that the pandemic made possible for me--I felt like I had a few more hours in the day since I wasn’t commuting or driving kids around as much. In a pre-pandemic world, I know it would have been really easy to be busy being busy. I think the pandemic provided an opportunity to focus, as well as providing a backdrop to make me really think about what things were important to do.
You've been in the C-suite for a while as a tech leader. What have you learned about leading tech teams?
When you become a manager or “formal” leader of any level, your job is completely different than the job you had when you were an engineer. Experience as a technical person can be very valuable to build credibility and trust with a tech team, but you need to remember that it is not your job anymore to make the technical decisions. Your job is to provide context so your team has the information they need to make good decisions, and direction so they know where they need to be looking as they make those decisions.
Related to that, you have to tell people what’s really going on. Of course sometimes there is sensitive information that is not appropriate to be shared, but I’m not talking about that… I’m talking about the real motivations of customers, employees, vendors, etc. and the real pressures facing the company or the department. That’s the real transparency people crave, which sometimes means things aren’t awesome. People know when you are not being straight with them. If you build trust when communicating not-awesome news, then your ability to rally and inspire the team when the news is awesome gets multiplied.
Tell us about the kind of training and education you pursued that prepared you for what you're doing now.
For the most part, it has been mostly real-world experience. My degree is in business, but I am largely self-taught as a technical person. I resisted “being a leader” for quite some time in my career--I viewed myself as a technical expert--and I think that more experience as an individual contributor was the best teacher for becoming a manager.
I had a lot of experience seeing leaders of all levels, good and bad, and over time that inspired me to read books and blogs on the craft of management. The books of Joel Spolsky and Scott Berkun were early influences on me, and then I discovered The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier and writings by Charity Majors, CTO, Honeycomb.io.
What are your favorite networking organizations in tech?
One of my professional role models is Michael Lopp, aka “Rands”. Years ago he established the “Rands Leadership Slack” which is a highly engaged network of (mostly) tech leaders all over the world. When I joined I think there were a few hundred folks; now there are more than 15,000. It is a very supportive, but honest, community, and it is a great model of a community that is self-moderating because we are all there to learn, and everyone is empowered to stand up for the community’s values, which is something that needs to happen in any community, especially as it grows to the size that is today. It’s a great place to ask advice on leading technical teams, because it includes people at companies of all sizes, in all industries, and all cultures. So you can see that many people in similar roles face the same challenges, but also you can get perspectives that you never considered.
Locally, I really enjoy IndyHackers because we have a collegial and tight-knit tech community here in Indianapolis, and I love how they have programming and keep the vibe low key. And of course, The Startup Ladies. :)
You're one of the few men in tech who regularly participates in tech/startup organizations focused on women? Why?
I want to support anyone who has the vision to start a company, particularly a tech company, and I know that women founders don’t yet have a level playing field when it comes to funding and other access. First and foremost, this is a great community and there is a lot to learn from the people here, but second, I want to help be part of leveling the playing field for women founders if I can.
As an Ambassador for The Startup Ladies, what do you want to share with the men reading this article?
This group is not only for women! If you do not have many (or any) women in your network, it is a safe space where you will likely hear perspectives different from your current circle. There is a ton of great content for people running companies at any level: networking, investing, equity, marketing, and more. Plus, there are so many talented people here doing great things, and you should get to know them.
What do you think men in tech need to do differently to encourage more women to rise in this industry?
Get over the fear (or outright bias) of feeling that intentionally seeking out women to help them rise up is somehow preferential or “special treatment”. Look for women to mentor, or hire, or promote, or invest in. There is a lot of inertia in the tech industry that assumes the perspective of men, particularly white men: everything from the way job descriptions are written to names of conference rooms. You have to act intentionally to overcome that inertia, and that means actively seeking out the voices of women when making decisions and building teams.
When you have free time, what kind tech projects are you tinkering with?
When I was teaching myself to program when I was in college, I started to build a computer card game based on Uno. My sister loved to play Uno with me, so I wanted to make a game so she could play even if I wasn’t around as I started my adult life. Over the years since college, I have rebuilt the game many times to keep with the technologies of the day. I’m currently working on getting the latest version submitted to the Microsoft Store. I don’t care if no one ever downloads it, it has been a labor of love and a hobby to keep my programming brain engaged, even as my professional roles have not been as much “in the weeds” as I used to be from a technical perspective.
When you're not on a computer, what are you doing?
In pre-COVID world, I’d be traveling the world, hiking, snorkeling, and taking photographs. Or closer to home, keeping up with the Indianapolis restaurant scene. In today’s world, cooking, reading, running, or watching movies with my family.
What advice do you have for non-technical founders building tech companies?
The most important thing is finding a partner you can trust. All the technical skills in the world don’t matter if you don’t trust them, or if you can’t “speak business” to each other. Good technical people or teams will be able to understand business problems and know how to apply technology to solve those problems. Be skeptical of the hot buzzwords of the day... Unless you have a clear understanding of why a novel technology (for example: machine learning, blockchain) is a fit for your business problem, you should build boring technology that solves your problem in the simplest way first.
What's next for you?
I enjoy building scalable teams and processes, and building great products that solve real problems, so I hope to keep doing that for as long as I can. I’ll be working with the IN Tech for Progress leadership team to build out the organization so we can effectively engage more tech folks in making change here in Indiana.