The Ironman of Splunk: Tim Tully, Splunk’s CTO, Discusses Building for The Future

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Inspiration comes from all over. For Tim Tully, the CTO of Splunk, much of the inspiration for his work can be found in science fiction, TV shows and even the world of superheroes. Tim sees himself as a sort of Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) because he’s helping build the tech of the future. In fact, he’s been building forward-looking tech since the early days of the Internet.

On this episode of IT Visionaries hosted by Mission CEO Chad Grills, Tim discusses how you can be aspirational in your design while still delivering exceptional usability. And he touches on the future of technology, including with mobile and where we’re going with AR and VR.

Key Takeaways:

  • How Tim got his start
  • Learning to be a CTO
  • Recruiting talent
  • Why mobile is the future


Tim’s start

Long before joining the Splunk team, Tim started his career at Sun Microsystems working on JavaSoft. There he learned about life in the Valley and what it means to be surrounded by truly talented people, how good managers lead, and what it’s like to be in a company that is massive and only growing larger.  

Tim eventually landed a job at Yahoo and was part of a small data team that was building what would eventually become Hadoop. At the time, they had no idea what would happen with big data or where the world was going in terms of digital transformation. The one idea that Tim did narrow in on, though, was stream processing, which is basically real-time data processing. This, he believed, was going to be the way data was analyzed in the future, so he started building toward it as early as 2007. Years later, this is what he does with Splunk but on a much larger scale. 

Throughout all these experiences, Tim was inspired by the growth and innovation he saw, but he was also inspired by outside influences. Whether it was Neal Stephenson’s work or the things being done in the Marvel universe, Tim saw people pushing the technical and creative envelope.

Moving on

After 14 years at Yahoo, Tim knew it was time to pursue new opportunities. He always believed he could be a CTO, and when he heard about the opportunity at Splunk, met the team and learned about what Splunk does, he told his wife “I was designed to do this job.”

Originally, Tim was a traditional CTO, however, his role grew to include much more including design and product work. When he joined, Tim believed that Splunk might be approaching an innovator’s dilemma. They had products that worked, and for so many companies, going beyond those products can be risky. But not innovating can be risky, too. Tim was given access to a substantial R&D budget to fight off the innovator’s dilemma and really grow the team and capabilities of the company. He was able to get out of the box people were placing Splunk in and start working on projects from mobile to cloud to AR and VR. And when they are building new tools, Tim falls back on his experience as an engineer to look at things from the perspective of a user, which allows him to guide the team to create something that customers actually need and want. But he sets the inspiration bar high for his team. Yes, usability is important, but you want customers to be amazed, too. So focus on the user, but have an eye for design and UX that will blow the customer away.

“[The job] is definitely right in my wheelhouse in terms of big data, the ability to push us into the cloud to think about problems more broadly beyond just sort of what people think of as being Splunk today, which is in analytics.”

“Whenever we’re thinking about a new product release or a new product version or a new design, oftentimes I’ll try to put myself in the shoes of the user who would use that product….It’s advantageous for me to have been an engineer for so long because I can think about the usability of things. I can think about how I would use that tool very easily. A lot of people have to sort of strain or work hard to think about it that way. For me, it’s just sort of automatic because I did it for so long.”

 How to recruit

As Splunk grows, the need for engineers does too. When Tim is recruiting, he looks for IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence). It’s important to be smart, Tim says, but with technical leadership roles, you have to also work well together and be able to form a consensus among your team. That is where a person relies on EQ, and too many companies are overlooking that quality. 

It’s also important that people acclimate to the culture of the company. At Splunk, because of the pace of work and innovation, the culture is very direct and blunt. It’s not meant to be hurtful, but in an effort to save time, you sometimes have to save words. Being okay with that is crucial to success at the company. 

What the future will look like

Recently, mobile has been a major focus for Splunk. More and more often, people are relying on their phones to do major portions of their jobs. However, a lot of enterprise software is not fully functional on mobile. That has to change. 

Additionally, Tim is excited about the possibility of AR and VR being used more for accessibility in industries like manufacturing, industrial and military.

“My philosophy is mobile should be pretty much pervasive in every product that we have and the data that Splunk provides should be accessible from every tablet and phone.”

“I think the end state for [AR and VR] is not actually the phone. It’s actually the wearables. So you can imagine, we can easily lift that code, put it into whatever form of glasses or goggles wind up coming out from the major consumer companies and then they’ll be able to just like look at something like that device there and see the data. And then we would be able to marry natural language processing to that as well. So then you’re totally hands-free.”



Episode 106