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Infrastructure Lays the Foundation for Developer Artistry with Tony Minessale, Founder and CEO of SignalWire

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In general, creative-types fall into two camps. The first camp loves the excitement of creating something flashy — things that people can identify, experience, and viscerally respond to. The second camp is made up of those who care about building a foundation so that other people can create great things upon it. If they do their jobs really well, their work may go relatively unnoticed. But that’s okay with them. They can sit back and smile, knowing they helped other creators do their best work. Tony Minessale, the Founder and CEO of SignalWire, describes the satisfaction that comes with building a strong foundation to help developers do what they do best.

Main Takeaways

  • Creating Infrastructure so Developers Can Flourish: Some people are attracted to the bright lights of creating flashy applications. That’s fine and helpful too. It’s also necessary to have people that are focused on creating a strong foundation of infrastructure so that developers can build their artful products on top of it.
  • Lessons From Open Source: Open-source work can teach developers a lot. There’s a sense of community that is often established. Also, there’s something meaningful in people doing work for its own sake, rather than for money. On the other hand, the open- source model does have its limitations. Often, a developer can end up serving too many masters because a solution for one person can be a problem for another. At some point, creating a company makes more sense as the capital allows focus and the ability to create a unified team to serve the vision.
  • The Benefit of Rolling out Tech Gradually: Consumers learn more about a new technology when it is delivered to them over time in multiple products that are successively more complex. This graduated process helps consumers to understand a given technology better. It also provides more sales.
  • No Sympathy for the Buzzword: If buzzwords are rated, they’re overrated. Buzzwords can be bandied about by anyone wise enough to recognize them. Too often, however, they lose their meaning from overuse, are imprecise, or don’t serve in educating other people and fostering effective communication.
  • An Internet Driven Telecom Industry is Inevitable: Legacy telecommunication models are still around, but an internet telecom industry is the future. Even now, satellite internet has enough bandwidth to stream content. Legacy telecom companies will evolve as they always do to make money. It may take a while for people to adapt but the technology is here.

For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.

Article:

In general, creative-types fall into two camps. The first camp loves the excitement of creating something flashy — things that people can identify, experience, and viscerally respond to. The second camp is made up of those who care about building a foundation so that other people can create great things upon it. If they do their jobs really well, their work may go relatively unnoticed. But that’s okay with them. They can sit back and smile, knowing they helped other creators do their best work. Tony Minessale, the Founder and CEO of SignalWire, described the satisfaction that comes with building a strong foundation to help developers do what they do best.

“There’s not a lot of effort to empower developers. which is our customer,” Minessale said. “We hear about developers and they have a lot of cool ideas and we want them to be able to take the buffet of all the cool stuff that we’ve built and arrange it their own way, like art almost.”

In some ways, focusing on building a foundation isn’t glamorous work. But without the foundation of a home, for instance, there is no home. For those dedicated to building new infrastructure, their vision is immense and game changing when realized. Homes and entire cities are built because people put in the work to build the infrastructure first. In the technological world, similar groundwork is needed for others to build upon it. And there are levels to all the different kinds of technology that gets created. It’s one level to make a program or an application. It’s another to build a network. And it’s a whole other stratosphere to seek to change an entire industry.

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Minessale explained how SignalWire is creating telecom software that will ultimately lead to a telecommunications network based entirely on the internet. Of course, to get there takes a lot of different developments — pieces of the foundation that will eventually change the entire telecommunications industry. 

“We get some money,” Minessale said. “We hire some people. We try and make some products. We try to grow more. We’re doing this evolution, and the whole time we’re just trying to stay committed to empower developers, which is what we are.” 

For Minessale, this is part of the overall vision. Supporting developers is a key value, for sure, but all of these products and all of this support for developers is part of a greater goal. 

“Meanwhile, we have a further goal [that] as those developers build stuff on our network, our network is getting used more, the capabilities required become bigger and that allows us to simplify it further so that we transition slowly into being a telecom network that [is] completely on the internet,” Minessale said.

Although his vision is grand, Minessale learned many lessons along the way; particularly in his early days building FreeSWITCH in open source.

“It’s in a different world,” Minessale said. “It’s academic. It’s similar to doing college research. You’re building it for the sake of building it and not because you’re trying to make money.” 

FreeSWITCH is a software-defined telecommunications stack. In other words, it’s a software that can help transform regular computer devices into telecommunication machines. Minessale cut his teeth building FreeSWITCH in the open-source community. Having many volunteers working toward similar goals but often to solve different problems proved complicated at times.

“One man’s bug was another one’s feature,” Minessale said. “There’d be people you’d change something [and] half of them would get mad and you’d change it back and the other half would get mad so you’d have to build a configuration choice to make both possible.”

Despite the complexities in the process, FreeSWITCH was successfully completed and has since been proved to be very successful for many companies. Minessale did learn from the experience, however, that he needed to create his own company, SignalWire, to keep growing. Out of the gate, Minessale and his team built their distributed network and then compatibility layers with some current APIs. All the while, Minessale has kept the company close to his roots while keeping his eye on the prize.

“We have a community vibe, due to our upbringing…We’re big on storytelling,” Minessale said. “We really believe in passing on and helping people through. When you experience something that was really challenging, it’s really nice to tell someone else how to shortcut through that.”

The evolution of a creator tends to go from a focus on personal creativity to creating opportunities for others to, finally, at the most advanced level, creating a new foundation that changes the world. This is reflected in Minessale’s creative journey, and there’s a lot to learn from his story.

To hear more about how Minessale and SignalWire are creating a foundation for developers to flourish that will someday lead to a completely internet-based telecom network, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

Episode 311