Lachlan Donald

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Tin Alley beta winter internships set to begin for 2014

8:46AM | Monday, 18 August

The Tin Alley beta program has finished the selection process for its winter internship program, with benefits anticipated both for students and the startups they’ll work for.    Under the program, 10 tech interns from the University of Melbourne will spend one or two days a week over 10 weeks working with five companies. Applications for the winter program opened in March and closed on July 16, with shortlisted companies interviewed on July 22 and internships beginning on July 28.   One participant in the winter internship program is digital pathology startup Pathobin, which has taken three interns through the program.   Pathobin co-founder and chief executive Shane Battye told StartupSmart his startup is giving interns the opportunity to do innovative, cutting-edge work in terms of hardware and software development.   “We’re providing a web service that allows pathologists to upload images based on their glass slides, and are also working on hardware that will help pathologists to digitise their slides,” Battye says.   “What you had in the past is that a surgical specimen – any lesions – had to get processed in a laboratory on to a glass slide. Glass slides are difficult to share, transport and research. By digitising, you can overcome some of the issues.”   Battye says that while his startup has a backlog it wants its interns to help out on, there’s also a lot of scope for them to pursue their interests in a range of areas, including web software, smartphone app development and robotic hardware development.   “Interns we’ve interviewed and selected have diverse talents. So it will definitely be a two-way process where they learn from us as we learn from them. We’re very excited about the Tin Alley program,” Battye says.   One of the interns set to work for Pathobin is software engineering student Oscar Morrison, who told StartupSmart he is excited about the opportunity the program presents.   “From an intern’s point of view, it’s an exciting opportunity to work with an up and coming startup, backed by the University of Melbourne, as well as a great chance to get industry experience,” Morrison says.   A past participant of the program, Dan Williams, who now works for 99Designs, told StartupSmart a Tin Alley beta internship helped to give him a start in his career.   “It has been a pretty amazing experience,” Williams says. “I did an internship [with 99Designs] over summer and got along with everyone very well. I worked with the CTO, Lachlan Donald, on a project to improve how designers are matched to people who need them, using some pretty interesting computer science.”   “They offered me the opportunity to continue working for them three days a week while I continue my studies.”   For his part, Battye encourages startups to participate in the Tin Alley beta program, noting the diverse pool of young talent coming out of the University of Melbourne.   “The most important thing is to just get out there. All startups have something to offer interns,” Battye says.   Applications for Tin Alley beta’s summer program are set to open in mid-August.

How to get the best out of a CTO: 99designs CTO shares his tips

10:30PM | Sunday, 13 October

Finding, retaining and empowering the right chief technology officer is often listed as one of the major challenges for Australian start-ups.   Lachlan Donald is the CTO at one of Australia’s leading start-up success stories, online design marketplace 99designs. He has recently moved back to Melbourne after a three-year stint in Silicon Valley with their American team.   “My initial objective was to go over and provide a bridge between our technical and product team in Melbourne with the executive and marketing team in San Francisco,” Donald says.   The growth of the San Francisco 99designs team from five to 40 people, and the corresponding growth back home has enabled the team to develop a series of “start-up pods” within the organisation. The teams are autonomous units focused on particular projects.   Donald shared his top three tips for empowering effective CTOs and developers with StartupSmart.   Understand you’ve essentially got two roles and create communication tools that work for both   Donald says CTOs, and the teams around them need to recognise you have two roles, and the key to managing a development team while being an effective executive is to create common ground.   “The most important thing to understand as CTO is you need to be able to operate down in the weeds but also up at a high level,” Donald says. “It’s the CTO’s role to communicate upwards really clearly, about the risks and choices the technical team is making.”   Donald says they’ve recently implemented a focus at the executive level on creating and working to a small set of actionable metrics.   “This is a good tool to take into the development team, because you can compare the relevant options around how they’ll move the metrics forward, and give you a shared vision. This is moving us away from confusing conversations and decision making.”   CTOs and developers need time and the freedom to be creative Developers at 99designs are given one Friday a fortnight off to explore new ideas and projects. Donald says this is key to encouraging autonomy and creativity, and many of their key technological breakthroughs have emerged in these sessions.   “The first one and most important attribute for developers is creativity. You need to give them autonomy. So my job as CTO is to empower the technical team to work on their own, and come up with new ways to grow, expand and succeed,” Donald says.   He adds the end result of this autonomy, regardless of the many closely averted errors along the way, is a scalable and innovative development team.   “We’ve reached the logical conclusion of this initiative, with our start-up pods within our organisation that each have a tech leader,” Donald says.   Lead by example and invest the time in your team Donald says he is committed to leading by example, and still codes alongside the development teams every day.   “It’s very important to understand deeply the technology that is being built and the constraints and opportunities. I think in some ways it helps you stay grounded. And it’s the best way to lead. Engineers better follow a leader they have deep trust in their technical judgement, and the best way to get that is being on the same projects and wavelength,” Donald says.   He adds non-technical co-founders should be committed to maintaining an ongoing honest and evolving relationship.   “Between a good CEO and a good CTO, there is never a clear delineation of responsibility, it ebbs and flows. In a small team you need to have a really good understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and be honest about that,” Donald says.

The crowd-source king

4:36AM | Friday, 27 April

Mark Harbottle happily admits he’s a “start-up guy”. The co-founder of SitePoint and 99Designs may not be steeped in the pinstripe and spreadsheet CEO culture, but he can be relied upon to come up with a sector-defining online idea.

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