Chicago CTOs to know: Meet dough, Inc.'s Linwood Ma

Sam Dewey

dough, Inc. is made up of tastytrade, a fast-growing financial network that produces eight hours of live, original, and financially educational programming each day of the work week, and dough, a trading platform that was built to make investing more engaging and interactive. 

As Chief Technology Officer, dough Inc.’s Linwood Ma is at the intersection of all the company’s tech and product decisions. His leadership has steered dough, Inc. to the success it sees today.

Despite the mammoth technological responsibilities he champions at work, Ma still says the largest technical hurdle he’s ever overcome has been teaching his parents how to use Microsoft Windows.

“You suffer through it,” he said. “Soul crushing, but they’re your parents, right?”

We caught up with Ma to learn more about what’s powering dough’s technology.

 

What technologies power your business?

We use an abundance of open source software and frameworks and a wide variety of cloud-based services (AWS, Ooyala, etc.) to support the infrastructure. We take a lot of pride in the fact that the engineering team is very adaptive, polyglottic and autodidactic. It shows in the brief survey of our technology stack which includes Java, Ruby/Rails, EmberJS, iOS, Android and even an increasing footprint in Elixir and Phoenix (running on the Erlang VM).

Along the same line, our infrastructure is managed increasingly by “declarative code-oriented frameworks” in the form of Terraform, Chef, Docker, Packer and a whole cast of supporting characters. Our infrastructure foundation is definitely rooted in Amazon’s Web Services and powered by our CDN for content distribution. Those commoditized and packaged services are invaluable to simplifying the overhead of running a business.

 

What technologies are playing the biggest roles in dough, Inc. this year?

We’ve always relied heavily on Ruby on Rails, EmberJS, and all the major mobile frameworks (iOS/Android), and this year is no different. We set ourselves apart from a lot of traditional companies in that we develop pretty sophisticated applications for distribution within the browser. I think we’re better at squeezing out interesting features and optimizing capabilities with a focused set of technologies, rather than looking for “star player” technologies.

 

What are lessons you've learned about working in Chicago that other local entrepreneurs can learn from?

The main takeaway from working on many projects within Chicago is that there is a remarkably supportive and truly opportunity-generating community of entrepreneurs locally. From the hallways of 1871 all the way up to the World Business Chicago Council, if you are seeking a community of sharing and assistance, you will find it here.

Our tastytrade network produces a show called Bootstrapping in America where co-hosts Tom Sosnoff and Tony Battista interview entrepreneurs from all over the world about their innovative businesses. We especially love it when we get to shine a spotlight on the midwest and Chicago because the feedback from viewers across the globe is so positive.

 

How will Chicago specifically continue to strengthen its tech community as we head toward 2016?

The absolute best thing Chicago can do for its tech community is to nurture the environment which surrounds our home-grown entrepreneurship and the smart and ambitious technology community which is driving it forward.

Chicago offers a fantastic urban landscape to enjoy (during the warmer seasons, at least). Projects like the 606 trail, improving the neighborhood experience (Street Fairs, Cultural Events) as well as playing up the diverse cultural experiences across the city will go a long way to continually engage the active minds and hearts that make Chicago great.

General top-level urban development of all scales like providing more convenient public transportation, more centralized hubs of concentrated opportunity across the city, better schools and more media attention will increase the catalytic action of good people working hard around other good people.

 

Chicago is known for having a large talent pool of thirsty, young workers. What are the top characteristics you look for in a potential hire?

We look for very holistic traits in a candidate. The first is technical skill and critical reasoning, specifically in foundational understanding of the technology and stack. We want our technical team to be comfortable working near the edge of a technology. This requires that we can work our way up and down the hierarchy of details, dig through someone else’s source code and reason clearly about both the explicit and implicit aspects of code and architectural frameworks.

Secondly, we intend to be a world-class engineering team regardless of the fact that we’re married to the business. This means that we look for the interweaving of a candidate’s “professional” career and their “personal” passion and pride for the work that they do. This tends to raise expectations of what is considered acceptable over time, professionally-speaking.

Thirdly, because I’m such a small-town midwesterner at heart, we look for heads-down, pragmatic, hard-working and common-sense attitudes. We avoid those who have any air of entitlement in their attitude towards the rest of the group, no matter how smart the candidate may be. We’re very much a meritocracy at heart.

 

How would your team describe working with you?

That’s definitely a question you should ask them! I know that I’m pretty laid back and like to delegate. I also think it is important to recognize team members who are performing well. I actively work to be a buffer between the sometimes chaotic business side and the development team, and try to structure the iteration in a way that allows team members to still have a life outside of the fabulousness that is dough. One other trait that I’m guilty of is that I’m typically an anti-formalist. I don’t like any unquestioned rituals of the business process (which sometimes don’t add meaningful value). In an environment of more numerous tasks and ideas than resources to execute them, we want our team to be critical and pragmatic towards our processes and products, while at the same time aiming to bring the biggest value to our customers.

 

What else do you want the Chicago startup community to know about tastytrade/dough?

We are always trying to capture the do-it-yourselfer — whether that is through the programming we air, the products we build, or the employees we hire. We value and support fellow entrepreneurs and enjoy being a part of FinTech community here in Chicago.

We are also always working to improve our platform and services. So if you have any feedback, send it over to us!

Some answers have been edited for length or clarity.

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