CEO Talk: Chris Howard of Softeq

21/09/2021, hardwarebee

This interview was held with Christopher A. Howard, Founder & CEO at Softeq Development Corporation.



Tell me a bit about your background? How did you first get started with Softeq?


CH: I studied electrical engineering in college but recognized that firmware and software were the key to the future of hardware devices. One of my earliest jobs was as an intern working for NASA helping design an IBM workstation for use on the International Space Station. That’s maybe the closest I ever came to having a “real corporate job.” After founding and building a DOS software toolkit company, I began doing software consulting work and helped a medical doctor build software for a connected EKG device. Eventually I cultivated enough clients to begin hiring help and now have a team of over 350 hardware, firmware and software developers located in the US and Europe.


I’m a serial entrepreneur, lifelong learner, angel investor, and family man. I’m interested in building businesses that excel while fostering a positive and creative work environment. I love using technology to solve complex problems and working to build the best technical software outsourcing team possible. Besides software, I’m most interested in IoT, Blockchain, AI and Machine Learning, AR/VR, Security and Robotics.

Married for 35+ years to my college sweetheart and girl next door, father of five “kids” now grown, and proud Grampa of three.


Tell me about Softeq?


CH: At Softeq, our superpower is engineering complex connected devices for the Internet of Things. This requires excellent hardware design skills, firmware expertise, mobile and desktop app development, and cloud backend database configuration. We make it simple for clients and can handle complete end-to-end development all under one roof. But occasionally, clients call on us to build only one segment of a solution. We’re fine with this approach as we play well with others. We have 350+ employees located in offices in Houston, Texas, our headquarters, and development centers in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Minsk, Belarus. Around 70% of our customers are based in the US and balance are in Europe and Asia.



When did you start Softeq? What were you doing before that?


CH: I founded Softeq Development Corporation in 1997 to help clients with their most difficult engineering problems. Back then, almost anybody could build a website, configure an ERP system, or build basic software applications. Compaq Computer was one of my first big corporate clients and we now work for the R&D and product development teams at Intel, AMD, Disney, Lenovo, Epson, and a number of new technology startups.



What problem did you see that needed to be fixed? What is your approach to solving that?


CH: IoT solutions involving hardware and firmware are extremely complex. Now there are hundreds if not thousands of IoT development platforms and tools and the job of selecting the best technology for the job has gotten even more complex. We simplify this for our clients and deliver turn-key solutions that scale-up.


How has the role/offering of Softeq changed during the recent years?


CH: More and more clients are asking us for technology business advice, product roadmaps, and early-stage ideation rather than just coming to us with a spec seeking development help. We’ve added business solutions consultants, launched the Softeq Innovation Lab, and even started the Softeq Venture Studio to help fund very early-stage entrepreneurs. I’ve personally invested in over 50 early-stage tech startups and we’ve now formalized our approach to investing as a company.



Which market segment seems promising to you? And why?


CH: We remain bullish on the Internet of Things and see many small- and medium-sized enterprises that have yet to embrace digital transformation. The COVID pandemic accelerated the move to digital by many companies but many are still lagging behind trying to define their digital strategy. We like to say they can either digitize or be made obsolete by startups and competitors who understand digital.



What is a typical customer for Softeq?


CH: We work primarily for R&D and product development professionals who are tasked with developing innovative new products and solutions. These are primarily large tech companies or new startups working to disrupt traditional business models.


Customers are focused on time-to-market, first-time-right, price, etc. Do you see a change in customer behavior in recent years? Where is the focus today and why?


CH: We’re always amazed at the number of “rescue” projects we perform. We see a lot of clients and other developers failing at IoT due to the complexity of such projects. There are no shortcuts and clients often have highly unrealistic expectations for development schedules, scope and cost. We also see unrealistic specifications for clients’ MVPs and proof-of-concept models. We advise clients to follow the KISS rule whenever possible.


What are the 3 top things you wish your customers would do better (or different)?


CH: Better planning, organization and delegation of tasks to qualified teams and developers would make most projects run much more smoothly.


Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?


CH: We currently have over 50 open job positions across a number of development disciplines including project management, delivery, firmware development, mobile application development, hardware design, and software coders who write Java, C++, Dot NET, cloud applications and more.


What is your #1 advice for people who want to work for YOUR COMPANY?


CH: Be flexible and don’t be afraid to learn new skills and languages. For example, I tell our Android and iOS developers they should branch out and learn Xamarin or React. I prefer to hire great problem-solvers, point them toward the difficult stuff, then not micromanage them.


Where can one find more information?




What is the best moment in your day?


CH: Any time I have some quiet time to read!


What is your preferred lunch discussion topic?


CH: I don’t typically eat lunch and prefer to fast all day and eat one meal late at night.


How do you spend your time outside working hours?


CH: I spend a lot of time with family and my grandkids. I’m also hold a sport pilot license and like to fly my amphibious ICON A-5 plane whenever I can sneak a way for a few hours.

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