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CultureJun 13, 2019

OTS Stories: Micah Blalock Shares His Path from Music to Technology

Sarah Bruner

Credera’s Open Technology Solutions (OTS) Practice is filled with technology experts who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. This group focuses on building custom software solutions and integrations for our clients leveraging open source technologies including Spring Framework, AngularJS, React, Elastic Search, Redis, Spark, Kafka, AWS, and Azure. Programming languages they frequently use include Java, Python, Scala, and Ruby.

Each OTS Practice member has a unique story about how they started in developing and ultimately became a part of the Credera family. We’d love to share a few of these through our OTS Stories series.

STARTING IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS 

Before there was an Apple iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy, Micah Blalock was part of a team at Stick Networks that was developing what we now recognize as smartphones—a location-aware device with a phone that delivered content based on what was relevant to the user and their location.

“We actually presented our prototype to Steve Jobs in 2000. And he told us at the time that he didn’t think a converged device was going to be a thing.”

Micah has seen plenty in his nearly 30 years of working in the technology industry, a career path that feels like fate considering his father was an engineer at IBM. “Being in the computer industry was the family business,” Micah said. “But I had a very roundabout way of getting here.” It only took Micah one semester at Texas Tech to sour toward his electrical engineering major. In fact, it was more like a day. “I dropped my [punch] cards walking across campus one day,” he said of the cards once used to program with keypunch machines. “I decided programming was not for me.”

Micah singing with his sister, Jill

Instead, Micah decided to pursue the other family business—music. Growing up, Micah’s father was the choir director at his church. His sister is a professional opera singer. His bachelor’s degree in music composition was a natural fit. His winding professional journey, however, was just getting started. His plan to go to graduate school to study ethnomusicology was almost immediately derailed when he arrived at Wheaton College in Illinois and his guiding professor went on emergency medical leave.

Impressed with the graduate school of theology at Wheaton College, Micah promptly changed his focus and obtained his master’s in theology. He is quick to note that it was a purely academic degree. “I was never in any danger of becoming a minister,” he said.

DIVING INTO DEVELOPING

His next plan was to pursue a doctorate, but with his wife’s pregnancy as the two were finishing school, Micah instead became a book editor. Yet after five years in the volatile publishing business, Micah decided it was time for a new career path.

Micah with his two children

This time he found himself looking back to programming as DePaul University had a program for people with non-computer science degrees that wanted to get into the field. He started that program in 1987 and has been programming ever since. After landing his first job at Platinum Technology, Micah has done stints at startups and consulting firms, including his almost prophetic time at Stick Networks. But while that device predated the smartphone phenomenon, Micah understands why the world wasn’t quite ready.

“Well at the time, a converged device was the size of a brick,” he said. “The market consensus was that it’s easier to carry multiple small, single-purpose devices. But when the iPhone came out, it was smaller than a pack of cigarettes—it was pretty amazing.”

LEARNING THROUGH PATTERNS

Despite the wide range of industries he’s touched, including construction, fraud detection, and healthcare systems, Micah says all of his experiences tie together. In fact, that commonality often offers a glimpse into where the industry is headed.

“You see the same things happening over and over again. Even though the technology changes, the patterns are the same. But they tend to swing on a pendulum. So at one time we’re building thin clients and smart services, at another time we’re building smart clients and simple services. We go back and forth between putting everything into an easier to manage package, which is centralizing, and distributing. It’s really fun to see.”

And that is one of many reasons Micah can laugh at just missing the iPhone before the iPhone. After all, the burst of the dot com bubble in the early 2000s—which put the final nail in the coffin of Stick Networks’ device—wasn’t the last time he’d see a promising idea swept away by circumstance.

The software as a service system he and his colleagues developed at WarrantyPro in the mid-2000s had a premature ending as well. “We were building warranty management software for homebuilders,” he explained. “At the time, it was the only area of the economy that was growing consistently. We actually did really well until 2008 then the mortgage crisis blew everything up—haven’t had great luck with startups,” he said with a laugh.

Of course, it helps that his former colleagues at Stick Networks have a sense of humor about how close they were to developing the first modern day smartphone as well. “We had an email group that all the guys that worked there kept up for years,” he said. “So when the first iPhones came out we got together to commiserate.”

ARRIVING AT CREDERA

But today, Micah is thankful for all his stops and the twists and turns that led him to a long career of programming, and ultimately, Credera.

Micah with his grandson, Asher

And even now, he can appreciate the advances of technology—even after finding himself at the forefront of those advances in past stops. Because after nearly 30 years in the family business, technology still never ceases to amaze him. “All the things that we could do theoretically in the ‘80s,” he said, “we can do for real now.”