Nexient CEO Mark Orttung Talks Software Industry Changes

When we published the Top 50 Tech Services CEOs of 2019, we singled out a handful of names.  One was Mark Orttung, CEO of the country’s largest 100% US-based Agile software services partner, Nexient. Orttung has helped drive a number of changes in the software industry over his 30-year career. We sat down to learn more about them.

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What are some of the big industry changes you have seen over your career?

I've been fortunate to play a role in some of them: from waterfall to Agile, packaged apps to SaaS, “feature-itis” to today’s focus on great customer experience.

The enterprise SaaS trend took me to four different companies over 16 years, allowing me to experience startups and the power of small, cross-functional product teams that had to work with urgency and agility.  In the 2000s, demand for cost-efficient talent pushed a lot of development offshore, but I’m excited about the resurgence of domestic sourcing in the last ten years.  A global delivery model is the right option in some cases, but using skilled local product teams supports the fast agile collaboration that most enterprises need. It’s also a smart investment in the future of our innovation economy.

How are your clients responding?

I'm seeing both large enterprises and product tech companies focus on three key trends. First, companies like Apple, Google and Amazon have raised the bar on user experience. It doesn’t matter whether you’re developing for a utility field worker or a tax payer, the market has spoken: life is too short for crappy software! Second, there’s an expectation that this great experience must be available anytime, anywhere. That experience has to be consistent and seamless whether it’s a website or a smart speaker. The third trend really powers the first two. Companies are building robust platforms to power multiple channels, and opening up capabilities to customers and partners.

How does the next generation of software talent need to prepare?

I've got conflicting advice. On one hand, the next generation needs greater functional depth. Developers need to work on both the front end, where experience is critical, and the back end, where architecture and systems-level design are key. UX professionals need to work across research, interaction design and creative. Other team members — product managers, quality engineers and others — need similar depth.

The conflict is that domain depth isn’t enough: people also need a breadth of understanding with their collaborators.  Designers must understand how design impacts architecture. Developers must be curious about UX frameworks. Each team member needs to embrace not just functional goals like code coverage or accessibility, but also business metrics like adoption, revenue and loyalty. This kind of T-shaped thinking is an important part of how we train hundreds of new software professionals each year.

Any industry predictions?

Nearly all products and services rely on software under the hood, and they will increasingly be linked. For example, most drivers today rely on navigation apps to advise them on the best route, but they still do the driving. It’s not hard to foresee a day soon when software will enable autonomous cars to communicate with each other, with a central conducting network that optimizes traffic flow.