rater8’s Chief Technology Officer, Yossi Geretz, has over 30 years of experience in information technology. We sat down with him, virtually, over a cup of coffee to hear more about his career, how he found himself at rater8, and his thoughts regarding the major changes in technology he has witnessed over the years. Oh, and we learned he’s an avid long-distance cyclist! Let’s dive into our conversation.
You have 30-plus years of experience in IT. What made you decide to pursue this career?
Back in the mid-80s, computers were just becoming popular. My dad brought home a PC computer, it was an 8088 chip. It didn’t even have a hard disk, so it only had floppy disks. It seemed like a really cool gadget. I had finished my post-high school studies in religious school, and I was looking for a career that wouldn’t necessarily take another four years of study. And because computers were so new, and programmers were in high demand, that was something that you could make your entry into by taking a vocational course. I took a six-month course in computer sciences. We learned Basic and COBOL, which was a very popular business computing language at that time. In 1987, I was ready to make my way into the business world. People asked me, “Where’d you learn computer programming?” Nominally, it was that six-month course, but I really began learning on the job.
I worked for a company called Keefe, Bruyette, and Woods on the fifth floor of the World Trade Center. I had a great manager there. He taught me a lot of what is still relevant today. Back then computing was very different. It was done on a more centralized computing platform. I worked on an HP 3000. Back in school, I worked on an IBM mainframe. But over time, computing became decentralized.
In the mid-90s, computing was very popular on the Windows platforms. And people say, “That’s how it is today.” Well, not really everybody has Windows. But more often than not, you’re just running a browser. Let’s say you’re logging into your online account with your bank. The browser is loading up the page, but it’s being processed on the server. I’ve seen the industry go from a highly centralized form of computing to a highly decentralized form of computing, where everybody’s saying, “This is the future of computing!” And then it went back to being centralized. The one thing that never changes is that the industry keeps moving from one extreme to the other, and I expect that will continue to happen and keep us all on our toes.
You were the Chief Software Architect for more than a decade at our CEO’s previous company, SRS Health. How did you find yourself at rater8?
With SRS, at the time I joined it, there was only one direction they could grow in, and that was to expand. I was hired by a manager, but when he left, I was the only member of the team. As SRS grew lots of opportunities became available.
There are two types of software environments. One is the type of software environment that basically serves the internal needs of a company. A larger company that is not selling software services just needs software that provides automation internally to provide the service they offer. The other type of environment is software development, where the software is the product.
I had worked for many years in the first type of environment. And when the opportunity with SRS first came along, it was a chance to start working on a software product that not only would keep a few hundred people happy internally with their back office operations but something that would be a very visible product that would sell into the marketplace.
It was a bit of a culture shock when I came to work at SRS, and Evan [rater8’s CEO] will tell you tons of stories about the first office facility they had. It was the basement of a brownstone in Manhattan. And I come from banking and insurance industry-type environments. The first day I came to work at SRS, I looked at my desk. The second day, I came with a roll of paper towels and a spray can of Windex. cleaned off my desk, and got to work. We had to have a can-do attitude at SRS. Ultimately, SRS was a great success story.
After SRS sold, I stuck with them for a while, but the new board had its own strategies. They bought in some of their people and let me go very gracefully. I then got back into consulting. The Dot-Com Boom drove a lot of consulting opportunities and career growth. But after the Dot-Com Boom came the Dot-Com Bust. All of a sudden, a lot of companies were not hiring many consultants, or companies had completely ceased to exist. I worked for a couple of years for a local nursing home business doing automation for facility management.
Then Evan started rater8, and I guess I’m one of the first guys he thought of. We had a good experience in the past, and my time at SRS made it too tempting to jump back on board and see where it would lead. It’s been another great success so far.
Tell us more about your role. What’s a typical day like as the Chief Technology Officer at rater8?
This is a role that has evolved. When we were smaller, there were a couple of other programmers. With such a small development team, there is more actual hands-on programming. But as the team grew, my role transformed into more of a management position. So you ask, “What does my day look like?” That’s easy, checking and responding to emails and meeting with the team. We have two structured meetings that take place on a daily basis. And, of course, we meet more when necessary. One meeting is our interface with the business stakeholders at rater8; the people who use and sell the software. This is to track what the operations team needs and what the sales department sees that our customers need. I also meet regularly with Evan and Rowdie [Project Manager] to discuss our future direction and to put together a roadmap for our development going forward. The second daily meeting is more of a technical nature where I work with the development staff to keep track of ongoing development initiatives. The development initiatives are what flow from the roadmap. The process is: roadmap, develop, test, and deploy. When we put a new version out onto the field, we go back to the roadmap, and now we have a new development wave.
Your team is continuing to grow here at rater8. What is your leadership style?
I’m pretty informal on the interpersonal side of things. In terms of technology and engineering, I can be demanding. I have high standards and I place a large degree of emphasis on engineering quality. So if it just looks like it works, it’s not really going to cut it in my shop.
At rater8, we pride ourselves on technological and engineering excellence.
That being said, I don’t micromanage. My team lead takes on most of the day-to-day running of the software development group. I like to develop a lieutenant or pair of lieutenants who I can trust and then rely on to execute my engineering vision. I think I am a pretty friendly guy who tries to be easy to get along with, as long as my engineering standards are being met.
The tech industry, and particularly SaaS companies, are where many young technology professionals want to be in their careers. Do you have any advice for those young professionals who want to be where you are one day?
The main thing to focus on is the rules of logic and algorithms. Because the question of technology is simply the choice of a language or platform medium where you’re going to be engaged in implementing those logical constructs. There are certain constructs I was trained in back in the late ’80s, but I still use them today. The organizational and logical disciplines have not changed in over 30 years. That is what I would tell anybody getting into the field. Choose a language, but that language of choice is almost your most disposable asset (i.e., familiarity with basic Boolean rules of logic and organization). You’ll be using those tools for 20-30 years. That’s not going to change.
What apps/software/tools can you not live without? Professionally and personally.
In terms of work, I decided a long time ago to align myself with Microsoft’s strategy. Microsoft made it very easy for independent developers to get ahold of Microsoft development tools with a program called Action Pack. Even now, they publish Community Editions of all of their development tools. As an example, Visual Studio, which large enterprises are paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for—a freelance developer or a student can pick that up for free. They won’t be working with all the bells and whistles they would have on the paid version, but really close enough. That’s another piece of advice for anybody looking to make an entry into this market. You can pick up the tools, and Microsoft, if that is an acceptable platform of choice, makes almost everything available to everybody. Professionally, we could just not live without Microsoft’s database and development platform.
In my personal life, I rely heavily on the banking app I use on my phone. Most important to me would be Google Maps and GPS. GPS is amazing technology. Reading a map is almost a lost art.
Sometimes I want a disconnect. As a youngster, I grew up in Philadelphia, but a lot of my friends were in New York. So, for vacation, I’d jump in the car heading north and follow the green road signs. Now, I almost break out in hives if my GPS is not working properly. I sometimes want to force myself to turn off the GPS and follow the road signs again so I can say, “Hey! I can still do that.”
I also use GPS for recreational purposes. I do a lot of bike riding and some pretty long-distance trips around the county, usually between 50 and 100 miles if the season works out nicely. I use a small Garmin GPS that shows me every single turn I make. For me, personally, GPS is the killer app.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Biking, biking, biking. That’s it.
Tell us more! Are you a road bike or trail biking type of person?
The industry comes up with all these different names. At one point, it was called hybrid and then cyclocross and now it’s called gravel. A gravel bike is basically a road frame, so it has curved handlebars in the bent-down posture, but the wheels are thicker. The wheels on my bike are 32 mm with a bit of tread. I can be comfortable on the road, but if there’s a trail that goes through the woods, I could be comfortable taking that trail. I’m talking about asphalt or packed dirt or packed gravel—that’s not like downhill, over jumps, or off-road. I focus on road and trail riding, but it’s called gravel. If you’re familiar with our area here, we’re in the foothills of the Catskills so it’s pretty hilly terrain. We have the Hudson River as well.
One of my favorite rides here is to start in Haverstraw, NY. There’s a path that goes through the woods down to the Hudson to the Tappan Zee Bridge, which now has a bike path. I then take that path into Westchester. There’s a state park that used to be the Croton Aqueduct. It used to bring water down from the Croton Reservoir into New York City, so it’s off-road but it’s a very light grade. If you bring the water down, you won’t be able to bring it back up. They had to engineer a nice steady grade all the way from Croton to Manhattan, which is around 35 miles.
Then I get over to the Bear Mountain Bridge and cross over again, and now I’m on the west side of the Hudson and then I ride back down into Haverstraw.
The ride is about 70 miles, but that’s one of my favorite rides. It has everything! It’s got roads, rivers, bridges, and off-road trails. There’s a lot of revolutionary war history around New York and the upstate area. In fact, in the woods, there’s a plaque that says, “Within these woods, John Andre met with Benedict Arnold to negotiate for West Point’s surrender.”
What is your take on some of the large tech changes (AI, blockchain, etc.) happening currently? Do you have any predictions on what will be the biggest disruption in the coming years?
I never see it coming, you know? And even Bill Gates didn’t see the internet. AI is a subject that interests me. I have immense respect for humans, and this comes from my religious perspective. I give the human mind a place of supremacy that I don’t think any machine will ever be able to match.
Most of the computing today is built upon true or false. Because when you look at a processor, it’s a series of switches—it’s either on or it’s off, it’s one or zero, and then everything is built on top of that. The human brain is special because it doesn’t think in binary terms, but it thinks in all shades of analog. We rarely are presented with a situation where, when you break it down, it’s true or false. Right? I don’t even know if the electricity will be on two seconds from now. That’s why I have a generator. But that’s the way humans think.
So what I wonder about, and this hasn’t happened in 30 years, is that the fundamentals of computing are still those ones and zeros. It’s that binary. Whereas if somebody came along and invented a processor that worked on, let’s say, the strength of the signal between 0 to 100%, a computing platform like that might would take us to the next level. However, that almost sounds like I’m contradicting myself because I think this is a property unique to the human mind.
There’s a story about a very famous chess match. Deep Blue was a chess-playing expert system run on a unique IBM supercomputer. In 1997, it defeated the world champion. When they replayed the match, they saw that the computer (or the programmers) made a mistake. Every move up to that point, the chess master said he understood. But then the computer made a move that was actually a mistake. He couldn’t understand the computer’s move and he got rattled. They could see when they went back over the gameplay, that was when his game fell apart.
So anyway, everybody’s talking about artificial intelligence, and to me, it just seems like smarter and smarter algorithms. Granted, let’s build that in. And let’s build a database. And rater8’s pollin8 algorithm works like that, too. As we get better data, we make better decisions about which review site the next patient is routed to. I just wonder if maybe, somewhere in the wings, somebody’s going to release a computing platform that computes in terms of probabilities, rather than in terms of ones and zeros, which are definitive. Of course, that would make our job a lot more difficult. Because with a one or a zero, I can predict exactly what the program is going to do given the inputs. Once you start letting fluctuations in electrical levels divert the computer’s desires into doing what it wants to do, it’s harder to determine what it is going to do. But that’s what they’re after with artificial intelligence. It’s like raising a child. You don’t know what the child is going to do. But that’s the beauty of it, right? You give it enough instruction, and then you trust that it will go out and do something productive.
If you enjoyed our coffee chat with Yossi, we recommend checking out our previous conversation with rater8’s CEO, Evan Steele. Evan shares his experience in the healthcare industry, the importance of online reputation management, how rater8 is making a difference for medical practices, and his love of pickleball.