Meet the New CTO: Mathias Meyer

It’s been an action-packed year for Reaction Commerce. We’ve released v2.0.0 of our open source software, and developer engagement has continued to grow exponentially this year, to more than 8,900 installations—not to mention all these GitHub stars! Our team now has 29 members across 17 locations in five countries. We have a lot of major milestones to be proud of this year, and here’s another big one: Reaction Commerce officially has a new CTO, Mathias Meyer.

That’s right, after leading our engineering teams as Interim CTO for the past two months, Mathias has agreed to come aboard as our permanent, full-time Chief Technology Officer. Before joining Reaction, Mathias was co-founder and also served as CEO at Travis CI, a distributed company with roots in Berlin, which developed a leading integration service used to build and test software projects hosted at GitHub.

Travis CI wasn’t Mathias’ first foray into building products for developers. He previously worked as a developer advocate at Basho, makers of Riak, a distributed database, and also helped build a cloud automation and deployment platform which is now part of Amazon Web Services’ product offerings.

After starting out as an engineer focused on infrastructure and distributed systems at Travis CI, Mathias’s focus evolved over time from building the product, to building the company that builds the product. Most recently, he’s been coaching engineering managers and startup executives, helping them navigate the challenges that emerge when stepping into a leadership or management role at a growing company.

Mathias has also been working with startups at different stages to help them determine their go-to-market strategies, along with pricing, product strategy, and customer development, engaging deeply with the business side of starting and growing a company.

Mathias kindly took the time to answer a few questions about his background, values, and vision for the future of open commerce—plus the mysterious origin of his Twitter handle.

Mathias Meyer at Lead Developer 2017 in London, UK
Mathias speaking on building distributed and inclusive teams at Lead Developer 2017 in London

Everyone here at Reaction is obviously pretty excited about your joining the team as our new CTO. What was the appeal of Reaction Commerce for you?

First, I’m a big believer in open source in general, and in building tools (and documentation!) that make developers’ and software operators’ live easier, all while being open, extensible, and flexible. I’m especially interested in helping Reaction develop the business models for its open source product, which have been a challenge traditionally, not just at Reaction but throughout the open source community. That’s been a big part of my experience, and it’s what I’m very excited about.

More specifically, I’m excited about the vision of building this next-generation open commerce platform and helping Reaction’s customers build a thriving business on the platform. There’s just so much opportunity in this space, and it’s now my job to help the company and the engineering team grow and scale to achieve that vision. My focus will be on helping to set the technical direction and strategy to get to that goal.

Beyond that, I am thrilled to be working with this team, whom I’ve already seen create and ship great things, most recently Reaction 2.0.0. There’s so much talent and so much potential on this team, it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to help the team focus and grow, both as a team and as individuals.

Mathias Meyer with Reaction Commerce CEO and co-founder Sara Hicks
Mathias with Reaction Commerce CEO and co-founder Sara Hicks

Speaking of growth, take us way back to the beginning. When and how did you first learn to code? When did you first start to consider yourself a software developer?

My first line of code probably happened somewhere around 1996 when I first got my hands on a book about HTML 3.2 and started playing around with it. The ability to build and visualize tables quickly (and using tables as a layout element, almost unimaginable today!) was fascinating to me. Also frames, I loved frames.

So I originally started at university studying digital media. My ultimate goal was to someday be able to build websites as my main focus, or be able to use (Macromedia) Director and Flash, Photoshop and Premiere on a regular basis.

That changed when I learned about C++ and using SQL databases in my third semester, which must have been around 1999/2000. Building software quickly got much more interesting to me and so I shifted course.

Shortly after, I started my first internship at an internet agency in Berlin, where I helped build web applications for insurers and banks. I was building online tools in PHP and JavaScript (this was way before jQuery, Prototype, or React existed, so there was a lot of custom JavaScript involved to make things dynamic and interactive!) that allowed customers to get online quotes for their insurances and mortgages. That was my first professional foray into building software on top of databases, and it piqued my interest to do more of that.

That internship was probably a key experience for me in figuring out that I want to focus on building software, not just for the sake of coding, but to build tools that are useful and have value to the businesses and people that use them.

We’ve talked about the importance of a company having strong core values. What are your own personal core values?

My core values include continuous improvement and learning, always working on myself and never assuming that my job is done. There’s always something else for me to learn and get better at. This requires constant self-inquiry, reflection, and being receptive to feedback.

I value integrity, saying what needs to be said, doing what needs to be done, all in the best interest of the group of people around me, whether it’s my family, at work, or with my friends. I think the German in me pushes me to be frank and candid with what I’m thinking and doing.

Focus is very important to me, which is both a matter of productivity and not focusing on too many things at once. Focus trickles down from the very top, so I set my priorities in the way that best serves the environment I’m in and the people I’m with.

Lastly, I try my best to be a force of calm and optimism, while also being impatient with progress. I’m an impatient person by nature, which I try my hardest to channel into a sense of urgency that can help drive a positive outcome. I get frustrated when things stall, especially when it’s because someone or something is waiting on a decision.

I’m an impatient person by nature, which I try my hardest to convert into a sense of urgency.

I’ve seen pics of your habanero pepper plants on Slack. How does a German tech executive become a hot pepper enthusiast?

When my family and I moved into a new apartment, we found ourselves with a deck that was south-facing (lots of sunshine during summer). Growing habaneros and jalapeños started more out of curiosity to see how well those things might grow on the balcony. Turns out that they’re growing rather well, so I started looking into what I could do with them. I pickled jalapeños and searched for interesting hot sauce recipes that I could use the habaneros for.

This year the summer has been so long and intense that I’ve harvested some 200+ habaneros and 50 or so trinidad scorpion peppers, way more than I know what to do with. So I dried some, fermented others, pickled some with onions, made new kinds of hot sauce, and I’ll probably make jam, and who knows what else.

Mathias Meyer's homemade hot sauce
The end result of Mathias's passion for gardening

I guess curiosity is what drives me in general. I find something that piques my interest, so I pick it up and see where it takes me, learning as much about it as I can. It’s how I got into building software, and it’s how I ended up in a management position too. All these things stuck with me and turned out to be things that I enjoy.

I like the physical act of making hot sauce. I like cooking as a means to disconnect from work. There’s something zen about it that calms me down. Making hot sauce also helps greatly to clear those nostrils right out.

People have asked me many times if I’m selling my hot sauce, and my answer is always no. That’d take the fun out of it. It’d suddenly be too serious and probably take up more time than I’m comfortable with. It’s so much nicer to be able to gift someone a bottle, send one to friends, but still have my own face on the label as a statement of pride in what I do. It’s just something fun for me to do, and it’s nice when people tell me that they enjoy my hot sauce.

I guess curiosity is what drives me in general. I find something that piques my interest, so I pick it up and see where it takes me, learning as much about it as I can.

Any favorite books or movies you’d like to share with us?

I wouldn’t exactly say I have any particular “favorites” in either category. I tend to have an ever-growing list of books, movies, and music that I’ve enjoyed recently.

I’ve always been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so I guess the entire series there can count as favorites.

I’ve most recently enjoyed the books “High Growth Handbook,” “The First 90 Days” (to help me get started with my new job, hey!), “Radical Candor,” “Lost and Founder,” and “Bad Blood.”

OK, I have to ask this just out of my own curiosity: Your online handle is ‘@roidrage,’ which doesn’t really seem to match your personality. What’s the story there?

It has nothing to do with steroid abuse or its side effects. I actually used to be deep into Polaroid photography. An acquaintance was selling Polaroid-themed buttons. One of them said "Roidrage," and I thought, hey that's cool! I think I used it first for my Twitter account in 2008.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned the more common meaning of the term, but by then I figured, I'll just stick with it and have it be a slightly hysterical origin story. If you see me in person you'll certainly note that the common use of the word in no way applies to me.

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