From Rancher to Scrum Master: A Profile of Chris Maeder

I’d like to think that wrangling cattle as a teenager prepared me for my later stint as Scrum Master at CivilGEO. On the ranch I had to be prepared to act quickly and adapt to conditions that could change hourly: a sick steer, a storm rolling in, a broken auger drive. In a similar fashion, software development can throw you the unexpected bug that sets off a cascade of software glitches. My life has been filled with a hodge-podge of odd jobs. I’ve always been curious about life and this curiosity has led to a lot of interesting experiences. And though I didn’t stick with any of these early fields of interest long term, I acquired some good skills, all of which help me in my present career as a software development manager.

Chess on a Mainframe

My interest in computers started in 1974 when I was still in high school. Hammering away at a giant mainframe computer, I created a primitive software program to play chess. The main problem was the computer only had 16 kilobytes of memory and the chess program labored for an eternity to make a move. Tinkering with computers was considered a quirky hobby then. No one knew at that time how the computer industry would take off in the years that followed. In fact, when I told my mom I was considering applying for a programmer job in 1976 at a then unknown company called Micro-Soft, she basically told me I was nuts. Ah well…we’ve all had our share of lost opportunities.

Welding Tools, Cranes and Semi-Trucks, Oh My!

Mid-way through college, I learned how to weld and worked as an instructor at a technical school in Staples, MN. I supported myself as a heavy equipment operating engineer, crane operator and semi-truck driver as well. These jobs taught me about hard work, the value of sticking with a job even when working conditions were lousy, and that it was best to avoid the food served at truck stops. But it was fun too. And I still think that nothing beats the view from the cab of a semi-truck.

Tinkering with Computers

I’m up to my elbows in motor oil and cattle (on the weekends), but I’m still messing with computers. As a student of civil engineering at UW-Madison, I developed a 3D CAD Software system that performed structural engineering analysis. I also worked on water modeling software as a graduate student in computer science. I had the entrepreneurial bug then and would have done something with these programs, but back in 1982 computers weren’t fast enough and the mass production of software was not considered commercially feasible. Little did I know the software industry was at the cusp of really taking off.

My Life as a Grown-Up and Manager

Looking back, my earliest full-time positions have always consisted of some blend of software management and civil engineering consulting work. As a chief engineer and consultant at BOSS International, I was always deep in water resource engineering projects. I worked on small to large regional storm water studies, wastewater sewer projects, 1D and 2D river hydraulics, bridge and culvert design, FEMA floodplain studies, AutoCAD and ArcGIS integration, water distribution studies and dam safety studies. I am exposed to just about every scenario a civil engineer and water modeler encounters in his work and this experience is invaluable. In the application of software to these diverse projects, I discovered which features worked and which did not. In fact, at this time I am beginning to create roadmaps for new civil engineering products. I am learning the importance of market research; I’m conceptualizing new software applications; and perhaps most importantly, I am learning how to manage teams of people.

Working with People is a Necessity

At BOSS International I had to push my comfort zone and become comfortable working with people. I was the principal rainmaker, bringing in new client projects and maintaining existing client relationships. Along with this came primary responsibility for engineering reports, environmental regulatory studies and project designs. I led software development on a smaller scale and worked daily with a variety of clients. These duties carried over well at Autodesk where I worked as an Industry Solutions Manager and later, Product Manager.

The Present at CM WaterGroup and CivilGEO

Presently I work as the engineering director at CM WaterGroup and CivilGEO Engineering Software. At CM Water Group, we provide technical services in a wide range of water-related disciplines, including hydraulics, hydrology, hydrogeology, numerical modeling, environmental science water resources planning, water engineering, GIS and visual communication. At CivilGEO I get to be the Scrum Master I guess I was always meant to be. Who knew the scruffy teenager roping steers on the ranch would later manage a more “technical” animal? Today I manage a highly dedicated team of software developers, software architects, UX experts, QA engineers, civil engineers and other professionals. I created an industry pilot program, prototyped radical UI and various cutting edge distributed system technologies and conceptualized the direction, features and design standards of an entire product line. And the bonus: I love my work!

What it Has All Taught Me

I don’t regret for an instant the time I spent training to weld or operate a crane. And working on a farm is something every kid should do. As a result of my time on the ranch, I know I can fix just about anything and I developed a work ethic that serves me to this day. I have always gone where my curiosity takes me and this has turned out to be a winning formula. We have all heard this expression, but I’ll say it again: “Do what you love and the money will follow.” I couldn’t agree more.