Infrastructure Lays the Foundation for Developer Artistry with Tony Minessale, Founder and CEO of SignalWire
IT Visionaries Podcast
In general, creative-types fall into two camps. The first camp loves the excitement of creating something flashy — things that people can identify, experience, and viscerally respond to. The second camp is made up of those who care about building a foundation so that other people can create great things upon it. If they do their jobs really well, their work may go relatively unnoticed. But that’s okay with them. They can sit back and smile, knowing they helped other creators do their best work. Tony Minessale, the Founder and CEO of SignalWire, described the satisfaction that comes with building a strong foundation to help developers do what they do best.
“There’s not a lot of effort to empower developers. which is our customer,” Minessale said. “We hear about developers and they have a lot of cool ideas and we want them to be able to take the buffet of all the cool stuff that we’ve built and arrange it their own way, like art almost.”
In some ways, focusing on building a foundation isn’t glamorous work. But without the foundation of a home, for instance, there is no home. For those dedicated to building new infrastructure, their vision is immense and game changing when realized. Homes and entire cities are built because people put in the work to build the infrastructure first. In the technological world, similar groundwork is needed for others to build upon it. And there are levels to all the different kinds of technology that gets created. It’s one level to make a program or an application. It’s another to build a network. And it’s a whole other stratosphere to seek to change an entire industry.
On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, Minessale explained how SignalWire is creating telecom software that will ultimately lead to a telecommunications network based entirely on the internet. Of course, to get there takes a lot of different developments — pieces of the foundation that will eventually change the entire telecommunications industry.
“We get some money,” Minessale said. “We hire some people. We try and make some products. We try to grow more. We’re doing this evolution, and the whole time we’re just trying to stay committed to empower developers, which is what we are.”
For Minessale, this is part of the overall vision. Supporting developers is a key value, for sure, but all of these products and all of this support for developers is part of a greater goal.
“Meanwhile, we have a further goal [that] as those developers build stuff on our network, our network is getting used more, the capabilities required become bigger and that allows us to simplify it further so that we transition slowly into being a telecom network that [is] completely on the internet,” Minessale said.
Although his vision is grand, Minessale learned many lessons along the way; particularly in his early days building FreeSWITCH in open source.
“It’s in a different world,” Minessale said. “It’s academic. It’s similar to doing college research. You’re building it for the sake of building it and not because you’re trying to make money.”
FreeSWITCH is a software-defined telecommunications stack. In other words, it’s a software that can help transform regular computer devices into telecommunication machines. Minessale cut his teeth building FreeSWITCH in the open-source community. Having many volunteers working toward similar goals but often to solve different problems proved complicated at times.
“One man’s bug was another one’s feature,” Minessale said. “There’d be people you’d change something [and] half of them would get mad and you’d change it back and the other half would get mad so you’d have to build a configuration choice to make both possible.”
Despite the complexities in the process, FreeSWITCH was successfully completed and has since been proved to be very successful for many companies. Minessale did learn from the experience, however, that he needed to create his own company, SignalWire, to keep growing. Out of the gate, Minessale and his team built their distributed network and then compatibility layers with some current APIs. All the while, Minessale has kept the company close to his roots while keeping his eye on the prize.
“We have a community vibe, due to our upbringing…We’re big on storytelling,” Minessale said. “We really believe in passing on and helping people through. When you experience something that was really challenging, it’s really nice to tell someone else how to shortcut through that.”
The evolution of a creator tends to go from a focus on personal creativity to creating opportunities for others to, finally, at the most advanced level, creating a new foundation that changes the world. This is reflected in Minessale’s creative journey, and there’s a lot to learn from his story.
To hear more about how Minessale and SignalWire are creating a foundation for developers to flourish that will someday lead to a completely internet-based telecom network, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!
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