Enabling Human-centered Technology: Tina Huang, Founder & CTO, Transpositby@abriers

Enabling Human-centered Technology: Tina Huang, Founder & CTO, Transposit

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A startup interview with Tina Huang: Transposit bridges the gap between developers and IT operations with automated human-and-machine workflows and operational visibility. The cloud service enables operations teams to streamline DevOps practices, dramatically improving service reliability and resolve incidents faster. It turns alerts into action directly where teams communicate (like Slack) and in a web app that adds real-time analytics and automated documentation. At the University of Chicago, I focused on humanities and human stories, studying blogging as a form of storytelling. At Twitter, I architected, built, scaled, and operated the social media company’s notification platform.

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HackerNoon Reporter: Please tell us briefly about your background.

I’m currently the CTO and founder of Transposit, where we are reimagining how operations teams get work done. Before Transposit, I started my career as a software engineer worked at various companies like Apple, Google, and Twitter and was a founding engineer at Sigma Computing.

As an early Google engineer, I played an instrumental role in re-architecting the Google News frontend. At Twitter, I architected, built, scaled and operated the social media company’s notification platform. All of these roles built towards my intention to eventually become an entrepreneur. Every organization I was a part of was an order of magnitude smaller until eventually I founded Transposit.

The learnings during my time as a student at the University of Chicago studying humanities combined with my experiences during my former job roles helped shape my belief in taking a human-centric approach to solving complex engineering problems. It encourages engineers to practice end-to-end ownership while breaking down the silos in engineering organizations.

What's your startup called? And in a sentence or two, what does it do?

I founded Transposit in 2016. Transposit bridges the gap between developers and IT operations with automated human-and-machine workflows and operational visibility, empowering teams to optimize incident management, scale infrastructure as code practices, and modernize service request management.

The cloud service enables operations teams to streamline DevOps practices, dramatically improve service reliability and resolve incidents faster. It turns alerts into action directly where teams communicate (like Slack) and in a web app that adds real-time analytics and automated documentation.

What is the origin story?

Across all of my experiences at school, Google and Twitter, there was a constant theme: keeping humans in the loop. Whether it was human-in-the-loop curation to augment algorithms or human-in-the-loop automation – it was all very human-centric. I consistently asked myself

“How to merge humans and technology together?”

At the University of Chicago I focused on humanities and human stories, studying blogging as a form of storytelling. I was later part of a project on Google News, which was all about helping humans curate and add value to algorithmic news generation. At that time, the prevailing emphasis was on machines, not the people behind the screen. Since I was championing the human aspects of tech, it didn’t seem like my passion had a place, but my perspective endured. I went to Twitter during an era where the company saw itself as an information network. To me, Twitter was people curating news, putting together 140 character snippets.

When I founded Transposit in 2016, I got the opportunity to bring my passions for tech and people together. I remain focused on the human aspect of technology and my first mission for the company still rings true: I wanted to make developers’ lives easier. Now, as I continue to scale Transposit, I’m motivated by the strategic, intellectual people I work with as we collaborate to build the best possible DevOps orchestration platform.

What do you love about your team, and why are you the ones to solve this problem?

Our team is made up of smart, empathetic people who are strategically minded and skilled communicators. As an engineer, it’s easy to get caught up in one intricate piece of the problem at hand – a single line of code, for example, can become an intense fixation. At Transposit, we encourage “big picture” thinking where strategic communication and collaboration are welcomed.

Knowledge goes far beyond technical understanding in this industry, so as we solve complex problems in the DevOps world, it’s important that we continue keeping in mind the humans who are using our solution in their operations stack. There’s tension between trying to build a sophisticated platform for the future and a platform that’s equipped to solve today’s pressing problems. This requires people to understand both sides of the equation––and we have the best team on board to achieve this.

If you weren’t building your startup, what would you be doing?

If I weren’t building Transposit, I’d likely be building a different startup. People used to ask me when I raced bikes why not just ride for fun? The reality is I love team sports. I love the camaraderie you get by working with a group towards a shared goal. Startups are intellectual team sports. You get to build a team and work together to build something great.

At the moment, how do you measure success? What are your core metrics?

A critical component of success for early-stage startups is to not be overly metrics-driven. Most of what you are doing is new, so you don’t have meaningful baselines for most metrics. You have to base a lot more on intuition rather than numerical values. At Transposit, our core measure of success is based on the insights we glean from our platform’s users. Our customers’ passions drive our passion – so when our objectives are aligned, everyone internally and externally is able to be successful with Transposit.

What’s most exciting about your traction to date?

A common response we get from customers is “I didn’t know that something like this product was even possible.” We’ve also received feedback saying “Transposit is the tool you didn’t know you needed but can’t live without.” This excites our team to no end because it’s validating exactly what we set out to do – build a solution that doesn’t just simply replicate the technology that’s already on the market, but redefines it and makes it better.

What technologies are you currently most excited about, and most worried about? And why?

I’m most excited about the standardization of APIs, open data, open standards, custom interfaces – technology that is pushing the world to a more “programmable” place, enabling flexibility and customization.

At its core, Transposit (along with my fundamental beliefs about tech) was built with the foundation that humans are an essential part of any successful technological implementation. So, I’m most worried about technology that would eliminate the need for or replace humans altogether. Take machine learning, for example; it’s a great component of automation to rid users of repetitive tasks. However, when used incorrectly, machine learning can take the human out of the equation, creating more problems down the line.

What drew you to get published on HackerNoon? What do you like most about our platform?

I was introduced to HackerNoon when I was nominated for the Noonies Awards in 2020. I was drawn in by the other nominees’ stories – their narratives had incredible color and came from a wide span of tech sectors. HackerNoon’s platform is a place where intelligent, creative people can share their stories and get recognized for their accomplishments – no matter their company’s size. It’s a great platform to connect with other founders and leaders that share similar ambitions.

What advice would you give to the 21-year-old version of yourself?

Growing up, both of my parents were engineers, leading me to pursue the same path. I veered away from management roles and strictly focused on opportunities as an individual contributor. I’ve always identified as an engineer – a coder – and although I have no regrets on the path I carved out for myself to get me where I am today, I’d tell my 21-year-old self a few things to keep in mind:

  • The engineering mindset I once strictly reserved for coding responsibilities is incredibly useful in other avenues as well. The same things that excite me as an engineer, like structured thinking and constraint problem solving exist in other roles, just in a different form.
  • The “high” you get when you write code can also be applied to debugging human-centric problems. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning about different aspects of what it means to build a company, and gaining more understanding of the people management, marketing, and PR sides of things makes for a more well-rounded engineer and leader.
  • Ambitious people get excited by steep learning curves. Anything you do for long enough, you plateau and stop learning as much. To stay excited and fulfilled, you need to anticipate that plateau and find new challenges. For some, this can be teaching these skills to others. For others, this can be moving into tangential roles or becoming an entrepreneur.

What is something surprising you've learned this year that your contemporaries would benefit from knowing?

This past year has taught me to always lead with a problem-solving mindset. You can’t always predict what’s going to happen next, so how you react and continue venturing forward will make or break your success. Part of that is to not focus on the “grass is always greener” mentality. With the disruption of the pandemic, it is easy to think longingly about how things were before and not take advantage of what the new world has to offer.

One example of this is it’s easy to focus on the challenge of providing context to the team in a purely remote world. But we adopted a technology that allows us to record and transcribe customer calls with their permission. Because all of our meetings were held virtually due to the pandemic, we can actually share these with our team and help our engineers get closer to the customers, understand their feedback, and directly apply the insights to our product.

This uncovered value taught me to adjust my outlook on our current situation and appreciate the new opportunities remote work has provided us. Even though we were physically distanced from our customers, each conversation brought us closer and more aligned.

Vote for Transposit as the startup of the year, San Fransisco now!

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