This Q&A is featured in the spring 2021 issue of St. Thomas Engineer.
Name: Mike Thyken ’83
Chief technology ofﬁcer (CTO) at CaringBridge, an online social network for health journeys
Graduate Programs in Software Strategic Advisory Board chair
Advice to yourself as an undergraduate:
Don’t get too concerned about jobs; build your skills and the jobs will ﬁnd you.
Favorite class while at St. Thomas:
Statistics. I liked probability and queuing theory. Statistics is very valuable in the business world; you rarely have perfect information, so it is very helpful to know how to do probability and odds.
What advice do you have for someone who would like the role of a CIO/CTO?
Build your toolbox. CIOs hold a large leadership role, so become a student of leadership. Also, learn as much as you can about change management and become a master of strategy. I also think you must have exposure to programming so you can understand how things work. Be a lifelong learner; I am constantly learning.
You have had led several organizations as the chief information officer (CIO) or CTO, at Select Comfort (now Sleep Number), SunOpta and Merrill. What do you like about this leadership role?
I like the opportunity to grow businesses. I love change. I love the strategy around IT. Right now, IT is in the middle of change. Businesses need IT to make decisions. Opportunity is driven on changes in tech. I love the IT/systems part of the business. It is like a candy store for me.
As a CIO/CTO, what do you see as the biggest change with digital transformation?
Twenty years ago, it was all about business transformation and IT was there to facilitate and execute. Now with digital transformation, IT is brought in early and has a big voice in the strategy and still is there to facilitate and execute.
What is the best thing about Graduate Programs in Software (GPS)?
Watching Dr. Bhabani Misra use each person on the GPS Advisory Board to pull together disparate data points into something that evolves for the students in the programs. He is the one in the room who can see the larger picture. Bhabani is amazing at what he does, a leader who understands that technology moves fast, so he works fast. Bhabani has put together a data science program that is now seven years old. Look around, it truly is one of the best programs in the country, it is right up there. St. Thomas has good reason to be very proud of this program.
Next big thing:
The pandemic has opened an opportunity as people no longer need to be in a physical location together to get work done.
Where to find you on a Sunday afternoon:
Distance bike riding. I ride inside in the winter. When I have a gnarly problem, I ﬁnd it clears my head and sometimes the answer just comes to me.