Get to Know Matt Wennersten
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi everyone, I’m Matt! I grew up living in many different places including the UK, Singapore, and Hong Kong, but mostly Salisbury, MD on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I came to Washington, DC with an Engineering degree from Cambridge but after stints in IT in Northern Virginia and Australia, I decided to retrain as a school teacher.
I spent 6 years teaching high school math and computer science in DC Public Schools. In 2007, I married an Indian national working in New Zealand and spent the next 11 years in Asia mixing education and technology projects. This included spending 8 years in Chennai, where I built an AI-powered English language learning platform. I also enjoy hiking, motorcycle riding, and writing. Speaking of writing, look out for my second novel on Kindle in early 2021!
How would you describe your role to someone who doesn’t know what a TDM is?
My job is to scope new work, supervise teams of developers on the work we win, coordinate client communication, and manage project risk. I help Appian Federal customers understand what’s involved in building their application on Appian. I also work with the client and the team to make sure the app they want gets built right, on time, and on budget. A lot of what I do is managing expectations. You can build pretty much anything with software these days — what makes something the “right thing” often boils down to making the right choices about what you need and what you should leave out.
What excites you about your role at Appian?
Two things really stand out: I work with amazing people, and my work has real impact. The teams at Appian are tremendous. I’m continually surprised how capable, energetic, and positive our teams are. The work is challenging and interesting, with sometimes tight deadlines, but it’s super rewarding. The Federal clients who choose Appian are clued-in, visionary people who want to move fast and create efficiencies. It’s about new digital capabilities, and saving tax dollars. My work is not making real-estate leases 1% more efficient for an anonymous bank. It’s securing the parts needed for mission readiness. It’s ensuring service members are safe. It’s helping agencies provide resources to remote schools and libraries. We are building mission-critical applications for the government that transform how well our government works, and I’m super proud to be part of it.
We’ve heard you are going through Appian MBA (our internal leadership training for Appian Managers) — can you speak to this learning experience and share what the process has been like for you?
The Appian MBA is a beautifully structured leadership course that presents core lessons of modern management in an engaging and schedule sensitive way. I’m reasonably well along in my career, but even so, I’ve learned heaps. The focus is on creating future leaders, which means goal setting, coaching, giving feedback, and creating a climate conducive to everyone’s success. From the initial units on Shackleton’s leadership to Radical Candor to driving change, the Appian MBA has been a great experience, and I’ve gotten to meet a unique slice of peers from across the length and breadth of Appian.
Describe a “growth” opportunity or experience that you have had while working at Appian.
Appian puts a premium on truth. You need good information to move fast and deliver impact. Appian also works hard to ensure that “good ideas can come from anywhere.” You can’t get good data unless people are willing to talk to you directly. I’ve been challenged by Appian to rethink how I give and solicit feedback, and also how to “flex my style” to meet the needs of people who might work, think or communicate differently from me, to ensure that they hear me the right way, and to ensure that I hear them.
What are your passions and hobbies outside of work? Any cool places you’ve visited or seen?
I love to travel, and I love to get outdoors. From Appian HQ, you can often find me heading out to the Shenandoah on hikes. In my 16 months at Appian, I’ve been able to visit Costa Rica, Denmark, and India. Costa Rica in January is ideal — running on the beach in the morning, sipping a cool Imperial while the sun sets on clear waters. But I was really surprised by how amazing Copenhagen was. It wasn’t cheap, but well worth a visit (in the summer/fall, not the winter!).
My wife Mala and I in Costa Rica on Tamarindo beach!
What would you say is your favorite part about working at Appian?
The Maori have a saying: “What is most important in life? The people, the people, the people.” This is super-true of Appian. It’s been ridiculously easy to make “work-friends”, across ages and across teams. Coming to work with amazing people is just the best.
What is one moment you are proud of professionally at Appian?
Appian Customer Success, of which I am part, is a consulting services organization within a software company. Appian’s main goal is to ship great software. Future growth will be driven in large part by clients and partners building applications on their own.
So why do we have a consulting division? My teams are charged with solving the hardest problems, implementing Appian best-practices at speed, and enabling our partners. In March, Appian was asked by the US Air Force to build out an end-to-end case management application in 6 months, under a firm-fixed-price Rapid Innovation Fund grant. Looking at the scoping, my tech lead and I agreed that this was a big, ambitious ask, with lots of workflows and huge scope.
The “pre-reading” requirements documentation alone was hundreds of pages. Just before we started the project, Appian went into coronavirus lock-down. Instead of flying to Dayton, OH, we retooled for a virtual Sprint Zero from our home-offices. At the time, we weren’t sure how long the lockdown would go, how it would affect productivity, or even if we would be able to deliver this fixed-price project at all, let alone in the originally planned six month window. Six months later, we deployed a complete application. Every client interaction happened on Zoom and Slack. We still haven’t met face to face, yet the relationships we were able to build and sustain within our team and with the team in Ohio, as well as our client’s flexibility and grace, allowed us to deliver value at speed, on the cloud, from anywhere.
What do you enjoy most about being a TDM?
Seeing my team develop. It’s awesome to onboard a new team member and see them go from wide-eyed novice to capable lead in an accelerated time frame. Appian delivers value quickly, so projects tend to be short — 8 weeks to a few months. There is nothing better than working closely with somebody on one project, coaching them up, then teaming with them later on another project and watching them take on a more senior role with confidence and expertise.