Geek of the Week: Austin Dale Wheat Believes in the Power of a Good Old-Fashioned Text Message

By Jacob Demmitt, GeekWire

austin-wheat-geek-of-the-week

The technology world may be in love with the hot new messaging services from companies Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook. But OpenMarket’s Austin Dale Wheat isn’t ready to give up on the good old fashioned stuff quite yet.

He spends his days in the world of SMS, or short message service, designing innovative ways for businesses to use plain old text messages for things like customer loyalty and tech support.

For Wheat, the math is pretty simple. He says 98 percent of SMS messages are read, compared to 22 percent of emails.

“If you multiply this by the 6 billion SMS-enabled devices on Earth, then you start to realize how effective and important SMS is,” he said.

Wheat has lived on what he calls the “best coast,” also known as the West Coast, for the past four years, working at startups and larger companies like AT&T in both the Seattle and San Francisco Bay areas. Right now, he’s a senior manager at mobile engagement services company OpenMarket.

Born in Texas, Wheat began “geeking out” when he got his first computer at age 6, designed his first database to track his baseball card collection at age seven and started charging his family for tech support at age eight.

Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I work in mobile product management, specifically in product management for SMS (text messaging for enterprises). I love my job because SMS is my passion and I get to work on so many aspects of business. My days are filled with a variety of tasks including working on feature roadmaps, customer experience initiatives, product pricing, creative writing, and (my favorite) translating business requirements into technical specifications. What I love most about my job is that I get to be right in the middle of conversations between business owners, technical developers and creative/artistic folks. I’m not the ‘creative person’ or the ‘ideas guy’ – but I love bringing these areas of expertise together and see how everything is connected.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “SMS has been around for a while, so it isn’t as ‘sexy’ as other mediums of communication. But it should be, considering its reach and ubiquity. Also, my mom (a baby boomer) is way better at texting than she is at using Facebook, so that’s important.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “For creative inspiration, nothing is better than camping in the Pacific Northwest or dancing with friends at a live music show. I love to see how people take their creative visions and bring them into the ‘real world.’ For technical inspiration, I love reading science fiction, tech blogs and trolling Kickstarter. To get my mind running in high gear, just about anything related to 3D-printing does the trick.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Of course, as a mobile nerd, I’d say my cellphone. I say, ‘of course,’ but I only recently realized this was my favorite piece of technology when my phone mysteriously died and I was left without it. I use my phone all day. Honestly, I mostly use it to play music from Spotify or Soundcloud, but it’s good for my daily tasks, too. I even find myself reaching into my pocket for it when I don’t even need it; it’s muscle memory now.”

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Wheat’s workspace

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “Well, I don’t have a dramatic view of the Puget Sound; my office looks into the hallway and my boss’ office. So I had to get creative when making my space my own and functional. With some nerdy posters on my wall, including my favorite maps and some great thrift shop finds, the space works. I also brought in some designer furniture from home and my own lights since fluorescent lighting really bugs me. And my office wouldn’t be complete without a Toshiba laptop, JBL speakers and an ultrathin Mac keyboard.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Start the day with a list of things that you will not do for the day. This really helps to reduce distractions, so you can focus on only the most important things.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “For casual browsing, nothing beats my iPad and MacBook Air. For re-purposing old PC hardware, definitely LinuxMint. For gaming, hands down Windows. Actually, for real ‘get down to business and/or gaming,’ Windows still rules them all. I recently built a water-cooled SLI gaming rig — my first machine with a greater than 1Kw power supply.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Absolutely no question: Picard. No other man in space has better combined Shakespearean acting and sex appeal.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “I have to answer this question by process of elimination. For me, there is a lot of existential horror involved with the transporter. Who’s to say that you’re still you after experiencing such a thing? Regarding the cloak of invisibility, what happens if you have to sneeze? It’s just useless. So that leaves the time machine. I’ve always wanted to travel back in time with gadgets and show them off to my former self. Time machine for the win! Not listed here, but highly suggested are the Holodeck and the Replicator.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “I would start a 3D printer incubator. What this means in reality, I don’t know. But we would definitely print some great things!”

I once waited in line for … “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I waited in line three times to see it. No shame.”

Your role models: “My father. At an early age he dragged me to the PC tech swap meets, gifting me with his weird brand of ‘free enterprise.’ Also, my mother. She made sure I became a kind and caring person who could curse in a grammatically correct fashion.”

Greatest Game in History: “Defrag.exe. My early love of Defrag conditioned me for a lifetime of watching progress bar meters. Just kidding, the best game ever is LucasArts’ Sam & Max Hit the Road. I love the adventure genre, particularly the LucasArts classics. But nothing in that line ever surpassed the original Sam & Max. I usually replay Sam & Max about once a year using ScummVM and loved revisiting this in Telltale’s serial reboot of the series.”

Best Gadget Ever: “Portable MP3 player. Today, this function is served by my phone and Spotify. But initially being able to take my MP3s anywhere transformed my life.”

First Computer: “Circa 1988: IBM XT (5160) with two double density (360KB!) 5.25” disk drives and a whopping 512KB of RAM! Unfortunately, it only had monochrome (MDA) video, but was upgraded to CGA graphics the following year. Later prized additions were a 101-key keyboard, a three-button serial mouse, an IBM ColorJet bubble printer and a 2400bps modem.”

Current Phone: “HTC One M9 (the gray one).”

Favorite App: “Mint.com, because it does all of the math for me.”

Favorite Cause: “The All Stars Project, which offers quality after-school programs that reignite hope and possibility for inner-city youth. These programs open up the world to youth and give them the tools they need to perform on stage and in life. It operates in New York, Newark, Chicago, Dallas, the San Francisco Bay Area and Bridgeport, Conn.”

Most important technology of 2015: “Hands down, 3D-printing.”

Most important technology of 2017: “Artificial intelligent IoT-enabled 3D-printing.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Be proud of your geekdom! It’s sexy these days, so capitalize on it while it lasts.”

Twitter: @outspan81