Pieter VanIperen is a veteran software architect and security expert who is an industry authority and influencer providing thought leadership and execution to develop widely adopted processes, methodologies, and technologies that are at the forefront of digital innovation and software development.
As a 20-year software engineering veteran, he has founded or co-founded several companies, acted as trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, held the titles of software executive and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. He authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language as well.
Most recently, as the Founder and Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, Pieter leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries. Becoming trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs.
Formerly, Pieter held the title of SVP – Global Head of Cloud Security at a major media conglomerate, positions as Cloud and Security Consultant for a national consumer insurance company, national bank, and others. Prior to that he was a resident innovation and automation software architect, and a secure coding expert for a major online discount brokerage.
He is a Certified Penetration Testing Engineer/Ethical Hacker, Secure Web Application Engineer, Network Forensics Examiner, Cloud Security Officer, and Information Systems Security Officer.
Pieter also provides consulting services to multiple law enforcement institutions as an Info Sec expert on a volunteer basis and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Code Security at New York University (NYU) teaching Secure Coding for Coders.
Where did the idea for PWV Consultants come from?
As an executive, I would constantly see projects go awry, deliver nothing or less than nothing. Sometimes even something that looked like a success would cross my desk, but was non-functional under the hood. I have been on both sides of the consultancy relationship and knew I could find a better way to bring value to both sides. That is where I started: How can we make consulting relationships successful and provide value, real actionable value, quickly? How can I create the un-agency?
Way back before I was a Senior Executive at Fortune 500 companies like 21st Century Fox, I ran a dev shop. This was early on in my career, and I had a laundry list the size of my arm filled with what I didn’t want to do, the habits and pitfalls of organizational failings. I knew what made projects I personally ran successful, what I brought to the table as an architect, manager, and consultant. I knew what made my own solo consulting successful. This, to me, is why people always handed me the dumpster fire to fix, or the impossible problem to solve. So, I decided to set out to find a new way to work with clients and a new process to work on projects. This is how PWV Consultants was born and how it bred Radical Production Transparency.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Pre-COVID, much of my day was spent in meetings and doing heads down coding. I now organize my days around sharing child care with my wife, we have two little ones at home. This has actually made me laser focused during my work time. If you know you only have 1 or 2 hours to accomplish something before you need to take over kid duties, and then back again (we are alternating schedules), it removes a lot of the factors that normally limit productivity. It also oddly keeps your brain refreshed as it forces you to break right when many productivity researchers say your focus will wander or you’ll hit a wall anyway – somewhere between 90 minutes and 3 hours. Most of my days are spent on strategy, hands-on work and aligning with my teams work.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Most of our business is bringing ideas to life. Our Philosophy is called Radical Production Transparency. Our clients probably feel it is something we use just for them, but we actually use it internally for any projects we have – whether it’s rebranding, a new marketing push, a new automation we are building or even an operational change. We believe that clients, internal or external, should not be subject to blind development and should remain constantly involved with production and project progress throughout the relationship. Realistically, estimating effort to bring ideas to the real world and, more importantly, that ideas remain static are foolish.
As a project moves on, we need to ensure that everyone is on the same page, decisions about where effort is spent is directed by the Subject Matter Experts, and that expectations are set and revised with the most current information. This is how most of us run our lives and our businesses, but for some reason we run projects like they are in a vacuum, or worse some agile fever dream where we can change everything every week. Neither work in any other part of life, so I am not sure why we have decided they would work when approaching projects. I think there is this mentality that folks want a project to be like buying an iPhone. It is not. But as soon as it’s not a simple fixed cost to solve a problem, once they hear about responding to change with agile, they go the other way and want to do all the things ever, including the most current thing, but that isn’t really a strategy.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Businesses in all sectors have realized, thanks to COVID, that employees and contractors are capable of doing their jobs asynchronously and remotely. I have long been a proponent of remote work. I have run several companies where, even if there are offices, basically everyone is remote. I believe there is value in face-to-face meetings and brainstorming sessions, but otherwise people should do their best work where they are comfortable and productive. I remember early in my career seeing people be panicked all day about leaving on time for a doctor’s appointment or kid’s event. If you are focused on getting out by 2pm, not hitting traffic and being there at 3pm to see your kid score his big goal, which would normally be a 10 minute drive but is now an ordeal, then you aren’t focused on your work. At least, you’re not focused in the way you would be, knowing that if you leave 25 minutes before 3pm, you should have plenty of time.
Most importantly, for years now, most of the work that people do is on the internet anyway and doesn’t require being in an office or access to certain facilities. Moreover, many companies have offices across the country and around the globe. It’s a bit trite to say, “Steve can’t work from home and has to be in the New York office,” when 70% of Steve’s meetings include people in the LA or Chicago offices. They aren’t all in the same place anyway. And for years I have also seen managers with direct reports spread out to offices around the country, this is basically allowing remote work while inconveniencing your employees. So the fact that companies are coming out now and finally saying we trust you to work remotely and get things done – after all they did it while working remotely during a pandemic (post-pandemic will be a lot easier for everyone) is incredibly exciting. It opens up talent and will hopefully let people have better work life balance.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I make a very concerted effort to focus on outcomes and macros. It’s very easy to get bogged down into the minutia when you run a company. But strategy is not often linked to minutia. People tend to lean on process and method, instead of why and what. When you change the process to be experimental, and it is the process of getting what and why, then you start to move much more quickly toward progress.
What advice would you give your younger self?
This too shall pass. Being an entrepreneur means roadblocks, bad days, brick walls and, often, learning the hard way. But most roads aren’t straight and things often work out given time and effort. Just keep your eyes open and be willing to lean into pivots at the right time.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
This is starting to change, but for years I would tell people that being a good programmer, architect, developer, coder (terms are all mashed around today) has incredibly little to do with education, comp sci or math degrees. It has a lot more to do with how you think, how creative you are (the best coders I know are also musicians, writers, other types of creatives) and how patient you are as a self-learner. Coding has way more in common with speaking foreign languages, playing the clarinet or understanding how to teach yourself to perform a magic trick than math or science. Only recently have there been studies and data coming out that support what I have seen first hand for years.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
For your businesses to scale, you first have to learn how to scale yourself. Being an entrepreneur is a bit like being a thought factory. You need to invent, create, and build. You need to rapidly find how to germinate an idea to the point of someone else being able to run with it and come back with the outcome you are imagining. Try to identify what can be taught and pay others to do that task. And it is something you have to work on consistently. Most entrepreneurs have a very clear vision, so it’s very easy to put on the perfectionist hat and step in sleeves rolled up. But often when you do that, other solutions can be overlooked.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Professional relationships and word-of-mouth sound cliche but truthfully it’s one of the biggest factors in our business’s growth. Many of our new clients come to us from direct referrals. Word of mouth comes from both internal and external relationships, which we earn by developing trust. Our clients trust us, sometimes more than their own folks. They come back to us with problems, their friends problems, their frustrations and friction points, and we help them navigate those. We believe in partnership with clients, they aren’t buying a tool and they aren’t hiring an employee who might turn over. They are gaining a reliable partner and sounding board.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Early on in my career, we had a product launching. We did a ton of product market fit research to determine viability, sales interest, early adopters, price points etc. The problem is, sometimes research does not replicate results. It turned out that on paper the market wanted what we developed and was willing to pay for it and use it. However, when it actually launched, that product was too advanced for the current market. We pivoted hard to determine what would fit when it came to actual dollars and not survey responses. We experimented for about 3 months and came out with a completely different product than we launched with. I always carry this with me. The number one thing, as an entrepreneur, is to expect nothing to go as planned. Getting comfortable with that mindset and thinking on your feet almost always yields a solution. And when it doesn’t, sometimes it just will not work. You have exhausted all options and sleep without tossing around what ifs in your mind. You have to know when it’s time to move on, not every idea is going to go the way research indicates.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I would love for someone to make an anti-Instagram. Ideally this would be shot for shot of the curated perfect photos you see on instagram, but with all the nonsense that is out of frame. The process of getting to the final product is always a lot messier behind the scenes. When you see a movie, a play, or read a book, you know there is work that went into it behind the scenes. We are all in on it and suspend disbelief together. Instagram and other similar platforms are often full of these heavily produced scenes masquerading as real life. And it’s dangerous for entrepreneurs because reality is gritty, difficult, and requires fortitude to stick with it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Picasso Tiles – they are magnetic tiles of different colors and shapes. I have two children under the age of 4 at home, and Covid has made life extra interesting. The tiles are cool, they teach the kids about building structures, magnetism and, frankly, they are fun for adults as well. My daughter and I really enjoy building weird buildings with all kinds of shapes and sizes, trying to see how we can use magnetism to defy gravity. It’s really great to see her develop ideas and problem-solve when they don’t quite work (gravity often wins) and still build something really unique. Given the hours that add up to days worth of play we have gotten out of these, for the value and fun this has to be the best use of $100 recently.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Trello – It’s my living to do list where I dump all my tasks across everything I do. Even this interview ends up on there. I dump everything there so I never need to think about tasks or tasking. I plan my days with it and I make sure balls don’t get dropped. But most importantly, it lets me not live in my inbox, slack and everywhere else. Those all just become little Trello items. This all leaves my mind free to really problem solve present in the moment and not think about a to do list.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I am asked about book recommendations frequently and they are ever changing with the time and what I am working on. I think, given recent events, my answer now is starkly different than it would have been in January. I think Night by Elie Wiesel is apt given what we are all experiencing. I think it is important to remember that we are here doing this interview because we are descended from survivors of all sorts of terrible historical events. We’ve proven that we can stare hell in the face and come back from it. My own grandmother was a survivor of the Holocaust. Growing up, that was an enormous wealth of strength when faced with adversity. I think we need to remember that, not just now but at all times. The only thing you can do sometimes is outlast adversity and not let it get you. If you can do that and survive, the future is always something you can make brighter.
What is your favorite quote?
Churchill, on the phone with Roosevelt discussing the bombing of Pearl Harbor, said, “This certainly simplifies things. God be with you.” First, this quote is just so Churchill. Second, and more importantly, the answers are often in the data and written on the wall. When you ignore the signals, they often have a way of shouting at you and making it obvious what needs to be done. And if you ignore those, eventually your competition will leverage that. In other words, if you ignore the signals, something potentially unwanted will come and simplify things for you.
- When you see a need, find a solution that benefits everyone.
- Don’t give up, but be flexible and willing to adapt to achieve your goals, even if you fail at first.
- Focus on your “why” and what you want to fix, not the process or method of getting there.
- Building internal and external relationships on a foundation of trust will increase word of mouth referrals.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Everyone fails, and that’s okay. Just be willing to learn from it and improve.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.