Don has held leadership roles across the tech industry for over twenty years. He is currently the founder of VPE Coach, a leadership company that focuses on transforming engineering leaders.
Don began his career at Wolfram Research as an engineer working on Mathematica. He was intensely geeky and his Windows API knowledge and interest in 3D graphics led him to develop the OpenGL rendering layer in Mathematica in 1998.
Don left Wolfram Research to become a game developer, and after building his own projects, joined Sony Online Entertainment to help build the revolutionary, but troubled MMO FPS PlanetSide. He took on his first leadership role in a "trial by fire" as Lead Programmer and saved the project. He then assisted the EverQuest II launch, where he later became Technical Director through the release of 7 retail and online expansion packs.
Reflecting on his journey to leadership, Don said:
I had very little help in becoming a leader. My project was in crisis and adrift. The company promoted me into that crisis and then walked away. I succeeded, but in a lot of ways, the company failed me.
I had to learn leadership the hard way.
Don’s experience as a startup founder began when he left Sony in 2008 with some of his team to create MMO style games in Adobe Flash for the Facebook API. Competing with companies like Zynga and PlayFish, Ohai Games was funded by leading VC firms August Capital and Rustic Canyon Ventures. As VP of Engineering and later CTO, Don led the team that launched two MMOs on a revolutionary code generation platform at 10x the velocity and a fraction of the cost of traditional game development approaches.
Starting a venture backed company is an incredibly challenging experience. Coming from an engineering background, it wasn't until later that I fully understood the landscape and the challenges we faced. I had to grow out of my engineering comfort zone and really understand the whole business, the financing, everything.
If there was one thing I would do differently, it would be to get more help sooner. I wasted a lot of time.
In 2011 Don joined The Obvious Corporation as the first engineer, Chief Architect, and later CTO. Don formed a rapid prototyping organization that produced multiple products for consideration by the executive team, ultimately culminating in the release of Medium. In this role, Don was a member of the leadership team which adopted and deployed Holacracy, an alternative management operating system for companies. He led D&I efforts within engineering including working with the Grace Hopper Celebration and Code2040.
Don’s experience at Medium with coaching and Holacracy led him to launch a coaching career in 2014. Don coached CTOs, VPEs, and CEOs at companies in and around San Francisco, and ultimately joined his largest client, Chartboost, as their VP of Engineering.
At Chartboost, Don led a deeply technical engineering team supporting ad network with an install base of over 1 billion MAU and a cloud infrastructure that was handling 300,000+ QPS and adding petabytes of data daily.
Don left Chartboost in 2018 to join ClassPass, where he led a distributed team and launched the product globally, growing from four to twenty eight countries. He grew the engineering team to over 100 engineers globally, and successfully transformed the legacy monolithic architecture to microservices.
In 2020, Don founded VPE Coach to help engineering leaders transform their leadership through the power of positive coaching. He lives in Orinda, California with his partner Mia.
My leadership focus really centers on the people. Ultimately people are what make everything happen. One of the real rewards of my career is when people see that and choose to come back and work together again at a second, third, or even fourth company.