TEN7 Alumni Jack Probst and Coleman Rollins
In this podcast we’re catching up with two TEN7 alumni, Jack Probst and Coleman Rollins.
- Since they left TEN7, Jack is working at Epic Systems, a healthcare software company and Coleman is working at DRW trading, combining his developer skills with his interest in finance
- Jack has evolved from beer collector to bourbon enthusiast
- Coleman created an Alexa skill that tells you safe cooking temperatures for meats
- Coleman is also a co-founder of the Breathe99 mask company, a new kind of N99 mask with easily washable and replaceable parts
- Coleman’s Alexa Skill, Cook Reference
- “The Astounding Physics of N95 Masks” by MinutePhysics
IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to The TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. My guests today are Jack Probst and Coleman Rollins, TEN7 alumni that I really miss and haven’t spoken to in at least a few years. We’re going to catch up, find out what life is like for them now, what they’re doing and how they’ve built on the skills that they’ve developed while they were with us. Maybe we’ll talk about how TEN7 has changed as well and some personal projects that they’re working on. Hey guys.
COLEMAN ROLLINS: Hey Ivan.
JACK PROBST: Hey Ivan. Thanks for having us.
COLEMAN: Yeah, thanks so much.
IVAN: Yeah, it’s great to have you on. It’s been, I was just looking at when the last time you guys used your ten7.com email addresses was, and I figured that would be the most recent connection that we’d have, and Jack, it’s been since 2015, and Coleman I think 2016. Or maybe it’s the other way around, Coleman was 2015 and Jack was 2016.
JACK: Yeah man, that’s a long time ago.
COLEMAN: It seems like just yesterday. How the world has changed since then.
IVAN: Yeah, it really has changed since then, hasn’t it? Well, how are you guys doing right now? Where are you joining me from today?
JACK: So, I’m in my basement in Madison, Wisconsin working from home right now. I moved to Madison about three years ago for a job, and I’m still there. It’s a company called Epic Systems, we make electronic health record for patients. Definitely can get into it more later, but yeah, I’m about four hours away from the Twin Cities right now.
IVAN: And Coleman, where are you?
COLEMAN: I am calling from my apartment in Chicago. I’ve been here ever since I left TEN7 actually, and same apartment, same neighborhood in Chicago.
IVAN: What neighborhood is that?
COLEMAN: It’s the Humboldt Park neighborhood. It’s a little bit north and east of downtown.
IVAN: North and east of downtown. So right in the middle of the lake.
COLEMAN: I’m sorry, [laughing] excuse me, north and west.
IVAN: [laughing] Oh, north and west. Let’s see, is Wrigley Field north and west of downtown? I think it might be.
COLEMAN: Wrigley Field is pretty much straight north.
IVAN: Okay. Are you still a Twins fan?
COLEMAN: Yeah, definitely.
JACK: Are you still a Wild fan?
COLEMAN: [laughing] I’ll never cheer for the Chicago Black Hawks.
IVAN: Okay. Good. That’s good. Jack, what about you? Are you still a Twins and a Wild fan?
JACK: Oh yes, and a Golden Gopher fan too.
IVAN: Of course. You know, I got really into Golden Gopher volleyball last year. My daughter started playing volleyball, and I never realized it was such an exciting sport to watch after I became the parent of someone who plays volleyball. [laughing] And man, the Gophers are amazing.
COLEMAN: That’s cool.
IVAN: Yeah, that is cool. Okay, so, Jack, you said you were at Epic. What’s your role there? What are you doing at Epic and is it similar, different? What’s it like compared to TEN7?
JACK: I’ve had a couple roles there already, and coming up on about three years there. In this role called “technical services”, which is kind of a blend of account management, customer happiness, and technical problem solving which has a lot of parallels to, I think, the different hats I wore when I was at TEN7 too. And recently I’ve kind of moved into a larger role there too, where I’m a direct Technical Account Manager for about a 55-clinic hospital system in Arizona. So, I’m kind have built on a lot of my skills from TEN7.
I really like how at TEN7 we valued taking complex problems and explaining them so that our counterparts could understand them at all of our clients, and I do that everyday now in my role. So, it’s probably the largest parallel, and also just keeping clients and customers happy no matter what it takes, and going that extra mile. Those are definitely some skills I built on.
IVAN: That’s awesome to hear. And has working from home changed the way you do your job?
JACK: A little. One thing we do, especially the group I’m working with now, they’re kind of in the installation process of our software, and we normally would have trips out there about at least once or twice a month. So right now that’s all virtual, lots of Webex and Microsoft Teams meetings. And I also just miss going to work everyday. I know Epic is a great corporate campus. There’s a lot of great employees that you can see, lots of facilities, the food, we all miss the food a lot. But it’s interesting because I know TEN7 went from in-person to completely remote, so I kind of feel like I’ve gone through that same journey the last few months.
IVAN: Yeah, when you guys were working at TEN7 we were very much a culture that was still in the office, brick and mortar, downtown, let’s be together, and it’s interesting to say the least that things have changed from that perspective. Is there a plan for Epic to bring employees back, or are you guys going to be more independent, more remote in the future, do you think?
JACK: Yeah, it’s something that I know our leadership has been discussing a lot, but we think being in person for meetings and presentations is really part of our culture. A lot of our ideas and developments just happen in spontaneous interactions with people in the hall, or having an office close to each other. And I think that’s important for Epic because of our size. We’re large enough that you don’t see a lot of the same people, you don’t interact with them virtually on a normal basis, where I’m sure at TEN7 you guys are smaller, and that’s something that where you guys already do have those regular touch points throughout the week. But we have about 10,000 employees.
IVAN: Wow, that’s a lot of people. And everyone’s based in Wisconsin, or are there satellite offices?
JACK: There are satellite offices for international customers. So, we have Bristol or United Arab Emirates, Singapore, but everyone in the United States is based in Verona, Wisconsin, which is a suburb of Madison.
IVAN: Have you been to Bristol? If my company also had a headquarters or an office in Bristol, I would look for every excuse to try to get there as much as possible.
JACK: Yeah, one thing we’re able to do is help support any of our international customers when they have a large go live for the software. So, you can take a week or two trip out there to go be on the floor next to doctors, help them learn how to use the software, and then you get to take some personal time internationally too.
IVAN: That’s a lot of fun. Wow. So, you had left TEN7, went through and completed your degree at the University of Minnesota and then was off to Epic Systems, right?
JACK: Yep. I was working full-time at TEN7 and in the evenings and weekends was going to community college part-time, and then I transferred into the University of Minnesota, is when I left TEN7, was there for about a year and a half and then came over to Epic.
IVAN: Awesome, and Coleman what about you? I think you left TEN7 and ended up at a software company, and I think maybe another software company after that? Where are you? What are you doing? How did you get there?
COLEMAN: Sure. When I first moved to Chicago I was working at a slightly larger agency, kind of traditional marketing agency in Chicago, who were trying to create a digital branch of their business. It wasn’t going very well for them, and it made for a very difficult experience as a developer there. So I was only there for about six months and then I moved to DRW Trading where I still am now, going on a little over four years there now.
IVAN: And what does DRW Trading do?
COLEMAN: So, DRW is a private trading firm, and we don’t have customers, we don’t have clients, we just trade all things that there is to trade on all kinds of exchanges. There’s a lot of trading going on in downtown Chicago, and that’s where we’re headquartered.
I am on a team called trading infrastructure, and the job of our team is to, one, publish all instrument data coming from outside sources. So if Bloomberg says the price of Apple is $100, then we need to make sure that price is up to date for all of our traders and trading algorithms. And, two, we process all the post trade data.
IVAN: I remember when you were at TEN7 you were very interested in finance and in the stock market, and I watched you basically try to get interested and involved in that kind of industry for the longest time. So, it sounds like you’re actually not just flexing your developer and software skills, but you’re kind of in this industry where you’re tickling the other interest you have which is finance as well.
COLEMAN: Yeah, totally, and it’s truly fascinating to actually be in the industry and just see what it’s actually like. And the shared scale of infrastructure involved in these big firms to take advantage of any tiny little leg up they can have on their competitors. It’s just incredible to see and to be a part of, and just an amazing amount of very smart people who I get to learn from and some really, really big interesting problems to solve.
IVAN: Yeah, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is pretty huge down in Chicago, and my understanding is that physical proximity to those data centers and to where the trades happen is at a premium. Are you guys close to the exchanges that you’re taking data from?
COLEMAN: Yeah, you’re exactly right. We’re literally across the street from CME and we have a network of radio towers that go straight to New Jersey, and our servers are collocated there next to those exchanges. And, yeah, you’re absolutely right, anytime you’re downtown Chicago and you see radio towers on the tops of the buildings, it’s all for trading.
IVAN: It’s incredible, and so, now this must be interesting to your physics background as well, because the physics that’s involved in getting those signals and optimizing the computers and the servers that process all of these trades so that you have a millisecond leg up on a trader that might not have seen that data change that you do. That’s all part of this.
COLEMAN: It’s crazy, and the other cool thing about that is that DRW employs so many physicists and microwave engineers and electrical engineers, and there’s just a humongous range of talent that’s needed to accomplish those things.So, that’s also pretty cool.
IVAN: Yeah, that’s fascinating. That’s cool. I want to go back to Jack and ask you Jack, are you still into beer [laughing] as much as you were when you were in Minneapolis? I’m worried that you went to Wisconsin and you don’t have access to all the local breweries here in Minneapolis.
JACK: Well, I think Wisconsin has the highest number of bars per person in the country.
COLEMAN: Yeah, but they all have Miller Lite. [laughing].
JACK: And Spotted Cow. [laughing] My beer collection hobby is still alive but I’ve kind of transitioned towards bourbon collecting as well.
IVAN: [laughing] What precipitated the change?
JACK: It’s kind of this natural flow of beer enthusiast going to bourbon enthusiast. But for me, actually, if we want to talk about finance, I think there was a few too many times where I opened a $600 bottle of beer and then you drink it with friends, and then the next day it’s gone.
IVAN: Wait a second, hold on a second. $600 for a bottle of beer, who spends that kind of money on a beer?
JACK: [laughing] I’ve never spent that money on it, but some of them are worth that. But for me it’s enjoy more. If you have a bottle of bourbon, it doesn’t really go bad, so it’s kind of a long-term investment.
IVAN: I see. So you get to spend that $600.00 over the course of some number of years as opposed to in a night. [laughing]
JACK: A day, yeah. [laughing]
IVAN: So it sounds like you’re still nerding out on a niche alcohol then.
JACK: Oh yes, tons of Facebook groups and lots of research, and it’s really interesting. But one of the biggest differences though is, for beer you can, even if you have a long process or you’re putting something in barrels, a beer can come out in a year or two, where some of the most sought after bourbons are 18 or 20 years old, so it’s a lot longer of a process to have that product mature.
IVAN: So, you guys remember the Winchester’s and Twin Spirits Distillery here in the cities.
JACK: Yeah, Graham and Cody.
IVAN: Graham and Cody, yeah. They are now not only making vodka and gin and moonshine, but they are making rum and whiskey as well. And I have to talk to Slate about adding bourbon because, you know, that would be pretty cool.
COLEMAN: Have you tried moonshine? How’s that?
IVAN: I gotta be honest [laughing] and say it’s special gin. I think it’s one of the same recipes of either the gin or the vodka, I forget which one. I think it’s vodka right? And it’s made on a full moon, and it’s made with, I think, honey, and so, yeah, it’s potent. [laughing]
JACK: The interesting thing with bourbon or whiskey, if you want to start a new line or a new company, and you want to have one of those older products on the shelf, if you don’t start those products years before you open, then you’ll often source it. There’s lots of larger companies that will sell their bourbon, and they’ll let you select different barrels and then repackage it under your own brand, until you’ve had your product in barrels for a few years.
IVAN: Yeah, I think that’s what Twin Spirits does is, they actually have barrels that they bought years ago that they’ve been aging. And so that’s why the whiskey came out much later, and the rum came out much later than their original alcohols. What’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey?
JACK: Bourbon is a type of whiskey, but when you say whiskey that includes Scotch, Irish Whiskey, things like that. But bourbon, there’s certain laws around what’s allowed to be called a bourbon.
COLEMAN: Does it have to do with the barrel that it’s aged in?
JACK: Yeah, it has to be new charred oak barrels and it has to be at least 51% corn in the mash as well.
IVAN: Really? And what’s the difference between whiskey with an “e” and whiskey without the “e”?
JACK: I don’t know. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Cause I don’t think it’s just the spelling. I think there’s actually a difference between them. Yeah, we should find that out. [laughing]
Okay, Coleman, you have side projects going on. I know you have an Alexa Skill that’s on Amazon, and there’s lots of ratings. Tell me about the Skill and what it does. The first thing I always do when I look at something is, I look at the one start reviews and your skill has some one star reviews, and they all seem bogus, and [laughing] why are people doing this?
COLEMAN: Oh man. So, the story of that Skill is I literally copied the Hello World, How to Make an Alexa Skill Example, and I just modified it to do what I needed it for, which was so that when I was cooking in the kitchen, I could yell at Alexa to double check my safe temperatures of various proteins. I published it on the Alexa Skill Store, and then a couple months later I suddenly started getting checks from Amazon.
IVAN: Whoa, checks from Amazon? Really?
COLEMAN: Yeah, I got checks for like $500.00 a month for six months because people started using it like crazy.
IVAN: Wait a second. How does that get monetized?
COLEMAN: The only information they give is if it reaches x amount of users, so for a bunch of months I was obsessed with trying to follow how many users I had every day, and I was refreshing the page all the time. And then as people were using it started to break a lot.
IVAN: [laughing] Of course, that’s what happens to software.
COLEMAN: Right. [laughing] And people were mistaking it for a recipe app, and my favorite review ever is that it won’t tell you how to make a grilled cheese.
IVAN: [laughing] You know what, I actually saw that one and I wondered what?
COLEMAN: [laughing] It’s not supposed to do that.
JACK: Also, I think most people know how to make a grilled cheese. [laughing]
COLEMAN: The recipe is literally the name, so.
JACK: Ivan, I actually sent Coleman a picture of this review on Tuesday. [laughing]
COLEMAN: I was like, Wow, great. Thanks Jack.
IVAN: So, I want to try to figure this out. Is your skill generating traffic for Amazon? And then, it’s like an affiliate check?
COLEMAN: It must be.
JACK: Did you embed something where if you ask it how to make something it’ll automatically sign you up for Amazon Prime? [laughing]
COLEMAN: No, but I definitely should have. I actually had a few people from Samsung reach out to me about porting my app over to Bixby. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Who uses Bixby though?
COLEMAN: Right, and I took a look at the five minute documentation and I was like, No way, there’s no way I’m doing this. [laughing]
IVAN: That’s awesome. You guys would like to know, I had a Samsung S10 for about three months, and Bixby was the worst thing in my life for about three months. [laughing]
COLEMAN: Why was it so bad?
IVAN: Every time I pressed the volume button, Bixby would show up on the left hand side of my screen, and I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it.
JACK: I think you could finally remap it to Google Assistant or something.
IVAN: It was a pain, it really was. Well, Alexa Skill aside, you do have other projects as well Coleman. You were just talking to me earlier about Breathe99. Tell us about it.
COLEMAN: That’s been a huge part of my life recently. The story is, my good friend Max studied abroad in Singapore way back in 2014, noticed a stark lack of respiratory masks available since the pollution is really bad there. And he came back and started working on a respiratory mask that would be comfortable to wear, it would look nice, and it would also have reusable filters as to cut down on waste.
He originally reached out to me, back in 2015, right around the time I had moved to Chicago, reached out to me to help him build a website for it, and we’ve been incrementally starting this little business ever since. And we had a kickstarter last summer which failed pretty miserably.
And then we were pretty much ready to hang it up and say, Well, we tried. It was a cool project. And then COVID came around, and we redesigned the mask. Max is a mechanical engineer by the way, so he’s the brains behind the mask, and we had a kickstarter three or four months ago at this point, and we raised half a million dollars.
IVAN: Oh my gosh. Wow. That’s great! And so you’re in the process of manufacturing them now?
COLEMAN: We’ve literally shipped our first mask on Monday.
IVAN: Really? And where can people find out more about the project and to get masks?
IVAN: And that’s breathe99.com?
COLEMAN: Correct. And right now we’re extending our preorders on Indiegogo, the In Demand platform right now, and we will be launching our own store within the next month.
IVAN: What’s the cost of the mask?
COLEMAN: So, a mask is $60.00, and that comes with the rubber face piece, a fabric overlay that is what holds the piece to your face, and five sets of two filters which are replaceable in the mask, and the material is rated at N99, but we are in the process of getting that officially certified with the material in our mask. It’s a really cool project. It’s extremely difficult to make a physical thing and sell it to people. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Yeah.
COLEMAN: And that’s come with a lot of stress, but a lot of learning.
IVAN: And you’re doing good in the world too.
COLEMAN: Yeah. And that reminds me that I should add that for every mask purchased, we’re also donating masks to healthcare workers and frontline workers in need.
IVAN: That’s wonderful. It just so happened that last week, I think, I stumbled across a video from MinutePhysics. Do you know MinutePhysics, the YouTube channel?
JACK: Yeah, with the drawings and stuff?
IVAN: With the drawings, yes, and he does a wonderful, simple explanation of sometimes very complex ideas and concepts with these line drawings, and he published a video of The Physics Behind How N95 Masks Work, and I would encourage our readers, and if you haven’t seen it, Coleman as well, check it out. I think you can google minutephysicsn95. I had no idea that the way these things work is by a number of different techniques in the material that’s used to filter particles. So N99 is even more effective than N95 I would imagine.
COLEMAN: Correct. That refers to the percent of particulates that are filtered from the air. So, we’re shooting for 99% down to a certain size.
JACK: Is that where the Breathe99 name came from?
COLEMAN: Yes, sir. It is.
IVAN: Very cool. Well, we’ll link to this in the show notes and I wish you the very best of luck in this. This is a wonderful thing that you’re doing, and will you come back and talk to us in six months from now and let us know how things are going, and maybe we’ll do a whole show on Breathe99.
COLEMAN: Yeah, absolutely, and I would be happy to send you guys some masks as well.
IVAN: Yeah, we’d love that. Please do that, that would be wonderful.
JACK: Yeah, that’d be great Coleman, thanks.
COLEMAN: [laughing] Oh, Jack, that’s funny, I sent you the Kickstarter link and you never got one.
IVAN: I wonder what happened. [laughing] You guys miss Minneapolis or are you happy to be where you’re at?
JACK: Yeah, I miss the Twin Cities. I think I’ll always stay in the Midwest. I know I’m kind of in between you and Coleman, but I come back about once every month or six weeks or so.
IVAN: Oh, you do.
JACK: Not right now. I’m planning on coming back at the end of the month and I got a list of requirements to follow from my parents, [laughing] if I want to stay with them.
IVAN: That sounds reasonable.
COLEMAN: [laughing] It does. Yeah, I miss Minneapolis a lot actually, all the time. I miss the outside. I miss the quiet. I miss the comfort.
IVAN: Well, we’re still here Coleman, so.
COLEMAN: Yeah. I just gotta hurry up and retire, and then I can come back.
IVAN: Hey man, Breathe99, give that another year, right?
COLEMAN: Yeah, [laughing] hopefully.
IVAN: One final question. Jack, I’m going to ask you first and then maybe Coleman you can give me your thoughts. How do you think TEN7’s changed from an outsider's perspective now that you haven’t been with us for so many years? What does it look like?
JACK: Well, I know it’s remote which I think is the biggest change. I know I think I’m still seeing you guys are big supporters to the Drupal community and Open Source. I know DrupalCon was supposed to be in Minneapolis this year, but I checked the other day, it’s virtual. Yeah, so that’s exciting, But, I know I’m not in the weeds as much as I was, so, maybe after Coleman’s answer, I’d like to hear your thoughts Ivan.
COLEMAN: Sure, well, I try to keep up-to-date about what you guys are doing, and I think it’s really cool to see how much you’ve done with Ansible and Kubernetes. I spent all of 2019 doing Ansible at DRW, and so, I’ve definitely learned to respect and appreciate doing a lot more DevOps. And I think that’s awesome, you guys are doing that. I think it’s really cool you have a dedicated DevOps person on your team. I think that’s awesome.
IVAN: I was curious about what you could tell from marketing on the outside based on what we are saying online, and so it’s interesting to hear you talk about Ansible and Kubernetes. I think Jack, you’re right. The biggest change in the last five years has certainly been us becoming more focused on being distributed and not being in the office anymore, and I think that’s been really a positive change for us. I never thought we’d do it, and when we started doing it, I was pretty scared, but it turned out really well, and I can’t even imagine us going back to an office anymore. So, that’s certainly one thing that’s changed.
And things that haven’t changed have been our focus on our clients and hearing you, Jack, talk about how we needed to go the extra mile and be able to service our customers as quickly and as honestly as possible, that that was something that you’re doing now as well. That makes me smile. I think we’re still focused on doing that, I think.
At least from my perspective I’m not involved in the minutia and the weeds as much as I used to be when you guys were around. I have a very much of an expanded, higher level role, so I think that’s changed as well. I think the company can operate without me now, and I think that’s a significant change as well.
JACK: Yeah, definitely.
IVAN: And I don’t know that we had sabbaticals when you guys were around. Did we have sabbaticals?
JACK: I think it was announced right when I was leaving. I think Les was taking his first one.
IVAN: Yes. So that’s been a change as well. Four years at TEN7 gets you four weeks of paid time off every four years, so that’s changed.
JACK: That’s great. There’s actually a good part that Epic offers too. Every five years they’ll take you and a guest, and you’ll get four weeks paid to go anywhere in the world that you haven’t been before.
IVAN: Really? That’s a good perk. Definitely a good perk. [laughing]
JACK: Very similar sabbatical.
IVAN: Well, I’m glad we’re competitive with a 10,000 employee company then. That’s amazing. [laughing]
Well, it’s been really great talking to you guys and catching up. I’ve really enjoyed spending the time with you two today, and good luck in your Breathe99 and in your bourbon tasting efforts, Jack.
COLEMAN: Thanks for having us.
JACK: Thanks Ivan, it’s been great catching up with you as well.
IVAN: Jack Probst and Coleman Rollins, our TEN7 alumni succeeding out there in the real world with projects like Breathe99 and interest in bourbon tasting [laughing]. You can find them both online. Jack's handle is @capturejack, and Coleman is @colemanrollins.io, and be sure to check out Breathe99 as well, breathe99.com.
You’ve been listening to The TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is email@example.com. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.