An interview with an Alberta innovator: Leonard Hendricks

Cybera is running a series of blog posts that will showcase Alberta's innovative technology and research community. Over the course of 11 months, we are asking 11 people 11 questions related to technology and research in Alberta.

This month's 11 Questions interview is with Leonard Hendricks, CEO of BlackBridge Networks. BlackBridge provides technology infrastructure hosting & management, network services, and cloud computing support. BlackBridge owns and operates data center facilities in Lethbridge and in some of Alberta's remote northern environments.

1. What brought you to Calgary/Lethbridge, and what's kept you here?

I grew up on a farm near Strathmore, which is about 45 minutes from Calgary so I have lived in Alberta all my life. I went to the University of Alberta and then returned to Calgary for my career up to the end of last year, when I moved to Lethbridge. My wife is from Calgary as well so we are fairly odd being a non-imported couple in the city! I decided to move to Lethbridge last year to lead BlackBridge Networks. I was impressed with the facilities in Lethbridge, and the support of the community in bringing ICT businesses into the city. Having the University of Lethbridge here was also a big draw as it provides a source of new grads to grow our business, and provides a research infrastructure for the community.

2. What three words would you use to describe Alberta's tech sector?

Oil and gas focused.

3. What would you say is the greatest challenge of working in the tech sector in Alberta?

Alberta has such a strong focus on energy-based technologies, and coupled with a relatively small technology workforce, it is sometimes hard to get resources focused on a very large breadth of technologies.

4. Following on that, what would you say is the greatest benefit of working in the tech sector in Alberta?

The oil and gas sector has some significant technology challenges in which Albertans are world leaders in solving, which provides lots of opportunities to work with some leading-edge thinkers. I would also say the Alberta market is relatively mature in terms of our approach to outsourcing, which provides many opportunities for companies to build and grow at home, and leverage that spend and capability to other industries and geographies.

5. How do you stay connected and tapped into Calgary's/Lethbridge's tech sector?

While in Calgary I found a number of "normal" avenues to stay connected through vendors, seminars and reading.  I also hosted a "book club" once a month that involved having a beer in my garage and laughing with friends.  We never read any books, but we did keep in contact with lots of people.  I am new in Lethbridge so have been trying to meet all the various players in technology here and hope to restart the book club!

6. Who inspires you and why?

I have had the fortunate experience of working for some great leaders, who were able to build successful businesses while being true to themselves and their corporate philosophy. I hope to be able to do the same.

7. What book are you currently reading and what do you think of it? Or, if you're not reading anything at the moment, what book would you recommend and why?

Well, I just finished reading "World Without End" by Ken Follett, which is a sequel to "Pillars of the Earth". Both were great historical fiction novels which I really enjoyed. On the non-fiction side I read "The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb a while ago, which I found to be a very mind-opening read.

8. What do you think of when you hear the word "cyberinfrastructure"?

Fibre optic networks and racks of computational capabilities.

9. In your opinion, what are the most exciting technologies out there right now?

The virtualization trends of the past few years will revolutionize IT and enable a lot of business process improvements over the coming years. We haven't even started to capitalize on this yet.  Removing the need for constant physical access and basic operations of computer infrastructure enables businesses to add value to their organizations versus keeping the lights on.

10. Are there any other fields you're not currently involved in that you would like to see yourself or your company working with?

I have always felt network capacity is like a balloon; the bigger you make it, the data expands to fill it.  While terrestrial networks have been getting fatter and fatter, I have never been involved in the satellite side of networks.  As we will be supporting some satellite networks shortly, I am quite excited to learn more about their needs and their future capabilities.

11. What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an entrepreneur/researcher/business/etc.?

For someone starting out, I believe the first question they need to ask is "Who will buy my output?". That could be someone who integrates what you doing into another product or service. Even if all you have is a great idea, it is worth talking with people on what can be done with the output.  Alberta has some great organizations, like local incubators such as TECConnect here in Lethbridge or TR Labs, that can provide a lot of feedback on viability and help connect you with the industry people who may have an interest in your idea.  If you can get a customer sponsor early, you will end up with a far more useful product than if you try to keep it to yourself until launch; and there is a good chance people will see applications you had never thought of.  It is scary putting your idea into a broader world, as you have to be prepared for people to not see it the way you do, but that feedback is far easier to take at the beginning of a journey than when you have invested a ton of time and resources to discover you were on the wrong path.