Tuesdays with T4A: David Beitel (10/01/13)

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This week, we interview T4A.org Convening Board member David Beitel, who was the very first supporter of our Seattle chapter!

David Beitel
CTO | Zillow
David is the Chief Technology Officer at Zillow. In this role, he manages the Technical Engineering team and is responsible for all website, mobile and internal product development, corporate IT, and datacenter operations. Previously, David was one of the initial members of the Expedia team, and held many leadership roles in product development during his 10-year tenure there. David began his career as a software design engineer in 1992, and before his Expedia years, David worked at Microsoft in the handheld computing group. David is a recognized leader in the tech industry and was named as Puget Sound Business Journal’s Most Innovative CTO in 2012. David lives in Seattle with his wife and kids.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Conroe, TX, a small town north of Houston.
What was your first job?
When I was 13, I started working on a neighbor’s ranch in west Texas for $25 a day, room and board. I would have done it for free. I learned how to work cattle, ride a horse, repair fences, drive a truck, and that it was a good idea to go to college.
What is your first political memory?
I was a member of the Young Republicans in my high school. While my views on politics have changed, I am glad to have been shown that early involvement in politics is valuable and empowering.
What is your favorite book?
I’m a big John Irving fan. One summer I read eight of his books, and I have enjoyed the characters he has introduced over the years.
You studied computer science for both your undergraduate degree and master's. What drew you in?
My high school was one of the few at the time that had computer classes, and I was fascinated by how I could build something useful in minutes. I entered Cornell in the Electrical Engineering program, but switched to Computer Science after becoming enamored with the power of software development and a few episodes in the EE lab where I was shocked (literally! –Sam) and blew the circuit breaker. Software seemed safer! Pursuing a Masters allowed me to take more upper level classes in AI, Graphics, OS and other areas of research.
What was it like working at a company as large as Expedia from the very beginning, when it was a small part of Microsoft?
When I joined Microsoft in the early 90’s, the environment was an easy extension of college and was a fun and engaging place to work with really smart and motivated people. I was the second developer on a team working on a Travel CD-ROM product that eventually became Expedia.com. Working on this initial team was incredibly satisfying as we transformed an industry and built a service so many would use. We could have never imagined the future growth and success.
Who are your role models and why?
There are several, but one I would like to mention is my grandfather, Jack Eisenberg. Growing up, he showed me how to treat others with respect and the importance of relationships and friendships. He knew I was interested in technology and pursuing a career at Microsoft, but he always encouraged me to focus on the power of working with people.
As you look at your community, city/state/country, how do you view your role/responsibility as a citizen? Within that context, how do you view your role as citizen in relation to our Government and Democracy?
As a citizen, it is my responsibility to become educated on the issues, elect representatives whom I believe will move the local, state or federal government forward to address these issues and opportunities, and to engage myself. It is too easy to sit back and complain about how partisan politics is crippling our governments, but I am motivated to get involved, learn, educate and support those that are working to do the same.
Just about everyone (regardless of political affiliation) sees a large gap between our politics (Washington, DC as well as state capitals) and the reality on the issues we face as a Country. Why do you think that is? I know it's a tough question, but what do you think can be done to close that gap?
The simple answer is that we should hold our elected officials accountable and elect those that are willing to stand up for what they believe, but can work to find compromises that help move our country forward.
Are political parties becoming less relevant today, particularly for young adults? Whatever your answer, why do you think that is?
I don’t think political parties are becoming less relevant. Young adults are more interested than ever to get involved and challenge our leaders to address the issues facing our country and local communities. A few minutes on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will show how much young people care about the issues.
What is your favorite journey?
Our family took a trip to the Galapagos Islands last spring.  It’s an incredible place with unforgettable scenery and unique wildlife.
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would you be?
I’m fascinated by space and space travel. I’d love to be a member of the international space station for a day. Maybe this will be possible some day given the private enterprises that are exploring travel to the sub-orbital space and maybe one day beyond.
What is your proudest moment?
There are many product and business successes I am proud of from my years at Microsoft, Expedia and Zillow, but those pale in comparison to the ones related to my family.
We both went to universities with a color as its mascot. What's that about?
Not sure really. Luckily, Cornell decided a ferocious animal like the bear would be a worthy symbol, based on a bear named Touchdown, who appeared at a Cornell Football game in 1915.
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