When your job title is Director of Product, it’s inevitable that you think very differently about your company’s product than most other employees.
That holds true for Forrest Smith, whose official title at Neverware is Director of Product & CX. According to him, the genesis of that role lies in the gradual evolution of both the company and the product.
“Over time, and with CloudReady in particular, our interactions with customers expanded the scope of what ‘The Product’ was to include every interaction, not just the operating system,” he explains. “The title of Product & CX is a reflection of the fact that the experience of consuming CloudReady encompasses way more. It’s not just self contained, and the customer’s experience of support, or installation guidance or help articles needs to be in harmony with using the product itself.”
So, in the world of Product & CX, what comprises an average day for Forrest? Well, most of his day is spent communicating with customers to learn how they use CloudReady.
“That takes the form of sales, support, and proactive outreach,” Forrest says. “The remainder is spent either helping internally to communicate about CloudReady and its purpose and what I’ve learned from those customers, or planning new changes with the technical team based on what I’ve learned. And also reading about the Chrome world and what everybody’s doing.”
Forrest is somewhat of a Neverware veteran, having been with the company for just under 4 years, and in his current role for almost 3 of them. He first came to Neverware as a sales intern.
“I just started applying to startups until someone was willing to take me,” he laughs.
Originally from Grand Island, NY - an island located in the Niagra between the US and Canada - Forrest earned a BA in physics from SUNY Geneseo, followed by an MS in theoretical biophysics from Syracuse University. And here’s a fun fact: while in college, Forrest sang opera. (He also enjoys running and playing music, though he’s gotten away from both of them.)
“I sang opera for a couple of years. I was going to become a classical musician, but I gave up opera and stuck with physics,” he says.
So why pursue life at a startup?
“Startups looked like the opposite of what frustrated me about being a scientist - people were still throwing things at the wall in startups and being creative instead of following a set path or a prescribed methodology,” he says thoughtfully. “I liked the idea of the competitive advantage in guessing. In science, you just need the most horsepower. In startups, there’s more nuance or art. Everyone tries in their own way to be successful.”
At Neverware specifically, Forrest likes the challenge of CloudReady’s uniqueness.
“I really like that CloudReady is so different from most of the products that people have the chance to consume. Not a lot of people think about the OS as separate from their hardware, which presents hard but unique challenges, but also gives me a chance to approach tech from a point of view that isn’t super common in the tech industry right now, because we’re sort of dissembling vertically integrated products at a time when vertical integration is in vogue.”
That approach extends beyond CloudReady, too. “My hope is that we see this become a standard in computing, not necessarily by Neverware,” he says passionately. “I believe so strongly in this model of computing that I hope companies like Microsoft and Apple veer closer to this - being based in open source and leveraging remote, hosted power to improve computing experiences and drive down the cost of hardware in the way we’ve seen with Chromebooks.
“For your access device, that enables the designers to improve the tactile experience of using it so that the thing you use to interact with the web is designed around interaction rather than horsepower or engineering constraints,” he explains.
The challenge of CloudReady being unique isn’t the only thing he enjoys, however. Asked what his favorite thing about Neverware is, Forrest doesn’t miss a beat.
“That we play “Africa” by Toto every day at 5pm. There’s no origin story. It’s just a way of life. It’s just built in. There’s no questioning it.”
Don’t worry, Forrest, it’s gonna take a lot to drag us away from Toto - and from you, too.