Antti Huima is president and CEO of Conformiq. In this interview, he discusses what brought him to where he is now, his company's strategy, and his current interests.
Suzanne Douglas: In May, you were named CEO of Conformiq after serving a number of years as CTO. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started with the company?
Antti Huima: I joined Conformiq in 2002, originally as an algorithm designer, and then served as the CEO in Finland until the company moved to Silicon Valley in 2008. At that point, I moved to the US as CTO for about one-and-a-half years. So this is the second time I've been CEO, but now I'm running the US headquarters.
SD: When you wake up each morning, what gets you up and energized for the day?
AH: Well, first, it's difficult for me to get up in the morning because I'm an evening person. But, I think every day offers the possibility of some kind of new success somewhere, so that's what I look forward to when I wake up—that maybe today all the hard work we're doing every day will bring new success to the company. That's what mentally drives me for the day, but, unfortunately, my body doesn't really want to follow.
SD: How did you figure out what you wanted to do in life?
AH: I've never really had a life plan. I'd been playing with computers since I was seven years old, so when I got out of high school in Finland, it was kind of an obvious choice to study computer science. Once I began, I realized that I was interested in two things—software verification and artificial intelligence. I was spending a lot of time hanging around the university computer lab at night and met a guy there who recruited me as an engineer for a company he founded around the SSH terminal security solution. I worked there for about five years, and when I eventually began to look for a new job, Conformiq was a good fit with my interests and skills, and I've been there ever since.
My guiding goal in life is "to live wisely and to die in faith," but I've also learned along the way that regardless of whether you make lots of money or very little money, it doesn't matter. I think the important thing is that you have a good conscience, that you feel good about yourself, that you are understanding toward others, and that you have enough time to actually share with the important people in your life.
SD: What is your proudest achievement at Conformiq?
AH: My proudest achievement at Conformiq is not actually my achievement—it's my customer's achievement. Of course, it makes me proud because it's based on a product that I originally programmed and is still engineered according to my vision, but it's really the end-user who actually makes it work.
We have a long-term telecom vendor customer who changed their whole budget for functional testing once they began using our tool. They are now budgeting 40 percent less, and that's impressive because that's a bottom-line achievement. You can actually see it when you add up your costs.
What's cool is that if you just look at the test design phase, we deliver a productivity improvement of about 5X to 10X, which translates to about 80 percent to 90 percent cost reduction. But, what's interesting is that using our technology also generated a 40 percent cost reduction in the whole functional testing process, which means they're realizing secondary benefits outside the test design phase. Their test execution and analysis became more efficient through our systematically computer-generated tests.
SD: How do you see Conformiq changing over the next few years to adapt to new markets and technologies?
AH: Basically, we have a unique place in the software testing market. When our customers want to deploy our software, they have all kinds of things around it, like services and test execution requirements, management, and implementation. And we need to think about how many of these things we want to provide, how much we can do with partners, and how much we want to provide an open ecosystem where you can link whatever tools you want to work together with ours.
Right now, we've followed a strategy that allows our customers to link other tools and produce whatever test execution languages they need. It's an open interface and framework where they can generate the tests in their own languages-C, C++, Java, Perl, Excel, HTML files, whatever—even for homegrown software.
It's a very open tool; you can use it with different modeling tools and test execution platforms. I guess the bottom line is, I don't anticipate any movement toward making it more closed.
SD: In your downtime, what kinds of things do you like to read? What's on your nightstand currently?
AH: I don't read in the evening much because I'm very busy with my four children, but I do read when I fly. It's an eighteen-hour flight to Europe, and I'm not very good at sleeping on airplanes, so I get to read two or three books during the journey. I like popular science books and I also read novels. In the past, I was fond of science fiction, but I've found with more modern science fiction, it's somehow repetitive. It's like the endless cycle of the laundry machine, running the same ideas over and over again.
Currently I'm reading The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, and one about the memoirs of a Polish survivor of the concentration camps. I'm also reading a recent book on game theory. That's an area I've always been interested in-microeconomics and game theory.
I also recently finished a translation of the Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter, a scholar at Berkeley. What the professor tried to do is replicate the original structure of the Hebrew language in English, so it provides new insight into how the ancient writers thought.
This triggered my curiosity, so I've been learning about the origins of monotheism in the Near East. When you read a fresh translation, you find new ideas. We think of the Bible as monotheistic but when you examine the full text, you find there are traces of polytheistic thinking. I decided to dig into this and I ordered books that had studied different religions that started in this geographic region. It's an interesting question. There are three big monotheistic religions in the world—Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—and they all kind of somehow come from the same source.
The one thing I never read and you will never find on my nightstand is computer science books.
SD: If you could tell our readers one thing, what would it be?
AH: I'd want to point out that the only argument that people use to shoot down automatic test design as a concept is to say, "Computers can't design tests because design is creative and computers can't do a creative job." This is a bogus argument. In the '60s and '70s it was believed that the ultimate expression of human intelligence was chess, and they thought that computers could never learn to play chess because it required high intelligence and creativity. But, nowadays, computer chess programs beat all the chess masters.
SD: Any final thoughts?
AH: One of my classmates from Helsinki came up with this and I think it describes my company well:
"Aim for the impossible and you will achieve the improbable." -Camillo Särs