November 27, 2013
As part of a series showcasing our wonderful employees, we're featuring interviews each week. You've already met Brendan Coleman, our director of Business Development, and Barrie Segal, the the Project Manager for the Development Experience team. We're excited to introduce you to Will LaForest, the Senior Director of US Federal Sales.
What is your role at MongoDB? What department do you work in?
I head up the Department of Tax Reclamation, based in Washington, D.C. When I started, I told Dwight I would sell the government enough software to get his tax money back. I think I have a lot of work left to do. Officially my title is the Senior Director of US Federal Sales, but that doesn’t sound nearly as cool.
Where were you before MongoDB? Why did you choose to come to MongoDB?
Previous to my stint at McDonald’s as head fry chef, I worked at MarkLogic as a Principal Technologist. When Max (Schireson, the former COO of MarkLogic) joined MongoDB, I decided to re-evaluate the NoSQL space. I felt Dwight and Eliot made three really smart bets and I could easily see MongoDB dominating the space in the tech community. Using a document-based model and JSON specifically, native language drivers, and an open source business model (a no brainer in my opinion) all led me to talk to MongoDB about a position. But ultimately it was the people here the made the choice easy. After spending an hour interviewing with Dwight, who was the CEO at the time, I knew I had found a new home. He totally called me out on my weak Lisp skills and we spent 20 minutes talking about inverted indexes.
What’s your hometown?
I grew up in Queeche, Vermont until I was five. Then my family moved to D.C., but no self-respecting Washingtonian actually admits they’re a Washingtonian
Did you have previous experience using MongoDB before you arrived? If so, how are things different now that you work at MongoDB? If not, how did you learn MongoDB and how was the education process?
I downloaded MongoDB and played around with it for a few hours, but didn’t have any substantial technical experience with it. The domain and the principles of MongoDB were very similar to MarkLogic, so absorbing the concept of MongoDB took little time.
It was harder to adapt to the open source business model. It’s a dramatically different approach than if you’re selling commercial software, where you spend massive amounts of resources on a relatively small number of deals. With the government in particular, there are many more hoops to jump through. Convincing people to use new open source software in production is challenging. There are mountains of certification and accreditation requirements, approvals, etc. The model of engagement was very different than what I was used to, and resources were much more limited. But it’s worth it.
Have you had any personal projects where you’ve used MongoDB?
My only personal project with MongoDB is trying to use it to finance my private island.
I have been working on some Minecraft mods with my son but haven’t found a plausible excuse to make him use MongoDB.
How do you get to work?
I usually opt for a rickshaw pulled by a low-paid congressional intern. It’s great for the environment. When that’s not available, I’ll usually drive. There was a time when my family only had one car, so for some of my meetings I would put on my nice clothes, ride my razor scooter to the bus, take the bus to the metro, and then razor scooter through the metro to get to meetings.
What’s a typical day (or week) for you?
When I have a typical day or week, I’ll take some notes and let you know. It will likely involve a polygraph, congressional lobbying, and a shady business lunch in a subterranean restaurant.
What do you love most about MongoDB?
Definitely the people. I love everyone I work with, except for Dan Pasette. He’s taller, smarter, and better looking than me, and it’s just not good for my self-esteem.
DISCLAIMER: Will and Dan get along great, and Will does not harbor any hard feelings towards Dan based on his appearance or intelligence.
What’s the most challenging project here at MongoDB that you’ve worked on, and how did you succeed?
I’d say our last deal with a not-for-profit venture capital firm. With most deals you’re only selling to one customer. But we had to convince several secret agencies to buy. Each one had to be sold to individually, and they had to agree how they would cooperate, how the subscriptions would be split, etc. It's especially difficult to get these groups to work together, let alone make a deal. We couldn’t even meet some of our end customers face to face and had to work with them via proxy. Ultimately we closed the deal, but it was definitely a challenge.
What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had working here so far?
I don’t know if there’s one experience or one moment, but growing the federal team has been extremely rewarding. Every time we close a deal or deliver something on the technical side, I get an adrenaline rush. Ultimately one of the reasons I joined MongoDB is because there’s a real opportunity to help the government do things that are very difficult to do, while remaining cost effective.
What’s your favorite lunch?
I love a good Fiber One bar. They’re super quick and portable. My favorite flavor is the one they sell at Costco: chocolate chip, I think. I also drink a lot of milkshakes; chocolate malt is my favorite. Interestingly, I and four other members of the federal team are vegetarians so there is a lot of vegetarian food consumed. I’m a bit of a pizza aficionado; D.C. has terrible pizza, so every time I’m in NYC I try to get even a mediocre slice.
Name one secret skill you have, unrelated to work.
I’m actually a legendary dungeon master. Sometimes I roll a combination of 20 sided and 12-sided dice.
Kindle or book? What’s your favorite book?
I read books. My favorites are The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinsky and 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Describe your perfect weekend.
A lot of sleep, some ping-pong and video games
What are your plans for Thanksgiving?
We are flying up to the Adirondacks to celebrate with the rest of my family. My parents aren’t that bright and they actually retired to upstate New York. I think they must have been holding the map upside down when they made their decision. There’s supposed to be 30 people at dinner; sounds like a nightmare.
What is your favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal? Do you cook at all?
It’s not Tofurky. Normally I cook the turkey for my carnivorous family. I layer bacon all over the bloody turkey. Bacon is one of the few things I still crave as a vegetarian so I have to live through others. My favorite part is the pies.
If you're interested in joining the MongoDB Team there are a number of open positions available in Engineering, Sales, Marketing, and Business Development. To learn more about open roles at MongoDB, please visit the MongoDB Careers Page.