Chris Thomas

Technology Manager | Entrepreneur

7 min read

My Professional Journey

My professional journey started with someone believing in me. As I go further into my professional journey, you will see a common theme of individuals who put their faith in me. I want to take the time to appreciate all of those people upfront in this section, and thank each and everyone of you that had a hand in my career or will. Thank you!

Army Reserve

I enlisted in the Army Reserves when I was 18 years old. I had a lot of great experiences in the Army including a lot of hands on leadership in tough, stressful situations. I learned in the Army about servant leadership, and this is something that sticks with me today. I also learned a lot of personal responsibility and working hard. I wouldn’t change my time in the Army for anything. I’m grateful that I could serve, and I thank everyone else who has put on the uniform!


I was in college at Purdue University working at an on-campus bar. My grades weren’t terrible but they were less than desireable (barely) for most companies that were looking for out of interns. I was leaving our local career fair and decided to go talk to the recruiters from State Farm. That is where my life changed. My recruiter chatted with me even with my lower than required GPA, and I got an interview and ultimately an internship. When I went to State Farm, I was working on writing data mapping requirements and got the opportunity to talk to other engineers and leaders in the Big Data space. It was an awesome experience, and I was offered a full time position when I graduated from college in Dallas, TX!

Note: I did get my GPA up after before graduating from school :)

Big Data Enablement

When I started at State Farm, my team was being setup to be a Hadoop Center of Excellence. That meant that I need to get up to speed fast! I started diving in and starting working on some key initiatives using Hadoop technologies including MapReduce, Spark, Flume, Kafka, and more! It was fun time. I was really focues on learning and also teaching those around me what this new world of Hadoop was all about. I learned very key principles that would shape my career including immutable data and lambda architecture. In this role, I was tasked with helping discover architectural patterns, enabling others to move faster in the Hadoop world, and advise and solve issues when the arose. It was a fun assignment!

Infrastructure and DevOps Enablement

While I was still in the Hadoop enablement space, I caught the bug of managing infrastructure and DevOps. I was focused on establishing CI/CD patterns for Hadoop applications while helping create a Docker infrastructure (Kubernetes before we had Kubernetes) to allow teams to quickly create and deploy containerized applications. At this point, I was in an aspirational project and was helping teams on a daily basis. I learned a lot about customer service and helping enable teams. I also learned that I don’t have all the answers, but I built confidence in being able to research and find a solution and/or using my network to get the right answer. Valuable skills for my future.

AWS Enablement

My focus started to change to helping architect the future of my project. I was part of a group of engineers who started to chart our path into the Cloud and more specifically AWS. During this time, it was all learning and trying things in such a rapid pace!

Product Ownership

I moved into a technical product owner over our enbalement team and security enablement team at the same time. This is where I learned a lot about what works as a leader and what doesn’t. I was able to move important work through the Agile process, but most importantly, I was able to develop as a leader. If you mentor with me, I will mention this time in my career as my hardest time in my career and where I learned the most. It’s funny how those two situations usually go hand in hand.

Senior Technology Engineer

I was promoted to a Senior Technology Engineer which was one of the more senior engineering positions at State Farm at the time. This was an awesome experience because I was able to rearchitect a machine learning platform that we had been working on. It opened the door to a lot of cool opportuities including working with vendors to evaluate products and pros and cons of going with a vendor. I learned a lot in that role around technical leadership and how to motivate and collaborate with teams. It also gave me the opportunity to start working on how I delegate to teams while maintaining quality and integrity to the core vision.

Technology Manager and My First Product team

As a person who sees themselves as a leader, it was very important to me that I become a leader in my organization. While I was leading teams from an individual contributor perspective, it was time to move into more formal leadership. I was promoted, and I took on my first product who was in charge of ingesting data into AWS as part of a modernization effort. I was familiar with data ingestion patterns from prior experience so I was able to really focus on how to lead the team and how to adjust to my new role managing people. I learned in this role how to continue to prioritize work in a much larger project with lots of dependencies. I also learned that I like leading people and helping people. Ultimately, I’m super proud of the culture that was built on the team, and the work we did to contribute to the overall deployment of the modernization effort.

Data Architecture

During my tenure on my first product team, I was asked to stand up a new team from scratch that would be focused on data architecture of the overall data pipeline. This was a great experience around building a team from nothing and collaborating with peers to work through workforce challenges and get their support. In the role, I also got to work directly with business partners to spearhead a lot of efforts to improve efficiency, data quality, and flexibility in the data pipeline. This assignment also gave me a new appreciation of the importance of data and data integrity. Data is what drives the best decisions in this world. It’s important that we have the right, accurate data to make the best decisions.

AWS Cloud Enablement

Once I moved a little bit away from the data architecture work, I found myself focusing on enabling a large area inside of State Farm and prepare them for a mass migration to the Cloud. This team was also started from scratch and a lot of work was to be done. This is what I do today. I meet with teams to help them with their architectures. We define patterns that can be reused in a self service way. We also help manage the accounts and account level assets that allow teams to be more efficient in the way that they deploy their applications and maintain their applications. There is a lot that goes into enabling a team in the Cloud when they’re new to the Cloud space. This allows me to do the things I love: solve problems, mentor people, and push the pace of the organization.

Continuing the Journey

I’m very focused on my personal development. I’m working on my leadership style and skills as well as increasing my business acumen in the insurance industry. I’ve been working at the Enterprise level to get best practices in the Cloud enablement space out of my specific area and more adopted across the Enterprise. I’m continuing to evaluate my next steps in my career, but I’m also taking the time to enjoy the challenges in my current position and reflect on the amount of positive momentum we’ve created for the organization!

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