There is no denying that Michael Dunn, chief technology officer for station-automation provider Encoda and former CTO for Time Warner, has had a busy career. He has held 10 jobs in a 20-year career, a reflection of a peripatetic childhood as an "Army brat."
"We lived all over the world," he recalls of his youth. "The longest I lived in any one place was in Hawaii, and that was for almost five years."
It also allowed Dunn to develop his life-long adventure in extreme sports, such as surfing, rock climbing and mountain biking. Today, with two sons, he has left the rock climbing behind, but he's still up for snowboarding and suffering the occasional broken ankle. That experience, a little over a year ago, taught Dunn that the human body ages in an inverse relationship to advances in computer-processing speeds.
"When you have kids," he says, "all of a sudden, it dawns on you that the endorphin-based experiences are probably better left to those that recover quicker."
The interest in extreme sports may run counter to the computer-geek stereotype, but the story of Dunn's becoming interested in computers and technology doesn't. He first became involved with computers in high school, where he would play with card feeders and mainframes. His father, who rose to the rank of full colonel, also taught ROTC at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., where Dunn became friends with the head of the department that ran the mainframe shop.
"I did quite a bit of early learning in that space, and I was able to work on the best academia-based systems at that time," he says. "I've always been an analytical and creative person, and computers were just starting to come into their own."
After working for a number of computer companies as a programmer and manager, Dunn moved to Hanna-Barbera Productions, where he became involved in making sure Yogi and friends had a digital future.
"It quickly became a fun and diverse role that whet my appetite for the entertainment industry in general and the challenges of content and digital-rights management," he says. "It allowed me to use both sides of my brain, both creative and analytical. I had very young children at the time so I associated my job with something where the end product was something I could identify with as a parent. And it gave me a viable excuse to watch Saturday-morning cartoons."
When Turner Broadcasting purchased Hanna-Barbera in 1991, Dunn became director of information technology, West, for Turner Broadcasting, where he was in charge of the technology efforts related to the West Coast and the Asia/Pacific regions. "The work with Hanna and Turner was a great learning experience because I had to deal with other aspects of the business besides the ones and zeros of the technology," he says.
His experience at Turner came in handy less than five years later when he joined Time Warner as CTO. "I always had the desire to get back into the media side of the business, and the opportunity to be the corporate CTO of Time Warner came up," he says. "I helped drive a lot of the technologies and standards across the 660 business units of Time Warner."
He honed his management style. "I'm a big advocate of virtual-team approaches," he says, "the ability for a strong architect to work with another strong architect no matter what the reporting structure is."
Today, however, he is back on the technology side, working with Encoda. "It was an opportunity to get entrenched in the details of a lot of the backends of the media-entertainment industries," he says. "And Encoda is a global company, so we can push their leadership into the newer areas that media companies will be going into."