Chris Dykes, LSU alumnus and TEDxLSU 2017 speaker, is developing software to change the world through ideas that promote small, local changes. As owner of Clear Blue Design, Chris spends his days primarily creating software for clients, but he still manages to carve out time for his passion project, Freebird. Designed to help share ideas and make change more attainable, Chris hopes the Freebird app will be the next great tech tool.
We recently chatted with Chris to discuss his work and life. Read some highlights of the conversation below.
How does the CIO of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals become a full-time entrepreneur?
There was enough change going on within state government that I kind of took a step back for once and decided to think about what I wanted to do. And I’ve always wanted to own my own business. I turned 35 that year (2014) and decided that if I don’t do it now then I’ll probably never do it. I just decided to take the leap.
What advice would you give to others who are thinking of leaving their day jobs to pursue their dreams?
It’s two contradictory pieces of advice. The first thing is to do it. Be crazy enough to take the leap. But then once you’ve done it, buckle down and focus on taking one step at a time and not giving up.
What is the single greatest contribution you want to make to society?
I want to create tools that allow people to help each other. And I think Freebird does that. I’ve got other things I’d love to do one day. But really, it’s why I like software development because you can create something from nothing. Just creating things that allow people to help each other out and do better things.
Why the name Freebird?
We had the slogan before we had the name and we even had some thoughts on what we wanted the logo to look like to portray freedom. My wife is actually the one that said “freebird.” And I was like, “that’s it.” And she was like “nah, I’m just kidding.” And I said “no, that’s it.”
Where in Baton Rouge do you go to clear your mind?
For me, it’s going for a run around the lakes. That’s what helps me to reboot and clear my head.
When you aren’t working, what are you usually doing?
Spending time with my family. I have three boys, the oldest is seven and the youngest is nine months. It’s a constant requirement of time. Both my wife and I work full-time, so we split parenting responsibilities. It’s a tough phase of life to be doing too much else.
When you think about your kids, what kind of future do you want them to live in?
I’m very optimistic about the future they are going to have. I think that one of the next great waves of technology will be around tools helping others in the charitable space. People have become distrustful when they give money somewhere and then they don’t see direct action. And I think my kids’ generation will see technology take that to where there is a much greater connection between their ability to contribute to something and see direct action on it. And then that will create a wave of generosity because seeing the contribution more directly will create a greater desire to be generous.
Where have you traveled and which place had the biggest impact on you?
I’ve been to Europe a couple of times. But the biggest impact was the first time I went. Seeing how old those countries are compared to the United States puts things in perspective. Things that I grew up thinking about almost as mythical stories of the past actually happened on that soil and it’s incredible. Those types of interactions certainly helped to inspire Freebird, as it’s about ideas for cultures and the belief that you need to be engaged in a culture to suggest solutions to make it better.
What’s your superpower?
It’s a moderate dose of obsessive compulsive disorder. And like all superpowers it’s both a blessing and a curse. I am pretty meticulous and detail-oriented and I think that it mostly works to my benefit, but there can be mild side effects.
If you could switch jobs with another TEDxLSU 2017 speaker, who would it be and why?
Wayne Newhauser. We are going to cure cancer, and I think it’d be really cool to be part of that scene. To see a problem that’s seemingly unattainable at the time, but knowing that we are going to get there and being part of that would be really cool. And then using specifically some of his tools, like 3D printing, will be an interesting piece of the puzzle.
Thinking over your whole life — even your childhood — what’s the single decision you would say has had the biggest impact?
To me, it was choosing to go to LSU for college. I was never one of those people who was “going to LSU.” I was actually decidedly not going to LSU until it came down to the wire. But I’ve been in Baton Rouge since then and it’s shaped the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done and where I am today.
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