At TechPoint, we like to interview expatriates from the state (Xpats) who have returned to work at tech or tech-enabled companies after spending a portion of their careers outside of Indiana’s borders. As someone who came back to Indiana 22 years ago, John Warne has a unique perspective of seeing what Indiana was like in the ‘80s and what it has become since he returned in 1995.

Originally from Indiana, John graduated from Butler University in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and science.

“When I graduated, there were very few technology jobs available in Indiana,” says John, vice president of marketing at Bolstra. “Back then, the only tech jobs around were IT organization positions because there were no technology companies to speak of in Indiana at the time.”

John Warne

John WarneVice President of Marketing

While there were few tech product companies hiring for John’s skills in Indiana in the early 80s, he did end up finding a job in Indianapolis after graduation and started his career with an IT group nonprofit financial service company. He was happy to have found a job, but John was interested in something different.

“I was really interested in something more with an engineering slant to it. Specifically, I was really excited about the aerospace industry.”

John’s wish would be fulfilled quickly. “Within two weeks, I received a call from someone at Lockheed,” says John. “The defense era was upon us in the ‘80s, and if you had a decent GPA and you could interview well, then Lockheed was ready to hire people over the phone.”

Even though the company was ready to offer him a position over the phone, John wanted to visit Lockheed first before making his decision. “I went out to California to take a look at Lockheed,” says John. “I ended up taking the position and moved out there shortly after.”

With an office in Sunnyvale, California, Lockheed was John’s first step into the culture of Silicon Valley. “Little did I know what I was stepping into out there,” says John. “I was in the heart of Silicon Valley, and there was so much stuff going on. It was great to be in the middle of it, and it’s easy to get caught up in it all.”

John wasn’t the only Hoosier who moved to California during this time. “At Lockheed, there were several people from Purdue and some of the other Midwestern schools,” says John. “It was so commonplace to see many Midwesterners living out in California in the ‘80s.”

John’s Career in California and the Decision to Come Home

While enjoying his time at Lockheed, John — like many other people in the ‘80s — ultimately wanted to work for HP.  “In the ‘80s, HP was the place to work in the Bay Area. I was trying to figure out where I would fit in best with HP,” says John. “I eventually landed a job in 1987 as a Presales System Engineer, and I had a blast working there.”

After working for HP for four years, John eventually joined a spin-off group started by HP in 1991 called Visionary Design Systems. John worked for the group for four years in Mountain View, California.

Even though there were a variety of exciting things going on in Silicon Valley, John always knew he wanted to come back to Indiana some day. “Even when I first moved out to California, there was always this desire to come back to Indiana,” says John. “Our family and friends were in Indiana, and California was jumping from the next thing to the next thing; there was always a ‘new allure.’”

When they first moved out to California, John and his wife would make several trips back to Indiana, but this quickly dwindled the longer they were there.

“When we first moved to California, we went home several times a year,” says John. Once you get going, it becomes a couple of times a year. Then, you have kids, and it becomes once a year — maybe.”

What ultimately brought John and his family home, however, was his dad’s health.

“My dad had open heart surgery, and I only saw my dad a couple of times in the last several years with one of them being in an intensive care unit at a hospital,” says John. “Now I have two kids, and I said to myself, ‘This is madness. I don’t care if there are fewer opportunities in Indiana; home is where the heart is.’”

Serendipitously, one of John’s friends from HP had taken a position to run product and marketing for Software Artistry, who called John about a position.

“While I was back here for my dad’s surgery, I talked to the folks at Software Artistry,” says John. “My friend asked me to join the company, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

In 1995, John and his family picked up and moved back to Indiana. “It all came back to doing a gut check on what our value system was. Everyone talks about how the cost of living here is significantly less. To me, it’s a value system that has only improved here and only gotten worse in the Bay Area since I left,” says John.

“When I first got back to Indiana, I was a bit scared at first,” says John. “In fact, I still remember waking up when I first got back here saying, ‘What did I do?’ But then I’d see my kids interacting with my parents, and it solidified why I came back. That would always bring me back to ground.”

Even in his moments of doubt, John wouldn’t go back. “I know I have a much better quality of life and life in general since moving back. I had opportunities since to go back there and chose not to,” says John.

“Leaving for the coast might seem like the quick and easy answer to more money and the perception of more success,” says John. “However, moving to the West Coast often means you’ll be jumping from company to company, searching to be a part of the next ‘unicorn’ while living with your eight best friends in a 3-bedroom apartment.”

Watching Technology Growth in Indiana

Although he was excited to be back home, John saw some challenges facing Indiana in 1995.  “Software Artistry was the first publicly traded software company in Indiana, which was pretty cool,” says John. “But, honestly, when I came back, my perception was that Indiana was behind. That was still the case in the early 2000s, and, even when I went over to Aprimo in 2003, I still felt that Indiana was a laggard.”

Over time, John has seen Indiana grow from laggard to leader in tech. “I don’t think we’re behind anymore. Technology has grown enough here that I don’t believe we take a back seat any longer in terms of innovation and technology,” says John.

“We’re on par with other places from an innovation perspective, and what’s unique about Indiana is our philosophy towards business. The West Coast gets caught up on itself, and you see so many companies that have this outrageous valuation that will never support anything other than a buyout,” says John.

“Indiana has something that the rest of the country doesn’t: true leadership,” says John. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with and for some of the brightest, most integrity-filled people since moving back, including Steve Ehrlich at Software Artistry and Bill Godfrey at Software Artistry and Aprimo.”

John believes programs supporting technology and entrepreneurship are what will sustain Indiana tech growth. “Some of the things that are going on now are really helping to grow tech and entrepreneurship in Indiana. The Orr Fellowship is a great program, and what TechPoint is doing now with its own talent programs is really helping in trying to get some groundswell around tech companies,” says John.

“I think these initiatives are exactly why Indiana doesn’t lack on the innovation level like they used to 22 years ago when I came back because none of that was around back then,” says John, “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue the trajectory that we’re on, given the universities and programs we have here.”

As the Vice President of Marketing for Bolstra, John is responsible for all inbound and outbound lead generation, messaging, product marketing, and marketing strategy. He’s also held executive positions as Chief Customer Officer at Aprimo and the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Veregon, Inc. Read more about Bolstra in their featured company profile here.