Let’s delve behind the scenes and find out a little more about the people behind our technology. Here is a short interview with Ben Ford, Co-Founder of The Compliance Workbook and our Technical Director.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
After serving the needs of my home town at 16 years old with a bedroom-based computer repair/networking/web design outfit. I got involved with an embedded devices/telemetry company building remote environmental monitoring systems and the web portals for interrogating/graphing that data. Unfortunately, the company was reasonably short-lived but fueled a significant appetite for embedded systems which I still have today.
Following that, I spent the best part of a decade working with an innovative data-driven video technology company. While this opportunity offered exposure to a wealth of obscure technologies and demanded some interesting solutions to problems that only exist in broadcast video, it ultimately felt like I was implementing the same solution just on different platforms. I was ready for a new challenge, so when I was brought in by Ian for a chat about The Compliance Workbook I was understandably excited to be involved in solving some new problems.
What made you get involved in this innovative idea?
My favourite part of any project are all the little eureka moments you have as you figure out solutions to problems along the way. Hearing the initial requirements sparked a flood of enhancements or feature ideas that we’re still not at the end of nearly four years in. I’m still excited to scrawl hieroglyphics on a whiteboard any time a new idea is voiced in the office.
Why is TCW different from anything else on the market today?
Being involved from the very start, with a product that didn’t need to fight for favour against competition has been fantastic. It’s a shame that so many good products aren’t (in my eyes) great products because they’re simply replicating an existing solution but with more investment or greater marketing.
By inventing a new product type instead of a “Housing management system” or “Document management system” we’ve created a value-add that can sit in any existing workflow and provide immediate value without disrupting any existing processes.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
Juggling roles during the initial growth of the company while still allowing sales momentum to build wasn’t easy. In the early days, each new customer represents four or five important features that you’d not considered when completing “Version 1”. Initially, this close and agile working relationship can lead to some great wins and feature discussions. Soon with a very small team time becomes the limiting factor and features you were looking forward to and would love to see in the system start falling lower and lower in priorities.
What are your plans for the future of the software?
We’ve built a fantastic compliance tool that makes use of data that has never before been so easy to access. I’m itching to turn that data to other uses for other industries. We’ve got some brilliant features on the way that are only possible in our ecosystem and are going to blow some serious socks off.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to the inception of The Compliance Workbook?
Try and identify the assumptions you’re making. It’s not an easy task. I know we’d have done a lot of things differently (and saved having to re-do a good few) if I’d have asked more “What if…?” questions.
What habit helps you to be productive?
I’ve always highly valued the ability to start looking at a problem and then go at it until I’ve satisfied myself with the solution. While working within the broadcast video industry there were many overnight demos presented with bloodshot eyes. Escher (The Compliance Workbook’s PDF reading engine) is the result of three years perfecting an overnight proof of concept.
It’s been a notable adjustment to “regular” work hours, but one that my social life has certainly appreciated.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
While to many, it would still look a lot like hard work, I’m not happy unless I’ve got something to fix or tinker with. I’ve been lucky enough to receive grants to build some excellent things at festivals and events in the UK and across Europe. Especially when I can provide something interactive and tactile that people can enjoy. Recently I produced 9 wifi-enabled LED lanterns that festival goers were able to carry about to illuminate their night. These lanterns detect when they are near each other and match their colour patterns with that of their neighbours. This meant people could take some elsewhere and they would be different colours to the rest, until they returned and synced up with the group. These experiences have introduced appreciation of a new emotion to me. Seeing someone else appreciate and enjoy something you’ve built. It’s a sensation I now crave and really can’t achieve without playing mad-scientist for a while.
How do you encourage innovative thinking within the team?
I value innovative approaches to problems and an attitude that isn’t afraid to discuss some “out of the ordinary” ideas. I don’t believe having an innovative mind can be easily taught. So exploring solutions with someone who isn’t afraid to voice some wild ones is immensely valuable.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
I’d love the opportunity to use my technical skills on more creative pursuits. The small projects I build every year have introduced an appreciation for seeing someone else’s enthusiasm at something I’ve built and I can’t get enough of it.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always knew I’d work with software and technology; something that had always been nurtured back to preferring to play with spare plugs and wires instead of “regular” toys at three years old, or having electrical DIY instructions read as bedtime stories (yes, really).
Any new or up-and-coming tech that excites you / interested in?
Not so much a specific technological advancement but more a social one. I’m thrilled to see “Maker” culture expanding and becoming ever so more accessible to enthusiasts of all ages. Whether this is Professional CAD software being made available for free to hobbyists (Thanks Autodesk 360), affordable 3D printing or the incredible resources online demystifying microcontrollers and electronics.
I’m excited about the up and coming people who might have been too deterred by not knowing all the answers previously.
Are there any particular quotes that strike a cord with you?
“Heavy is the head that wears the crown” (Shakespeare’s Henry IV pt. 2) is a bit of a favourite.
Not necessarily because it suggests those with more power are under more pressure, but because it can be applied to any quality or skill someone possesses. I feel knowledge or ability carries a level of responsibility to others to ensure that it is used well and passed on.
Be sure to check out or new #TCWTech blog series, the first of which can be found here.