14 May 2007 by Ian Davis
Next month will mark the end of my second year at Talis. I was inspired to join by my conversations with the CEO, Dave Errington and CTO, Justin Leavesley. They both shared this strong belief that something was changing, that there was a coming wave of disruption based on increased connectivity and that Talis could be well placed to catch it. Throughout the conversations ran a refreshing vein of humility and honesty, an admission that not everything was figured out and that anyone joining could help shape Talis strategy. For me, that presented an amazing challenge that I didn’t want to miss. As a backdrop, Talis had been in the middle of huge organisational changes, moving away from 36 years of being a co-operative not-for-profit, through to a limited company and, ultimately, to being majority owned by its employees. A tough transition, but one that was necessary if Talis were to catch this next wave.
Today’s Talis is vastly different even from the Talis I joined. Just about every employee is a shareholder and Talis is paying dividends on those shares. We’ve built a great team, developed some amazing core technology and have some very cool applications in the pipeline. Without the bureacracy that enveloped the company in its former incarnation it’s become a place you can get great things done.
Last month I was flattered and honoured to be invited to join Dave and Justin as an executive director on the board of Talis Group. Justin is moving across to become Chief Strategy Officer, which very much suits his economic strategy expertise, and I’m stepping up to become CTO, responsible primarily for our platform strategy and technology. What a huge challenge and responsibility: I never thought I’d be CTO of a company older than both me and the Internet! Even though the company has been through enormous changes over the past four years we still have a lot of work to do. With my appointment to the board comes a new focus for the company on becoming a global software business, active across every domain. We’ll continue to grow in our traditional library market, while at the same time expanding the platform strategy and technology we have been working on for the past two years.
If you follow this blog then you’ll have a good idea about the direction we’re taking with our Platform. Call it the Semantic Web (upper or lowercase), Web 3.0 or the Web of Data, it’s about connecting people, businesses, machines and devices together, making it more efficient to communicate and giving us access to even more information with which to make better decisions. The whole company is working toward this vision, so it permeates all of our products, and my particular focus is on the technology needed to get there.
Part of that is ensuring that Talis continues to excel in technology. But that doesn’t mean devising better processes or selecting tools or inventing architectures. Those kinds of activities are just fiddling around the edges. The single most important factor in a successful software business is having happy, talented people
Talented people, to me, are those that can make things happen, often against the odds, through perseverance, inspiration and sheer passion. They learn from every challenge and they get better. And the best way to help them do that is to get out of their way.
If you’re not convinced, if you think you can horizontally scale the development process, go and read some of Joel Spolsky’s writings on the subject. Then read Founders at Work and try to find a startup whose success wasn’t entirely predicated on the talent of its founders.
I’m lucky that Talis already has a fantastic team of talented developers, certainly the best I’ve ever worked with. But to achieve future success we need to increase in strength, not only in the dev group, but across the whole company. We’ve got a big vision, but we haven’t got all the answers yet and we’re looking for people to come and help us figure some stuff out.
So here’s the pitch from the new CTO: if you want to face the challenge of creating something world-changing; if you like the idea of a company that controls its own destiny and is small enough for you to change it; if you never want to stop learning; then I want to hear from you.
Come and find me at XTech this week, or grab one of the other 8 Talisians that are going and get the lowdown on what it’s really like to work here. If you can’t make XTech, then email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them I sent you :)