The latest chapter in my software development career makes interesting reading. You may remember some time ago I joined a start-up with some friends (who also happened to be ex-colleagues) of mine to build a product in the performance and attribution world of financial investment (exciting indeed). We were then acquired by RiskMetrics Group and that took us into a wonderful world where instead of thinking about how we could build out a product with minimal costs and minimal hardware, suddenly our concerns were how we’d scale to hundreds of clients looking to shift huge amounts of data around using shed loads of high-spec machines in a data centre. It was like a dream come true for a techie like me.
Even better were the calibre of people. I always want to work with people I can learn from and RiskMetrics was definitely that place. I was working with people who were incredibly smart, insightful, able to think in ways you just can’t teach and analyse and solve the sort of problems that make your brain implode. Hearing about so-called rock star programmers and the type of people who can change the world is one thing, but when you’re sat in a room with them while they think about how to solve incredibly far reaching and complex problems was quite another. I had to pinch myself to believe I was working with these people.
We spent a couple of years building our product under the leadership of and with help from some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. And as a result we built something that continued to push the envelope of what you can do with the Microsoft development platform. Everybody who saw our software was blown away – there was literally nothing to touch it in terms of usability and potential in the industry and by the middle of 2010 we had ticks in most of the boxes potential customers were looking for. The team expanded so that development was happening in the UK, Switzerland and the USA. Everything was coming together better than I could have expected (up until then I didn’t believe you could do distributed development in this way but it turns out that with the right people you can).
And then everything changed. After some unconfirmed rumours it transpired that we were being bought out. Since most of us had been through this sort of thing before we decided to just keep our heads down and continue building our product. Many others became consumed by speculation and couldn’t focus. Of course the writing was on the wall and ultimately the decision was made to close our office and kill our product – literally exactly the same thing that happened to me almost 7 years ago. Some things never change!
The last time this happened I was a little bitter and twisted and annoyed that we’d come so close to success but been cut down before our time. This time I shrugged my shoulders thinking “such is big business” and phoned a recruitment agent. I figured there was no sense wishing things were different – people way above my pay grade had made the decision and whether it was right or wrong (in my eyes) that didn’t matter. What’s done was done and it was time to move on and find something new. And that’s exactly what I did.
So just a few weeks later I started at a company called FinancialForce.com. They build an accounting product on the Salesforce.com cloud computing platform, something I’d not really paid attention to (I’d been so busy building software on the Microsoft platform I hadn’t really looked outside that for a while). So far I think it’s fair to say I’ve landed on my feet and in many ways my new role is a much better fit for what I enjoy doing than my previous one (so every cloud has a silver lining after all). Plus after only a few weeks I feel like I’ve known my new colleagues for years (always a good sign)!
And the more I learn about the force.com platform (as it’s known) the more impressed I am. I’m used to having to build software from the ground up and therefore having to reinvent the wheel every time (and wasting months doing it). On force.com you’ve got so much for free in terms of an application platform, relational database, consistent user interface model, batch processing, scalable, reliable hosting, the fact that you’re building on a trusted platform, the list goes on. Sure, you’re giving up quite a lot of control – you have to live within the limitations of the platform and there are plenty of things you can’t do – but on the whole it means you spend a lot less time writing boilerplate code and a lot more time focusing on actually building a product.
So all in all it’s been a very interesting couple of years filled with many highs and lows. But if it’s alright with you I’ll be quite happy if things stay the same for a while. All this being bought out makes me feel like a commodity rather than a human being! 😉