Behind the business with Thoughtworks
Luke Barrett, managing director of IT consultancy Thoughtworks, takes Bdaily behind the business.
What key challenges has your company recently faced?
We’re fortunate enough to have more demand for what we do than people to do it, so to start with there is the challenge of finding great people. As a consultancy people are our most valuable asset, which means we take the quality of our staff very seriously and are careful in our recruitment.
We’re also passionate about diversity and equality in our workforce. As well as the cultural diversity afforded by being a global company, we’re also keen to promote the role of women in IT.
The efforts we make to find sources of diverse talent and the high standards we hold candidates to mean it can be quite hard to find the people we’re looking for in the volumes we’d like.
The second challenge is in the mix of work. We do a lot of project-based work and we really want to make sure that it’s making a difference and solving our clients’ most pressing problems.
We are always working on multiple projects, and there’s an emphasis on providing a solution quickly as well as maintaining quality – in fact testing, particularly automated testing, is central to our approach, we really bake the quality in.
This means we’re always kept on our toes and constantly looking for the next opportunity. Alongside this we also want to make sure this is stimulating for our people. They really relish the challenge of providing effective solutions to the hardest problems.
What is your biggest achievement over the past 12 months?
We work on so many great projects it’s hard to highlight just one. In general I’d say our biggest achievement has been the ability to consistently provide high quality solutions to our customers, time after time. There are a lot of IT horror stories out there, so we’re immensely proud of our track record.
One of the key things that underpins this ability, and that we’re proud to be championing, is Continuous Delivery. This is really the future of software development as it allows a business to rapidly update their software products and service to meet ever-changing customer needs, to the extent it could even be on a daily basis if needs be. Being responsive to customers by reducing the cycle time between having an idea to enhance your offering and getting it in front of them is increasingly important – just look at the frequency with which apps in an app store are updated (often weekly, even daily) or that services like Google’s Gmail release features. It’s very different to the traditional update cycle of a product like MS Office (e.g. annually).
Our approach is all about making that level of response a reality. It fundamentally changes the way software is delivered. Jez Humble, one of our consultants, recently co-wrote a book championing the subject, Continuous Delivery: Reliable Software Releases Through Build, Test, and Deployment Automation. The book won the Jolt Award for Excellence last year, which is fantastic.
What is your biggest focus for the coming year?
We’ve always been proud of writing software that solves real world problems. It’s a commercial operation because, of course, as a business we need to go where we can make a profit, but problem solving has always been our real focus.
With that in mind we’re doing more work for not-for-profit organizations. An example is our work with Simpa Networks, a company is doing revolutionary work in India to bring electricity to 1.6 million people with new solar power technology.
These are people who could never normally afford the cost of installing solar technology, but Simpa is pioneering a pay-as-you-go scheme that works like a mobile phone contract. With their Progressive Payment scheme, customers only put need to down a small amount up front and then pay per usage. Each payment contributes towards purchasing the equipment outright, eventually leading towards free energy.
All of this requires a system to keep track of users and payments, and this is where we came in. Creating the software to handle all this takes the same expertise as writing a complex system for a large company, but here it’s all for a not-for-profit.
On a more commercial note, we are looking to grow the business in Europe. We believe we have something exciting to offer these markets and there is a lot of opportunity for expansion here.
If you had to choose one top piece of advice for someone just starting out in business, or is currently operating within your sector, what would it be?
The best advice I can give will always be to work with your customers. This holds true for most industries, but in software development especially you really have to listen to your customers and collaborate with them. Don’t just chat once and then disappear to work on your own.
It’s also vital to actually take in what they tell you and make use of it. It’s very unlikely you’ll ever get a project that is completely right first time, and you have to be prepared to listen to their feedback and really make the changes they need.
Can you share with us your view of the current landscape of business, in this region or generally and where your organization sits within it?
The European landscape is obviously very unpredictable right now and no one knows if we’re on the road to recovery or facing a double dip recession. This uncertainly tends to split companies into two groups – those that are pulling their horns in and trying to cut back, and those that see opportunity and are willing to go for it.
The way we work very much suits the second group, and we definitely intend to make the best of that. We see demand remaining strong, particularly as the approach we take continues to resonate with our clients and the market.