Reblog: AMsource Technology
Q&A WITH STEPHEN WILLCOCK OF FINANCIALFORCE.COM
Monday 27th April 2015
We talked with Stephen Willcock from our client Financialforce.com, and had the opportunity to discuss a number of subjects such as his role as Director of Product Innovation, what it’s like to be part of a technology company going through hyper-growth and he fills us in on his favourite tech gadgets.
With 16 years’ experience in consulting and software development, including 7 years developing and architecting Force.com applications, in his role as Director of Product Innovation Stephen has a remit to ensure that product development effectively harnesses the Salesforce1 platform and complementary technologies to solve business challenges through delivery of innovative products.
HI STEPHEN, THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO HAVE A CHAT WITH US TODAY. SO, YOUR CURRENT ROLE IS “DIRECTOR, PRODUCT INNOVATION” WHICH SOUNDS GREAT – WHAT ARE YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR IN THIS ROLE?
Not a problem! Well, it’s genuinely a “dream job”. I have a small team of extraordinary developers, and we get to build prototypes for new products or product features, experimenting with the very latest Salesforce technologies. The work is varied; we might be presented with a tricky problem to solve, or given a new technology or feature to evaluate and come up with ideas around how we can put them to best use in our products.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE ROLE?
Software Developers are very creative individuals, but freedom to be creative has to be balanced with the disciplined approach needed to deliver product. I love the fact that within the Product Innovation team we can push the balance further to the creative side.
We also get to push boundaries – a lot. One of the most rewarding phrases to hear is “whoah, how did you manage to do that?”
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
This really comes from the last point: applying the right level of control over projects. Product Innovation projects work well when developers are given greater freedom to be creative, but too much freedom and projects can lose focus. From the developer’s perspective too, I think that this balance has a significant impact on work satisfaction.
FINANCIALFORCE.COM ARE A RELATIVELY NEW COMPANY – WHAT DO THEY DEVELOP?
FinancialForce.com is a Salesforce ISV – we develop products for the Salesforce1 platform, and the Force.com feature-set in particular. Our ERP products complement Salesforce’s front-office applications – fulfilling functions like Financial Management, Supply Chain Management, Professional Services Automation and Human Resources Management. The Salesforce1 platform allows us to tightly integrate these apps with Salesforce’s own apps – it’s a compelling combination.
HOW DO YOU FIND WORKING WITH FORCE.COM?
Force.com is an amazing environment for building Cloud applications. We see three releases a year, delivering new features for end-users and developers alike. It’s not without its challenges of course. Force.com is multi-tenant, and the model Salesforce uses to ensure consistent performance for all users can be a bit of a headache sometimes, especially for new Force.com developers. The benefits heavily outweigh the challenges though.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO DEVELOPERS WHO COME FROM A MORE MAINSTREAM JAVA/C# BACKGROUND AND WHO ARE CONCERNED ABOUT MOVING TO FORCE.COM AND WHAT IT COULD MEAN FOR THEIR CAREER?
Back in 2007, when I was introduced to Salesforce technologies, turning from Java and .NET to work on Force.com wasn’t an easy decision. Today it’s a much safer course to take. Salesforce is most definitely still on an upward trajectory – it’s a great time to get on board. The annual Dreamforce conference is huge, and within that, the Developer “mini” conference grows year on year too – attendance to the DevZone is in the tens of thousands. There’s also a thriving online developer community, which is still young enough for newcomers to make their mark.
WHAT ARE ITS ADVANTAGES, WHAT CAN IT DO, WILL IT LAST FOR YEARS TO COME?
Building on Force.com means that your work immediately benefits from the existing trust in the platform. Security, resilience, backup and so on are just right there in the fabric of Force.com. Then there’s a huge array of functionality built in that gives you a flying start on any project – database, user interface, APIs, reporting, workflow, social and mobile features – it’s all been very well thought through. And finally, your applications are inherently customisable and extensible because that’s the way the platform was designed. It’s interesting to find that developers new to Salesforce have to be trained to do less, and let the platform do the work.
ALTHOUGH ONLY ESTABLISHED IN 2009, FINANCIALFORCE.COM HAVE GROWN TO A 500+ PERSON ORGANISATION AND YOU’VE BEEN THERE FROM THE BEGINNING – WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING IN A COMPANY GOING THROUGH HYPER-GROWTH?
It’s been an incredible roller-coaster ride so far! I’ve needed to adapt at various stages of growth. For example, in the early days, part of the attraction was the small tight-knit team, where the boundaries between roles were in some ways less distinct, and this encouraged a great sense of personal ownership. A developer might have been pulled into a pre-sales call, or someone in marketing might be called upon to do some additional software testing. Today we’ve retained that spirit – being “one team” is in our corporate DNA – but we’re more focussed on our specialities, and therefore able to develop skills in a more concentrated way.
GIVEN THE GROWTH FINANCIALFORCE.COM HAVE GONE THROUGH THERE MUST BE A NATURAL PRESSURE FOR CONSTANT INNOVATION ALMOST ON A DAILY/WEEKLY/MONTHLY BASIS – HOW DO YOU KEEP UP!?
It’s the tremendous growth that has allowed us to put together a team dedicated to innovation, and we’re certainly kept busy! The company is filled with very smart people – there’s no shortage of ideas, and the Salesforce1 platform is evolving very quickly, continually opening opportunities for us to exploit. So, yes – busy!
WHAT INNOVATION HAVE YOU DEVELOPED THAT A) YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF AND B) YOU’VE SEEN HAVE A BIG IMPACT AT FINANCIALFORCE.COM?
Some of the projects I’m most proud of are now in Product Development, and will be announced in the coming weeks! In the past we’ve done some interesting work on historical analysis of financial data – being able to turn the clock back on your accounting system. We’ve also done some great integration work with other services, like Google Apps, a lot of which we are in the process of sharing with the development community via GitHub (https://github.com/orgs/financialforcedev)
WHAT ADVANTAGES DO FINANCIALFORCE.COM HAVE OVER THEIR MORE ‘TRADITIONAL’ COMPETITORS?
We’re growing at a pace, but from the start partnering with Salesforce allowed us to punch above our weight. All of the advantages of Force.com that we talked about before, these get rolled into our products, and that’s a significant plus. In terms of our operations, we gain the benefits of SaaS, just as our customers do – allowing us to concentrate on our core business. But being on Force.com where our customers gain a particular advantage is that all their data, even across multiple application vendors, is in one place. You can report across all your data, and quickly develop automated processes over what would traditionally be separate applications each with their own database – the integration goes very deep.
CAN YOU SWITCH OFF OUT OF HOURS OR ARE YOU CONSTANTLY TRYING TO THINK OF NEW IDEAS AND LOOKING AT NEW TECH IDEAS?
I do switch off out of hours, absolutely – I think that’s very important in order to stay fresh. It’s often when you stop looking that ideas and solutions start to flow, so I do tend to jot down thoughts at all hours. I’m a bit of a technophile too, so there’s also a lot of “play” that indirectly feeds into work.
WHEN YOU ARE NOT IN THE OFFICE, HOW DO YOU LIKE TO SPEND YOUR DOWNTIME?
I took up running a few years ago – it started off being something I felt I needed rather than wanted to do, but now I’m totally addicted, I can’t get enough. I’m not going to break any records, but running is a great way to clear my head and set me up for the day. I’m hoping to complete my first marathon this year, which I really couldn’t have imagined when I started.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE TECH GADGET AND WHY?
My favourite gadget is usually the most recent one. Actually, that’s probably not true right now, I love my Garmin 620 GPS running watch – it gives me more stats than I know what to do with, and seeing my run uploaded and synced with Facebook and a bunch of running sites as soon as I get within reach of Wi-Fi still makes me smile.
For more about Stephen tweet or follow him on Twitter @stephenwillcock.