Looking out into the business world, there are so many amazing professionals across various industries that our Thought Leader Spotlight series will conceivably run forever. While it’s certainly fun and interesting to hear from thought leaders within areas that we’re passionate about, it’s important that we occasionally look inward to the heart and soul of MacKenzie Corp… our incredible team.
For over 30 years, MacKenzie has been providing brands with data-driven insights, in-depth reporting tools, and an ever-growing supply of information which support a wide range of sales and marketing initiatives. These products, programs and services are possible because of the dedication, loyalty, talent and brilliance of our data team.
This month’s Thought Leader Spotlight shines on a MacKenzie team member who brings a wealth of experience and relentless drive to keep growing and evolving our core services. His programming skills and vision are invaluable assets, and while he’s reluctant to admit or accept the compliment his humor and comedic timing are great contributions to our team as well. We’re proud and excited to present the Thought Leader for July 2019, our Senior Applications Developer; Ken Bowman.
Was a career in applications development and programming always a goal of yours? Or was it a path that revealed itself along the way?
It was definitely an evolution, and if “Professional Student” had paid better, it would have been a very different path. With mounting debt (which in hindsight wasn’t much at all), I left college in the early 90s with a couple of degrees in Economics including a graduate degree focusing on econometrics. The country was just coming out of a recession and there weren’t too many jobs for economists, so I took a job as a data analyst, creating spreadsheets, reports and maps used by sales teams, product planners, legal, etc. Learning the scripting languages that were built into many of the applications that I was using to produce this output, allowed me to automate much of what I did, increasing my efficiency and reducing errors associated with repetitive tasks. This also opened to the door to creating my first interactive spreadsheets and Access databases using VBA. By the late 90s, I was using Visual Basic to develop data-driven applications that empowered our clients to perform their own data analysis via interactive maps, parameterized reports and other data visualizations. Since then, the programming languages and technologies that I use have changed dramatically, which have kept the career path of application developer an engaging one.
What life experience(s) do you feel best prepared you for the leadership position you are in today?
When I first started creating applications over 20 years ago, I had to learn how to do everything on my own, because there weren’t any other software developers in our company. This forced me to find my own way and to be self-reliant and self-motivated (something I learned while working my way through college) when it came to researching and learning the various technologies required to create data-driven applications. It also put me in the position of making the decisions on how to best present the data. The fact that these applications that I began producing were being embraced by our clients left me with the confidence that I could follow my own vision and be successful.
Who has had the biggest impact on you throughout your career – in regards to professional development?
As our application development needs grew, we had to hire people to take on the database development and ETL work, so that I could focus solely on front-end software development. I knew a couple of very talented professionals from a company that I had previously worked at who came to MacKenzie to take on those roles and by doing so helped take our application offerings to a whole new level. We’ve been working together for almost twenty years now and have been very successful in supporting each other in creating great software for our clients.
You’ve been an integral part of the creation and evolution of a proprietary data reporting program, Atlas Explorer. What were some of the biggest challenges of building a program from the ground up? How did you approach overcoming those challenges?
One of the biggest challenges was learning the many different technologies that make up the application and integrating them to create one cohesive business intelligence tool. Developing custom code to overcome some weaknesses in deploying the underlying technology and creating custom controls and data visualizations that couldn’t be accomplished out of the box are a couple of others that come to mind. Because it was such a massive task, it had to be tackled incrementally and took a lot of persistence and collaboration with my team. Oh, and lots and lots of reading.
Data continues to play an increasingly important role as consumer markets become more and more competitive. In what ways do you see companies benefiting from a program like Atlas Explorer?
Atlas-Explorer is fairly unique in how it approaches Business Intelligence. We tend to work with clients who have location based data (e.g. spatial data like store and/or customer locations), so our main interface is an interactive map. We also present data via dashboards and reports and try to cater to how different users process information. Because of this, it’s simple enough for the casual user to go in and run a report for, say, a sales call, and sophisticated enough for an analyst to take a deep dive into the data.
Another benefit of Atlas-Explorer is that it is a managed application, meaning that MacKenzie provides the experts who will analyze your data, design the underlying database, create the ETL tasks, design the reports, host the application, etc. This can be a very cost-effective solution for companies that either don’t have the expertise or the capacity required to develop a professional in-house BI application.
Looking forward into 2019, are there any trends in the world of programming or applications development that have captured your attention?
As a software developer, the process of continuous development that the DevOps teams from many open source projects have embraced is very exciting. For example, Google’s Angular team strives for patches almost every week, minor releases every two or three months and major releases every six months and Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code IDE is being updated with new features every month. This means that I can write better code, faster and potentially deliver new, exciting features in our own applications more often.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to design or build their own application?
What is your favorite quote?
The only way around is through – Robert Frost