Technology is advancing at a rapid pace—and with the growth of machine learning and artificial intelligence, it’s only going to continue to evolve.
But for software pioneers like Alan Price, the basics remain the same. Creating software is still a lot like playing with Lego. It’s an opportunity to be creative, build something unique and share your creations with the world. And maybe, unlike Lego, you even have the opportunity to change everyday lives.
With over 25 years’ experience in software engagement, gamification and member experience, including four years serving as CTO at Electronic Arts Canada, Alan joins Vision Critical as Chief Technology Officer.
In our Q&A below, Alan discusses what developers can learn from storytellers, how AI is changing the business world and the opportunities he sees for the future of customer intelligence.
At EA Canada, you led multiple teams to deliver some of the most popular video games in the world, including FIFA Soccer and NHL Hockey, while Fuel Powered, a company you co-founded, delivers multiplayer features and live events for mobile games.
What does it take to deliver an engaging gaming experience, and how does that translate to other technology stacks?
I think everyone likes to be entertained, no matter what software they are using. For me, it’s always been about the story. There’s a story around everything. For one of the first companies I started after leaving EA, the whole idea behind it was, how do I take what I’ve learned in immersion and storytelling, and apply that to get my kids moving around and walking more? The idea is that you change the context in which people are doing things. I think that’s one of the first things with engagement, trying to work on the context.
For Vision Critical, there is a huge opportunity right now. What we are trying to do here is adventurous. As someone who is incredibly passionate about technology and how it can change our everyday lives, I’m thrilled to be working with a company whose mission is to do exactly that.
You have a background in mobile engagement. What are your thoughts on what’s next for mobile technology?
Mobile really broke a lot of people’s mindsets around what was possible, because in our hands we are now carrying what are essentially mini-computers that in the past used to take up a whole room.
The awesome part is what we now call the Internet of Things, which I’ve always thought of as ubiquitous connectivity. The mobile device represents a personal, location-independent touchpoint in that world. It can send and receive signals to modify and view the environment around you. Already, we see these devices playing an important part in how we interact with the world we live in, as well as augmenting our view of it. For me, that’s the future of mobile, how it plays an important part in the Internet of Things and how we’re all connected.
What’s your approach to tackling large-scale projects?
Someone once told me that my executive superpower was simplifying problems. We often over-complicate what is really going on and usually, underneath everything else that’s going on, there is a choice to be made.
Staying firm on that choice, communicating that choice and getting people behind you on it, that’s important. Leaders today have to choose a path and stick with it. Today, we are more often faced with dilemmas than decisions. On the surface, two options look pretty similar because on either side there are choices that can be good or bad. A decision point allows you to pick because you can analyze your way to the “correct” choice. A dilemma requires you to choose a path because either path can potentially lead to success.
At the same time, you always need to be prepared that a path can become untenable at some point and you may need to go in a different direction. Make a choice, commit to that choice, but avoid being dogmatic and inflexible.
How do you see technologies like AI making an impact on business in 2018?
In 2018, when we’re talking about AI, we’re not talking about Elon Musk saying “be afraid of the talking computer” or what Facebook is doing. I think we are talking about AI being about understanding something more than you knew before and taking action.
Artificial intelligence today is the intelligence to make decisions based on large amounts of data. Today, storage of data is almost free, which is really exciting. The ability to gather, store and analyze data has been democratized, which means many more people are able to start to create new insights that haven’t been tried or tested before.
The ability to derive insight off that data is huge and we are in a growth period of what insight we can actually find. What it means for business is that it’s going to become easier to gather data and get more intelligence to make more informed decisions.
What are your priorities as CTO at Vision Critical?
Vision Critical has already defined Relationship Memory as a critical element for the future of research. It’s our ability to capture data over time and provide insight on top of that data, which is hugely beneficial. I think the future for Vision Critical is being able to provide a complete view of a customer’s experience with a company by integrating information from all the customer-facing systems the company uses. Making sure we can gather, store and provide new insight with more data partners while making this process as simple and straightforward as possible for our customers is my top priority.
The future for Vision Critical is being able to provide a complete view of a customer’s experience with a company
In some ways, coming into Vision Critical is an adventure because it’s a slightly different industry than I’ve worked in before. There are similar problems but there is always something new. I love to learn and that’s part of the adventure.
You have more than 25 years’ experience in software. What’s surprised you the most about the industry over the years?
Why am I still making software? There are two reasons. First, software is like Lego and I love Lego. You can build anything you want. That’s probably what attracted me first to games. I could build my Lego world in real time and share them with other people. That was really exciting.
Second, I’m really quite comfortable with change and software constantly amazes me at how fast things are changing and growing. Every day, something comes out that blows my mind and it’s getting faster. In 25 years, I am constantly surprised by how fast things are moving and the rate of change just keeps getting faster.
What advice do you have for young professionals who want to enter the tech industry?
Be open. For engineers in particular, stay open. There is kind of an “engineering gene” that wants to look deep inside things and get deeply involved, but you need to step back and try not to get too attached, because again, think about Lego. Don’t get attached to the shapes you make; love that there are these pieces and tools available that you can use to build further things.
A more generalized point about success is to set expectations. It’s so important to set expectations about what you are going to deliver. Be honest. Push back if you have to. Even if other people say it’s slower than they wanted, in the end what people want is for you deliver what you said you were going to deliver. That level of reliability is huge.
Which books or other resources (podcasts, conferences etc.) have had the most impact on your career?
The Institute for the Future is interesting, because it’s an organization that looks at where trends are going. For instance, they publish 10-year reports, and look at different industries.
It’s outside engineering, but having run companies and coming into Vision Critical, I’m interested in finding value and creating value. To do that, you have to innovate. Books like Purple Cow by Seth Godin are interesting as far as exploring the innovation side.
I’m also quite keen on the whole concept of what’s called Lean Development. It comes from the Toyota development model of doing what you need to do in the least expensive way possible until you can get to an answer. Test an idea by putting it out there. Hone not only what your message is and how you are telling it, but also what people are valuing, because that’s ultimately what you want to do, create something that people will value.