Hi there! I am Colin Bowern, a passionate technologist interested in product, delivery, and engineering of modern apps and services. At present, I am working at Gentrack, working to unlock the value in their billing, customer, and utility market interface products through an open platform. My previous work spans music, financial services, public sector, and technology industries including start-up and multi-national organizations like Microsoft, Johnson Controls, Brink’s, officialCOMMUNITY, and Pushpay. My roles typically involve working across technology and business teams to drive innovation through product thinking and software engineering excellence. For the several years, I have been a part of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional as part of my contributions to the developer community. Currently I reside in New Zealand with my wife and kids where we enjoy winters without snow.
For a bit more history here’s a glimpse into my past:
The Early Years
Whether it was developing my first GW BASIC programs, like the diary program used on television by Dr. Doogie Howser, or applying for a Microsoft product support role at the age of 13, I always knew that technology would play an important role in my life. Well beyond the years of DOS, GW BASIC, and bulletin board systems, I have had the opportunity to play roles focused on bridging gaps between business and technology professionals.
During my school years, I began to hone my skills assisting my school and several local small businesses with their technology needs. Countless hours hanging around the computer lab paid off in boosting my confidence that anything is possible with a little hard work. As I entered university in Waterloo, Canada, I started a consulting practice catering to local businesses in the legal, marketing, manufacturing and internet sectors. During that time, I worked to take an idea that small businesses could consume technology as a utility to the next level. Calling on several colleagues, we developed a plan and pitched to Bay Street venture capitalists as well as local business legend Jim Balsillie. While the venture did not make it off the ground, I took many important lessons from it that stick with me today.
BillG & Me
An opportunity came up to join the team at Microsoft. Seven interviews steps later, I began a journey inside the consulting arm of Microsoft where I connected with the enterprise customers to help them deploy the latest products. Through several years, I gained exposure to the challenges faced in the enterprise space and an opportunity to work with very smart and passionate people. Within the Canadian subsidiary, I gained exposure to customers here while taking on opportunity to travel the country to spread the word of upcoming product launches. Some of the memorable projects include some of the first deployments of Active Directory, unlocking an early major win for the .NET stack inside Canada’s financial institutions and contributing code into the Windows code base.
Building Online Communities for Rock Stars
Leaving Microsoft was a difficult choice. Joining the early start-up team of officialCOMMUNITY, then known as InDIMENSIONS, was an opportunity I could not pass up. We started out to rethink information relationships and search using a context exploration approach. Recording artists proved to be a great subject matter as they often touched music, culture, and fashion subject matter. During the early years, we built a practice focused on the domain of community management to fund the information relationship research. The information management piece continues today in Primal and officialCOMMUNITY grew up from the four of us crammed inside a tiny office at Blue Rodeo’s Toronto studio to over forty people including my technology team of twelve serving legendary artists such as Bob Dylan, Celine Dion, Elton John, Mark Knopfler, Robert Plant, and more.
Helping Teams Build the Right Thing at the Right Time
With the community business on a steady state for growth, it was time to continue pushing myself for new challenges. Jumping back into the consulting realm working with the high caliber team at ObjectSharp was my next step. Working with clients on software development projects I focused on creating space for teams to learn, grow, and evolve their engineering practices while managing the business expectations. Clients received an honest assessment of their plans along with pragmatic options to help them achieve their objectives. Working one-on-one with team members, I coached around learning, co-developed with them to explore what is possible, and supported them as they took the next steps on their personal journey.
A Better Connected Health System
Stepping back into industry I am took up a product development leadership role at Orion Heath with teams across Auckland, Bangkok, Canberra, and Christchurch of approximately 120 people. We were tasked with connecting all facets of a hospital and extending it out into community care. From the basis of an acquisition I focused on bringing teams together to deliver their best every day. I led the creation of autonomous tribes of teams that have the skills and control necessary to design, develop and deliver products that our customers love. As part of a growing business we did this by driving up the level of transparency in product planning to tell compelling stories about the goals of the product, where we are now, what is coming next, and what could be in our future. That process uncovered a need to split the line of business because of irreconcilable prioritization calls between hospital efficiency and clinical patient safety. Advocating for the split we managed to gain support from the CEO to drive a product line split where it made sense – between the business and the clinicians. My own mark was through challenging of corporate culture to work openly, experiment with their practices, and find what works to evolve with the rapid growth and major challenges ahead.
With the path set to deliver a major customer commitment locked in at Orion Health, I stepped over to Pushpay to help a rapidly growing business establish their product organization that focused on strengthening communities through mobile connection. In a company growing as fast as this, everything changes all the time. We needed to bring in specialists who could provide focus on a growing opportunity space along with those who could deliver on the right opportunities. The opportunity to experience a swiftly moving culture where one year felt like many in other organizations was an honor. In a short period of time I grew the initial seed team of 10 to 25, establishing clear practices for product management, user experience, product delivery, and data analytics. In addition to team structure and practices, the opportunity arose out of a new product line to be a part of the acquisition process including research, due diligence, and integration. As all of this was happening I worked with Product Managers to evolve the planning and communications practices to drive consistent views on what is shipping now, what is coming next, and what we are thinking about for the future.
Connecting to the Modern Enterprise
As Pushpay continued to evolve, it became clear that what was best for the team was to have product leadership relocated to Seattle. After advocating and making that happen a new challenge arose at Gentrack. With 20+ years of utilities relying on their platform for core services, it was time to explore the next steps to expand the influence of the products. It is early days and this chapter has just started to be written.
I want to share my experiences with as many people as possible and engage in meaningful discussions on how to build better software. Through public and private conferences, lunch and learns, and deep dives we can explore a key topic that your audience in a way that gives them something they can start applying today. My talks typically center around software engineering practices, web applicaitons and the Microsoft platform. You may have seen me at a number of conferences and user groups including:
- Auckland .NET User Group
- Auckland Software Craftsmanship Meetup
- Canada’s Technology Triangle .NET User Group
- DevTeach Toronto
- Great Indian Developer Summit
- Metro Toronto .NET User Group
- Microsoft TechDays (Canada)
- Microsoft TechEd (Australia, New Zealand)
- Microsoft Web Camp (Canada)
- North Shore .NET User Group
- Product Management Auckland
- Toronto Code Camp
- Wellington .NET User Group
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