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Matt Calkins – “You Don’t Code Software; You Draw it Out”

Matt Calkins has been CEO of low-code development platform Appian since the company was first founded in 1999 in Reston, Virginia.

Matt Calkins, CEO, Appian Corporation

An avid board games fan who has competed internationally in tournaments, he has also created his own Japanese-influenced board game called “Seikgahara”.

On a professional level, he’s helped drive Appian revenues up 35 percent year-over-year to $51.7 million (£39.2 million) in their Q1 2018 results in a growing low-code market that now includes Google App Maker and Microsoft Power Apps.

He joined Computer Business Review in London to talk low-code, board games and heat-seeking missiles.

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Appian have recorded strong growth figures recently, what confidence does this bring to the company?

We’re very confident and we’re here to stay. We are pursuing a mission that is to make it easy to develop custom software by drawing it, not coding it in the future. With Appian, you don’t code software; you draw it out like a picture with a flow chart with boxes and arrows and when it’s done, it’s fast and easy.

It’s easy to create the software because all you have to do is draw it and when you have built it, it’s a lot more powerful than the rest of the software you would have written through normal means. It works on every major mobile device and you’re going to host it on-premises or in the cloud wherever you like because it’s scaleable and highly available and more secure than other offerings.

Your low-code development platform has over 3.5 million users worldwide, how do your customers give feedback to improve Appian?

It’s the best sounding board you can have to build a company, particularly if your goal is to make it easy for the users. The more customers we have, the more experiences we can learn from, the more we can hone in like a heat seeking missile.

What trends are you excited to see in the low-code market now?

There’s so much to be excited about. There are some technologies that we are interacting with in a fascinating way, such as artificial intelligence and robotic processing automation (RPA).

AI is going to be the one with the most long-term impact. However, there is a major dispute about how AI is going to work, but I believe AI will flourish first at the bottom of the stack; which is to say that there are growing practical uses such as evaluating the happiness and value of the customer, identifying an object and how much this contract is worth, its assessment and identification.

The judgement should be largely left to the human beings, with advice from artificial intelligence for now as the adviser on their shoulder; whispering into their ear the real value of the things you are dealing with, or at least giving an opinion on the identity of things you are using.

A lot more of the exciting postulations with AI have to be at the top of the stack such as writing your code, or eve running your company. It’s exciting but not realistic to be focusing solely on utilitarian and practical behaviours for AI.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced at Appian?

The biggest challenge is change and the way customers and markets change, new technologies giving new perspectives. For example, the recent innovation around robotic processing automation and the market had gone through a big change where in the past, certain repetitive jobs were delegated to a person.

When the market changes, what I have learned is to be ahead of the change, you have to ride the wave better than anyone else especially for a company that is growing such as Appian and seeks to win every new trend.

What similarities do you see between board games and being the CEO of Appian?

Playing games and testing yourself not just gives you a sense of figure or critical maths, but a constant sense of self-evaluation. I teach people at Appian to seek feedback, like in the way that you do as a gamer. Seek a way to measure the output of what you’ve just did, to test whether that was a good move. In life, we make a lot of assumptions; we think things are good moves but the world never contradicts us, so I look for that sort of contradiction and board games have taught me that.

What plans do you have for Appian’s UK growth?

London is already our second-largest office after our headquarters and it’s also growing the fastest. We plan to keep growing and I’ll jump at any excuse to come to London because it’s such a great place. We’ve got such a great business here and we’re just scratching the surface.
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