Welcome to the second installment of our “5 Questions” interview series. This month we spoke with David Dasher, a prominent HPCC Systems community member with more than 20 years of experience in the IT industry. David has worked extensively across the corporate sector developing database, marketing and management solutions. He currently serves as the Chief Technical Officer of CPL Online, a leading provider of digital learning and staff engagement tools within the licensed hospitality and retail markets.
David founded CPL Online in 2010 and the company now serves more than a million users with their e-learning and business systems, supporting the development, engagement and retention of employees across multiple industries.
We recently spoke with David and discussed his career in e-learning and how our platform helped CPL Online get where it is today.
Why did you initially pursue a career in e-learning?
That was actually an accident. I'd been with a company for about 17 years as a database development director and decided to set up my own business. I was building a big CRM platform for a training company, and it just so happened they had a threat to their e-learning business. They interviewed third-party providers of e-learning companies, but ultimately decided to build one from scratch. When asked if I wanted to do a joint venture, it took me three seconds to say yes and the rest is history. I love software and writing. It doesn't matter what industry, it's all about building the best you can, seeing each one as a challenge. I've never really been industry specific. I've worked in oil, finance and marketing, but it's always been about databases for me.
What advantages does HPCC Systems give CPL Online?
I was in London and just happened to see one of your people, Jo Pritchard, talk at a data science conference. I was blown away by the things that could be accomplished with HPCC Systems. Not just the data science, but the visualization. It seemed to have everything. So the minute I got back, we went on the HPCC Systems website, downloaded the platform, and started playing with it. Very quickly we recognized that the ECL language blew away every other language we have ever used, in terms of what we could achieve in a much shorter space of time with the level of sophistication that we wanted.
It was great in the full engine and the data refinery, but then you also have the ROXIE Engine, which was all about delivering super-fast queries in sub-seconds to as many people as we wanted. Once we saw that, we immediately embedded HPCC Systems into our platform. All heavy lifting – reporting statistics, queries, data extraction, etc. – was all converted and moved to this open source platform.
How would you compare HPCC Systems to other open source platforms?
I chose HPCC Systems because we were very adventurous in what we were doing. Instead of holding one row of data for everyone doing a course, we were holding up to 800 or a thousand. We were tracking every single data point. All of that data was used to calculate scores and pass rates for clients. Well, that's great when you have 5,000 people on your platform, but when it goes up to 300,000 or 400,000 people, things can get complicated. Our recording system was also complicated. We really struggled because of sheer waste, volume, and lack of flexibility of what we really wanted to do.
Our current use of SQL was just so prohibitive. You obviously could accomplish anything in each language, but the time, effort and the cost would have been far too much. It impacted budgets as well. I was looking at hiring about 10 SQL people, and now with HPCC I only need three. We’ve got more visualization people now, but to this day HPCC is at the heart of our platform and does all the heavy lifting.
What would you wish to be different in HPCC Systems?
From a language point of view, it's so easy to get everything done in HPCC Systems, but I’m always seeing people in ECL Watch ask, “What's that query time? What's that graph look like? Have you got the right joining in there? Have I made some silly mistake?” I think there could be a bit more intelligence providing some suggestions for coding fixes. There’s so much there so it's hard sometimes to get it right. You can fill out a great query that runs and maybe takes two seconds, but you could get it down to a few milliseconds.
What has been your greatest reward as Chief Technology Officer of CPL Online?
Having the flexibility and the right tool set is what allowed us to build this business. We have two partners, and we do pretty much every line of code in house. We don't use contractors, we don't use third parties, and we’ve been very careful about who we choose. Currently, we have Microsoft Azure on one hand where we do our hosting for platform as a service or software as a service, and the only other partner is HPCC Systems.
Those are two partners we can trust to build a business and to reliably run the business. For me personally, I've been lucky enough that I could pick how much time I spend developing and writing code, which is 99.9 percent written in ECL. About 35 to 40 percent of my time is coding ECL, and I’ve loved every second of it. For someone like me to be able to jump in and code with the best of them and come up with solutions… it just makes me smile every day.
Want to hear more from David’s interview with Flavio Villanustre, VP of Technology, LexisNexis Risk Solutions? Listen to the webcast where David continues to discuss his work with HPCC Systems and in e-learning, what he hopes for in the future, and more.