11 Questions with Terence Gannon

Cybera is running a series of blog posts to showcase Alberta's innovative technology and research community. Over the course of 11 months, we are asking 11 people 11 questions related to technology and research in Alberta.

This month's 11 Questions interview is with Terence Gannon, Founder and President of Intellog Inc, and creator of Onramp, a search engine that provides free search tools and content specifically tailored to the energy industry.

1. What brought you to Calgary and what has kept you here?

I moved to Calgary from Vancouver in 1988 on a one-year project to install Unix servers in grain elevators. Seriously. The best thing to come from that project was meeting my wife, and fortunately the marriage has outlasted the grain elevators '€” as they're mostly gone from the prairie landscape, sadly. Twenty-three years later, my wife and I are still trying to figure out a way back to the West Coast.

2. What three words would you use to describe Alberta's tech sector?

Seriously under potential.

3. What would you say is the greatest challenge of working in the research / tech sector in Alberta?

Competing with the main game in town, oil and gas, and this will be the case for some time to come. In his book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded", Tom Friedman talks about the "resource curse" '€” the deadening effect resource-based economies have on high-tech and innovation. Without question, we're seeing that in Alberta. When it's relatively easy to punch a hole in the ground and have money come gushing out, there's frankly less incentive to originate, develop and commercialize more complicated ideas. Economies not endowed with abundant natural resources literally have to think their way out of their predicament. That's why this century likely belongs to India, China and others, because they already know the best brain wins. Couple that with uninspired, unimaginative political leadership in Alberta, and it's pretty tough going; but as Albertans we should be challenged by that, not offended.

4. Following on that, what would you say is the greatest benefit of working in the research / tech sector in Alberta?

Great post secondary institutions and great "can do" business community. Now, if we could just get them to ride the four stops down the C-Train line and start talking with each other on a regular basis, we would really be getting somewhere.

5. How do you stay connected and tapped into Calgary's research / tech sector?

Hang out at the Alastair Ross Technology Centre. You can usually find me in the north end of the atrium in the Price-Waterhouse cubicles, or as I like to call them, the best six square feet of real estate money can buy.

6. Who inspires you and why?

That's easy: my parents. At eighty-something and married for 57 years, they have taught me everything I will ever need to know about teamwork, dedication, patience, persistence, loyalty and probably most importantly, doing the right thing always, even when nobody is watching. All priceless skills for the entrepreneur. Honourable mention to Burt Rutan and Paul MacReady, both aeronautical engineers, for always looking at technological challenges in an inventive and original way, and coming up with brilliant and unexpected solutions. Also, Steve Jobs for knowing what we want before we do and his obsession with user experience. They'll be talking about him in business schools 100 years from now.

7. What book are you currently reading and what do you think of it? Or, if you are not reading anything at the moment, what book would you recommend and why?

"What the Dog Saw" by Malcolm Gladwell. I've read his other books as well; "The Tipping Point", "Blink" and "Outliers" and they are all great. I saw him speak at Mount Royal University a couple of months back and he's an absolutely outstanding storyteller and speaker. Hearing him helped me understand the importance storytelling plays in education, which is a surprisingly underrated skill for high-tech entrepreneurs. But think about it; if you're selling a new and innovative solutions, you're going to be doing a lot of education. If you are trying to educate, try telling a great story. Be as Gladwell-like as you can be.

8. What do you think of when you hear the word "cyberinfrastructure"?

I've learned to be suspicious of words containing six or more syllables, and this is no exception. It seems like the verbal equivalent of a photo op '€” something set up to seem important, but ultimately lacking in substance. What I hope it doesn't mean is duplication of services already available in the private sector. Intellog uses Amazon Web Services for all of our compute and storage services, and it's super reliable and unbelievably cheap, so we don't need to duplicate that. If it means pervasive, fibre optic bandwidth province-wide, that makes more sense. Work in Calgary, live wherever you want. When the white hot centre of the technological universe is mobile, why are we paying some of the highest rates anywhere in the developed world for service that's fair-to-middling at best? If cyberinfrastructure means pervasive, top quality, really cheap mobile data service, then I'm all for it.

9. In your opinion, what are the most exciting technologies out there right now?

What's happening in the small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) world is absolutely stunning. This is the modern outgrowth of the radio controlled model planes I flew as a kid, but now they're packed with autopilots, sensors, gyro stabilization, telemetry, HD cameras '€” you name it. They seem to have a wide range of potential industrial uses, once the antiquated regulatory hurdles are worked out. Almost more significant than their capabilities is that the development is being done to a significant degree by garage tinkerers using a foundation of open source hardware and software. Google the word DIYDrones, and prepare to have your mind blown.

10. Are there any other fields you are not currently involved in that you would like to see yourself / your company working with?

In my next life, I'll be one of those garage tinkerers working on those UAVs. However, in this life and at least for the time being, I am going to remain focused on bringing Web 2.0 and its successors to the oil and gas industry and other loosely-coupled industrial communities who routinely cooperate on achieving shared goals.

11. What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an entrepreneur / researcher / business / etc.

Customers first, everything else tied for last. Well, actually, that's not quite true. Customers first, team members second, shareholders third and everything else tied for last. You will be amazed at the number of questions for which "don't ask me, ask my customers" is an absolutely fabulous answer.