Celebrating 25 Years at DCSL – An Interview with Nick Thompson CEO
From his early days as an inquisitive teenager to his current role as CEO of DCSL GuideSmiths, one of the UK’s most progressive software development companies, Nick Thompson’s journey is one of passion, curiosity and the tangible rewards of fostering a culture in which employees can thrive.
We recently sat down with Nick to discuss his time here at DCSL GuideSmiths, his proudest achievements, and what he hopes the future will bring.
It’s been 25 years since Nick Thompson first walked through the doors of DCSL, eager to begin a career in software development, but the wheels had been set in motion long before that. “I taught myself how to program computers from the age of ten on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum”, admits Nick, reminiscing about when he would write his own programs and print floppy disk labels with made-up company names. “I knew that I wanted to own my own software house one day, so I really set out on that path.”
Countless afternoons spent in the school computer room followed, and, eventually, he had the opportunity to cut his teeth as a junior software developer at DCSL: “By the time I got to the age of 17, I thought I was pretty good at programming, and I got the job here at DCSL. But, of course, I knew nothing in the grand scheme of things. So, I learned on the job, and that’s how I got going.”
Over the following years, Nick had witnessed the progression of the software development industry first-hand and explains that “a lot of those techniques and software languages have gone now. We’re writing mainly cloud-based solutions, web-based solutions and mobile apps.” In fact, when he first started, smartphones and mobile apps didn’t exist, and Nick admits he has been “very lucky to see that evolve and get involved at an early stage.”
A young Nick Thompson – 2003
Over the years, Nick’s role at DCSL evolved as he took on positions in software architecture, sales, project management and, obviously, running the business. Still, it was his time as a software developer that stands out. “The most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on are when I’ve been a developer,” says Nick. “I remember working on a dating agency website, and I particularly enjoyed that as it was fascinating technically. We took over the work of another software company, rewrote it from scratch and migrated all six-million member records across. This resulted in a successful launch, and I took great pride in my part of the project at the time. That evolved into one of the first smart phone-based dating agencies using the old 3G phones back in the early 2000s, before the smart phones we know today even existed.”
Improvements in technology have allowed more advanced software solutions to be created, benefitting a broad range of industries, including healthcare, finance, construction, and education. One of Nick’s proudest projects was being selected to work for global medical device manufacturer Smith & Nephew, who required an innovative addition to knee surgery procedures. “They were using x-rays of knee joints, and we needed to predict the size and fit of the implants that went into the knee joints during surgery using computer vision and machine learning prediction. Very, very interesting and one of my favourite projects!”
Nick’s willingness to learn and his entrepreneurial spirit have become foundations for the success of DCSL GuideSmiths, with mergers and acquisitions opening the door into mainland Europe – specifically Spain, Romania and Hungary – and a company with now over 350 employees globally. Such ventures naturally bring their challenges, and curating a diverse and thriving culture is something that Nick has had to consider carefully.
“Every country has its own culture,” he explains, “but we have an overriding value system that applies to everyone. We have multiple touchpoints with our colleagues, through town hall meetings and employee surveys, so we keep that communication strong and keep the message out there of what the company is trying to achieve.” This commitment to supporting and listening to his employees is evident from Nick’s philosophy of promoting from within – echoing his own journey from junior software developer to CEO – and his belief that employees need to be happy with what they’re doing.
Nick mentions that “One of our values is ‘giving our very best with fun and pride’. You’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing and take pride in your work.” Further to ensuring his team enjoys themselves, Nick is a passionate advocate for supporting his employees’ mental health and helping them to manage stress. “We care about that, we talk to our colleagues regularly, and we have a growing team of mental health first aiders, which means a lot to me.”
Nick celebrating our 100th employee – February 2020
An evolving landscape
While Nick has already overseen huge strides forward in the improvement of the company’s technological advancement, he still plans to branch out and discover new possibilities to further build on the successes of DCSL GuideSmiths.
With one eye firmly placed on the future of software development, Nick is excited about the progression of AI capabilities. “It’s a hugely in-demand area. Businesses recognise that using machine learning, natural language processing, and computer vision are all opportunities to understand what’s going on in their businesses and get more out of their customers and data.”
Of course, with rapid advances in technology, security is now more necessary than ever, as Nick explains: “We’re thinking a lot now about cyber security in our software development projects and the wider landscape. For example, we’ve just built a VPN product that secures data in a new way that’s going to be resistant to the exponentially more powerful quantum computers of the future that could potentially unlock today’s encryption.”
As we reminisce with Nick on his 25 years at DCSL GuideSmiths, he reinforces his belief that the employees have been the most significant contributor to his success. “There are so many ideas in this company. I listen, and I get involved in many discussions, and that’s how I roll. I love listening to and learning from people, and that’s how we’ve done well over the years.”
When asked which memory brings him the most happiness, Nick immediately recalls enjoying time away from the office with his employees: “There’s been a few funny moments, but there have been 25 Christmas parties in my career here, and there’s always a laugh to be had. Seeing our colleagues dancing around all dressed up always brings a smile to my face.”
It’s clear that the driving force for Nick is his ambitions for the future of DCSL GuideSmiths. “Without trying to be cheesy, I’ve got a great commitment to this company. I’ve been working here for 25 years, and I haven’t finished doing the work I set out to do yet.” So, with more aspirations for growth and development on the horizon, we’re all looking forward to reaping the rewards of Nick’s leadership for many more years to come.
Nick’s 25-year Anniversary – April 2022