Branden is our VP Product, known online by the mysterious alias of “omphe”. To pronounce it, he explains, imagine being hit in the gut with a sack full of marshmallows.
How long have you been with Mendeley for?
Since May 2012
Where did you work before coming to Mendeley ?
I was a tech contractor so I’ve really worked just about everywhere: AMEE, Imano, Dennis Publishing, Capita, HomeServe etc, etc. But my first career was as a dancer and I toured the world working with Rambert Dance Company, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet and more.
What made you apply for a job at Mendeley?
Paul Föckler and I met at a Scalability unconference at the Guardian in 2010. I was talking a lot about delivery and scaling technical team management in some of the sessions and we had a brief talk about the growth that Mendeley was going through. Fast forward to last year, and he approached me about the opening for Product leadership.
Have things changed in Mendeley since you started working here?
I’d like to think that I’ve had a good impact on the transparency of our direction and priorities since I’ve arrived. I’ve really been pushing for radical transparency around all of our choices of what we’ll develop for users and what everyone is working on at any given week. We’ve got much greater visibility around the planned work ahead and David Lee and the insight/analytics team have made great progress on showing how we are performing against our commitments. But the big change is how much the team has grown and the recent momentum we’ve been picking up as we start moving in sync. There’s a lot more collaboration going on and this is going to result in some great improvements to the Mendeley user experience.
What’s the best thing about coming to work at Mendeley?
I get to work with some very clever people who are extremely passionate about what they want in the product. And the food on Leather Lane.
Do you have any pets?
I’ve got a lovely old border collie named Ruby who’s been my pal for 11 years now. She’s stuck with me through some pretty big life changes and always kept me moving on some pretty ambitious outdoor pursuits. She’s getting a little slower in the mountains, but we’ll be out for an adventure as long as we can still get out there.
What is the one website you can’t live without?
I’ve never been particularly attached to specific websites, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t survive without the app Pocket. I have such a steady stream of links and posts flooding my attention every day and I love being able to import them to Pocket and catch up without distraction when I’m travelling. We’d do well, to make our mobile app fill the same role in researchers lives and I think Steve Dennis has been doing an amazing job of taming the flood of research articles for researchers on the go.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
I dreamt of being an astronomer for a long while and I spent many a cold winter evening steaming up my backyard telescope while staring down the jittery craters of the moon. My enthusiasm died a bit when I discovered the central role of maths in modern astronomy and the realisation that telescope time was a rare and scarce commodity. Then I fancied being a doctor until a field trip to a pathology lab full of oversized livers and sliced cadavers put me off too. And mountaineering had a big draw to me, despite growing up in a relatively flat part of the States. But I had been in a ballet studio from the age of six, so by my teens it was becoming pretty clear to me that I had a future and calling to be onstage and I grabbed that opportunity. Dancers really need to be in a company as an apprentice by the time they’re 17-18, so I left home at 17 to follow my dream.
If you could acquire one extra skill or talent, what would that be?
Patience. Life is short and I’m on the third act of my second career. But if you always rush, you miss the richness of what you have right now.
What book are you reading at the moment and why?
I’m terrible about starting many books at once and always have several things on the go:
- The Art of the Start & Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki : I love Kawasaki’s distilled and lucid approach to startup business
- Data Visualisation : I’ve been learning Processing.org to keep my programming chops up and to scratch some visualisation itches I’ve had
- Think Stats : I work with some incredibly smart people at Mendeley and its disrespectful not to understand and wield some more rigorous statistical skills
- Bandit Algorithms for website optimisation : I want to start pushing our behavioural testing here and there are some great algorithms in this text
- Insanely Simple : The Apple approach to product and development is focussed and successful. An awesome look at their approach.
- Welsh 3000 Ft challenges: I’m under the impression that I’ll get fit enough to compete this gruelling 29 miler in Snowdonia this year. We’ll see
- Goedel, Escher, Bach : I’m stuck a bit on this, but its a fascinating blend of art, science and philosophy
What would you change about the world if you could change one thing?
We’d stop destroying this incredible planet we live on in the pursuit of passing desire. I spend a good deal of time on glaciers at high altitude and have seen first-hand how quickly our climate is warming. I just can’t fathom why we’d allow this to happen, just to preserve our privilege of driving our lazy butts to go shopping.
I code and make things whenever I get the chance and having kids is giving me great excuses to do that in spades. My daughter and I are building robots with Lego and Arduino these days. Go #dadops.
I am a bit of a sucker for Pizza. And with Maletti so close up the road, its hard to resist.
Blade Runner remains my enduring favourite. Since becoming a father, I see less film in the cinema than I used to, but I’m getting to rediscover all the great kids films. My daughter Bella and I love the “Old Bamboo” number from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang. Plus Pixar can do no wrong. (Except Cars, which was nothing but wrong. Let’s never speak of it again.)
Three things you would put in Room 101
Sticking plasters in swimming pools
People who don’t make eye contact or return a friendly “Hello” when you pass and greet them.
Now for a serious one worthy of the Mendeley vision: If you could give
unlimited funding and resources to one area of research, what would it
be and why?
I’d get everyone to stop messing about with genetic modification. I mean, c’mon, we’re just thinking small! Glow in the dark mice? Pest resistant grain! Give me a flat-chested, eight legged chicken and I’ll show you more Sunday roast than you could shake a drumstick at.
Oh, and cancer of course.