My early career at NAG…

“Don’t worry you’ve done a mathematics and finance degree and have an engineering masters and you’ve programmed in Pascal and can write VB macros you’ll be just fine.”

“You’ve far more technical experience than any previous sales persons (the last manager used to sell used cars!). If you’re not careful you’ll end up in the technical division.”

Well with such resounding support and confidence from my manager how could I fail? Buoyed by a good track record at previous companies I now felt less daunted by this technology shift… industrial and electronic weighing scales to telecoms to numerical software… what could be more natural?

Thinking about my days selling weighing scales, I can recall a previous manager, John Ruskin Utley’s wise words (that isn’t quite his real name, in fact I suspect his middle name didn’t even begin with R).

“Listen to your customers, listen to your distributors/resellers and ensure those in technical development get the market feedback. Rest assured laddy if you don’t hit your sales target and you blame the product those in development will be asking why you didn’t communicate what you wanted when you had the chance.”

What’s so complicated about weighing scales I hear you ask? Let me give you a simple example… in 1998 £1 = 380,000 Turkish lira… clearly an electronic supermarket scale in Turkey is going to have the capability to display a few more digits than an electronic weighing scale in England!

How does this all relate to NAG? Well it’s all about listening to customers and distributors and feeding back market needs or not as you will see!

One of my first overseas trips for NAG was to one of our European distributors (who have now changed ownership and sales staff). Giving the distributor’s sales manager a hard time about lack of sales we chatted through the NAG product portfolio. “Give me your SWOT analysis on our products” I prompted. Distributor said “Well I can’t sell the compiler as the users complain that it throws up too many error messages and won’t allow them to compile their code.”

“I’ll get to the bottom of this”, I said firmly. “Let me feed this back to technical management. I’m sure they’ll want to fix this especially if it is impacting the reputation of our product and limiting sales.”

Tee hee, ha ha. Well you can imagine the reaction of my technical colleagues. Oh how they must have laughed.

The NAG Fortran Compiler is the world’s best checking compiler. Clearly my distributor’s client was an inexperienced programmer probably used to programming with a compiler that had limited error checking capabilities. Of course the distributor (and enthusiastic salesmen = me) were subsequently given training about compilers generally and in particular the NAG Fortran Compiler.

“How fast do you want the wrong answer?” Well I get it now… fast code is only any good if the answer is correct. NAG's Numerical Libraries are very much based on the philosophy… Accuracy first Performance second Of course many of you will know and be grateful that NAG generally achieve both.

A few more anecdotes about compilers. Ian Chivers, Rhymney Consulting and Fortranplus (known Fortran specialist) once told me “of course any decent programmer has at least two compilers. The NAG Fortran Compiler for checking and perhaps another for comparison or perhaps speed.”

Finally some background behind the NAG Fortran Compiler, NAG developed this in its early days of Numerical Library development not because NAG wanted to become a compiler company, but because the compilers available were inadequate to build accurate, robust numerical libraries and by producing our own we were able to advance the Fortan language. In fact NAG produced the world’s first Fortran 90 compiler and still keeps pace with the latest Fortran Standards with lead developer Malcolm Cohen playing an active role in the Fortran Standards committee.

Well that’s quite enough from me in my first blog. More stories from an enthusiastic salesmen next time ;-)


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