Meet Alan Buxton, Chief Technology Officer

What is your role at OpenCorporates?

I joined OpenCorporates in April as Chief Technology Officer.

What drew you to work for OpenCorporates?

When I looked at the company, three things in particular interested me. Firstly, it’s a real revenue-generating business, not one of these venture capital-backed companies that are trying to make a unicorn. Secondly, I found Chris’ vision pretty compelling. He has managed to create a real business that combines giving away data for free with selling it at the same time, which I think is a stroke of genius. Thirdly, I found the technology interesting and I was really interested to get the chance to work with these kinds of scales of data.

Why do you think what OpenCorporates does is important?

A long time ago I read Treasure Islands, which was an eye-opening book, and I’ve since read Moneyland. They make the case that companies are being used to effectively hide money, which has dangerous negative effects on our democracies. You just have to look at the Panama Papers investigation, in which OpenCorporates data was used. So OpenCorporates’ importance is not just some theoretical thing, but we are seeing real tangible benefits in the real world from the sorts of things OpenCorporates does.

Tell us a bit about your background before you came to OpenCorporates?

I started working as a computer programmer in 1995, and since 2000 I have mainly been working for start-ups in the supply chain space within B2B companies. So I am very familiar with the kinds of black box data issues OpenCorporates is addressing and the difficulties of understanding the data you’re getting from companies like Dun & Bradstreet.

I have spent about ten years working in different places in China. China is a fascinating place and very different to what you might assume from growing up in the west. The pace of change is intense. When I first started working in Shanghai we were looking for suppliers of goods and services to sell to western consumers, but by the mid-2000s it was the other way round and Chinese companies were looking for investment opportunities in the west. Also, the way business happens in China is very different to the west because it is much more explicitly about relationships.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Pinner [in Greater London] and then my dad got a posting to Greece so I lived there for a while. My mum is Greek so I am half Greek. We then moved back to Watford.

What was your favourite childhood snack?

French toast! We used to call it eggy bread. It’s not hard to make. Even I can make it. But you have to use bread that is a bit stale because, if you use fresh bread, it disintegrates.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

The north coast of Colombia. Look one way and you have the beautiful warm Caribbean seas, look the other way and you have snowy mountains and the jungle. In 2001, after the dot-com crash, I went travelling for a year and started out in Colombia. Cartagena and Santa Marta were highlights.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I like being with my kids and doing whatever they enjoy with them. One of my kids is really into music and drama, another is into dance, and another wants to be a coder. My two-year-old has just started playing ‘toddler soccer’.

What is your favourite book?

A book that really made me sit up was The City & The City. It is about a city that is two parallel cities whose inhabitants have been trained not to see the other side. It is really worth reading, and it is short as well.

What about TV programme?

I like gangster series like Narcos, and I recently enjoyed The Great Hack on Netflix.

Tell us something about you that people might not know?

My first attempt at a career was being a music journalist. I was doing my own little fanzine and writing for a small magazine. It was good fun and I got to meet some of my all-time heroes. I interviewed the likes of Moby and Lemmy from Motorhead.

So why aren’t you writing for the NME now?

There was one particular moment. I was supposed to be going to Ipswich to work on an IT project in my regular job, and my magazine editor phoned me up to ask me to interview Gary Numan the next day. He was major at the time. I was in two minds about pulling a sickie but in the end I decided I would prefer to concentrate on my ‘proper job’. I decided I would keep music as a hobby.

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