Developer Spotlight: Thomas Howe, Textgen



Thomas Howe, CEO of TextGen, is a driving force in IP communications and communication enabled business processes. His latest company, TextGen automates interactive texting conversations between large brands and the consumers that need their help. Thanks to TextGen, one day soon, people will say how hard it was to get in touch with a large company, before you could just text them.

Which in my experience will be wonderful; just today I was waiting on the phone with Fedex, USPS and Apple for a total of 45 mins for a lost package.  USPS delivered it to the wrong address…

What are some of your current and past telecom app development projects?

I started my career designing digital modems and atmospheric simulators (Layer 1), and in the end, I somehow found myself designing business focused telecom apps (Layer 7). I’ve been lucky to have such a varied career, and one thing I’ve learned is that I’ve only learned a very small fraction of telecom. It’s an ungodly large subject.

For instance:

I was the software architect for the very first ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) chipset. As the main purpose of ADSL moved from video on demand to broadband access, I learned that the product market fit you start with is not the product market fit you end with.

As a member of the PictureTel engineering team, we designed the very first H.320, H.323 and H.324 products. Later, I led the team that commercialized the first SIP Proxy and soft client from Columbia University. As with ADSL, none of these technologies were actually used for the purpose they were designed for.

I went through a real API jag, as part of the team that designed a Skype Web API and the team that proposed and designed the original Deustche Telekom API. That really turned me on to the whole scope of telecom enabling applications – its a tech win and a business win all in one. Look at all those non-telecom guys write telecom apps. Seriously, who would have guessed it?

I jumped at the chance to be the call control lead for what turned out to be the successful pursuit of the $331 million dollar FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) Voice Network Redesign for Harris. I loved the chance to spend a year just thinking about designing the ultimate, reliable SIP switching core. Instead of making something new, I got to make something bullet proof. So – the gold standard of platform availability is not 5*9s, i.e. 99.999%. The platform we replaced had a measured reliability of 14 *9. That’s like 30 seconds in 30 years. And those engineers designed it in the 1970s. Total respect for that team.

I’m now onto TextGen, the first application designed to connect people and process over messaging. I love it because it’s very new in so many ways: its fundamental data type is text, it is the very antithesis of Unified Communications (heresy!), and it provides a higher level of API than is traditional – but I believe is the proper level for business focused APIs. I really have no idea how it will be used in the end, despite all the great use cases we have for it now.

How did you get involved in Telecom App Development?

That’s easy. I was the VoIP CTO at Comverse after the acquisition of NetCentrex and I was invited to a mashup camp at MIT back in 2007. I had just learned that we had scheduled an upgrade in Panama that would take 10 weeks. I saw a geek at the camp add a feature to a web app, migrate the database, and post to the web in while I watched. It took about 10 minutes. I went back to work after lunch… and quit. Literally. That was the future. I learned web development, entered the O’Reilly Mashup Competition and won with the after hour’s doctor’s office mashup. Totally hooked after that.

What are you hoping to get out of TADHack?

At TextGen we are very excited about TADHack. The most important thing to realize about TADhack is it’s organized by the grassroots of the industry. This isn’t some big corporate event, its lots of innovators (and competitors) coming together to learn, share ideas, gather market interest, network, and build the telecom application developer ecosystem.

We’ll be looking at a number of the development themes, in particular we’ve very excited about the humanitarian theme made possible by partnering with As mentioned earlier we’ve been examining the critical role communications can play in helping people. Also the impact of making communication programmable we believe is huge and we hope to demonstrate some ideas there as well.

I’ve always been deeply impressed by the level of technical talent I find at mashup competitions. I love to meet the geeks who show up there – normally a great combination of creativity and skill. My personal short list of the best application designers is almost exclusively filled with people I met at mashup competitions.

Finally, TextGen is just ridiculous in terms of what it can do for creating applications for interacting with large and disparate groups of people in real time. I’ve got an idea that will show that.

What Markets do you operate in?

We are a small company based in the US, really just starting out. But, TextGen is a total planet play. We think one instance of our application should have the capacity to serve the planet. We can’t prove that… yet. But we suspect. That’s why we love TADHack – it creates a global platform for us promote our ideas and what we do.

Anything else?

Since I’ve become the CEO of TextGen, I’m not sure how many more technical projects I will have the chance to lead directly. I might be pretty close to timing out. So – hold on. I’m going to give this one my all – it might be the last for me. Really happy to have it be at TADHack.

3 thoughts on “Developer Spotlight: Thomas Howe, Textgen”

    1. I hope these developer spotlights will create a who’s who of innovators in telecoms. Its amazing how rapidly the once closed world of communications is opening up and created ‘bleeding obvious’ innovations that should have been deployed years ago. TextGen is a great example, using SMS to chat with the suppliers of all the products and services we use is so easy, so obvious, it should have been done a decade ago. At least Tom is making it happen now, and he’s an example of just one of the countless innovations the sponsors of TADHack make possible. Sign up and show the world your telecom app innovations!

    2. I would not want to be a member of any club that would have me. Hey Fabrizio! Ben Klang and Sean O’ look like they’re hanging around too!

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