Stephen Johnson, CEO of OliveTree Shares Hidden Secrets
Stephen Johnson took over as CEO of OliveTree Bible software when founder Drew Haninger retired. We got to interview him via email recently. I published a shorter version of this in Christian Computing Magazine, but here’s the full text of the interview unedited and raw!
1. Tell me about your journey from being a cute kid your mom loves to how you ended up working as a Bible software engineer with Olive Tree.
When I was a kid I wanted to be a doctor just like my dad. I took a programming class in 7th grade and learned to program in BASIC on an Apple IIe and I loved it. I then experimented with programming on my HP calculator in high school. As a kid I also loved building legos. Towards the end of high school I realized that I did not have the stomach for blood. So I decided to pursue my love of building things by majoring in mechanical engineering. For some reason I never really thought about pursuing a career in software until after I started college. After my first year of college I decided to try a few programming classes to see if that is what I wanted to do and I never looked back. Creating software is a highly creative, artistic, and problem solving process. 15 years later, I am still in love with the craft of software engineering. During my senior year of college I did an internship at Olive Tree (I believe I was the 2nd or 3rd person ever hired at that point). After college I got a job working at Tektronix working on software for their assembly line. I then went to Portland State University for my master’s degree in computer science. My master’s thesis was on debugging functional logic languages. I had a blast in grad school and loved diving into languages like Curry and Haskell. After graduating from Portland State I started working full time at Olive Tree. It was awesome building software to help people study the Bible. At the time Olive Tree was very small and so I was involved in just about everything. As Olive Tree grew I keep part of my time in software and part in the business and operations. It was a very natural fit for me to move into the role of CEO.
2. When did you become the CEO and how?
I became CEO on July 9th, 2012. We had a company meeting and announced the transition. At the meeting I spent some time talking about “What We do Matters”. We don’t just create Bible software to let people study the Bible. We create tools that God uses to change lives. Marriages are saved because of what we do. Fathers lead their families because of what we do. We don’t just sync notes and highlights. We sync sermon notes from a pastors desktop to his iPad so he can preach a sermon that God uses to save a marriage. We sync the Roman’s road verses to a phone so that a young lady can share the gospel with her coworker. When people interact and understand scripture their lives and the lives of those around them are changed! We don’t just help people study the Bible. We create, build, and support tools that God uses to change lives! What we do matters.
3. Compre the offerings OliveTree has to your competitors.
Olive Tree connects people with God and the Bible using technology. We are approachable for someone without seminary training and we have awesome features for those with seminary (or equivalent) training. Olive Tree runs on Android smartphones, Android Tablets, iPads, iPhones, Macs, Windows, and Windows 8 UI. Your books, notes, highlights, and bookmarks are keep in sync between all of your devices with the Olive Tree cloud. The resource guide is an easy and quick way to find related content in your library to the passage you are reading.
4. What’s the greatest strength of OliveTree?
We have an amazingly passionate team that is highly innovative and creative.
5. What do you think that you uniquely bring to OliveTree compared to your predecessor, the founder of OT?
Drew and I share a passion for connecting people with God and the Bible using technology. We both love the Bible and technology. I think I bring a little more organization to our operations.
6. What did you learn from him that can help others in the Christian world who lead organizations of all shapes and sizes?
I learned perseverance and never giving up. Drew preserved and continued “pushing on” even when things were hard. I learned to focus on what we know we need to do and not get too worried or distracted with the “competition”. (As a side note, we really don’t have competition. We have fellow workers in Christ )
7. What’s on your iPod?
Vaughan Williams, Tschaikowski, Berstein, Sibelius, and Rachmaninov. Listening to classical music sparks creativity and keeps me at heightened levels of productivity for longer periods of time. I also have the EntreLeader podcast, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Hillsong United, Zac Brown Band, and Keith Urban.
8. Mac or Windows?
Definitely mac. I am a big Apple fan. Before the “post-PC era” I used to tinker with computers and customize them. If Android had been around at that time I would have loved Android. I now want devices that just work. My Mac, iPhone, and iPad combo is awesome and it just works. So now I spend that time with my family and creating apps on the side. I still haven’t finished any of my 3 side project apps
9. What do you think of the current/future direction of the various platforms that OliveTree runs on?
I think Android has a lot more potential, especially in the tablet market. It is the leader in the smartphone market for total handsets sold and I think it will make a lot more headway in the tablet market. Tablets like the Nexus 7 are very nice and priced really well. I think we are going to continue to see 3rd party innovation in the Android space. This is very exciting and provides a lot of really great options for users. Fragmentation is an issue in the Android space, but it is also an advantage. Fragmentation is the result of innovation, creativity, and options.
iOS is a rock solid OS that just works for most people (it doesn’t always just work). One of the things I really like about iOS the high quality apps in the app store. It is easier to create high fidelity apps for iOS and to compete on iOS you have to create awesome looking apps. I think we are going to see continued massive growth in iOS devices. With the release of Mountain Lion, the Mac is even more integrated with your iOS device via iCloud. I think that iCloud will be a key technology for the future of iOS. In time everything you do will be seamlessly connected via iCloud and it will just work.
Macs are continuing to sell well and gain market share. I think we are going to see this continue with the release of Windows 8. I helped my grandfather get set up with both a Windows computer and a Mac. The mac was much easier for him. There were a number of little things that make a mac easier that I hadn’t noticed until I watched him use the computers.
Windows is the interesting one. I am very excited to see what will happen with Windows 8. Microsoft is making a bold move and radically changing the Windows experience. Their designs are opinionated and well thought out. This will create a lot of passionate Windows 8 fans (we have a few in the office). I think that a lot of average computer users who have grown used to the way windows work will be shocked when they buy a new computer and see Windows 8 on it. On the one hand Windows 8 is easier to learn than Windows 7. However, so many people already know how to Windows XP, Vista, or 7 that learning is not an issue. They don’t want to learn something new, they just want to accomplish some task. So I really don’t know how well it will do. As a tablet UI it has some really nice interactions. I think it is very good that to run a Windows 8 UI app it has to be an approved app from the app store. This will help a lot with the security and virus issues that are so prevalent with Windows today.
Thanks to Stephen Johnson (@StephenLJohnson on Twitter) for answering our questions and for helping make OliveTree a maker of great Bible study software and apps.