Twenty Questions with Helen Brown

Helen Brown of Accordance Bible Software has agreed to answer 20 of our questions. If you want a brief history of Accordance, go here. Without further ado, here’s Helen Brown.

1. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Bromley, Kent which is actually in the southern suburbs of London, UK.

2. Tell us about your education. Where and what have you studied?
As is common in the UK, I went straight from High School to Medical School, King’s College Hospital in London. I later specialized in Anesthesia.

3. How long did you practice medicine? Do you still at all?
I practiced medicine full-time until we had children, and then part-time for most of the years, but retired over three years ago. Once I married, my commitment to the family was primary, and I no longer pursued a career in medicine, just continued a low-key practice when possible.

4. How long did you pursue your medical career before deciding that making Bible software for Macs was a better use of your time?
It was never either/or. I consulted in my profession for many years while assisting software development including Accordance.

5. Why did you decide to pursue what would eventually become Accordance instead of medicine?

My primary role was always to support the development of Accordance Bible software, by handling ancillary tasks of sales, marketing, documentation, etc. Over the years this became a full-time job.

6. What role has faith/confession played in the development of Oak Tree and Accordance?
Personally, the Bible and the study of the Bible is central in my life, and I am passionate about our goal to provide the tools that help others to study it for themselves. Our team comes from different faith traditions and we hope that Accordance will be used in many communities, so we do not align it with any particular expression of faith.

7. What is your role at Accordance? What is a typical work day for you like?
I’m the odd-job person, doing many tasks that don’t fit into the roles of others. Initially I did almost everything except programming and module development, but we now have a team of sales and support staff, and we use professionals to design and manage the website and database. I still write much of the content of the website and Help files. I coordinate publicity efforts, oversee and support the sales staff, make tough decisions, assemble and master CD-ROMs and DVDs, and assist with sales and demos at seminars and shows…

My typical work day is flex-time in cyberspace. My desk is my laptop which goes with me wherever I am, and connects to the constant stream of emails. I work from morning till late at night, but take time off for exercise and friends (not enough).

8. How long have you moderated the Accordance forum? Do more user problems get solved over the phone or over the forum?
I have moderated the Forum since its very beginning as a listserve in 1998. I am sure that we deal with many more problems individually by phone and email than are posted on the Forum. I think that tech support issues are usually better dealt with directly unless they are recurring problems from which others can learn, or are issues that we cannot resolve and need to refer to the wider community.

9. What question/request do you receive most from users?

Probably the most common question is “How do I unlock my free Bibles?” People seem to think that the installer will let them choose their Bibles, but in fact they need to send us their choices so we can send them the codes and update our records so that we pay the royalties.

10. How has Oak Tree grown? How many more staff members do you have now compared to ten years ago? Is there anything Oak Tree is doing now that it wasn’t doing at first? For example, have you always had scholars on staff? And when was the first Accordance seminar?
10 years ago we were just beginning to sell Accordance directly, so apart from ourselves we had just one office manager and a few part-time module developers. We now have a full-time staff for sales and tech support, and a team of programmers and module developers. We have always had scholars who work with us on the development of texts and other modules.

Our web presence has grown from the earliest site in 1998 to a full-fledged on-line store. We are also moving towards more on-line order fulfillment by download instead of having to wait for the delivery of a CD-ROM or DVD.

We have been running training seminars for almost 10 years. Our latest venture is the weekly podcast by Dr. J. Each episode is downloaded by several hundred users soon after it is posted. Our hope is that between the training videos and the podcasts, users will find help for any aspect of Accordance at their own pace and convenience.

11. What’s your biggest seller? A particular module or software package?
The Graphics DVD and the Atlas unlock is our most popular package as it is appropriate for all who teach whether in colleges or congregations, as well as for non-professional users.

12. Is there an aspect (or module) of Accordance you feel is under-utilized by users?
Most users only scratch the surface of what Accordance can do. They read passages or look up words, but do not take advantage of the easy amplifying from any selection to any text or tool, nor of the more powerful search capabilities.

13. Is there anything that Accordance does not presently do that you would like it to?
I would like to see better support for non-Roman Bibles such as Korean and Japanese, and for full voice-over for users with handicaps. We hope to add these in the near future.

14. What is Oak Tree doing internationally?
We cannot even cover the USA with seminars, let alone the world! As we travel to conferences we also make ourselves available for seminars. This year we did seminars in Amman, Rome, London, Cambridge, Sheffield, Jerusalem, Haifa…. We hope next year to make a seminar trip to Singapore and Australia, as well as attend ISBL in Estonia and IOSOT in Finland.

15. For our non-Mac readers, we have to ask the question- Why Mac only? Why not a full, up-to-date, PC version of Accordance instead of the Macintosh emulator compatible version (which is Accordance 7, correct?)? Wouldn’t you sell more?
Our goal is to produce the best Bible software, and for that we need a stable operating system that facilitates a great user interface. This is why we chose the Mac platform from the beginning.

We do keep our latest versions compatible with the emulator, so almost every feature of version 8 and every module is available to Windows users. It is the BasiliskII emulator which until now is limited to System 7.5. There are more up-to-date emulators but we have not found them to be stable enough to recommend them.

We are keeping our future options open, but we recognize that although Windows is a much larger market, it involves much more competition and much more technical support. To port to Windows would divert our staff from the development of new features for several years. It is not a decision to be taken lightly.

16. How much, if at all, does Oak Tree interact with Apple? Any future iPhone or iPod plans for Accordance?
We interact very closely with Apple, but they are not interested in publicly promoting “religious” software. We hope to have something for the iPhone/iPod eventually, but it is not a simple matter, and it can not be a fully-featured Accordance.

17. Any long-term projects in the works you can tell us about?
I could, but I would have to kill you afterwards. ;-) We do not like to market vaporware. We only announce our new features and projects when they are about ready for release.

18. Any SBL plans for November? We know of the Friday night ETS/SBL seminar. Has that location been determined? Anything new to be released at SBL?
It will be an all-day training seminar as one of the Additional Meetings of SBL, so in one of the downtown hotels they are using. There is no evening session this year. We have found that this schedule works best. Of course, we’ll be demonstrating at our booths at both meetings.

19. When might we see Accordance 9?
When it’s ready.

20. What do you do when you’re not working?
Sleep a little. I like to cook and do yard work, and enjoy offering hospitality and spending time with friends.

A big thanks to Helen for answering our questions! Hopefully it wasn’t too painful for her! :)

2 Responses to “Twenty Questions with Helen Brown”

  1. 1 John Hobbins August 23, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Daniel and Tonya,

    Thanks for this. Very interesting.

  2. 2 danielandtonya August 24, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    We aim to please!

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