Central MA Up + Comer: Compex Software Founder Jonathan Vo
Thursday, April 03, 2014
A conversation with Jonathan Vo
SW: What made you decide to open your own company?
JV: Compex Software came about as result of a project that I’d worked on while I was a student at WPI and worked part-time for a local manufacturing company located in the now Biotech Gateway Park in Worcester. I was given the assignment to automate and integrate many of the manual production processes within the shop into a single comprehensive database system. At first, it was just part of my job, which I enjoyed doing very much. Once the software package was completed and had a proven successful record, my employer actually recommended the solution to another closely related but independent company managed by a family member.
With their encouragement and financial assistance, they urged me to go on my own and start a business to sell this software solution to other companies in this specialized industry. It was a reasonable arrangement for everyone at time because I was still a part-time student intern and they did not have a budget for full-time in-house IT/Software developer. They introduced me to other business members of the industry association and the company grew through word-of-mouth. The company was incorporated in 1994 with the help of co-founder Mike Roberts, who also worked for one of the manufacturing companies that helped develop and invest in the first version of our software product.
SW: What exactly does Compex do?
JV: At Compex Software, we design, develop and implement integrated business management software solutions to help small- and medium- sized businesses manage their operations. This includes manufacturing processes, inventory tracking, job costing, quality control, and accounting functions. We go beyond the typical generic over-the-counter solutions such as Quickbooks, Quicken, Peachtree, etc. by working very closely our clients to develop niched vertical applications to help them meet some of the industries strict quality standards such as ISO, NADCAP, and Military Specifications.
SW: What led you to this career path?
JV: Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by science and technology, especially when it comes to using machines or tools to make our lives easier. I do recall from my early childhood that life in the old country (Vietnam) was not so easy; most tasks were done with manual labor. Lack of resources from basic things like electricity, fuel for cooking, running machines, to access to books often kept me daydreaming about a better way of doing things or just a better place to be.
In my early years in the United States, I spent a lot of time at the Worcester Public Library. First, because I didn’t have many other places to go to and second, I had access to so much collective knowledge for free. Some of the books I had my hands on were on the subject of electronics and computers. The thought of being able to tell a machine what to do and it performing fast, repeatedly without complaining, and without failing, was so intriguing that it kept me wanting to learn more.
My first simple program was written for a low-end Casio programmable calculator (I couldn’t afford an HP programmable calculator at the time) to solve quadratic equations. I eventually saved enough money to purchase a fully functional computer with built-in BASIC language interpreter that came with a (whopping) 2K of RAM, and a keyboard, and it could be connected to a black and white TV.
I invested over $200 into that Timex Sinclair 2000 computer, which at the time was a fortune for me. I started to write many BASIC programs on that computer, which I was able to save and retrieve on a regular audiocassette tape. My first real job was a computer operator at Burroughs Corp. (now Unisys) as a student intern during my senior year in high school. With a real paying job, earning $10 an hour back in the early 90s when the minimum wage at the time was around $3.50, I could afford to buy better computers and developed more complicated software over time. But my passion for using technology to solve bigger and more challenging problems really has not changed much over the years.
SW: What is on the drawing board for 2014?
JV: For organizations of any size, one of the challenges has always been the ability to collect pertinent and timely data from many sources and deliver it to the people in management/everyone on the team wherever and whenever appropriate, so that they can make better business decisions. This challenge is even more acute in today’s hyper-global competitive environment, especially for the manufacturers in the US. Up and down the supply chain, everybody is pushing for high quality, just-in-time production, and fast-turn-around delivery of products while maintaining low costs.
We are trying to alleviating some of the problems by developing software applications that could be deployed on any device, leveraging our client’s existing IT infrastructure from servers, desktops, tablets, smartphones, to embedded devices. The idea is to extend our client’s capability to capture and share data from anywhere in near to real-time without the unnecessary costs and extra burden on the end-users. At the same time, we are addressing a monumental internal challenge of being able to deploy and to support multiple platforms in an ever-fast changing technology environment. It is the Holy Grail of the software development community, being able to write once and deploy anywhere. We are getting closer.
SW: You have gone from a Vietnam boat refugee who came to the United States by yourself at 12 to the founder of a software company. Can you share your story?
JV: It was after the fall of Saigon, when South Vietnam was taken completely by the communist North Vietnam that marked the beginning of my journey to America. Promptly after the war ended and for many more years to come, nearly everyone who had ties with the previous government was forced to indoctrinate to a new way of life, whether in prison, re-education camps, or in new economic zones (a creative way to use people to clear unexploded ordinance left behind from the war). The new government was determined to eradicate the old system and replace with a new one. Both of my parents were educators and had positions in the US-backed South Vietnamese government. As such, we were classified as people that needed re-education.
Needless to say, life was not easy for all of us. We endured many years of economic and social hardship. Food and other basic necessities were rationed. Education and job opportunities were limited, as only people with connections to the communist party had better options. Many people that were in similar positions risked everything—including their lives—to escape the hardship and injustice in order to seek a better life anywhere that would accept them. Most escaped by boat, and the exodus started immediately after April 30th 1975 and lasted for nearly two decades.
My parents, who wisely recognized that there was no future for any of us, took a chance and planned for my escape. I was chosen due to being the oldest boy in the family because the risks were just too great for the entire family to leave all at once. We knew first-hand of many families and friends who attempted and were never heard from again. I was 12 years old and had just finished eighth grade. I vaguely knew what was going on.
It was at the start of the summer vacation, June 1981, a perfect time for my escape as other people whom my parents knew were also secretly planning to leave. The ruse that they used with the local authorities who closely monitored the movement of all citizens, was that I was to travel and stay with my grandparents at a farm and to return at the beginning of the new school year.
I could remember vividly waving goodbye to my parents in a dark alley in the middle of the night, in a strange place I have never been, surrounded by people all seeming to be in a hurry to go somewhere. Looking back I could faintly see both of them crying, silently in the shadows. I didn’t know exactly why at the time, as I was told they’d be seeing me again by the end of the summer.
Things happened really fast. By daylight I was in the middle of the ocean surrounded by water as far as the eye could see. I had never been anywhere near a beach up until that point in my life. We were on this tiny fishing boat over packed with people from bow to stern. For days, the boat appeared to be heading nowhere—the same scene repeated day after day and night after night. Except for one occasion, we were stopped by a bigger and faster boat with many guns. They took most of the little possessions that the people brought with them, but we were lucky that they did not take more. We were left to go on our way. We saw other ships in the distance occasionally, but none would stop.
Our luck changed on the fifth day, when from out of nowhere in a distance horizon came a pair of wings; it felt as though heaven sent angels from above. It was a Navy patrol plane that spotted us and dropped a smoke signal near our boat. Within an hour or so, an enormous Brazilian oil tanker came by and rescued all of us. I was told later that a huge storm came up shortly after the pickup, and only at the request of the US Navy in coordination with the world refugees’ agencies would a commercial vessel stop to pick up a boatload of people at sea and drop them off at refugee camps scattered throughout the region.
I was lucky enough to have spent only five months in a Singapore refugee camp because of my minor status before being sponsored by the Catholic Charities and immigrated to United States. It was during my time in the refugee camp that I came to a realization that I’d been sent on a journey with no chance of returning, and never to see my family again.
My new life began in the US on a cold November day around Thanksgiving 1981. In retrospect, I feel so lucky to be alive every single day of my life, as so many other unfortunate souls try to search for freedom and a better life but never make it.
SW: Who or what is the biggest influence in your life?
JV: In terms of work ethic and the motivation to improve my own life, both of my parents and my paternal grandfather (my other grandparents passed away long before I got to know them) are my biggest sources of inspiration. They came from a very humble background. My grandfather was a poor peasant that performed menial labor job for other landowners as a young man but managed to own his own farm when he passed away. Both of my parents managed to obtain education beyond high school, at a time when none of their siblings had the opportunity to even get an elementary education.
My source of inspiration for servicing and helping other people at a high level comes from the people that I learned about through reading and studying, such as the founders of this country and leaders like President Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King. But at a personal level, it comes from the opportunity to interact with and witness so many kind-hearted and courageous everyday ordinary people who perform extraordinary tasks beyond the call of duty, helping others without any hesitation.
SW: What do you do with your free time?
JV: I am very fortunate to have started my own business and am able to manage it on a daily basis, which takes up quite of bit my time. But I am also very mindful of balancing between business and family time. We have three young children and they too need attention and guidance. Helping my wife with the children and family business matters take up another good chunk of my time. What’s left I like to spend reading, researching for new ideas, playing and experimenting with a few projects in the garage like robotics, home automation, and sensors, etc. As a family, we do take some time off from work—mostly coinciding with the kids’ vacation and major holidays—to travel, visiting local beaches in the summertime and enjoying the company of friends and family.
SW: Are you involved with community service?
JV: I am member of the Worcester Rotary Club. With their motto of “Service above Self”, members of the Rotary Club initiate many projects and contribute so many resources to promote and improve communities both locally and around the world. Some of the local projects that I have participated in the past include serving Salvation Army Sunday dinners, fund raising events to help with the water projects in Haiti and the aftermath of the recent devastating earthquake.
Beyond Rotary, my youngest son Timothy, is currently a member of the Boy Scouts, so I devote some of my time to help out the local troops. I try to help out by driving the kids to some of the outing trips and to various bottles and cans fundraising events. I am also helping out with their computer and programming merit badges.
SW: What is a fact that few people know about you?
JV: Few people know that I’d run away from my foster/sponsored home when I was in high school. Not even my own parents knew. Only my closest friend at the time John Lombardi knew, as he and his family took me in for a while. Once I graduated from high school, I lived on the college campus for a year and eventually moved out to share an apartment with other friends.
I was also homeless at the same time that I owned my own rental apartment building. How was that possible? I was living on the first floor in a three-decker that I owned in the city. In trying to save some money and hoping to get more rental income, I decided to move up to the third floor and rent out the first. But things didn’t work out as planned, the first floor tenants moved in sooner than expected and the third floor tenants wanted to live there rent-free for a little while longer. I was homeless and had to live in the basement of the office building where I was renting my office space from for a few months, until the eviction process completed its course.
However, despite all the ups and downs and the many obstacles that came into my life, things have always worked out for the better. I attribute that to the invaluable help from the people whom I have come in contact with and from many more people that I have never met in person.
SW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JV: If God’s willing, I would like to be in the position to help people who are not as fortunate as I am by offering opportunities for them to explore their fullest potential by pursuing their education, employment and/or business ventures. What I mean by that is through my work and our collective effort in the business, we will be able to offer financial assistance to those with limited means but with a strong desire for quality education, creating more career opportunities for those who want to join our team and assisting entrepreneurs by investing in their innovative startup business ventures.
Central MA Up + Comer is a weekly profile of a member of the next generation as they are making their mark on the Central MA workforce and community. Join us every Thursday for a look at the careers and lifestyles of the local digital generation. If you have suggestions for a profile, email [email protected].
Susan D. Wagner is president of Susan Wagner PR, a boutique public relations firm invested in meeting client's goals with integrity and creativity.
Related Slideshow: 14 To Watch in Central Mass in 2014
EcoTarium's Cox, who took the helm in 2012, is one to certainly watch in 2014. If you don't know Joe, he helped raise over $26.5 million at his previous post at the Galisano Children's Museum in Florida – and broke attendance projections in the process. If a track record of success is any indicator of a future one, expect to see amazing things at the Ecotarium.
Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, EcoTarium will soon house one of the most unique exhibits in the country. A team of researchers led by Robert L. Ryan, professor of landscape architecture and regional planning at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, along with Worcester's Clark University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, will integrate the science of urban systems into a new "City Science" exhibit.
Next City Manager
With Michael O'Brien's departure from the City Manager post he'd held since 2004 for the private sector, Ed Augustus got tapped from his Director of Communications post at Holy Cross to fill O'Brien's shoes – but for an interim basis only. The former McGovern staffer and State Senator will take the helm for nine months only, leaving the big question in 2014 as to who will be the next City Manager.
The next City Manager will have a myriad of issues to deal with, from economic development, to crime – a top issue as far as residents are concerned. Will the next City Manager address the fact that while more than 40 percent of Worcester's population is a minority, the City has more than 1,600 full- and part-time city employees and well over 80 percent of them are white. Will city government ever reflect the population of Worcester?
The Hamilton native, who did a stint at Syracuse before declaring for the NBA draft this year, is already making an impact as a pro.
In February, GoLocal's John Barone broke the news that Hamilton native, and Syracuse Orange guard, Michael Carter-Williams would declare for the 2013 NBA draft after his sophomore season.
Carter-Williams, a 2011 McDonald’s All-American at St. Andrews in Rhode Island, was drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. He is currently having himself quite a rookie year, with 17.6 point and 7.8 assist per game averages.
Dr. Dickson, who was named President and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care this past February, will no doubt continue to have an influential role in the community.
During his tenure to date, challenges have included financial and labor issues, but also oversight of major changes as well -- Dickson appointed a new president of UMass Memorial Medical Center, Patrick Muldoon, and embarked on closer collaboration with Baystate Health to improve quality, access, and affordability of care.
Republican activist and Boylston school committee member Brad Wyatt will definitely be someone to watch in 2014, having just announced he's running for State Representative.
Wyatt is eyeing Hank Naughton's seat in the 12th Worcester District, as Naughton's now seeking the office of Attorney General. According to the Red Mass Group, the district, which includes Boylston, Clinton, Lancaster, and Berlin is the 38th most Republican leaning district in the Commonwealth. Scott Brown took the 12th in 2010 63-36, and Charlie Baker got 51% to Deval Patrick's 40%. Could Wyatt see a similar success in 2014? Stay tuned.
The Holy Cross senior is no stranger to politics – both locally, and in Washington, DC, having worked as an intern in the Office of Communications at The White House (and before that both in the office of the Governor of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Worcester.)
As President and co-founder of the Worcester Student Government Association, Hakim told GoLocal's Susan Wagner, "Lately I have been describing myself as a pragmatist. I’m definitely a dreamer, but I believe the only way to get anything done is to make an honest assessment of where things stand and then go from there."
Who will get medical marijuana licenses in Worcester County will be watched for certain in 2014.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health in November released the names the 100 applicants for potential medicinal marijuana dispensaries who made it through to Phase 2 of the state’s licensing process. Worcester was named by 10 different applicants, more than any other city. The county itself has 14 finalists for dispensaries, more than any other county than neighboring Middlesex, which has almost twice the population.
Future of the T&G
What will become of the Telegram and Gazette will no doubt be closely watched in 2014.
GoLocal's Dean Starkman wrote in November of the scenario, "The Telegram and Gazette, a wallflower among New England newspapers that has suffered years of benign neglect by distant owners, seemed poised for a revival, after John Henry scooped it up as part of his landmark deal to buy the Boston Globe. Now a month later, he’s putting it on the block."
The potential future of the paper that has a nearly 150-year presence in the city and circulation of roughly 75,000 was broken down by Starkman. One of the major question marks is if new ownership would be local, or a return to a New York parent company.
The quintessential power player in Worcester has been a tireless advocate for the Commonwealth's tourism and visitor industry – with clear focus on developing the Canal District and the Blackstone Valley.
Giangregorio sits on the boards of Preservation Worcester and the Worcester Convention and Visitor Bureau, and also serves on the steering committee of Citizens for Business and as representative for the Canal District on the Mayor's Small Business Roundtable.
Be Like Brit
The legacy of Britney Gengel, who perished in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while on a service trip with Lynn University, continues to move forward through the Be Like Brit orphanage.
What started as a project built in her memory is now home to 35 children, and employs more than 40 full-time employees. According to the Be Like Brit website, hundreds of American and Canadian college students and other volunteers visit or volunteer at Be Like Brit each year.
He might have gotten the nod earlier this year for his cool factor, but GoLocal is putting Corazzini on our list of people to watch because of his "kid" factor.
While we feature the business and political minds needed to move Worcester – and all of Central Mass – forward, we recognize that the future of the Commonwealth depends on the education, and development, of our youth.
Waterman, the CEO of Girls, Inc., didn't always know she'd end up in the role of spearheading the 97-year-old organization in Worcester that allows girls the ability to participate in enrichment programs and get the tools, opportunities, and encouragement needed to grow.
A 20 year veteran of the mortgage banking industry, Waterman created "Divorce Mortgage Specialists" to help women in transition, before switching gears to head up Leading Women Massachusetts as President, providing cutting-edge leadership development solutions for women in organizations. Now, Waterman is setting her sights on the 100 year anniversary of Girls Inc. in 2016.
Central Rock Gym
Could 2014 be the year you start climbing to the top? If you haven't already been to a Central Rock Gym, watch out, because you could just catch the climbing bug.
Now in four locations in MA and CT, the gym offers climbing opportunities for all ages and abilities, and hosts climbing camps, regional, national – and international – competitions.
Trial attorney Paczkowski is as busy out of the courtroom as she is in – sitting on the Community Legal Aid Access to Justice Campaign Leadership Committee and co-chair of the Young Lawyers' Division of the Worcester County Bar Association, Paczkowksi is also the founding member and President of the Young Professionals Women's Association.
With goals of serving as a platform for women to share their voice on issues relating to the region's vitality, connecting with women through social and educational events, and providing opportunities for self-enrichment, the YPWA's esteemed found was recently named a 2013 Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Star.
- Central MA Up + Comer: Consigli Construction Co.‘s Sarah Irving
- Central MA Up + Comer: Health Coach Connie Kanella Aramento
- Central MA Up + Comer: Sales & Marketing Specialist Stephanie Ramey
- Central MA Up + Comer: Crompton Collective Owner Amy Lynn Chase
- Central MA Up + Comer: Insurance Professional Rebecca Joseph
- Central MA Up + Comer: The Queen’s Cups’ Renee King
- Central MA Up + Comer: Dancer + Designer Kayleigh Lucci
- Central MA Up + Comer: Lilac Hedge Farm Co-owner Ryan MacKay
- Central MA Up + Comer: Two Chefs’ Cassandra Clough & Rafael Guzman
- Central MA Up + Comer: Entrepreneur Ivania Nicole
- Central MA Up + Comer: NKD Worcester’s Kristie Lee Laskes
- Central MA Up + Comer: United Way’s Heidi Charlebois
- Central MA Up + Comer: Estate Attorney Alicia O’Connell
- Central MA Up + Comer: Olga Kwasniewski, Restaurant Owner + Model
- Central MA Up + Comer: Unum Underwriting Consultant Lori Crowley
- Central MA Up + Comer Niki Luparelli, Marilyn Monroe to Boozy News
- Central MA Up + Comer: Financial Advisor Wendy Davidson
- Central MA Up + Comer: Paint NIte’s April Kennedy
- Central MA Up + Comer: Yoga Instructor Claire Koepke
- Central MA Up + Comer, Sr. Account Exec + Marathoner Nicole Solera
- Central MA Up + Comer: GH2 Fitness Owner and Trainer Heather Baker
- Central MA Up + Comer: Photographer Stefany Flynn
- Central MA Up + Comer: Coco’s Closet Founder Jonelle Garofoli
- Central MA Up + Comer: Health Coach Andrea Davis
- Central MA Up + Comer: Rushmie Nofsinger