Leading with Science - Bill Turner


Musical talent isn't typically a requirement for a job as an atmospheric scientist and software engineer. But in Bill Turner's case, he can crank out a guitar riff just as well as he can create computing applications for the data he used in Agrible's Morning Farm Report software. 

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Turner had an affinity for math and science, along with a passion for music. He played his first show when he was just 13 years old, and has been actively playing in bands ever since. 

According to Turner, "There's something about creating software that's similar to creating music. Here at Agrible, it is the development team that is taking ideas and bringing them to life in Morning Farm Report. Much like in a band, different parts of the development team have different functionality and you really have to trust those other components in order to fully realize the idea."

Turner's current band still actively plays shows in both Champaign-Urbana as well as Chicago, and fans might be surprised to learn that he's really a science geek at heart. To distinguish between the four Bills that work at Agrible, he has adopted the nickname "Chill," although he is personally fond of "Weather Overlord."

"It's a science nerd's dream come true," said Turner. "We have all this technology being developed for such a cool purpose, and I enjoy taking ideas and shaping my work, similar to writing a song. It's an iterative creative thing, and we do this to make our Morning Farm Report data better and faster. Deeper at the core, the science of the data is what attracted me here by melding science, technology, and creativity."

Turner began his education in Ag Engineering and graduated from The University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in Atmospheric Science. During his junior year, one of his favorite professors, Eric Snodgrass, challenged him to design a computer program to analyze weather data, and by graduation, he had built a web app. 

According to Turner, "Weather data is very important" to farmers, and one example is Agrible's free weather app, Pocket Rain Gauge. Back in the 90s, three of Agrible's founders began experimenting with public data sources and geographic information systems (GIS). They realized that trying to measure rainfall for every field in the United States was impossible using physical rain gauges, so they turned to digital means. Their ideas were a bit ahead of the technology available at the time, but the foundations of their work eventually became Spatial Rainfall Consulting in 2005, and now Agrible's Pocket Rain Gauge and Morning Farm Report. 

Turner was able to utilize that technology and modernize the app so that data was available and easy to use. Turner explained, "I focus on the back-end data and maintain the hourly updating on schedule so that the data is there for the app to use." 

Both the Morning Farm Report software and Pocket Rain Gauge rely on this specialized weather technology, and, Turner said, "with the Pocket Rain Gauge app, it's been nice to see its success and the engagement from users on social media. I've watched it grow from a few hundred uses in Illinois to one million uses nationwide - so when it rains, our maps light up showing all of the users across the country. I enjoy making something that can empower people to have the knowledge to make decisions affecting their farming operations."

Continuous Feedback Approach

According to Turner, "One of the unique features of the Pocket Rain Gauge app is the ability for users to tell us if we're right or wrong. We know that with data, some people are skeptical and want proof before they will trust it, and that's fair. We created a feedback mechanism to help us do a better job and to show others that we care about their opinions." This feedback also acts as a validation method for the accuracy of the weather data. So far, the app has a 96% accuracy rate based on this ground truthing from users. 

"This kind of approach says something about who we are as a company," said Turner. When asked about why he chose to work for Agrible, Turner mentioned the global increase in population and the growing demand for food production to meet this demand. 

"I'm driven by work that's interesting and challenging. The team here is a great asset, and I'm surrounded by so many smart and talented people, and that makes it exciting. We compete with some large corporations, and as a smaller company, we can adapt quickly to changing technology and every single employee can make an immediate impact," said Turner. 

Combining his passion for making music with creative design of data interfaces, Turner can be seen wearing headphones while often standing at his desk, a common practice for those who work at computers all day. Different styles of music help motivate Turner, and he alternates between listening to alternative rock for coding and ambient background music for creative thinking, thus melding science, creativity, and music into a perfect day at the office. 

When not working at Agrible, Turner continues to play guitar and vocals for his band, Secret Science, who have been performing together since 2004.