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Alumnus Williams seeks to improve people’s lives through data

Vice President of his company, alumnus provides governtment workers data to solve problems like the opioid epidemic and dangerous roads.

Franklin Williams
Franklin Williams

Although Franklin Williams spends his days building software that provides government workers with the data they need to do their jobs, his focus is on the end result: improving people's lives.

Williams, who earned a bachelor's degree in finance in 2004 and a master's degree in computer science in 2005 from Washington University in St. Louis, is vice president of product development for Socrata, a Seattle-based company that corrals government data from its multitude of sources to allow employees to use it to make key decisions. He leads a team of 60 engineers, product designers and product managers who develop the technology for the company's clients.

"Most of the governments across the nation have an extremely difficult time getting access to the information they need to do their jobs," Williams said. "Because of this, they don't have up-to-date data, they can't get it, they can't analyze it, and they are prevented from being able to make decisions and to help drive really important outcomes, like how to better serve the homeless population, to solve the opioid epidemic, to fix our most dangerous roads or if they have enough money to plow snow for the year."

After earning a master's in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, Williams joined Microsoft Corp., where he worked on the Office application and got a good example of leadership.

"There was a phenomenal group of individuals to learn from," he said. "They prided themselves in having the right systems, the right processes and the right support around you so that you, too, could learn from that and grow as a leader."

Making the change from nine years at a large corporation to a smaller startup in 2014 was a leap of faith, Williams said. At the time, he was staying home with his daughter.

"Although I wasn't looking for a new job, I saw a great opportunity to have a great impact," he said.

Socrata's customers include high-level government officials, such as cabinet members and governor's and mayor's offices who are responsible for larger goals, as well as analysts, program managers and IT technicians who are responsible to make sure buses run on time or that capital projects are on budget and on schedule.

"When we talk to our customers, we see a true passion to make an impact and serve the public," Williams said. "We give them the software and the technology to help them do that."

Williams said the master's program in computer science gave him a tremendous technical foundation for his career.

Williams credits Sally Goldman, former professor in computer science, for encouraging him to get a master's degree instead of two bachelor's degrees.

"I can't speak enough about WashU and its willingness to let you explore what interests you and to take that as far as you want," he said. "WashU valued that and encouraged a broad-based curriculum that let me be in a position where I could learn more about computer science and see the potential in it. It really lit a passion and was so tremendous in my growth and in propelling me to where I am."

When not working, Williams and his wife, Alison Prince Williams (BSBA-Marketing, 2004) spend time with their two young children.