LShift provides ‘black ops’ software development

Compared to most Tech City start-ups, LShift is a veteran of the region. Founded in 2000 and based on Rufus Street, just off Old Street itself, the company is a software development agency that, according to CEO and managing director Mike Rowlands, specialises in “thorny technical problems”.

Its enterprise credentials are hard to beat. Developers at LShift were the original authors of RabbitMQ, an open source messaging system based on the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) standard. In 2010, RabbitMQ was acquired by SpringSource, a division of virtualisation giant VMware, although LShift still provides some support services for RabbitMQ customers.

LShift generally carries out bespoke development projects, but keeps an eye open for software that it can spin off as open source products. One such project is called Diffa, a system that allows users to monitor whether disparate data sources are in sync, in real time.


“Diffa is a way of monitoring the content in two different points in an architecture,” explains Rowlands. “It gives you a real-time picture of data in flow, so you can tell whether your data goes out of sync with another source, either in a visual interface or you can set up alerts. Diffa has already saved quite a lot of money for a trading company that we work with.”

Rowlands says that LShift often serves as a ‘black ops’ software development unit for corporations whose internal politics and legacy technology prevent rapid innovation. End-user organisations, and even IT vendors themselves, come to the company to get away from “the management overhead, the politics, the need for constant reporting and the technical debt” involved in corporate IT. The company is not the archetypical Tech City start-up that David Cameron hopes will do the heavy lifting in the UK’s future economic growth.

“This is really a company for developers who like developing,” explains Rowlands. “Our main motivation in building the company was for it to be a fun place to work, and to make enough money so we can carry on doing it.”

Rowlands says that this ethos was typical of the handful of technology firms that sprang up in the area during the dotcom boom. “|n 2002, we set up a networking group called the Cluster, with other local companies such as a video post-production house, a 3D designer and some multimedia developers. For us, it was all about the artisanal approach to technology – small companies doing big things.

“Our way of thinking has always been: do what you do well, don’t try to grow to be one of these big technology behemoths that just build in a lot of fat and process and don’t do any inspirational work.”

Rowlands is hardly a Tech City supporter. “All it’s meant for us is that we’ve had lots of people asking us about starting up a technology company in the area,” he explains. “And what we’ve said to them is: what’s the fuss?

“If the Tech City proposal is to encourage big businesses like Cisco and Google to move here, all it’s going to do is cannibalise the talent that is available to us.

“What they should do is make education policy better, and make immigration policy better,” he adds. “We need to stop sending the people that this country trains very well back overseas as soon as they finish their qualification.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...