For this maker profile, I spoke with Derek Gardiner, co-founder of Comotion, to talk about how he discovered Mendix and low-code development, and how he uses Mendix to solve problems and realize value for his clients.
Hear the conversation below:
Tell us about your professional background. Do you have any prior programming experience?
I studied computer programming early on. When I left school, two main things attracted me to computers. Like most people, the first one was computer games. The second thing that really attracted me to development and computers was a desire to invent solutions. I finished school in early 2000, and around that time there was a lot of news coming from Silicon Valley of guys starting businesses and creating value from their garages, and starting these businesses together. That really attracted me to computer science and development.
So, I found a university that offered, as part of their program, a final year project to create a computer game. I selected their course and learned programming. Once I finished making that computer game as part of the final year course, that life goal was completed, and I had no more desire to go into computer games. Instead, I entered a career of programming. I think most programmers start in development with this love for games, it seems to be quite consistent.
Now I am co-founder of Comotion, a software development company that helps entrepreneurial companies innovate using emerging technologies like Mendix. When you start a business, you have to wear a lot of different hats. I think that’s why the title of co-founder is quite accurate. Some days I’m busy with just normal business management-related tasks. Other days, I get to do some development management tasks, and other days I get to go right into the Mendix business engineering platform and smash out some solutions, which is quite an enjoyable thing. That’s what I do from day-to-day.
You’re very solution focused and have used programming to solve problems. How did you discover that low-code was a way to solve problems?
I started as a developer and I enjoyed solving those problems, but I quickly became a little bit frustrated with the fact that the solutions we were coming up with were a few nodes away from the point of value creation. So, after developing for a few years and being part of one or two different teams, I made the move to business analyst. That allowed me to be a lot closer to the client, and I liked that a lot.
In the role of business analyst, you gather requirements and you do some amount of solutioning, but at a business level; it’s not as finely grained as the type of solutioning you’re involved in as a developer. I was working with a team that used a certain development methodology, and I quickly became frustrated at the fact that I was coming across features and little tweaks that the client really needed, but that wasn’t being delivered fast enough. Because of my development background, I knew how to do it. But, because of the development process, I was prevented from touching the code and prevented from creating the solutions myself, and that became quite frustrating for me.
It was around that time that a friend of mine found out about Mendix. They sent me an email with a YouTube video of Mendix and I was immediately interested. For the first time, I felt like I found a tool that I could use to create solutions immediately with the client.
After watching the video, I contacted a Mendix partner here in South Africa and ended up working for them. That is where it all started.
What was the first thing that you built with Mendix?
Once I began working for the partner, we were tasked with building an online credit application system. I was put into a team with two other Mendix business engineers. One guy started with me at the same time and another person had a few months of experience. So most of the team was brand new, seeing Mendix for the first time that month.
We dove into the deep end, under a lot of pressure, and managed to knock out a solution which was, in itself, amazing. I have since come across some developers who’ve been involved with teams that have tried to develop virtually the same system. It’s been a great comparison, because they took a significantly longer amount of time to complete their project, with more team members. They had three senior developers, two testers, and business analysts, a big expensive team running the operation. We were under a lot of pressure, but we knocked out a stable system that produced a lot of very good business.
It was a great first experience. It was amazing to see what someone can achieve when going from zero to producing an enterprise-grade system in such a small amount of time.
What steps did you take to learn Mendix?
The week before we started the project, we completed a two-day certification course. Back then Mendix 2 had just been released, so there wasn’t an official online certification program. We worked with somebody that trained us for two days, and after that, we were certified and went straight into developing the solution in Mendix.
I’ve tinkered a lot with Mendix. It’s a great tool to tinker with and run a lot of experiments with; in the sense that if you have an idea, you can smash something out very quickly and just get a good perspective of if an idea you have actually carries some value or not. That’s where most of my growth has come from: catching an idea that I think will work and smashing out a solution, and then testing it.
How has Mendix changed the way you work?
It’s fundamentally different. One client that I have is not located here in Cape Town and I had to do a presentation with the client. I had a choice to make: I could either compile a PowerPoint presentation or I could just put together a rough outline of what the system could be.
Instead of doing the PowerPoint presentation, I developed a very early version of what the system was and then, on the call, just created a user profile for this person and asked them to log into the system. While we were on the phone together, I asked the client to click around and to look at one or two features I created. They were very impressed immediately. This is a great example of how Mendix has fundamentally changed the way that we do things. We just dive straight into it.
Tell us more about your company Comotion.
Firstly, Comotion is a Mendix partner. We do standard partnership implementations, primarily in the life insurance business right now. But, Comotion is more than that. We’ve got a few other business models, one where we like to partner with experts in a particular industry and then attempt to formulate a business around an opportunity with that expert. We’ve done that a few times. It is a lot of hard work involved, but it’s an example of what Mendix enables us to do.
Earlier, I was talking about the kind of developer-released experimentation and iteration that is now possible. Mendix has enabled that business model. We can very easily source an opportunity. When I say ‘easily,’ I mean easily in the context of the alternative, not easily as in it’s something we do every Thursday afternoon. Mendix has fundamentally enabled us to become value seekers in that way. We can really go and seek out where the value lies and build something around that value immediately.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
A big part of who we are is that we are very excited about Mendix. I like to think of us as a form of Mendix evangelists, to the point that we created the Mendix Malt YouTube channel. We created that for three reasons. The first one is that we’re excited about Mendix. We feel that there’s enough to broadcast there. The second one is that we know that there’s this global community of Mendix business engineers who definitely think differently. They challenge the boundaries of what the industry is normally happy to accept, and we wanted to capture some of that within the channel. The third one is that we get a lot of people who ask us questions about Mendix. You know, “What is Mendix?” Or “How can you use it in one industry or another?” So, we thought this is a great medium to actually communicate that message.
Mendix has been a great partner for us, holistically. It’s been an exciting ride.