As you all know by now, we love to hear from our developer community and especially enjoy showcasing successes through our rapid developer profile series. Today, we’ll hear from Nolan Ramsey, Senior SAP Business Intelligence Consultant at Mendix partner EPI-USE America.
Nolan is new to the Mendix App Platform. He recently received training on the platform and is in the process of building several applications for one of his clients. Hear how his background in business intelligence gave him a boost and how Mendix has helped reignite his passion by bringing more creativity to his job.
1. What is your education and professional background? Did you have any prior development experience?
I originally studied business management at Stetson University, but also considered majoring in computer science. I have always had a passion for development, but decided to put off a career in IT given other commitments at the time (I was also in the Marine Corps).
Years later, I went back to computer science. I took a job as a manager of reports, specifically working in SAP Crystal Reports. It was my first taste of development and I haven’t looked back since.
Since then, I’ve always focused on business intelligence, working in SAP Business Objects, Cognos (IBM), and other applications. I’ve specialized in data warehouses, predictive modeling, customer reporting, etc. I just recently finished up my master’s degree in MIS at Florida State University.
2. How were you introduced to Mendix? What was your initial reaction?
One of my clients had a vision for improving app delivery through the Mendix platform. Once they suggested the idea, EPI-USE immediately saw the value and agreed to learn more about Mendix.
I went to the Mendix office for a three day introductory training course. I quickly saw the business opportunity – our ability to extend SAP functionality with smaller apps that can be built faster.
My favorite part of the training focused on Microflows. Data retrieval is my expertise. With Microflows, I can now reflect on data and work backwards to uncover the path for capturing that data.
3. What was the ramp up like? What was most helpful when learning Mendix?
It’s a completely new way to think about development. My BI background focuses on data retrieval and manipulation; I now need to think about data capture. Fortunately, the AGILE methodology framework made a lot of sense to me, specifically sitting with customers in real time and working on frequent, rapid changes. BI is exactly the same, just from an analysis perspective.
The week after my training course, I was onsite with a client and developing apps in Mendix. The first few weeks I relied on the Mendix professional services team to help answer any follow up questions post-training. But after that, I was able to answer most questions on my own.
I feel like I have a pretty good mastery of the Mendix functionality. Now, I want to focus on how to extend that functionality through integrations. I’ve been able to get answers to many of my questions on the Mendix forum.
4. What projects have you worked on that you’re most proud of?
I’m working on 6-7 new apps at the moment, most in early stages of development and one that is just about to go into production. Many of the projects have actually turned into pretty large efforts. Once the client saw how quickly we could develop within Mendix, they added additional requirements.
The customer originally wanted a way to capture receipts online. They envisioned using the cameras on mobile phones to capture and house all receipts. Given the ease of development, this has become a full workflow management tool around receipts, from auditing workflows to integrating into SAP.
Luckily, we’re able to leverage the App Store for a number of pre-built widgets and modules. A few of my favorites include email configuration templates, REST services, radio buttons, progress bar, and the Microflow label.
5. What advice do you have for other Mendix developers?
It’s all about experimentation and education. A great help for me was to pick a non-business related problem and try to solve it with a Mendix app. I designed a simple mobile app to capture and alert all schedule issues for a new born: meals, doctor appointments, etc. Going through that process really helped me solidify the use of the platform.
Also, I originally didn’t have CSS experience, but now I’m responsible for implementing the UX designed by other professionals and actually pull it off. It can all be learned; don’t shy away from it.
6. Have you had any “aha moments” using Mendix?
I’ve had quite a few, but the one that comes to mind was figuring out when to leverage the use of sub-Microflows. For me, I create them only if I’m going to need that logic in a Microflow to be called more than once. That way, I only have to ever make changes to one sub-Microflow to affect all the others that call it. It makes managing the logic much easier.
7. How has Mendix made your life easier/better?
Working in Mendix has lit a fire in me. I have always been passionate and focused on business intelligence; however, I became excited and driven to do more. I was solving similar problems with each new BI client, but now I have the creativity part of my job back. Every time I sit down, I solve new problems.
8. How would you describe Mendix in your own words?
Speed. Many platforms say they help reduce cycle time – but Mendix is infinitely faster. Also, the visual workflow is brilliant – it’s easy to articulate how data gets from one place to another. Mendix has used the same object shapes as you do when building process maps, so even the business users can easily follow along with the development logic.
9. What are your favorite news sites/blogs/forums?
I’m still searching to find the right resources in regards to UX and data capture, but I generally focus on BI sites such as TDWI (the data warehouse institute), Steven Few’s data visualization blog, and general news sites like re/code.
10. What are you interested in/passionate about outside of work?
My family always comes first. I have a son who just turned 5 and another on the way. I enjoy spending time with them. Occasionally my friends and I get a chance to go offshore fishing which is always a blast. I also like to keep up with local sports teams – especially football.