Jennifer Taylor of Innovapost Changes Her Career Path with Mendix
In this maker profile, we feature Jennifer Taylor, Service Support Analyst of Applications Management at Innovapost, a Shared IT Services for Canada Post Group. Jennifer was looking for something new to learn and do at work. When the opportunity arose to help re-architect Innovapost’s delivery systems using the Mendix Platform, Jennifer jumped at the chance. Hear how she quickly became the best developer on her team in just 2 months, and then read how she embraced Mendix and changed the trajectory of her career.
1. What is your education and professional background? Talk about your prior development experience.
I have an honor’s Bachelor of Science degree in Geography with a minor in Chemistry and a graduate certificate in Geographic Information Systems, Applications Specialist. I’m not development-focused, but there’s a little bit in my background. My studies included a computer programming course in C++, to get me ready for the graduate certificate. That certificate program included VBA, Python, and SQL. I’ve used SQL a lot at Innovapost. I’m querying the database daily to try and solve the user’s problems. Occasionally I’ll have to dive into the development packages and go through the code and see what’s wrong and see if I can fix it.
2. How were you introduced to Mendix? What was your initial reaction?
Prior to using Mendix, I was working in a support role, supporting five different applications in prime support—which is basically determining how letter carriers deliver their mail, their routes, and all the complexities that go with that. I had been in that support role for five years, so I was looking to learn something new. When Mendix came along I thought, “Oh, that’s perfect.”
There was a meeting about the delivery systems re-architecture (DSRA) with the director of the project. The director announced that they were going to be using Mendix, which I had never heard of before. Shortly after that, I was in a three-day Mendix training course with two Mendix developers serving as instructors. They were fantastic. We learned all the basics of Mendix in just three days.
I had done a bit of development here and there, but I was always interested in moving to a more development-focused position. So when Mendix came up, I was excited to be learning it. I could see how I could use it in the future–how easy it would be to build things–because it’s so much faster to click on something and move it than just type out code.
3. Were you skeptical at all about using Mendix?
It sounds weird, but I do like staring at documents with tons of writing all over it. So I do miss that part of it, but it still feels the same to me. It still feels like I’m using logic to build. It’s just a different way of doing it.
4. What was most helpful learning Mendix?
Other than the fantastic training course, I would say the most helpful thing is that my team and I have had Mendix developers alongside us as we’ve started our programming. We do individual programming, but then we’ll pair up or do it in a group, because it’s something we need to learn. For instance, we did a group coding session to learn how to export and import XML and that was really helpful. Having Mendix developers there to help us along the way has been great.
5. What have you built using the platform?
We’ve been working on DSRA for two months, which involves hundreds of applications. They were built on top of one another, and not all at the same time. They need to be redone because they’re reaching the end of their life and they’re not integrated well. We’re doing that with Mendix.
DSRA is about integrating all these apps. It’s about having one application, functionally and visually. It’s about creating an easier line of communication between the applications. It’s to update everything, too, because a lot of the applications are older.
The app that I’m working on right now is for the delivery services officer, who sites community mailboxes and create addresses. Another user is the route measurement officer who plans out the route for the letter carriers. Then there is the supervisor, who supervises the letter carriers and details regarding the carriers’ routes. The old application allowed these people to perform all these activities, but they were separate processes that didn’t flow together.
To build the app, we have a delivery services officer who sits with us and acts as the product owner. We work with him every single day to write stories, to give feedback on the things we’ve built. Because the product owner sits right next to us, we can quickly get feedback on what we’re developing, which makes it so much faster.
We are also building a few new processes—things that were previously done on paper or maybe in Excel—that will go into the new application as well. In the future, we want to be able to send data through XML to another company and have them send data back to us. That would automate the process, instead of having to write it up in Excel and fill out the form and send it through email and have them send us back something through email. This new app is 90% re-architecting and 10% new processes.
6. Which app or project are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time. We’ve only been developing for two months, and I feel like we’ve already built so much and learned so much. From the beginning it was the simplest thing, like “How do I place a button that opens another page?” Now, I’m writing complex microflows, debugging, and doing a bit of UI. I’ve built so much on that first bit of knowledge. I feel like I’ve never really learned so much of something so quickly. It’s very easy to pick up.
7. Talk about the value of the app that you’re building?
These new processes are automated; it’s much faster. Data quality is better because we’re only giving the users so many choices versus free text.
Now users have one application that they can do it all with. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on several demos. When we told them that it took about eight weeks to do this, they were very impressed. They are excited about the new look and functionality.
8. Have you had any “a-ha!” moments using Mendix?
What I’ve had are smaller “a-ha!” moments. I’ll start doing something in Mendix, and I’ll do it the obvious way the first time. Then the next time, I find a quicker way to do it, fewer steps or fewer clicks. I feel like there’s always a simpler way to accomplish what you’re trying to do. It’s like you’re constantly learning how to better your own code and how to be faster with it.
9. What advice would you give to other Mendix developers?
I would say Mendix kind of has its own language, which is very logical. Once you can understand the language of Mendix, you’ll understand the logic, and you’ll be able to write very complex microflows. To me, it’s all about concentrating on learning the language and just understanding the logic. You learn that just by doing. It’s hard to experience it unless you’ve actually done it.
10. How has Mendix made your life easier or better?
I was looking for something new to learn in my position. I’d been in the support role for five years, so I was kind of looking for something new to learn, and Mendix came along at the right time. I’ve been really enjoying learning Mendix and the ease of which I can quickly code. It’s a great thing to have on my resume. I believe we’ll be working on this project for the next two years, and then I’ll be supporting what we’ve built. It’s a great way to do things because I’ll know the background on it. I’ll be able to control what’s pushed to Support.
11. Describe Mendix in your own words.
Mendix is a very visual way of programming and that makes it easy for pretty much anyone to understand the code. You don’t have to be an expert developer to be able to code in Mendix, because it’s easy to understand. You can see it on the page.
12. What are your interests and hobbies outside of work?
I have a dog and a cat that keep me pretty busy. I also play video games, currently playing Heroes of the Storm—it’s free to play and it’s fun. I enjoy running and weight training too.