Not Spinning His Wheels: John Ellsworth Goes from Trucker to Mendix Developer
In today’s maker profile, we speak with John Ellsworth, web applications manager, CRM developer at Analogic, a healthcare technology provider. Read John’s compelling story about transitioning from trucker to coder and how he’s used Mendix to solve problems at Analogic.
In your career, you started in one place and have found yourself in a completely different space altogether. Can you tell us about your background?
I started at Analogic as a business application developer three years ago. I’m now the web application’s manager, CRM developer. About four years ago, I was an over-the-road truck driver for FedEx Freight. I worked nights, so it was a tough lifestyle. I drove tractor trailers for about 16 or 17 years.
While I enjoyed the job, it was going up and down the road every night, pulling tandem trailers in all kinds of weather conditions imaginable. There was some great autonomy to it, but the one thing that was missing was any sort of challenge. Some people are comfortable like that, knowing what they’ll do each day. But I was looking for something that was going to challenge me.
I’ve always been into tech, into computers. I wanted to learn about programming. One of the things I would do to pass the time going up and down the road to keep myself awake was listen to tech-related podcasts. At one point, I decided I wanted to make a change in my career, but I was struggling to find what I wanted to do. Then I realized it was staring me right in the face.
I decided to go to school for software development. It took me two-and-half years to get my Bachelor’s in computer information technology with a concentration in software development.
What languages had you studied in school? What was your first development job once you got that Bachelor’s degree?
At school, I focused on two object-oriented languages, Java and C#. But all that stuff I did in school was basically academic. There’s only so much you can really learn academically. The real learning begins when you get thrown into the fire of the real world.
My first job out of school was working at a CRM consulting firm. That forced me into the .NET and C# realm because it was a Microsoft shop. The focus was on Dynamic CRM. I focused on a .NET framework and Java fell by the wayside. At that job, I would come across a problem and I would solve it. Sometimes, I would spin my wheels a little bit, but one thing I learned over time was that when you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, get away from it. You’re not doing anybody any service by sitting there and spinning your wheels. What happens is that you become so close to it, you can’t even see what’s right in front of you.
Did you discover or experience low-code before you moved to Analogic or after?
I was introduced to low-code at Analogic. I didn’t even think of it as low-code. My career was mostly dealing with legacy code and going in and changing it. At Analogic, we had an application that was showing its age. It was an app we used for our e-forms, automated approval processes for purchase orders and other things like that.
It had gotten to a point where we were wondering, do we upgrade the app or do we move onto another platform? We looked at a business process management tool for about a year of development but realized it wasn’t the right fit. Another business unit was using Mendix. After a colleague showed me some of the basics, I took the rapid application developer course. I went in kind skeptical because of my experience with the business process management tool.
What was the first app that you built using Mendix?
Our e-forms app. We built it in pieces. I didn’t have the chance to build a small or lightweight app. For us, e-forms was a big project because it loomed large over the company. I was constantly dealing with emails about how it was unreliable. It became important for us to get this off the ground.
There were so many processes going on with the app. We needed a better way of accounting for things like people retiring and making better direct connections. When I first discovered Mendix, I was elated by it. I was like, “Wow. It can do all these things.”
I was able to get a reliable e-forms application that would actually interface directly with active directory. If we had people that left the company, the app would know that.
When I first discovered Mendix, I was elated by it. I was like, “Wow. It can do all these things.
I still have a lot to learn myself, but if I’m looking for a solution, it’s within the platform or it’s in the Mendix App Store, or it’s provided by the community. That’s the other thing that’s important to emphasize. It’s not just the tool or platform, but the community.
Your “a-ha” moment was the capabilities with respect to that connectivity. What were other “a-ha” moments for you?
Another “a-ha” moment for me was that I would tend to overthink things. I would try to insert code into a low-code situation. For example, if something isn’t empty, I would put the attribute in there, and then I’d put the exclamation point equals null. And it would go, “Hey what are you thinking? It’s not empty.”
You can leverage knowledge with actual coding in Mendix too, which I think is great. Having the opportunity and the accessibility of low-code is awesome, but it’s also great being able to code.
One of the things that Mendix has encouraged me to do is make things better; solve this mystery, solve this problem.
Are you working on any other apps right now? How many apps do you have in your environment?
We have three. There’s a telehealth app, the e-forms app, and an app called Ops Portal. We sell things like ultrasound machines and consoles all over the world. If you’re selling something, say, in Europe, the accessories that you would put in the box with the item would be different than if it were in the US. The power cord is different, the manual is different. What Ops Portal does is that it looks at orders and at where they’re going. It allows the person who is fulfilling those orders to put the right cord and manual in the package. It’s an interface with SAP, and interfaces with active directory as well because we have Single Sign-On.
The sky’s the limit.
It’s a wide-open field. We could do whatever we want and that’s a great thing with Mendix. You just want to store it? Okay. You want to send it to somebody so they can see a copy of it? Great. Want to find a nice way to format it and have a dashboard that somebody could look at? You can do that too. Once we have the data, the sky’s the limit.
One more question for you: Do you like pizza?
Who doesn’t? If you don’t like pizza, I don’t want to know you. No, I’m just kidding. Pizza’s great. I like to load up the pizza with anything except anchovies and black olives.