For our most recent rapid developer story, we caught up with Pim van der Noll, Mendix Business Engineer at Appronto. Pim talked to us about faster and more transparent development and the benefit it has on his customer relationships. He also gives tips on how to get the business engaged with rapid application development.
1. What is your education and professional background? Did you have prior development experience?
I studied informatics and management at the Avans University of Applied Sciences. After university, I started at Info Support, a consulting firm, building custom applications in .NET. I worked as a programmer for several years, receiving numerous certifications in Microsoft products.
I loved creating things for customers, but I was never a die-hard programmer. After a few years, I moved into a functional designer role. In this capacity, I focused on talking to customers, helping to design their requirements, and managing their projects. I managed several projects for custom applications, mainly in the financial services sector.
About three years ago, I moved to a small company and discovered model-driven development. I was fascinated by the concept as I could now deliver apps much more quickly, without having to write code. It was through this company that I learned about modeling. However, while our solution enabled visual development, we still generated code. This meant that the platform was still fairly technical – while 80% of the app could be modeled, the team still had to program the remaining 20%. This was my first step toward being a rapid developer.
2. How were you introduced to Mendix? What was your initial reaction?
I liked the idea of model-driven development and knew that I wanted to pursue this more in my next career move. So when I learned that the Appronto team had a practice for model-driven development, it seemed like a perfect move.
As part of my interview, I had to create an app using Mendix. While it was my first time using the platform, my previous modeling experience made it easy to get started. Within a couple of hours, I was able to deliver an application which I then shared with the Appronto team. I was amazed at how fast I could deliver applications.
3. What was most helpful when learning Mendix?
I already understood the concept of modeling data and workflow structures which helped me ramp up quickly. With this already set, I focused on learning the platform features. I’m very grateful for my colleagues at Appronto who helped answer my questions when I first started.
4. Can you share some of the apps you’ve built to date?
One of my main projects so far has been for Collin Crowdfund. We developed an online crowdfunding platform within five months. During this time, I worked very closely with the business team to iterate towards the final product. Today, the online Collin Crowdfund platform manages the entire financing process and all steps from loan application and screening, to completion and management of the financing.
I’ve also just finished a project for an online advertising group. This involved a number of integrations with other online advertising systems. Now, all data related to impressions and revenue are aggregated into one overview. The information displays through a dashboard that I created through App Store widgets. Currently this includes data from five systems, but that will grow to ten or even twenty systems.
Finally, I’m working on a few iterations associated with the existing Dutch Protestant Church member registration system. They’ve been using Mendix for several years and are adapting their application based on new needs.
5. What do you use most in the App Store?
I regularly use the Mendix App Store. Every time we start a new project, I pull from the public app store and Appronto modules. This really kick starts our efforts and helps us to amaze our customers. I especially like the Chart JS widget, Excel Importer, and Custom APIs with REST services. I’ve also contributed to the app store, including the ‘If this then that’ module.
6. What advice do you have for other Mendix developers?
Keep yourself motivated; be hungry for new things. This will push you to learn more about the platform and really improve the speed at which you deliver your apps. Also, you have to contribute to the app store and in the forum. This is how the community will grow. Finally, take advantage of shortcuts within the Mendix Business Modeler; they make you much more efficient.
7. How has Mendix made your life easier/better?
I switched to the Mendix App Platform because I didn’t want to depend on a programmer to change my apps. Now, if a customer says something isn’t working as they expected it to work, I can change it myself without having to write code. With Mendix, I can make changes on the fly, with the customer sitting with me. They can see what I’m doing and understand what it means with respect to the application design and workflow. This is totally different.
8. How do you get business groups excited about participating in development?
There’s an initial fear from most customers, which makes sense since rapid development is a significant change from what they’re used to doing. You need to show them the process and give them results.
Most projects start with a proof of concept, which includes five or six days on site with the customer. I organize a standup each day to keep the group focused and then show results through status updates before the end of each day. The business quickly gets onboard – as we share working prototypes of the application, new UX approaches and (mobile) possibilities, rather than just documentation. This will surprise them and keep them excited for the future.
Also, it’s important to show the business how you can incorporate their changes quickly, while you are sitting together discussing the change. As they get what they need, their satisfaction with the project rises, and they stay engaged for when you need additional help with requirements and user stories.
You can talk and explain all you want, but they have to experience the new process. From there, it’s important to coach the business team through the full app lifecycle process, so that they are familiar with the platform and able to help you accelerate results on the project.
9. How would you describe Mendix in your own words?
Mendix is a complete, easy-to-use platform that lets you build apps fast and surprise your customers. Just this past week, I was upgrading a customer’s Mendix platform to the newest version. With this version, the customer will be able to build more complex mobile apps. We quickly played around with the new features and he was so excited by the speed advantage.
This is especially important given the urgent requirement for mobile apps. If you look to many online businesses and websites, the majority of their visitors come from mobile or tablet devices. And this is true for many businesses. Now, they have a way to engage their customers through mobile, an advantage that their competitors don’t have. Time to market is crucial for mobile projects, and Mendix helps surprise customers and deliver on their goals.
10. What are you interested in/passionate about outside of work?
When I’m away from work, I like to relax. I love to run and see this as a release from all the stresses in my professional life. This year, I’m training for the Strong Viking Obstacle Run.
Instead of being bogged down by line after line of code, Rapid Application Developers focus on the real technical challenges of app projects and partner with the business to deliver game-changing apps. Download our ebook: Meet the Rapid Developer – Bridging IT and Business to Deliver Rock Star Results.