In today’s installment of our rapid developer profile series, we are featuring Russell Martin, Senior Software Engineer at Erie Insurance. Hear how he overcame his skepticism of model-driven development by rapidly building applications with Mendix.
1. What is your education and professional background? Did you have any prior development experience?
I have been in IT for 15 years now. I started working as a hardware technician at a local call center. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) and then went on to get a Master’s in Business Administration. I was one of the guys that started at bottom of the totem pole, as a tech guy that came over to your desk to reboot your computer for you and now I am a Senior Software Engineer at Erie Insurance.
2. How were you introduced to Mendix? What was your initial reaction?
At the time, I was responsible for supporting a twenty-year-old system that was completely outdated. I was part of a team that was evaluating four different software packages. Mendix was one of the software platforms in the portfolio. I have to admit, when I first saw the Mendix Platform I called BS based on all of my previous experience as a developer. I didn’t think this type of low-code development could meet our needs.
As we worked with many proof of concepts, I very quickly realized that Mendix actually fit all our needs. I was still pretty shocked and while working with a small team of Mendix developers I tried to trip them up with tons of questions, thinking surely one of them would not be met with a sufficient answer. Every single question and need was met and I was hooked. We purchased a license and developed a single project to show what Mendix could do. Since then we have been flying with the platform.
3. What was most helpful learning Mendix?
The training classes are very well done. The initial free training is a good way to get you comfortable with the platform. After that, it’s a combination of the advanced training and the experience of using the platform. The more I used the platform, the easier and more efficient development with Mendix became. I would say the online community is very helpful as well if you know what to ask for.
4. What have you built using the platform? Which app/project are you most proud of?
We have been working on an agent facing user interface. The initial system was a PDF entry system. You literally entered data into adobe and that is how you got information downstream. It was an incredibly manual and time-consuming process. We took this process from three to seven days down to two hours. Now the system enables the customer to get a quote back within minutes. It was this project that opened up the eyes of everyone around here.
We have also worked on a small proof of concept with the IBM Watson integration. This project has been a really awesome way to show junior developers how to use the platform.
Right now we are replacing a system that people said we could never replace. We have only been working on it for three days now and people are shocked by how quickly we are moving. This specific project has shown people what you can do when you stop using waterfall and move to agile. We wanted to show how quickly a project can get done with little to no overhead using Digital Execution and really allowing developers to work with free reign without the process wrapped around it.
5. Have you had any “a-ha!” moments using Mendix?
The biggest aha moment was when we were first using the platform. At the time, the Mendix Platform was still growing and integrating with services. Our structures were very complicated and the platform wasn’t able to handle the integration the way we wanted it to. We worked with several people from Mendix and provided feedback and recommendations to fix the issue. The quick response was amazing. They prioritized our changes and feedback and made them within one major release, fixing other bugs within only a few other minor releases. This was the aha moment: the support from Mendix has been amazing throughout the entire process and it has been smooth sailing since then.
6. What advice would you give to other Mendix developers?
Don’t be scared. I am a developer through and through. I understand coming from .NET or Java and seeing models and thinking, this is not going to work. Don’t be so quick to assume. Get in there and work with the platform and be open-minded. The platform does many things you think it wouldn’t be able to do.
7. How has Mendix made your life easier/better?
Speed to market. The ability to develop that quickly has changed our business. For example, most projects in our organization can take up to three years with traditional development. Now we got our first iteration done within 18 months, and the second iteration done within 12 months. It’s amazing. We can get so much out to our customers that much faster, and actually get feedback from them. The speed to market has improved our relationship with our customers. Our end users know that it won’t take three years to see the fixes they ask for. This type of rapid development enables us to build better relationships with our end users.
8. How would you describe Mendix in your own words?
Mendix is amazing, it completely caught me off guard. If I had to describe it, I would say it is a platform that allows even the most inexperienced developers to do great things.
9. What are your interests/hobbies outside of work?
I am a family man; I have five kids! They definitely keep me busy. I also like to play soccer, softball, and golf on the side.