See How Rene Van Hofwegen Caters Mendix Training to Meet Your Needs
In today’s maker profile, we feature Rene Van Hofwegen, training manager at Mansystems. Rene trains a range of students from business developer to technical developers on how to use Mendix. We sat with Rene to get his thoughts on the Mendix Platform and to see the reception he gets from his students.
1. What is your education and professional background? Did you have any prior development experience?
I trained as an airplane mechanic and worked as one for several years before becoming a high school teacher for seven years. After a couple of detours and some other jobs, I ended up at Mendix as a consultant, where I learned to develop applications. I didn’t have any development experience before I joined Mendix. Later, I became a trainer at Mendix and became a training manager. Now I’m doing similar training at Mansystems, but the scope is different.
2. How were you introduced to Mendix? What was your initial reaction?
I found a job as a trainer at Mendix when it was still a very small company—about 40 people. My initial reaction to Mendix Platform was that it was very cool! When I was a high school teacher, I’d play around with Access. So I had a little bit of an understanding of programming but no professional experience. With Mendix, having little hardcore, technical knowledge, I was able to solve puzzles, and that’s what I like. I wanted to solve the challenge of building a new application, and I was able to pull that off without in-depth technical knowledge.
3. What was most helpful for learning Mendix?
When I started there were no proper training courses, but if they had been available, I would’ve used them. The main thing I did was ask questions. I was lucky enough to collaborate with my colleagues, experienced Mendix developers, who helped me and guided me. So I got my experience firsthand. I asked what I thought were the stupidest questions possible and that got me further.
4. What prompted the development of Mendix Academy? What were some of the gaps that your training courses filled?
There was a need for structure. When you start developing and you have a question, you can ask it, and that’s very useful. But there’s no structure to that. Having a training course gives you a structure where the most important parts are discussed first and the next steps are laid out in an organized way. A proper training course with good structure leads to quicker learning. That way of thinking helped me build great training courses for Mendix, and provided the foundations of the expertise I now use to provide training courses for customers of Mansystems.
5. What have you built using the platform? Or apps that you helped other people build?
I worked on a car window repair and replacement app for a car servicing and repair company called kwikfit. I also did work on a master data management app for the Dutch oil and gas company, EBN. At Mendix, I helped build the Mendix training academy portal. In the seven years I worked at Mendix, six and a half were spent working on the portal. The first prototype went out in three months with part-time development. The initial goal of the portal was to gather registration details of trainees and provide that information to the trainers so that they could prepare for the course.
The goals of the app changed over the years. For two years after launch, about 15 people worked part-time on building out the portal. We iterated on the app to support the ability to offer the rapid developer certification online exam. After, we built the ability to view what the trainee obtained from the course and their community profile.
6. Have you had any “a-ha!” moments using Mendix?
When I started with Mendix, each day had a lot of “a-ha!” moments! After I understood how Mendix handled its data, then I became a wizard. The moment I understood how the data was handled, everything became easy.
7. What advice would give to other Mendix developers who are starting out with Mendix?
Make sure that you get a lot of feedback. You can easily make stuff with Mendix, but you can also easily break stuff with Mendix if not done properly. You can go through trial and error yourself, but make sure that you get input from a senior developer who can provide you with proper feedback that you can improve your app on.
8. Could you tell us a little about the people you train?
The process for training developers differs from person to person. With business developers, they need to learn more about the technical stuff (that is, ‘What is a database and how does it relate to your application?’) With hardcore developers, they have to unlearn what they know, so they can learn a new way of thinking with Mendix. I teach them not to approach the project on coding style or waterfall, but show them that it’s business driven.
The openness to learning depends on the person. ￼I’m training a hardcore developer now, and this person is very eager and open to learning Mendix. But some people love to code and want to code, and Mendix takes that out of your hands—which is its value—but hardcore coders want to do that work. So I show them that the boring stuff is done quickly and go into how they can customize with Mendix Platform. I show them that Mendix still allows them to code where that’s their preference. I’ll explain that they can use Mendix along with, say, their Java skills for complex elements. They can extend the platform to meet their needs with the skills that they have. It’s the best of two worlds.
9. How would you describe Mendix in your own words?
It depends on the person. If it is a developer unfamiliar with Mendix, then Mendix is a platform that automates your development process and makes life easier. If it is someone from the business side with no development experience, Mendix is a drag-and-drop experience that allows you to connect the dots and build an application. It’s a lot like Legos: Building blocks but for applications. Ultimately, Mendix is a great platform on which to solve business puzzles.
10. What are your interests/hobbies outside of work?
I like biking. I’m doing an 85-kilometer bike tour with coworkers right now. At home, I like to bake and cook. My favorite thing to cook is pizza.