Seeing Is Believing: Kyle Kunzer Uses Mendix to Show (Not Tell) How He’s Solving Problems
For this installment of our rapid developer profile series, we are featuring Kyle Kunzer, IT Manager and Web Application Developer/Analyst at Analogic. Kyle went from supporting ultrasound hardware to becoming a full-time software developer with Mendix. Learn how Mendix has transformed the way Kyle solves key business problems with confidence and speed.
Tell us about your professional background. Do you have any prior programming experience?
What prompted you to want to solve problems with development in the first place? How did you discover low-code?
I discovered low-code as a result of my IT director discovering low-code. He had received a marketing email from one of the sales reps shortly after my division was acquired by the corporation. As I mentioned, we were using a third-party application to provide our telemedicine services, and when my IT director started to look into how the third-party application was performing, it led him to evaluate whether something like Mendix could reproduce this third-party application.
Then he brought me on board because I knew everything there was to know about what we were doing and how we were using that third-party application. This introduction led into me learning how to use Mendix and getting trained. I’ve been continually developing and supporting the application for over two years now and it has grown into a very large-scale application now. I’ve even been taking other legacy applications within the same realm of telemedicine that were on a conventional stack, and I’ve been moving them over to our application, so it’s only growing with time.
What was your initial reaction to Mendix? How long have you been using the platform?
It’s been almost two-and-a-half years now that I’ve been working in Mendix. During the first demo, I was really hungry to learn more and try it out for myself. I was able to download the modeler for free and jump right in. I watched a bunch of the webinars, and the more I learned, the more interested I was in Mendix. We also had, as part of our sales process, a proof of concept done by a couple of engineers at Mendix. They said that they would be able to do the proof of concept in five days. Internally, we laughed a little about this because we thought it was going to be super stripped down, bare bones and really high-level conceptual stuff. But five days later, they came back with a totally styled working application. That totally blew my mind.
How long did it take for you to learn Mendix and be able to build a robust application? What steps did you take to learn how to develop with Mendix?
I had a bit of a nontraditional jump into Mendix because I actually started developing on the project before I had taken any of the courses, like the rapid developer course. I was the internal resource on the project, learning the platform as I went. I had two Mendix employees to help kickstart everything and get the project started as I got up to speed. I think it was about a month into the project that I took the rapid developer course and then four months later the advanced developer course. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reading on the forums. I watch almost every webinar and read almost every blog post that Mendix sends me. I spend a lot of my downtime at work looking at the app store to see what’s new.
So it’s a constant learning process. But as far as getting up to speed and being able to, like you said, build a more robust web application, the time was definitely not a barrier to entry. It was probably about two months before I was starting to handle some of the higher-level concepts like REST integration and some really funky UI element stuff. But at a basic level, like designing a data model and creating microflows, that took about a week. It was very fast.
What are some of the apps you have built on Mendix that you are most proud of?
My biggest achievement is definitely the telemedicine application. It features a lot of integrations, namely with a medical imaging storage provider. We have an encrypted web service that pulls the medical imaging for a patient right into the Mendix application. It feels native, and it is really impressive to see it in action. We also had to integrate with a payment provider which was so easy with Mendix because of how simple it is to consume REST or SOAP APIs from other vendors.
Additionally, we’ve used Mendix to revamp our forms application within the company. We had a third-party application that was handling all of the forms and it was in between a Mendix low-code platform and a traditional full stack application. Designing the forms was a visual process; however, it was not as involved as Mendix is, where you can really get down into the finer details in a microflow. Just reading the visual logic behind everything was complicated. Our biggest issue with the third-party application was that it was really at best an 80 percent fit for our business. While we did have a very good relationship with the vendor, it took forever for them to do anything custom for us. Even when they did, there was very little acceptance testing. This was the biggest reason we moved to Mendix. With Mendix, we could take control of our own destiny and we could do it faster.
I, along with another developer, revamped the entire system on Mendix. Now all of those forms–a lot of which are forms that the entire company uses–have been migrated to the Mendix platform. People like it because it’s a lot easier to use.
The forms are single sign-on and fully integrated with our Microsoft Office 365 account. We have begun to provide gamification for form approvals. We actually have people competing to have the lowest time to approve forms across different departments. I like the whole process of gamifying. I’ve tried to do it with a couple of personal applications and they didn’t really pan out. But I guess that’s another thing I can say about Mendix: It’s so good at evaluating a concept because you don’t have to invest a whole lot of time because the development is so fast. If you have an idea, you can bring that idea to life with an application in days, not weeks or months or years in some cases. That’s really, really changed the way that I think about solving problems.
Can you expand on how Mendix has changed the way you work and you go about solving problems?
With Mendix, I know exactly what I want the end result to be. I can build towards that goal and can very quickly determine if that goal is achievable. I know almost beyond a shadow of a doubt within a week that I can solve this problem or I can’t. It’s informed a lot of the decision making in terms of acquiring new software or not.
The other nice thing about Mendix is the free sandbox. I can hear talk among other departments in the company about problem X, Y and Z, and in my spare time, I can put together an application that they can actually interact with on the web to see if it solves their problem. It’s nice because I’m able to show something to other people versus taking what I know to a meeting and having to explain it to somebody who may not necessarily understand it. I think in this case, seeing is really believing and Mendix has allowed me to show versus tell in a lot of cases.
One other way it has changed my way of working is the confidence that platform has instilled in me as a developer and problem solver. As an example, our medical director came into my office one day and said, “Hey, there’s this big problem with the app. A customer can’t complete a task.” I was able to tell him with confidence that I would take a look at it, that I would fix it and that by the next day it would be completely resolved. There’ll be absolutely no problems with it; he would never have to worry about it again. I’m proud to say that I was able to do that. I think that’s a testament to what Mendix enables: It’s so quick. From development to test to deployment into production, it happens so fast and you have nearly 100 percent confidence that you know you’re not going to break something.
What is it exactly that gives you this confidence in development within the Mendix platform?
In the development stage, the constant error checking helps a ton because you know that you’re not going to put forth something that leads to a dead end. For example, the platform won’t allow you to end a microflow without the endpoint, so you know that your development is sound. The only thing you have to be concerned about is whether or not your logic is sound. There’s always going to be an object that you can act on. In certain cases, you may pass an empty object that results in an error, but this is something that you just learn not to do.
Beyond that, when you’re looking at the deployments into the cloud, as long as you have the package created and have multiple environments to deploy to, you can do separate testing in the acceptance or test environments and know that it works. In a lot of cases, I’ll take backups from my production data and I’ll restore them to one of those other tests or acceptance notes and use live data to test new features, different workflows, or different UIs. I know when I deploy that same package to my production environment that it’s going to work in exactly the same way. There’s a lot of confidence. It’s nice to know that you can click deploy and it starts back up. Everything’s going to work exactly the way it should.
How has this type of development with Mendix created new opportunities in your career?
Originally, the thought was to create and recreate that telemedicine application. We knew that we wanted more apps, but it was sort of a trial by fire doing that app first because it’s definitely the biggest that we have. But now that we’ve gotten the ball rolling, we have the form app and an inventory management application for another side of the business. There are talks for a more hybrid app and to get into a mobile application centered around an IoT solution for power amplifiers. So within the business, Mendix has really taken off. A lot of people come forward with business problems that they think Mendix might be a good fit for.
Outside of the business, I’ve also been able to expand my personal career into contracting, taking on some contract work by myself in developing applications in other industries.
That’s awesome. Any examples of some other stuff that you’ve been able to work on outside of work?
I have one application that I completed earlier this year that was for a solar equipment leasing company in Mexico. It’s a no upfront cost solar business, and I built a tool to do all their proposals and included integration with their ERP system and their CRM.
I’ve also got a project in the pipeline now that involves integration with an augmented reality device, so there are a lot of great opportunities that have opened up for me.
Is there anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t covered yet?
I would like to say to any business that’s looking at Mendix as a means to solve business problems with an application, that they really just need to take the plunge. While it takes a few months for a new developer to get familiar with the platform–and I say developer in terms of the typical Mendix use case, someone who doesn’t necessarily have any programming background but really knows the business problem that they’re trying to solve–Mendix is such a transformative tool for any business need. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple expense reporting application or a CRM or in our case, a medical imaging platform for telemedicine.
The Mendix slogan says everything that you need to know. Mendix really allows you to innovate at the speed of ideas. I can’t sing Mendix’s praises enough, honestly. It’s just been such an eye-opening experience for me.
The community is probably one of the best things about it as well. In the past, I’ve never had an experience where I could go to any forum and reliably get an answer. In Mendix’s forums, I get an answer in hours and a lot of cases I get the answer I need. In most cases, if you’re asking that question, somebody else has also asked it and had it answered. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve gone to the forum and searched for a question and gotten exactly the answer I needed to solve my issue. It’s a huge help.