The Phantom Mendix

A not-so-long time ago, in a galaxy not-so-far away, a young student left school without a plan or a path. Following his father’s footsteps, he embarked on a winding journey that started in software development and brought him where we see him today: In the marketing department of a low-code platform. This is how that story goes…

It’s over Anakin! I have the high code…

As many others do, when I was 18, I chose to go to university. I had no grand plan. I’d gotten decent grades at school and, outside of a fleeting interest in becoming an architect (until I found out just how long that program was), I had no passion for any particular career. I had an interest in computing, though. And despite opting out of IT in school (all they seemed to teach was PowerPoint and mail merges), I ended up pursuing a degree in Computer Science.

It made sense at the time. After all, I’d spent a lot of time on computers ever since my dad – a software developer for Goodyear for what seemed like forever – brought home our very first computer; a Sinclair Spectrum ZX48K.

During my degree program, I took different modules in software development. Starting with C, moving on to Java, and then jumping around a bit between C++, Assembly, and some real-time languages. It turned out I had a bit of a knack for it, and I ended up doing a placement year with an energy supplier where I worked on internal websites, building them in ASP.NET using VB.NET.

When I graduated, I went straight into a web development career and I worked for a couple of law firms as an in-house developer. It was there that I learnt to build sites quickly, without much in the way of specifications, and how to manage the full stack.

After that, I moved on to a brewery where I spent just over 10 years working on all sorts of weird and wonderful projects ranging from sentiment analysis engines to interactive TV software, to SAP BAPI interfaces. I wrote mostly in C# at this point but I also honed my skills in CSS, HTML, and SQL whilst also dabbling in things like WPF, Knockout.js, and Bootstrap.

When it came time to move on I was at the point in my career where the basic foundations of applications felt like a chore. And development challenges were generally just a matter of time taken rather than learning something new. Projects seemed to drag on forever and I always felt like getting them over the line was a burden. I’d rather just quickly finish the application helping to make the end user’s life better and move on to the next application.

Ask any developer and the projects that drag on are the worst. No one likes being stuck in the last 20% that feels like it takes forever. That’s when I decided to join a new company.

Fear is the path to the dark side

I was approached on LinkedIn to apply for a job as a software development manager. They were looking for someone with .NET experience to help build their new development team and facilitate the company’s digital transformation. It sounded like an ideal challenge, something new and different. I didn’t have any management experience at this point but figured you’ve got to start somewhere.

At the interview, I was told that whilst they were looking for someone with .NET experience it wasn’t, in fact, a .NET development job. It would instead be using a new low-code platform, OutSystems. Now, as I’m sure a lot of developers and IT professionals do, at this point I began to get a bit disappointed and started thinking to myself, “This’ll never work. I’ve seen platforms like this come and go over the years.” I’d heard all the sales pitches, “With this new low-code platform you’ll never need developers again!” And “You can develop applications up to four times faster!”

Anyone who’s been a developer or worked closely with application development knows that can’t be true. Can it?

Having come this far though I figured it was time to be brave; after all fear leads to the dark side. My time at my current employer was coming to a natural conclusion, I needed a new challenge and at the end of the day if it didn’t work out I could always pack my things up and get a .NET development job somewhere else. I did the brave thing and I jumped in with both feet!

As an aside, I ended up being recruited as a Team Lead rather than the development manager due to lack of managerial experience (but I certainly picked that experience up by the bucket load). If you’re looking at a new job, and questioning if you’re qualified, then my advice is it never hurts to apply! Worst case scenario they say no. You’re no worse off than you were before.

I began learning the new platform in earnest. Figuring out what I thought it could and couldn’t do and began planning my development strategy around it. As I found more features and more ways to quickly get to results I started pausing and double checking with colleagues what I was seeing.
This isn’t right, is it? It can’t be doing that? There’s no way I’ve built all that already and it’s working?!

Towards the end of the previous job I had created a dynamic form builder in .NET. Nothing fancy, just a tool where you could create a list of questions and select the type of answer you wanted such as text, numerical, or a list of options. In my new position using low-code, I figured I’d try and recreate that. It had taken me a good few weeks to get it all up and running in .NET; between the database setup, admin features and user forms, but in Low Code I’d achieved a similar result in a matter of hours.

My head hit the desk.

Repeatedly.

Why hadn’t I tried this sooner? This is amazing. Sure, I can see where there might be roadblocks, but I can also see that there are paths to move past them. The boring stuff like setting up the database and handling your database interactions was a breeze, admin forms could be created in seconds, and so many other benefits!

This – this is what I wanted. With this platform, I could just focus on creating applications. Code quality and consistency were all managed; security and logon were all managed. All the focus and effort was on solving the bigger logical problems and creating a good experience for the user.

This is the way

I spent 18 months working at that company, using OutSystems. I built a great team, and we wrote some great applications. The biggest challenge we ever faced was finding Business Analysts who could keep up with the pace of development! However, all good things come to an end, and my boss moved on to a new company and the new direction the department was taking didn’t really mesh with my career expectations.

Fortunately, my boss came back for me and offered me a job working at her new company, this time using a different low-code platform – Mendix! The move was a no-brainer for me. The chance to take everything I’d learned and apply it from scratch with a director who understood my vision and trusted me to go make it? Done. So, I jumped ship and joined the new company and had a great time creating a new team, a new development plan, and more great applications.

It was an easy switch from OutSystems to Mendix as there are a lot of fundamental similarities. I also discovered so many great new features though. Like collaborative tools that enhanced the development process, or fantastic database-level security features to truly control data access at the lowest level. Things like easy-to-use extensibility features using React and Java. It was also a more fluid development experience being able to build and test the code locally with the added benefit of familiar source control and branching experience. Something, regrettably, OutSystems suffers with.

At this point I was a full-blown low-code and Mendix convert – “This is the way” – and all I wanted to do was to get as close to the heart of low-code as possible. That’s when I spotted the Solutions Evangelist role at Mendix – a role that has brought me as close as you can get to the heart of Mendix without actually working on the platform itself. Now I get to preview all the upcoming features, build tech-heavy demos, and tell people how amazing low-code is!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

It’s been a strange journey to get where I am today, starting over 20 years ago (wow I’m old now!), with no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Journeying through multiple industries, trying a variety of programming languages, and building a vast array of applications – every step I’ve taken has been an evolution of the last. Every change in programming language has made things easier to build (not you ABAP) and taken away some of the more mundane tasks. Low-code is the natural evolution of that a visual language that doesn’t ask you to spend your time on the mundane. It challenges you to build the extraordinary.

My career has landed me in a great company filled with wonderful people, from my team to the marketing department and on to the rest of the company. Everyone is friendly, helpful and really excited about the potential of low code to revolutionize application development and digital transformation.

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