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Is visual modeling the new creative outlet for full-stack developers?

on March 12, 2015

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I recently sat down with Marshall Worster, Professional Services Project Manager at Mendix, to discuss his career evolution, specifically his transition from a full-stack developer to a Mendix modeler (also known as a rapid developer).

marshall-worster-600x600Marshall moved to Mendix just over one year ago, having worked as a full-stack developer and implementation specialist at Deloitte and Cerner. He has over 10 years of information technology experience, and has developed software applications in many programming languages and technologies, including C#, C++, PHP, SQL Server, and SSIS.

When I asked why he made the career switch, his response was simple: he hasn’t moved, not in the figurative sense. Marshall is still a full stack developer; but instead of dealing in code, he now deals in visual models and workflows.

I still have the ability to tap into my programming side when I want to. I can write my own Java code to extend the functionality of my clients apps, but I can also spend time working with the business, and acting as a bridge to help them understand and leverage the IT world. I get to bring ideas to life – to architect complex solutions quickly – to improve outcomes – and to deliver real results to the business.

This response brought up an interesting question – is visual modeling the new creative outlet for full-stack developers? While every developer will have his or her own perspective,  one point is clear: traditional developers and rapid developers are charged with building similar functionality, but a rapid developer works faster – on average 6x faster.

And with faster delivery, comes faster feedback and analysis – and the ability to iterate and adapt – turning the conversation into a much more interesting (and potentially creative) dialog with the business team.

Modeling gets right to the exciting elements, to what the user will see. You have the opportunity to move beyond the requirements – to truly shape or visualize the end result. I don’t have to wait on DBAs to create tables and run scripts, or wait on middleware guys to do ETL work. I can be self-sufficient and focus on what matters to the business.

Marshall’s attitude is common among the Mendix community. Savan Vyas, Scrum Master and Mendix Business Engineer at LV=Insurance, shared a similar attitude in his recent rapid developer interview. He said:

I always liked application development, particularly the creative side of it, but coding was something that I didn’t necessarily enjoy. When I first came across Mendix, it seemed perfect for me. The application modeling environment was quite intuitive. You didn’t have to learn 5-10 languages or worry about missing a comma somewhere. You could just focus on building apps that solve business problems.

We all want to do more – to be part of business change and innovation – to make technology and applications more prominent and useful within the business realm. But to achieve that 6x productivity advantage and spend more time with the business, you do need to think differently about development.

Here are Marshall’s tips for how you can ramp up quickly and make time for the fun, creative stuff:

  1. Forget about the concept of control: the hardest part for developers is giving up control – or explicitly defining every component. In reality, you are still in control, and not at all limited. But you need to break down the barrier of thinking about how to solve problems with code. Instead, you need to execute through understanding how leveraging the App Store, reusable components, and Microflows will turn business problems into rapid solutions.
  1. Always focus on the end result: People struggle if they’re focused on a particular component, like integration, UI, database interoperability, or ETL. When you’re focused on writing code to meet a requirement, you’re less in tune with the overall project goals and lack that full-stack, higher level view. The second that you can visualize the model—and the solution—you’ll have your ‘aha’ moment.
  1. Learn how to reuse: Why create something that already exists, something that someone else has already achieved, when you can reuse it and then save your time for building something bigger and better? This is where creativity really comes into play – focus on the ‘new’ rather than the ‘necessary’ components.

Another rapid developer, Kilian Croese, Certified Mendix Business Engineer and Mendix Trainer at Capgemini, shared a similar belief regarding the importance of reuse.

You don’t have to do the same thing over and over. If you build a component once, it benefits you and the entire community. It’s a snowball effect: the more content that’s available in the App Store, the easier and faster it is to build great software.

Clearly there is buzz in our community. And each person has their own reasons for being excited. For Marshall, modeling offers a new opportunity, where he’s not just developing but collaborating, and helping to shape the end result.

To hear more from Marshall, join one of our expert services webinars. He, and other members of the expert services team, share best practices on working in the Mendix App Platform. You can also hear what our other community members have to say on our community blog or share your own perspective by commenting below.

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