Better Know A Developer: Jeff Hale, Agilx

This is the first in our series Better Know A Developer, in which we go behind the scenes at some of the Midwest's best startups. This week we met with Jeff Hale, CTO at Agilx, in his office at the Nebraska Technology Park in Lincoln.

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IMG_0283This is the first in our series Better Know A Developer, in which we go behind the scenes at some of the Midwest’s best startups. We met up with Jeff Hale, CTO at Agilx, in his office at the Nebraska Technology Park in Lincoln.

 

Age 34 (Most people think I’m 18)

Hometown Lincoln, NE

High School Lincoln High

Family Wife (Tiffany) and 2 girls, 8 (Chloe) and 6 (Serenity). They keep me busy. I’m the only guy in the house.

Best part about being a dad?

Watching your kids grow up and experience things. It’s quite remarkable to see how they progress.

Job Title 

CTO (Chief Technology Officer)

ELI5: What do you do?

We are kind of a smaller company, though we do big things here–so I wear a lot of different hats. I tend to lean toward the development side, which is my passion. That’s where I started out. Going the management route means I’m a developer that gets to make some decisions. Now with 13-14 years of experience developing, I’m coaching developers on how to make better decisions.

What’s the biggest misunderstanding about what you do?

If a client comes in and they don’t have any experience with developing an app, they say, “This is just a screen with buttons. It’s got to be easy. It can’t be that bad.” It kind of degrades what we do.

We’re like, “Okay, let’s break down your two buttons and a screen. In order to get that data to display on the page, how are we going to get it in the database? Is it recorded? Ok, then we need a screen to record it. Do we need edits? Now we need a way to make sure the data is correct.” One little feature balloons into a couple weeks.

Who are the developers/programmers that you respect the most?

I don’t idolize people in that way. Rarely is a developer in a company developing something by themselves, end to end. So the biggest struggle for any good developer is, “Am I on a team of people that care the same way I do?”

A lot of times in a company you’ll have developers who are your shining stars. It’s not always about paying them more. It’s about building a team around them who have the same drive. As soon as you have that one guy who is slacking, it degrades the whole team.

Your favorite subreddits?

/r/xbox, /r/windows10, /r/angularjs

What’s your most controversial opinion that only programmers/developers would understand?

When I started out I was the guy who was always on the lookout for the newest software framework. It was always so cool because everything’s progressing at such a rapid rate.

What I worry about now is what kind of situations you can get yourself into chasing that. It’s easy to get caught up implementing 18 different frameworks or packages into your software–just because.

Angular is a prime example. Angular came out, and it basically lets your web site feel like a native operating system application. You don’t feel that traditional HTTP response. It eliminates a lot of requests to the server, and your app feels super responsive. It’s amazing.

Now they’re talking about Angular 2.0, which is making a lot of developers nervous because they’re talking about breaking changes to the first version. Software is like that, of course. Software progresses. But you have to have that support for a fair amount of time.

If we had written something in Angular 1.1 for a client, and then 2-3 years down the road it’s not supported as much, that could be a major rewrite to get to 2.0.

As developers, we have to be careful about what we choose. Always keep in mind what the client really wants. They want the problem solved in a way so they don’t have to pay for it all again in a couple years. The last thing they want to do is rewrite something they just did.

First computer memories?

I remember our first family computer. It was a Hewlett Packard 33 mhz. It was super-expensive. We had dial-up, and I remember getting on the Internet. Everything was super slow. Everything you wanted to do took forever.

There was this race to buy a machine with just a little bit faster processor. My aunt got a 75 mhz. And we only had a 33. We thought, “Man, that’s got to be so much better.” And this was all running on Windows 3.1. Processing speed seems to be less relevant today.

What’s your best advice for people who want to get into programming?

Everybody agrees we’re lacking software developers, and people are trying to solve that in different ways. Some people are trying to do that with fast track learning. But really what it comes down to is building good software that can last a long time, has support, is reliable. That takes building hundreds of apps. It’s not just, “I know a language.”

We are actually hiring right now. Nobody is good at this, but if you want a job on the spot, come with examples of things you’ve made on your own time. If you’re really interested in what you’re doing, there’s no reason today that you can’t build a web site or a mobile app on your own.

If you walk in for a job, and you prove you can do what you say–not just “Oh, I know C#” but you prove you can do it–I would hire you immediately.

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