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Re-becoming a developer

tomlous profile image Tom Lous Originally published at linkedin.com on ・5 min read

Since my childhood I’ve always been a coder. I got started with some GW BASIC, but quickly moved to C and C++ during my high school years, though I never really considered it as a possible future occupation. It was more of a fun hobby and since my friends also did it, it didn’t seem that strange or special. Some liked football, some drawing, I liked programming.

In fact: I’ve always thought of ending up a veterinarian. Programming and hacking seemed more as as hobby to me, also because it came from and ended up in playing games (eg. trying to get unlimited ammo in Commander Keen and unlimited funds in Sim City).

So computer programming seemed fun, but I would become a vet, and that’s that. Until I was introduced to the possibility of studying Artificial Intelligence at the computer science faculty at the VU in Amsterdam. All of a sudden all pieces fell into place and I realised that this was a field of study that suited all my interests. Full of energy and enthusiasm I started my college years in Amsterdam.

The reality, however, was that although I may have been ready for AI, I surely wasn’t for university. I was not used of actually putting in real effort in my classes or study. So where the learning curve in high school was graduate, the one in college was too steep for someone who never had learnt how to actually study. I was disillusioned in classes and found the material far too dry and impractical. Also outside my peers, no one understood what I was doing.

You see, these were the days after second AI winter. And the reputation of AI was not stellar. Classes were filled with load of theory, but the practical solutions were either far fetched or not impressive.

I did love the practical assignments and that rekindled my love for developing, now in the form of Java, Prolog and some PHP for classes. But even though I really wanted to believe otherwise, my career as an AI student at the VU was at end.

The final blow for my academic adventure was when I founded my own web development company and started to work on cool new websites. I co-developed many sites, from local car dealers, taxi companies, hairdressers and even an aluminum constructor. It was the beginning of 2001: Nobody had a website and everybody wanted one.

Unfortunately my first company didn’t pan out. I had no idea what it meant to run a business. I was good at being a developer. I didn’t also expect to be an accountant, salesman, owner, designer and marketeer. Since I didn’t do any acquisition or client retention, the money ceased coming and finally I had to quit my company and choose to become a pay rolled professional web developer / software engineer.

The time after that I held a few jobs. Every time learning more and more about web development and all that came with it. PHP 5 happened, MySQL became a serious database, CSS & JavaScript frameworks exploded and I’ve experience the rise and fall of Macro Media Flash (hell yeah). Linux was probably the most constant thing during my development career.

All though you are never done learning, especially not in IT, where even the rate of change changes faster each year, I felt I reached my saturation point after more than 7 years of development. I actually wanted something more that programming alone couldn’t provide. The technician in me was sustained. I wanted to have more influence, share my vision, develop strategies, in short: … I became a manager.

So I quit my job and became a manager. Not the traditional one, but more the lead-by-example development manager; the Scrum master that removes impediments and helps the other developers with insights and years of knowledge and experience. Being a manager was a lot of fun. I got to lead a group of eager developers from working on waterfall projects over multiple departments into scrum based environment with multidisciplinary teams, etc, etc.

But (not so) secretly: I still loved programming. It was an addiction that never went away.

I did however believe that that chapter was closed. No one in their right mind steps back from being a manager. You climb your way to the top, not step back from it. So I never even considered it. I changed jobs, so I could focus more managing big software projects instead of many smaller sites and tools. But I was and remained the IT / Ops manager.

And then Big Data happened.

At first it felt like another hype. It was Web 2.0 all over again (ok, ok, which was not a hype, but more a very annoying buzzword for many ongoing developments IMHO). But then again I thought the same about this little thing called ‘Android’ at the time, so hey, I could be wrong.

And boy was I wrong!

Although I will concede that “Big Data” is indeed a buzzword, it captures the essence of the revolution that is going on today. The power of distributed computing, functional languages and near real time streaming via a scala of open source solutions make those impractical unrealistic examples from university, back in 2000, all of a sudden more than feasible.

My love for Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning has been rekindled and my interest in Hadoop, Spark, Solr, Kafka, R, Scala and other tools, frameworks and languages is driving me to learn more and more every day (big kudos to Coursera that not only taught me many skills, but also taught me studying). I have been soaking up all this knowledge and now the time has come for me to act.

I’m very fortunate to work for this great company Datlinq, that positions itself as the partner for foodservice professionals. But Datlinq is also a data company that stores, cleans, matches both public and private data and offers it back in a comprehensible way to its clients. The tools built by Datlinq on this data are it’s products, but the beating heart of Datlinq is unequivocally data.

Since there is no time like the present, we will start this new lean startup / department (DataLabs) from within our organisation to build a new and improved data pipeline, ready to deliver on this big data promise and continuously ingest and process massive amounts of data from all over the internet and thereby slingshotting Datlinq and it’s product stack well into the future.

So this is where my chapter as operations / IT manager ends and I turn over the leaf to my new future of re-becoming a developer.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress ;-)

Originally posted on linkedin.com

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apichampion profile image
Ben Rodriguez

this was a fantastic article. I felt many of the same feelings in my college days and then in my career. I ended in the same path coincidentally. Android has brought me back to coding and I can't stop learning.
:)

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Ron Wheeler

Great article! I too am in the same boat. I'm currently an IT Ops Manger with some development background, and I've decided to try to focus on mobile development (iOS) in my spare time. I have an app idea, and it's a "scratch" that has been itching me for far too long.

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Liya Cookies

You've great experience, sometimes I got bored with programming and want to do something else. But suddenly back to programming after a while because I really miss coding. Ha!

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Aldenor ن

Thanks for sharing Tom, I believe many here share the feelings.