Interview With an Arcweb Developer: Jimmy Lien

Over the next few months we are going to profile each of our team members so you can get a good feel for the vast and varied experience we have and how we can make the best use of our skills to help our clients build cool products. Today we are profiling one of our Software Engineers, Jimmy Lien. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and twitter.

Jimmy at the Tate Modern in London enjoying coffee.


St. Louis, Missouri via Nagoya, Japan

Position at Arcweb

Software Engineer

Tell us something interesting about you

I used to be a sushi chef! While I was in school I worked 20-40 hrs per week as a sushi chef to pay for tuition. After I graduated I continued to make sushi and managed an outstanding sushi bar in Raleigh, NC while looking for jobs. Every once in a while I will have a sushi party at my house and invite friends over for a sushi feast!

Did you go to school for what you do today?

Definitely not! I have a finance degree and an MBA from the University of Missouri. After graduating I was a commercial real estate analyst for several years and eventually moved into business systems analysis for Susquehanna Bank. I took a few programming classes and have actually started a management information systems degree to add to my stable of degrees, but I’m not really sure if it is worthwhile to finish since I am mostly self-taught and learn so much through experience and the really intelligent people I work with today.

Why did you become a developer?

I like to build things. My dad’s side of the family is full of engineers: electrical, computer, civil. I found out after a few years in the financial industry that I happened to really like solving problems with web and mobile apps. So in my free time I started building VBA analytics models, then java web apps and iOS apps. I kept at it over the next few years and eventually launched a couple apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play which I’m building and maintaining on the side.

How did you hear about Arcweb?

Through soccer of all things. I met Nate Bomberger through an adult soccer league in Lancaster. We carpooled to a couple games in Harrisburg and got to talking about what we do for a living. He said he was an software developer and built mobile apps. We started showing each other our wares and eventually he referred me to Chris Cera and I made the move in March of this year.

What is your favorite language to code in & why?

Ruby. It makes software development fun. I used to spend a lot of time building java web apps which was a royal pain. There was so much infrastructure that had to be built behind the app. Ruby’s syntax is very clear and its use of blocks/closure/lambdas helps you write concise and almost self-explanatory code. Add on the developer community and the multitude of gems that make common tasks very simple and you just have a completely non-frustrating development experience. I don’t think I had experienced that before Ruby on Rails.

Javascript is quickly becoming a second favorite though. If you look at the web today and probably the foreseeable future, you see javascript. Today you can build a complete web and mobile app in HTML5 and javascript. For example, you could write a node.js backend, Sencha touch mobile app usable for a mobile browser and/or packaged into iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry, and then run a desktop based web client in Angular.js.

What is your least favorite language to code in & why?

VB. Probably because of Microsoft.

Best Arcweb project you’ve worked on & why?

I’m not at liberty to say other than it is a super secret mobile app for a top 10 financial services company.

Who would be your dream client & what would you like to build for them?

Since I’m a soccer buff I would say the English Premier League. I would really like an on-demand game-streaming app that didn’t reveal scores/standings. Having a baby and cutting out cable has really put a damper on my ability to watch games live so the on-demand part of things is highly valuable to me.

Otherwise, I’m a total statistics and finance nerd as much as I try to get away from it. So it would be nice to work on trading algorithms, portfolio management and execution for a hedge fund or commodity trading advisor.

What advice do you have for someone getting started in the tech field you wish someone had told you?

Have a purpose and jump in the deep end. I dabbled too long without being willing to take the risk of changing careers. I spent too long not honing skills in a profession that I enjoy every day. I still haven’t had a day where I wake up and do not want to go to work.

If I were completely new to programming I would pick up Ruby on Rails so you can quickly stand up an API on Heroku and a javascript framework like angular.js or ember.js. These all generally enforce a model-view-controller paradigm and RESTful web services which tends to force you to write clean code and understand basic software design patterns.

What inspires you to go the extra mile?

A compelling product in a niche unbeknownst to most people. Entrepreneurs need an edge to compete in a markets dominated by large and slow moving businesses. I like to see entrepreneurs grab a hold of a niche, execute faster and better than their competitors and win. Classic David vs. Goliath. Who doesn’t like an underdog? I love helping clients win.

What do you think is a benefit of working for a services company rather than working for a product company?

Breadth of experience. With product companies you can get very narrow vision over time. We get the benefit of seeing all sorts of interesting business problems, technologies, approaches to problem solving and project management. The more clients we serve the wider our base of knowledge and the better counsel we can provide. It’s like a company that is looking outside to fill a position. Sometimes it is not only nice, but necessary to get a different perspective on how business can or should be done.

What is your favorite thing about working for Arcweb?

The people. Half of our team are software architects, so having so many architects and senior engineers is incredible because they have so much knowledge to share. If we ever encounter a roadblock, chances are someone within Arcweb has experienced it before and knows how to get around it or knock it down.

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