Words of Wisdom: A Q&A with Two Developers

For my web development Q&A, I interviewed two developers: Zach Howe, an iOS developer at Mobolize, a start-up in California and Alan Florendo, a web developer at Asynchrony Labs. Both are interesting people because they took different paths to do similar jobs: Howe forewent university to become a professional developer while Florendo formerly worked as an accountant and attorney before deciding to go into web development. Both offered insights on how to master coding, how to get better at it and how to pursue a career in technology and web development.

Alan Florendo, a lawyer-turned-web developer

How did you get into web development?

ZH: I was interested in computers from a young age. I taught myself to program early on. I was in high school, I wouldn’t do homework, I would go home and code. But I learned how to code.

AF: It’s a weird story. I used to be a lawyer and my husband was in grad school and when he graduated, he moved to St. Louis and I moved with him. I never liked being a lawyer. I decided to move with him and not practice law anymore. I started working out a lot and the guy I worked with went to a coding bootcamp and learned a lot of what you are learning. The purpose was to train you to learn enough to get you a job afterwards. I always tinkered with computers, followed suit and took the career path of this guy. I’d worked as an accountant before I was a lawyer. I did a lot of work with Excel and databases and converting data into large Excel spreadsheets. I had a background both in databases and understanding them in a rudimentary level and programming them in Excel. I had a couple courses in high school that stuck with me pretty well. I had basic principles and when the opportunity came around, it kind of all clicked.

Where do you work now and what do you do exactly for them?

ZH: I work at a startup called Mobolize. I mostly do mobile development now and I got started with iOs. I’ve been in mobile since I started.

AF: I work at a software consulting called Asynchrony Labs. I’m a software consultant. We work at long-term projects. We are contracted out for 3 months to a year to build software projects, Android apps, enterprise systems and consumer-facing systems. I build web apps for them.

What’s your favorite development project you’ve worked on?

ZH: When I worked at a company that built an app that was large with a lot of users, it was awesome to use and that people outside my company used it at my work. That made it exciting. When we built this up, millions of people used it. It was at Fandango, and millions of people used the app. It was awesome to see that I was making something and millions of people would use it. To know that many people would actually see your work, instead of something that would be buried on the app store.

AF: I’ve built some games. There’s a lot of complexity in games.

What projects are you working on now?

ZH: It’s really just one I work on. They’re all kind of interrelated though. So I work on an app with Sprint. It deploys on their app store. They vendor our app, which we build for them. It’s a secure app—whenever you get on public wifi that’s not secure or isn’t Starbucks where people can listen on traffic, we build a software on Apple or Android that would encrypt that data on demand where you wouldn’t have to do anything at all. I worked at Trucar on their mobile application for iOs. It’s all about the same stuff – basically mobile front-end to their website, companion apps to their websites.

AF: I work on a job recruitment site for a financial institution—pretty simple, listing their jobs and what they do, but there are a few additional hoops people have to get through so we program those.

How difficult is it for people to learn how to code?

ZH: I think people can learn it better than they think they can. It often looks intimidating but you learn it bit-by-bit and it takes time and you begin to understand it a lot better. At some point, everything just clicks. The more and more you go and do it, the easier it gets. It just takes time to get good at.

AF: There are a lot of coding bootcamps and there’s concern too many people are learning how to code and not enough. It’s easy to learn how to type something in and make the computer do something. It’s more of a skill to do something in a manageable way. It’s one thing if your little game works well and you don’t understand the code in a way. But if the code is written poorly, it can require rewriting the whole thing to make a simple change. You have to distinguish between writing manageable code and writing something that functions.

What is the best advice for people who want to go into web or mobile development?

ZH: Jump right in—solve the problem you want to solve. From a learning perspective, you can’t jump in all at once and be able to do everything. Don’t expect to build the biggest app ever or Facebook overnight. That’s a massive project. A lot of apps I work on don’t happen overnight. Try to find something you want to build yourself and you have a use for. Those kinds of things are easy to navigate through. If you don’t learn as you go, you will never go off the ground. Find something you are passionate about and stick with it.

AF: Think about why you want to go into web development – is it the design portion of it? The coding portion of it? You can’t learn everything at once – try to learn some sort of depth into the skill first before going into anything else.


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