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Derek Hatchard is an independent writer and software creator, although he took a seven-year hiatus from self-employment to work at Salesforce where he was a developer, software architect, people manager, and product owner. He is a husband and father based in New Brunswick, Canada.
Where to Find Derek Hatchard
On the web at derekhat.com
Enjoy the show and be sure to follow Ardent Development on Twitter.
Ron: Welcome to the Ardent Development podcast and today we’re going to be doing something a little different. Normally we would have a guest on the show and we would interview them and we thought that it would be interesting to our listeners to find out a little bit about the hosts. So if you caught the last episode Derek would have interviewed me and for this episode I’m going to be interviewing Derek. It’ll be a brief interview. But just to give you a sense for who are these two guys that are this Ardent Development podcast. So welcome Derek.
Derek: Thanks Ron.
Ron: So let me kick this off by just asking how you got involved with tech.
Derek: Well OK! I’m going to reference an episode that we haven’t published yet. We’re talking to Kevin Grossnicklaus and we talked about programming nostalgia in that one. You were talking in that episode you talk about your Commodore 64 and I asked him about my Commodore VIC 20 and that is actually that’s where it started. I my parents gave me a commodore VIC 20 and I had a book with some basic code in it. I coded some stuff up and I didn’t I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. I didn’t appreciate the power of what I was doing. To me I was like I created a really lame video game. When I went to high school, we had old fashioned typewriters so you took typing on a mechanical keyboard. And then we had computer skills, which was you know basic computer put some floppy drives in the load DOS and learn a little bit of Lotus 1-2-3. When I took that class, I’d gotten through all of the curriculum and so the teacher said Well why don’t you try to learn how to write some code. And so I wrote a blackjack game in Pascal. And that’s how it started. That was the first thing that I really wrote where I was creating some parts of the algorithm that I was really trying to understand what was going on. Even that though didn’t totally seal the deal for me. When I when I was picking what I was going to do after high school and you meet with the guidance counselor. I was applying to schools and one of the schools I applied to you could pick up to three faculties that you wanted to apply to. So I had applied to math or physics like physics and engineering. She said well you might as well put a third one in. Since you there’s a spot there it doesn’t hurt because you might get you know you might get accepted into one or maybe you’ll get a better scholarship offer from one. You can always switch majors later once you get there. So I put computer science in and lo and behold of all of the various acceptance letters and scholarship offers that I got the best one was from the University of New Brunswick. UNB is actually based in Fredericton where I live now. Yeah I had the best scholarship office offer was for computer science as well. I don’t really know what path I want to be on so I’ll go do computer science. I had my moments of doubt when I was in there I ended up actually doing not only a computer science degree but I did a psychology degree in undergrad and currently because I was interested in some aspects of the human computer interaction. Some of the research that was going on at the intersection of those disciplines ended up working a couple of jobs. Technically, I think I only had three jobs in my career the rest of the time I’ve been I’ve been self-employed but I’ve had a couple of jobs went back to grad school. Had this really interesting experience where I went from the consulting world where you would work on things and you had this relatively short feedback cycle in terms of you know your client would accept the work and it would go into production. Or in one case I was actually on a design project. Not sure if it actually ever went into production. I think he may have only ever just designed it. But I found a really hard when I got to grad school. Although I had sort of always fancied myself as an academic. It turns out that I wasn’t excited about the idea of doing research that I published and then waited for a decade for it to make its way into the industry. I was actually really gung-ho to see my work show up in the hands of users as early as possible. Which led me to leave school and my wife was she had her first baby and she was on maternity leave. So here in Canada we had maternity leave policy so as she was home with the baby, I had left school, and we had moved. I said Well you know what I really want to do is I want to build software products so why don’t I start a company and I’ll bootstrap it with consulting work you know start picking up consulting work. And I had so much fun during that early phase, because I was not just writing code for people that I had picked up some work writing. Writing tutorials, wrote magazine articles, I wrote slides for presentations. So basically like making sure all of the technical information was correct and like keynote talks at product launches. Coauthored a book, edited a book that actually was released under a Creative Commons license which was which is pretty fun. So did a bunch of really interesting things and didn’t actually have this really have the traditional school go get a job and write code for 10 years. I almost immediately was into all kinds of different activities surrounding the development space I lots of code during that time but I also recorded videos and recorded audio and I did a lot of writing so it was really fun for me. It’s certainly not traditional by any stretch.
Ron: So I’m remembering back to when we met 15 years I don’t know how long ago it was. I think he told me that you were the regional director for Microsoft and I thought to myself “Who is this guy like he’s just young.” You don’t hear of people having that role. And I thought: Man is this guy ever keen that he’s tied in with Microsoft. I think it’s a volunteer position but you got you got to meet some great people from Microsoft and the like. But I was struck by how young you were you know already running a consulting company Regional Director for Microsoft. You had written a book. I was like man this guy’s all in. Anyway it’s a long time ago now but you seem to accomplish more in your youth. Coming out of university than most of the peers that I would have worked with. I remember sitting back and chatting with you. And you said early in your career you were very interested in all these different types of technology so you would study them all. You were one of the guys that enjoyed the debate. Well what piece of technology should we use in this aspect. So again that was different than what most people do because you know so me included. So I went to university and studied C and I worked in C and I worked in Oracle a lot. When I when I first graduated but you had this breadth across the spectrum which was really it was really neat to see. And at a very young age so was impressive.
Derek: It’s interesting the point you just raised. The difference between people who go deep and specialize in an area and the people who go abroad and really try to learn a lot of different things. Because I think we need both. I think both are essential to a vibrant stable industry. And I’ve pretty much always been attracted to the hey go learn lots of different things and have an understanding of many different technologies. I kind of get bored if I am if I’m doing the same thing over and over again. The consulting company that I had was really focused on dot net development. During that time I was always on the sort of leading edge of what was happening. So there was a new version of dot net coming out. I was going to know that. I wanted to write articles or I want to contribute to a book on the on the latest thing that was coming out. I remember you might not remember this actually, I’m not sure. I actually burnt out the video card in my computer at the time because I was running early builds of what became, must have been Windows Vista, but it was before that name was around. And the cord for the fan on my video card wasn’t connected. So there was no power of the fan wasn’t spinning which when I was running XP it didn’t matter. But this was so it had such high GPU requirements that the card overheated and the computer fried it. Yeah that was the sort of stuff that I love. I used to I used to have to schedule downloads and I’m trying to remember what it was I feel like it might have been one of the early Visual Studio .NET releases but getting a daily or weekly builds of those. Because we are working on a slide deck likely for a product launch. But having to get the builds and download them over my DSL modem and it would take all night for the download. So yeah. Last thing I do at 9:00 at night is I would start the download on ftp and make sure that it had auto reconnect going because if it failed part way through the night and it did a lot of reconnect that was I was screwed the next day. But then you sort of get up in the morning and hope that it finished downloading overnight cause they were such big files and my internet connection was so slow back then.
Ron: So the name of the podcast has taken on the name of your old company your old boutique consulting company that were where you owned and I worked with you.
Derek: I’m glad you brought that up because we have we haven’t addressed that anywhere. There would be a handful of people not very many. There’d be a few people listening who actually would remember that Ardent Development was just a name. The word ardent means enthusiastic or passionate. And I thought it was it really reflected how you know that type of consultancy that I wanted to run and that domain and that Twitter account have just sat pretty much on used for years now. We’ll talk in a minute about what I was doing in between. I love the fact that we have resurrected that brand and are using it for something new and I feel like it really captures the spirit of doing a podcast for developers. This is for the people who are passionate and enthusiastic about the practice of building software.
Ron: So when you decided to shut down your first Ardent Development consultancy, you had an opportunity to go work for a pretty neat company in Fredericton. So can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing there.
Derek: So there are a couple of stages to that. The first part was I had the consultancy really was started to bootstrap product development. And as happens with a lot of companies that have bootstrapped with consulting the revenue from the consulting. It is so enticing. It’s hard to ever really slice off a part of the company to find whatever product development work that you’re doing. It ends up being a distraction. We were so busy doing consulting work we just didn’t have the bandwidth internally to work on any product things. And so we’re based in Canada did a lot of work in the U.S. at the time the U.S. the Canadian dollar exchange rate was really favorable for us so we could do work in the U.S. and they worked really well when we converted into Canadian dollars. And there was a period of time when the consulting business was just drying up a little bit you know because of the economic downturn in 2008. And I kind of lost my interest in running a consulting company after coming out of a negotiation where I had had a couple of people on the team who are working for really good rates and a customer coming back and saying we know you gave them to us at a really good rate but we need to know if you can go any cheaper. At that point I was like well what’s the point in doing that? You don’t run a business to break even and you know you could do that for some period of time. And it would be great but if they come if you will come and wants to have people below cost it doesn’t make any business sense. And I had to ask myself Do I want to keep doing this? Do I want to be here in 10 years. And the answer was No. I what I had set out to do was fund a product company. So stop doing the consulting. Disbanded the consultancy and spend some time working on product things. You and I worked on some product things during that period of time and then I ended up joining a company called Radian6. Super interesting company doing social media monitoring and management. I was looking for something new. There is the opportunity to go work on some new tech that I hadn’t worked on. Had a great time building some cool new stuff and then sales force acquired the company. So you know I get swept up along the way into the world the big corporate life and really did that for about seven years. Worked as a developer as a software architect and then as a Product Owner for some of our platform features with a social business and then work in what is now called salesforce marketing cloud which is that the bigger digital marketing part of the business. Spent some time as a product owner in that space before the travel actually got to me. I decided that what was really most important to me at this stage was being around my kids. You know and sporting activities and when they were coming and going from school I just didn’t want to be away. Forty percent of the time which was what was happening just the career path that was on.
Ron: Well thank you Derek. It’s been great to reminisce with you a little bit and hopefully our listeners will have gotten a kick out of some of the stories and know who we are a little bit more than they were before they listen to this. We will have other guests on the next show. So, it’s been great. Thanks Derek.
Derek: Thanks Ron.