You developed an early interest in IT, already opting for IT studies in secondary school? What influenced that decision? Were your parents into IT as well?
Thomas: We only had very basic infrastructure at home, and when I wanted to play games on our computer, I needed to tweak it and be as creative as possible to get the horsepower I needed. That really triggered my interest in how IT works. I didn’t immediately get my own computer, so I had to hack my older brother’s password to be able to use his. After a while, he forgave me and the entire family started involving me as their IT support whenever they had a problem. I Googled a lot and spent many hours in self-study.
And studying IT at school only enhanced your interest? There’s a difference between just tinkering with your own computer and wanting to apply your knowledge in a B2B job.
Thomas: In all honesty, I found out that I was rather good at it, and when we started programming at school, the fire inside was only kindled more. So it only seemed logical to continue that in high school too.
IT is a broad field. What triggered you to become a developer?
Thomas: When you develop software, you can see the result of your efforts. Either an application or a module of an application. I can really get satisfaction from creating new things. It means you have created something that did not exist before. I also like translating problem statements into logic and into code.
Developing – a broad discipline
Can you shed some more light on the process of developing? Where does your job start, and where does it end?
Thomas: The first step is listening to the customer: what are their needs and requirements? This conversation delivers a big picture of the application. Then we split this into manageable chunks, plan these into our sprints, distribute the workload across the team and get to work. The preparation usually takes 20 to 25 percent of the entire process.
You mention the team. Do you also work directly with the customer?
Thomas: In a team, everyone has their specific role. Some people have more contact with the customer than others, but I really like to hear directly from the customer, on how they work and what they need. For instance, when I work for Picanol, we work at their site one day a week. That provides you with a lot of context that is helpful when you write code. It also ensures that everyone is on the same page.
Developing is really a team effort, where we work closely with the customer, the customer’s own contractors and our colleagues. That also means that we prioritize our tasks together, to ensure that we deliver what the customer expects.
What makes a good developer happy?
What tools do you use and how do you keep up with the evolutions of these tools?
Thomas: The main tools are Visual Studio and the .Net and Angular frameworks. I’d already gotten acquainted with these tools at school, but that's quite different from using them in a work environment. At Inimco we get a budget for education, which is really useful. But I also read a lot of blogs and follow experts on social media to stay up to date and get new insights. As a developer, you are also asked for advice, so it’s a bonus if you read the same stories that your customers do too.
Learning new skills is important to me. Whenever I see something new, I want to really know how it works and find out how I can put that into practice. I think my curiosity gives me a broader view on IT.
What is the most important quality of a developer? Did that skill come naturally? Or did you have to acquire it?
Thomas: I think it’s really important to be structured and analytical. Plus the ability to find a solution together with the customer. Of course, technical expertise is important too, but you have to look beyond the technology, at the value you can deliver to the customer. That is not a capability that I was born with, I learned it on the job at Inimco.
When are you satisfied with a job well done?
Thomas: Most days I know exactly what I want to achieve by the end of the day. If I succeed, that gives a sense of well-being. As a developer, you make a roadmap of what you want to achieve when in the sprint. From experience, you can estimate how long a particular task will take. It’s always comfortable when you know that you are ahead of schedule. But, unfortunately, you have to remember that not every day is just as productive as the next… Usually the good days and the less good days level out in the end.
It is very satisfying to see how your work goes into production at a customer, or how it is being used by ever more customers of our customer. But the work does not always end there, sometimes we also need to tweak the software to accommodate more users or extra use cases. These projects are living things that evolve.
Inimco – a company where you can extend yourself and learn new skills
How did you come across Inimco?
Thomas: It’s about five years now that I am at Inimco. My first contact came through a temp agency that was matching students with companies. I immediately had a good relationship with both founders of Inimco, Erik and Peter. I saw this student job as a win-win: it earned me some money, and I kept learning new, practical things. It was really very rewarding to learn at first hand from these experts. Being able to function in a real-life work environment was a great motivation for my studies. It gave me an insight into what the future might hold for me. Later, I also took an internship at Inimco, so starting as an employee was only logical. And I can’t say I have ever regretted that.
Is this your dream job?
Thomas: I am very satisfied now, and I see no reason to change. As I said earlier, remaining curious for new things and learning new skills is all important to me. I really get that opportunity at Inimco. I also know that we can develop a career path here, moving on to other functions wherever the wind blows. I see a growth path towards becoming a systems architect.
Would you recommend working at Inimco to friends and family?
Thomas: Certainly. Well, not to all my family members and friends, of course… But it’s a great place to work and you get a lot of opportunities to advance your career. They allow you to find out what you are best at and further develop that skill. Inimco knows I want to advance in the direction of architecture and the company supports that fully, already letting me take courses in that domain. It’s also a fun place to work. You don’t have to pretend, you can come as you are. The atmosphere is rather relaxed.
Last question: if you could put a message on a giant billboard in the market-place of Oudenaarde, what would your message be?
Thomas: I would take a John Lennon quote: “make love, not war.” That’s advice you can also use in a professional environment. Building new software is a collaborative effort and in a team you have to open up yourself to the teammates. People are sometimes inclined to become defensive and plead not guilty when something has gone wrong. Assigning blame is not important, finding a solution is.