A Day in the Life of an Applications Developer

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Ron Livingston’s character Peter in “Office Space” had it pretty bad before that hypnotist died during his therapy session. His bosses hounded him, his programming job was mundane and fruitless, and he was not too satisfied about having to work weekends.

Mike Judge’s “Office Space” had a sizable following for many reasons, but one of the biggest was because it really hit home for some office workers across the country. In program designing, some are fortunate to have interesting day-to-day activities that prevent the stagnation and despair Peter experienced. For some, working doesn’t mean driving to the office, dragging into the cubical and staring at a computer screen for eight hours everyday.

Program designers that get to work from home and interact with their clients daily have it pretty good in this sense. Case in point is Scott Szakonyi of Data Quest, a South Bend, Ind.-based e-commerce/CRM solutions provider.

“I am a software developer and also a consultant for CRM. My actual job is to work with the client, evaluate what their business process needs are and to customize a CRM system so that their business process are reflected, enforced and enabled through the system,” Szakonyi said of his position. “Sometimes it’s customization, like screen setup or something like that, and other times its full-blown development with complete custom pages being written to meet their needs.”

Szakonyi’s position gives him the opportunity to interview clients in person to determine their needs and customize their software. When the interview is over, though, he doesn’t return to the office to get to work. Instead, Szakonyi works from his home office. He even gets enough time in the morning after dropping the kids off at school to get in a workout before starting the day’s work for Data Quest.

“There are certain freedoms that are afforded when working from home and avoiding the office, but there are also many responsibilities as well,” Szakonyi said. “We spend a lot more time doing work outside of normal business hours, especially when certain software and database systems cannot be updated when it’s live during operating hours. While there may be some conveniences associated with updating and programming at odd hours during a week, it has been my experience with the average programmer that they don’t have to think about work after closing time.”

Szakonyi added, “I also keep a comprehensive library of manuals that I consult on a regular basis that I keep here in my home office. Here at home, I can flip through a manual that is within arms reach, whereas at an office that wouldn’t be the case.”

Szakonyi described his position as a never-ending learning experience. Working with Web technologies such as ASP, Javascript, Sequel and Dynamic HTML, one of his priorities is ensuring he stays on top of the latest developments and tricks in the development circles.

“There isn’t a month without advancements in any of the technologies we use. We are very involved with Microsoft technologies here, and there’s always something new with them. It’s an intensive effort to try to stay current with Javascript, ASP, HTML, XHTML and so on,” Szakonyi said. “I’d say that I spend about a quarter of any given week learning and keeping up with tech advancements. Staying current is one of the toughest parts of my job.”

Working from a home office provides an interesting structure for Szakonyi as he goes about his daily job outside the traditional cubical nightmare. E-mail, telephone and instant messaging over the Internet are all vital communication tools that keep him informed of where and how he’s needed. They also keep him in touch with his superiors. Szakonyi also uses a customer service management program that keeps his projects and agendas in order from day to day.

There are advanced tools for communication between the programmer and his client as well. “We use Goto Meeting to interact with our clients,” Szakonyi said. “Applications can be shared individually with this program, or the presenter can allow attendees to control their computer. The latter is what we use most often as it allows us to control the client’s computer as if we were there. It’s an incredibly powerful troubleshooting and training tool that allows us to help the customer without scheduling a service call.”

A less traditional office structure works well for Szakonyi, not only because the aforementioned tech library is within his reach at all times, but also because it fits his personality as a proactive and independent employee.

“I’ve worked in traditional consulting firms and big corporations before this,” Szakonyi said. “(Here) you have to be much more diligent and motivated to stay on top of your agenda and to make sure you get everything done. Outside of the management software we use, there’s no one standing over your shoulder to tell you what to do.”

The independence and freedoms afforded to a motivated employee might not have been what Peter would have looked for in a place of employment in “Office Space,” but many of us out there could enjoy working, and even thrive, in this type of structure. Anything beats having eight bosses.


-Patrick Evans, patricke@certmag.com

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