Who Am I?

While I have been deeply immersed in the software development world for many years, my fascination with software development and computers is not what originally drew me into the world of technology. I actually began my working career as an advertising and editorial photographer. Admittedly, photography is a technology based art form, and likely in large part the reason for my strong attraction to it, but it was primarily the artistic and creative multi-dimensional problem solving of photography that fascinated me. After completing only two years of a four year program at Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) I was encouraged by two of my profs to continue my studies in the real world – not within the structured program of the school. I think they may have been simply trying to get rid of me because I monopolized the studio and darkroom time with my own personal studies. In any case, within a couple of years I was shooting annual reports, advertising and editorial work for a roster blue chip clients, Fortune 100 companies and many of the top magazines in Canada. I even won a few awards for my work along the way. For a passtime, I still do a bit of photography, but it has largely been replaced by music – specifically playing and composing music on the guitar.

So how did I make the transition into software? I acquired a computer to manage the billing and contacts for my business and was unable to find software to support my needs. The solution – write my own. Within about 18 months of acquiring the computer I had not only taught myself how to program and had written the software to run my business. I had also written my first application framework and code generator. I then immediately developed and sold a custom software application to one of Canada’s leading fashion designers. Ironically, and without much forethought, I found myself consulting to some of the same blue chip companies for which I had done photography. One of the things that I seemed to have going for me at the time was that my perspective was different from that of a lot of the computer science grads I encountered. That’s not to say they were wrong and I was right or vice-versa, I was simply developing software from a different perspective – the end-user perspective. The art background, experience running a photo studio [business] and having worked with persnickety advertising clients, as well as many other non-tech things I learned before getting into the software field all seemed to help.

As well, I saw patterns in everything to do with software and software development. As we all know, computers are superb at doing repetitive tasks, and are horrible at doing one-off tasks, and I was taking full advantage of that by developing frameworks and code generators that rapidly accelerated the pace at which I could develop solutions. I was having a lot more fun, making a better living than I did as a photographer, and I was learning something new every day, so I closed the photo studio to create software.

Along the way, I have spent most of my time doing consulting work all over North America for over 50 companies in over 30 industries. I’ve also constructed several very ambitious application frameworks. An early one was used by Coopers & Lybrand as the basis of their Partnership Accounting System. It also powered an aviation credit card management system for Canada’s largest bank, processing millions of dollars of credit card transactions annually. Another implementation managed the enrollment and billing for a chaing dance and musics schools for young children. With the help of a couple talented team members, we built a more ambitious framework which was a lot like the Rails framework, but about a decade before Rails. It is still alive more than 20 years later in applications used by some pretty big companies like HP, Cisco, Nokia, Rockwell, Motorola, General Dynamics, etc… With this framework, we were able to cut development time of bespoke n-tier applications by more than 80%. I sold off my interests in that project, and I’m sure the people who have continued with the development of it have made significant changes along the way, but it is nice to know that it’s still alive and well. This framework formed the basis of a joint venture I put together between Hewlett Packard and a small software company in California that addressed a niche market I discovered. The resulting product still enjoys the dominant position in the market. I’ve built a couple of additional frameworks along the way, but none quite so ambitious.

Over the last few years, I’ve been working with a number of start-ups, and been involved in many functional areas of these companies and have spent roughly equal time building software, I have worked extensively with senior management of many of these companies to develop business plans, product strategies, and more recently devising and implementing social marketing strategies. My focus now is mostly defining application and solution architectures. The basic premise still holds, I am having fun, and learning something new every day. My first love, however, is writing software and devising solution architecture and that is most of what I do.

Through all of this, I have had the pleasure of working with some really great people who have shared their insights with me, and for anyone who cares to read this blog to in turn share some of what I’ve learned.

Michael Lant