This month's Developer Spotlight blog features François-Xavier Beckers, CTO at Clinical.ly.
Q: Where did you go to school/what is your background in engineering?
A: As far as software engineering goes, I’m mostly self-taught.
When I first started learning to code, I was 12 or 13 years old, and I was doing everything on my graphing calculator. Back then I thought that I wanted to go into Special Effects in the film industry and was using Adobe Flash to make animated movies. The fact that flash was at the crossroads between graphics and programming exposed me further to software. I loved the creativity of film, but at that time my best friend and I were trying to make more elaborate movies that required more expensive equipment, tools and resources that we didn’t have access to. However, in software you didn’t need all of that. In software, the only limitation is your imagination. I devoted more and more of my time to software, which became my true passion.
I ended up getting a degree in Electronic Engineering from Southampton University.
Q: What’s your favourite thing you’ve ever built or worked on as an engineer?
A: While I was in my second year at University, Apple opened iOS to native apps. I built an app called iSoton, which was essentially an unofficial digital assistant for students at my university to help them better manage their student experience. It scraped class schedules from the student portal, showed you where your lectures were on the campus map, and downloaded everything for offline use which was important at the time. This was the first time I was able to build something that was utilized on a large scale. It was extremely exciting to see people using it on campus and benefiting from my app. A moment that had a big impact on me is when I was running super late to an exam and burst into the university convenience store to ask where a certain building was - the lady at the counter looked it up in iSoton.
Q: What is one tool in your current stack that you could not live without?
A: I love the Git integration in VS Code and the fact that you can work/edit code from within the diff view.
Q: Which programming language are you most familiar with, and which do you prefer?
A: My absolute favourite would be C#. However, right now I work more frequently with TypeScript.
Q: If you could give any engineering related advice to your younger self, what would it be?
A: Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole; recognize when something isn’t working and seek alternative solutions as needed.
This would have been especially helpful when I was first learning development. I didn’t have access to a ton of tools or resources at this point (or so I thought), so I just leaned heavily on the same tools and approaches to do everything, rather than seeking out new ones.
For example: When I was younger, I built a moonlander game in pascal. I spent a couple of months trying to make my lunar module rotate because I was drawing it line by line. I could have written the game in a framework/language with a more sophisticated graphics API, and imported/rotated a graphic of the LM.
Q: Where do you go to stay up-to-do on all things engineering?
A: Medium always has good content. I actually splurged on Medium Premium recently.
It’s worth noting that, now that I’m on a smaller development team, I find the internet/developer platforms critical to keeping up with development news. Previously, when working on larger dev teams, osmosis was enough to stay-in-the-know.
Q: What’s the largest roadblock or challenge you’ve ever had to navigate in tech?
A: One of the biggest challenges I tried to overcome was in my endeavour of modernizing/standardizing a toolbar component that was used in applications all over my previous company’s intranet. A colleague of mine had written a nice AngularJS version and I was trying to distribute this component across our estate whilst simultaneously upgrading apps that were using the old one. The fact that the applications were written in a range of different technologies coupled with the fact that some of our users were running IE in compatibility mode made it a real nightmare to find a one size fits all solution that worked well across all applications and browsers. I had to compromise and create different variants of it for the different use cases in the end. As a developer this was frustrating because you don’t want to duplicate code and you want components to look completely consistent, but in this case, I had to follow the 80-20 rule.
Q: What’s your least favourite thing about being a developer?
A: The hardest thing is when a bug comes up and you have not even a single hunch of where it might be coming from or what kinds of ramifications it’s having on your users. You pretty much just have to start digging for it immediately and hope you find and recover it in short order. I find this part very stress-inducing.
Q: What’s your favourite part about your job/being a developer?
A: I love the lasting productivity gains people achieve when they employ the systems I build. As a technologist, your impact scales indefinitely via the machines you create as their impact persists without requiring your continued involvement.
It's especially gratifying at Clinical.ly, as technology penetration in clinical research is relatively low. I've witnessed firsthand how access to our platform helped streamline operations, improve productivity, and accelerate drug development, thereby improving and saving lives!
Q: What’s your coffee order, and where’s the best place to get that coffee from?
A: My coffee order is just Espresso, and I usually get it from Starbucks! I have a theory that the places that make “good” espresso are actually tailored to be in a mixed drink.
Q: What's your favourite music type or band, and where do you listen to your music?
A: I listen to music on Spotify all the time. I listen to everything – not one genre really, but my top genre is probably Organic House.
Clinical.ly is a fast-growing, SaaS start-up providing differentiated technological solutions to the clinical trials industry. Our modern, intuitive platform provides tools for clinical research organizations to stay ahead of the evolving demands of sponsors and regulators.
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