Name: Jon Szewczak
Job Title: Official: Programmer III
Job Title: Unofficial: SQL Server DBA / .NET Web Architect / Windows / Intel Server Administrator / Pain in the a$$
I first met Jon somewhere between 2000-2004, while working on a rather large CAD software development project. Me being older, and somewhat stuck in my ways, at first I had a tough time being questioned about “why” when it came to API choices and strategic decisions. But it turned out to be a life-changing experience for me. I had forgotten the adaptive mindset that has to exist when working with software, relying instead on hard-worn habits, some of which were from lack of being immersed in more dynamic environments.
After a few months of being a one-man-team, I had a tough time getting used to someone asking questions and offering other ideas to the project. But Jon has a way of presenting ideas that make you listen, rather than just shoving it in your face.
We initially disagreed on quite a few technical aspects, but over time our thinking became more in sync, which I attribute much towards me learning to listen more. Everyone I’ve ever worked with has rubbed off on me in various ways, and Jon is one of those who left a positive influence on me (I don’t have many positive attributes, so even one is better than none). Anyhow, let’s get to it…
1. Describe what you do for a living – to someone who has no idea what it means.
Hmmm. That can be hard. My job title is Programmer III – like Superman III only not as cool and no Richard Pryor. That title means that I make computers do things by typing in commands that it can understand after a bunch of translating.
I have designed and implemented a vast majority of the programming code that runs the complex website at http://www.mdvnf.com. I also develop, maintain, and support several custom desktop applications that the associates at my company use on a daily basis.
But over the years, I have taken on other roles within the IT department. When I was brought in, I was immediately the “subject matter expert” on SQL Server, by virtue of having worked with it in my previous job. I was by no means an expert. However, lots of querying and reading and researching allowed me to actually morph into a much more competent data professional.
I manage the non-mainframe data warehouse, and I make sure that any applications or users that are touching it, do so in a manner that is nearly transparent to all parties involved. It’s a really tough job now because of aging hardware and increasing demands.
A few years ago, our parent company decided to implement a “Shared Services” IT model. Which means that all of the Network and Server support teams across many different locations were merged into one team – including the few that worked at my office. What that effectively did, was make all of team members work everywhere but my office and server room. The servers were suffering from neglect. So, since it was critical to my SQL Server(s), I started taking over the admin duties.
2. How did you get into this type of work?
I originally didn’t set out to be a computer programmer or an IT person. I was originally going to be a Drafter. I went to school to be a drafter and earned in an Associates in Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) and Design. While I was there I took one class in CAD programming with AutoCAD. It was interesting, but I didn’t really see the huge potential of it at the time.
When I graduated and got my first job as a drafter in the Shipbuilding industry, I went to work for a place that used AutoCAD software, but it was highly-customized with the same programming techniques as I saw in college. That’s where I met an individual who is still a veritable genius in CAD programming. This guy took me under his wing and showed me how AutoCAD could be made to do things that I never even dreamed of. I started working right away on programming AutoCAD to do all kinds of things for me. Anything that I did more than once, I tried to figure out how to make it a one step command.
When some of my co-workers saw that, they wanted the shortcuts and macros and programs that I had developed too. So I started to share. Many more years later, I met Dave Stein (of this illustrious Blog [edit: his words, not mine, I promise, and no, I didn’t pay him for that]) and we (along with a few others) started really working on ShipWorks. ShipWorks was an automation tool-suite for AutoCAD that put the phrase “tool-suite” to shame. It was more of an application unto itself than a tool-suite.
Anyway, my CAD programming went on for many more years, but it was never my main job. It always was filler work. That is until I finally got an opportunity to program full-time – in the Modeling and Simulation arena.
3. What area or aspect of technology are you most excited about?
That’s kind of tough. There is so much cool programming out there that I look at and say “how did they do that? I wanna do that!” I am fascinated by wireless tech, and the way it has interconnected so many aspects of our life. Game programming is also another arena that amazes me. Getting 3D graphical characters to do things on the television screen with so much realism is just incredible.
4. What gives you the most satisfaction today?
I like to see things working the way they were meant to. Whether it’s an API, or a web page, or a desktop application, it doesn’t matter. I like to see it work and work efficiently. There is so much “just get it done” crap code in my company that it is really hard to describe. The people who originally wrote the legacy applications, really had no idea what they were doing to make an efficient application – it bugs every time I have to fix a bug or something. I have to fight the desire to rip it all apart and do it right.
5. Name the 3 most inspiring people in your life or career?
The first would be Brad Hamilton. He is the individual who took me under his wing as a “wet behind the ears” kid and showed me how and encouraged me to really dig into CAD programming to make things better, quicker, more robust, and more efficient.
The next would be Dave Stein – and no that’s not just a shameless “suck up” plug. Dave welcomed me as a partner in the ShipWorks venture and then handed the management of it over to me when he needed to move on. This allowed me to grow as an application manager and showed me that there is much, much, much more to programming and application development then just typing some lines of code.
The last, and most important is my wife. Without her I would not be where I am, I would not be as successful as I am, I would not be anything.
[edit: I’m hoping to get Brad involved with this interview effort as well. Like Jon describes, Brad is someone who made a huge impact on me for many years. Words like genius, visionary, and Grateful Dead fan, don’t begin to describe him. I’m not so sure about that Dave guy. But 2 of 3 isn’t bad.]
6. If I hadn’t gone into this field, I’d probably be ____?
Still working as a CAD designer in the shipbuilding industry. I am not one who changes things often or lightly, so I probably would have stuck to it. I am so glad that I did not.
7. Favorite place to travel?
I don’t really have one. Some place that is relaxing. I don’t do much of that, and I always think it would be nice to find a place where I can do nothing – guilt free.
8. What 3 books, movies or other works have influenced you most in life?
I am not a person who reads a lot of self-help or motivational things. I watch movies for the escapism, so there’s hardly anything influential there. I love the well written poetry of Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and others.
But, really, the only two influential things I can think of here are controversial, depending on your personal beliefs and stances. The first is The Bible. And I’m more specifically talking about the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ. I am Catholic – but I’m also a progressive Catholic. I don’t always agree with everything the Catholic Church teaches or espouses, but overall I am in line with it. At any rate, the most important things I have taken from Christ’s teachings are acceptance and a need to care for those who cannot do it for themselves.
The other book that I always come back to is Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado. In it he makes this point: Life is not Futile, Failure is not Fatal, and Death is not Final. It’s a wonderful way to try to live.
9. There’s never enough ______.
10. There’s way too much _____.
But, That’s Not All…
I sometimes do work on the side for people, setting up websites and what not. One of the sites I helped out with is for THE UNBATTLE PROJECT (http://theunbattleproject.org). It is a non-profit organization helping to provide much needed counselling and therapy services to Veterans and Active Duty Military members.
It’s a very worthy cause, and (full disclosure) I am friends with the CEO of the organization. It’s in its beginning phases and could use all of the publicity and help that can be provided. So please spread the word.
Dave: Thank you!