Introduce yourself! Who are you? Where do you work?
I’m Atta, a tech entrepreneur with a background in UX Design.
I’m currently CEO of LWA Solutions, a boutique app development agency I co-founded in 2010 with my good friend Mike. We were among the first companies in the world to specialise in delivering apps on Windows and were very successful at it while it lasted. Unfortunately, the Windows app ecosystem never took off which forced us to jump ship.
Today, our mission is to ‘consumerise’ the enterprise software space by helping business deliver mobile solutions that their staff love to use.
When I’m not at work, you’ll most likely find me between the goal posts on a Futsal court.
Who or what got you into programming?
Computer games! In my final year of high school I got introduced to a game called ‘Counter-Strike’ which quickly turned into an obsession. Due to my competitive nature, I began learning about computer hardware, networking, scripting etc. to gain any advantage I could in the game. It is here that I found a new passion for technology and abandoned my childhood dreams of becoming an Architect to pursue a degree in Computer Science.
What lead you to programming for windows devices, and the wider ecosystem?
In 2010, Mike and I were wrapping up Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) project we had been working on. This was also the year Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 and Mike being the tech geek he is purchased one immediately.
I found the Windows Phone UI extremely refreshing and as soon as we learnt Windows Phone apps were built using Silverlight (essentially WPF) it was a no-brainer for us to start tinkering with development. We started a company together as a bit of a laugh and went on to build the first YouTube app on Windows Phone. To our surprise, the app went viral and set us on a trajectory that got us to where we are today.
Can you talk a little about the advantages and disadvantages of Xamarin based development?
As someone who is extremely passionate about UX, I am not a fan of traditional cross-platform frameworks and the notion of a ‘one size fits all’ UI. Having said that, writing native apps and having to maintain multiple code-bases isn’t ideal especially in the context of an enterprise business solution. We’ve found that Xamarin is a framework that allows you to ‘have your cake and eat it too’ as it strikes a good balance between code sharing and facilitating for a native look and feel. I should probably clarify that I’m referring to Xamarin.Native development and not Xamarin.Forms (which is like traditional frameworks).
For the .Net developers out there, Xamarin is a much easier entry point into iOS and Android development and although an understanding of native development is essential, it’s a much more forgiving learning curve. Xamarin literally saved our business in 2015 when we had to shift our focus away from Windows development and upskill our entire team of .net developers to tackle iOS and Android projects.
With regards to disadvantages, I believe the main one would be that delivering highly customised UI’s that stray away from the recommended OS design guidelines isn’t easily achieved in Xamarin. For example, it’s probably not a wise option if you’re looking to build a game.
As a CEO of a small and busy company, what does your typical day look like?
I don’t exactly have a ‘typical’ day considering the number of hats I need to wear at any given moment. Having said that, most of my time is spent on business development and ensuring we have enough projects coming in the door to keep the lights on. Usually this involves pursing potential opportunities, writing proposals, reviewing and negotiating contracts and nurturing relationships with our existing customers and partners.
As much as I’d love to be fully focused on growing the business, I’m still often involved with my UX Design team. I am occasionally a Scrum Master, Software Tester and up until recently was Chief Maintenance Officer (a.k.a. Janitor) on weekends. Finally, I’m also Head of the HR, Sales and Marketing departments where I lead a team of me, myself and I!
I probably shouldn’t be admitting this on ‘Dev Chats’ but Developer has not been a hat I have worn for quite some time now…
What is the tech/startup scene like in Christchurch? How has it changed since the earthquakes?
We have an extremely exciting collection of Christchurch start-ups and tech companies to draw inspiration and learnings from. Our down to earth, laid back nature also seems to give rise to far more knowledge sharing and collaboration. We also have no shortage of local support from organisations likes of ChristchurchNZ, Vodafone Xone, BizDojo, EPIC, Green House and UC Centre for Entrepreneurship to list a few.
There is also plenty of tech events to attend all year round organised by the Canterbury Tech Cluster, NZ VR/AR Association and the various local Meetup groups.
One major positive which has started coming to fruition since the Christchurch earthquakes is the establishment of the ‘Innovation Precinct’, a hub for local tech companies and start-ups forging a new culture of collaboration and innovation in the region.
How do you land new work for your business? What techniques to use?
Most of our work comes via word of mouth so our primary focus is to ensure we are delivering real value to our customers and strategic partners who are in turn are happy to recommend our services to others.
Another area which has helped us land new projects is the media coverage we have received over the years and our reputation for innovation. Although this is more of a company culture than a strategy, we strive to leverage the latest technology to find new and innovative ways to solve client problems which often finds us coming up with solutions that are ‘current’ and of interest to the media.
Most of our ‘marketing’ is in the form of knowledge sharing where we speak at tech events and meetups sharing learnings we’ve had in our areas of expertise.
Finally, close collaboration with the likes of Microsoft, Spark, Vodafone, Honeywell, Panasonic and various other leading business have helped us open several doors over the years.
What has been your toughest lesson to learn in your software career so far?
The importance of accurate effort estimation. At the end of the day, every software project has a deadline and a budget and the more mission critical a project is, the more important these metrics become for everyone involved.
Whether you are a Developer, Project Manager or the CEO, being able to accurately estimate how long it takes to deliver a User Story, a Sprint or your entire Pipeline of work is so important.
I’ve found this to be one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of software development. it’s extremely difficult to get right and the consequences of not getting it right are often high.
What would be your number one piece of advice for a successful software career?
Work your ass off and share your knowledge publicly. The bigger and more experienced the audience is, the better. It’s the best litmus test for knowing if you’re on the right track.
Have you got any hobbies outside of your job? Do you think they help your tech career in any way?
I’m an extremely competitive person so most of my hobbies basically end up turning into professions. For example, during the peak of my ‘e-sport career’ I played for New Zealand’s top Counter-Strike team. When I became fascinated with classic BMW’s and motorsport, I customised a car that was awarded ‘Best V8’ in South Island. Today, I represent New Zealand in futsal (a form of indoor soccer) and was recently named New Zealand Futsal Player of the Year.
Futsal, motorsport and e-sports have very little in common. This process of taking on hobbies that I initially know very little about and ‘mastering’ them has helped me build up my confidence and refine my ability to tackle the unknown.
In the tech industry, change is the only constant and having the confidence to embrace this fact goes a very long way.
What books/resources would you recommend?
Here are some classic UX books I enjoyed reading that initially sparked my interest and passion for this field:
- Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton
- Emotional Design by Don Norman
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
For a more practical guidebook on UX processes:
Finally, make your shoutout! What would you like the readers to go have a look at?
If you need help with UX/UI design, mobile app development or VR/AR app development my team and I at http://LWASolutions.com are here to help!