Thursday, January 8, 2009

Interview with Curt Christianson (Part I)

Curt Christianson is one of the administrators of Last month I stumbled across his blog, and felt like I had to do an interview with him. And here we are!

I have divided his interview in two parts:
  • His career and his life
  • Some techtalk on mainly ASP.NET webproject-architecture mixed with a bit of AJAX and WPF

Part 1: Career and life

Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do for a living?

The question of who I am is a toughie... I'm really at a transition point in my life. For years now (too many to count) I would have simply answered "geek" but with this last year coming to a close and the start of a new one I feel like I've also hit a changing point. I've refocused my energies on my life and family (just got engaged, just bought a new house) and shifted away from a lot of the day to day "geekdom" that ruled me (I closed up my consulting business). I live, and grew up, in Central Wisconsin. The weather is nice (excluding the heavy winter months), the cost of living is great and the education systems are really quite great (thinking about starting a family soon). I pay the bills with a good job as a high level programmer with Asp.Net at a good sized insurance company. It's not the glamorous lifestyle but it's definitely a solid position with a good future. For a number of years I supplemented my daily work with private applications development with my consulting business but eventually the time comes where you need to pick priorities and, as it should, family and friends won out.

How old are you? How long have you been into software development? Can you describe your experience as a junior developer?

I'm currently 36 and have been in the computer industry (professionally) for about 12 years but I've really been a geek since I got my first Atari 2600. My career is actually one that's a little different (I think) from most of the Sr. level developers out there. First off I actually went to school for something completely different. I was an English Lit. major in college (I attended the University of Wisconsin) but after 5 years I called it quits and left when I couldn't afford it anymore. When I returned from school I took a job at a software duplication company working the line. It was a 100% non-technical position and simply an assembly line type thing. While working there the equipment would break a lot... so I tended to take on the initiative of fixing the stuff myself. Eventually they hired me into their tech support area but that was pretty boring to me. I left there and went to work for an off-shoot of the state where I traveled around and worked at distance learning labs all around the State. I also was contracted out to help out a couple school districts in the area part of the time. My focus was all on the networking and server side of things. That lead me to another company that was an actual software focused business but my role was more of one of server setups and networking support again. After a few years I got pretty bored with it. Eventually I got a job as an Asp developer (not Asp.Net but the old stuff) for a construction company. I pumped out some great work while I was there and actually got noticed by Microsoft and was awarded the MVP award for the first time. That was October 2002 I believe. The company I was at was has a very small I.T. area and I started to get the itch to do more so I took the opportunity to go to an insurance company specializing in travel related products. I stayed there for about 3 years and really honed my .Net skills. Like most of us I got the itch again and moved on to a larger company. This time it was another insurance business but with a huge I.T. area and some incredible projects underway. That was about 3 years ago now and things are still going strong..

For me to describe my time as a Junior developer it would really only be one word...."short". When I started development the programming department at the company I was at consisted of ME..... There were a few others but for the stuff that I was doing there wasn't anyone but me really (and the newsgroups...they saved me). With this, I really had to immediately step up and take on a more controlling role. So in reality my first programming job was as a Sr. developer and from there I continued to take on new roles at new companies but always in a lead/Sr. type position. I think there are some developers out there that are destined to always be a Jr. developer. Some lack passion, others skill, but most of the ones out there that have at least one of those two things (or better yet, both) will quickly find themselves climbing the ranks. People who love what they do will get noticed and that will usually be the key to getting the next step up the ladder.

When did you start up your consulting business? What are your thoughts afterwards on having a consulting business together with a fulltime-job? Is it worth it?

As far as my consulting business goes it's really a two-parter. First off, back in the late 90's I had a computer business that I ran. Mostly I built custom PCs for people and would come out to their house to fix problems they had. This wasn't too bad but the profit margins (thanks to all the online retailers starting out) were tanking and there was little money left to be made. I closed up that business but took the pieces I learned and in 2000 started up df-Softare. I was writing custom apps (mostly web portals) for the small and mid-sized businesses out there. It was something I really enjoyed doing and managed to make a few bucks although it was never significant enough to let me quit my day job. I ran df-Software and had a pretty good time but eventually the time impact was a little too much and I decided to close shop. I still do the occasional site but these days it's mostly for fun. Was it all worth it? Sure... besides really learning a lot about way things can go wrong it also led me down a path where I had the MVP award for 6 years. The MVP title really was a huge perk when job hunting too. Besides those things it also let me see what it really takes to survive in the business world. It's a lot harder than it looks! Those things really helped me become a better person outside of work too I think. It's easier to see outside of your own "box" and look in from the other perspective now and then.

Amazing career! In your current job.. What is it exactly that you do? Are you developing 100% of the time? Or are you more of a team leader/systems architect who instructs the other developers, tells them what to do and how to do it?

Currently my role is as a Sr. Programmer. The company I'm at has it's own Architecture area as well as segregating the Middleware and Data teams out from the developers. Unofficially I'm a "goto guy" for anything .Net or even just general programming. With the projects I'm currently on I spend about 60% of my time coding and the remaining 40% doing coordination and assisting others. I've also acted as a liason with the University locally and worked as the lead for their Comp. Sci. 480 students who come to our company under that program. It's like an internship.

In general, what are the things you try to teach these students?

Mostly we aren't there to "teach" them so much as let them get a feel for a real-world project. What it's like to design, document, code and test an application. With only 1 semester it's tough to do but it's still a good experience for all.

Which part of the ASP.NET framework would you enjoy talking about?

I have the advantage of being with Asp.Net since it's pre-beta days. At an early MVP summit the Asp MVPs (there was no Asp.Net at the time) were taken in to a lab at Microsoft and allowed to play with the "bits" that later became Asp.Net 1.0. It blew us all away. Prebuilt controls, compiled code, object oriented programming and an intellisense development environment... WOW. It was like the computer Gods took a liking to us and blessed us with their favor. Most of us at the time were dealing with pure scripting and using tools like notepad for our development environment so there really didn't have to be a huge leap for us to feel like we really gained ground but this was really a lot more than we hoped for.
Now that I gave you my background in Asp.Net... you can see it would be hard to limit myself on what to talk about. I've really worked at it over the years, staying up to date as much as I can, but I have to be honest and say that a lot of the developments/enhancements that have come out in the last year have really passed right by me. LINQ, MVC, DynamicData just to name a few... these things I can't really talk on with any strong knowledge. I've messed around with them, and used them a little and can see how they could really help but I'm an old-school developer. Taking away too much control is something that's a little scary. Anyway... feel free to ask on anything you would like. If it's a topic I haven't gotten to know well then I'll say so.
Oh, and I'm not sure if I've mentioned but I've done a ton of manuscript reviews for publishers. I'm quoted on a few covers from Manning press (Asp.Net Ajax in Action and WPF In Action) as well as being listed in the acknowledgements sections of quite a few books related to programming.

To be continued..

The tech-talk will continue in part II of this interview which will be published next week Tuesday I think.


  1. Thanks Jef, glad to be a part of this. Oh, and I'm actually 37, but who's really counting right?

  2. Thanks Jef & Curt. Good interview!!
    It was really useful for upcoming developers.

  3. Thanks for your comment.

    I'm going to post the second part of the interview now. This is were you can find some really good tips!