I learned about Eli from a design community, Designer News, that I check daily and I was really impressed with his journey to how he got to where he is today. He was gracious enough to participate in this interview and I know you’re gonna love it.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Eli, I have a lovely wife, and we welcomed our son, Ethan, into the world 6 months ago. I’m a 34 year old high school teacher by day. I’ve been working as a teacher for over 10 years. It is a rewarding and challenging profession which has helped me to shape the direction in which my product, UX-App, has evolved.
I was born in Poland in a town called Szczecin in 1980. Due to the political instability of the 80’s my parents emigrated as refugees, first to Austria and then ultimately settling in Adelaide, Australia.
I’ve been a computer nerd since forever. My first machine was a Commodore Amiga 600. I have many fond memories of swapping pirated copies of video games on floppy disk. I get nostalgic every time I hear the crunch of a floppy disk reader. I’ll never forget the high of finally getting my hands on some sought after game, and the lows of finding out that disk 11 of 12 was corrupted!
I’ve been interested in computer graphics and programming for as long as I can remember. UX-App is my attempt at becoming an independent software vendor. The easy part is done. Software and product development are two things that I’m confident about. Now I’m entering the unfamiliar territory of marketing, networking and product promotion. Which, as it turns out, is just as fun as building software!
How did you get started in this industry?
Soon after graduating I learned that the corporate world was not for me. After spending my first year working for a large financial services company I had had enough. Adelaide is a relatively small city so finding interesting work which would allow me to continue to expand my interests in technology was limited. After a few stints at small agencies I still had not found that elusive role which would be interesting and intellectually stimulating. I just wasn’t interested in creating one brochureware website after another.
It’s at this time that I returned to university to complete a degree in Education. It has certainly been a rewarding career change. I have been lucky to be able to work primarily as an information technology teacher, which has allowed me to continue my passion for all things tech related. As rewarding as teaching is, it wasn’t satisfying my need to work on interesting technology problems. Because of this I have been working on a variety of personal projects in my spare time over the years. Many of my projects never had any commercial application, I was doing them simply for the love of software development.
Some time in 07/08 I stumbled upon a then little known site called Hacker News. I immediately made a connection with the community. Especially in the early years the community was heavily focused on technology and scrappy one or two person technology start-ups. The idea of developing software and then releasing it into the wild come what may strongly resonated with me. And so here I am, may years later, finally with a polished product to my name.
How did you juggle your time in the beginning?
In many ways I am fortunate to work as a teacher. We have a lot of holiday time throughout the year and most of this time is completely free of work commitments. Many teachers choose to travel, some pursue their hobbies, I write software during my down time.
Time is always a factor though. For many years I essentially worked two jobs. After work I would routinely spend between 2-4 hours working on side projects. On weekends I would spend 8-10 hours working on personal projects. This type of work schedule is only sustainable if your side project doesn’t feel like work. For me software development, product design and UX are a passion which I would be pursuing even without a commercial goal.
It helps that I’m not really interested in TV. I just can’t spend more than about 20 minutes in front of the box without getting bored and wanting to go create something. I recently read a Hacker News comment where a solo developer had just released a game to the Play Store and one comment went along the lines of
“…why release a game when the market is saturated, and it’s increasingly difficult for indies to succeed”
The response by the author really resonated with me. He said that creation is its own reward. This attitude lines up really well with my own. There are many days where I site back and look at my own creation and think ‘cool!’.
How do you manage your time now?
As any parent would know all too well, when you have a child your life changes dramatically. Life before children is full of flexibility. Pulled an all nighter writing that new software feature? No worries, just sleep it off on Saturday morning. Those times are a distant memory now. Life is infinitely richer with a child, but it also means that you are far more time-poor. Having said that, with good management and support it is possible to continue making awesome progress on side projects.
An important aspect of balancing a demanding side project with family responsibilities is having the support of your partner. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a extremely supportive wife who is understanding of my demanding schedule.
Has building UX App helped you be a better parent and why?
I think that due to time pressure, building a product has made me more aware of how important it is to spend quality time with my family. When I wasn’t burning the candle at both ends it felt like I had all the time in the world to get things done. Now when I’m trying to squeeze every ounce of value out of every second of the day, I make sure to make all of my activities count. That means that if I’m playing with my boy he has my full attention. I’m not saying that I have the perfect balance yet. My wife has told me off more than once for checking email while bouncing Ethan on my lap, but as with any aspect of life, we get better with practice.
What changed from how you worked before you had your kid to after?
I can be very single minded. This is a great quality for someone who wants to release a product. It means that I can routinely spend 10+ hours a day working on a feature or fixing a bug, and I’ve been able to maintain this focus for years at a time. The transition from husband, to husband and father has definitely required some adjustments to the way I work. The first four months of Ethan’s life were completely devoted to him. For this period I put my side project on the back burner. My job was to welcome this little guy into the world and provide support for my wife. Now things have settled down. Ethan’s much less helpless as a 6 month old than he was as a 6 day old. We have some good family routines in place and I’m able to devote time to UX-App again. My wonderful wife bears much of the day-to-day responsibilities looking after our son which gives me the flexibility to focus on building UX-App.
How did having your kid change your perspective on what you do?
There has been a seismic shift in the way I think about work, life and success since my son was born. I often think about how a successful product could benefit my family. Even moderate success would allow my wife to delay her return to work. After all who better to look after Ethan than his mum! I also often think about how building a successful software company could help Ethan. My aspiration is to build a software business which gives me the flexibility to structure my work in such a way that I can do things like pick up my son from school and engage with him on a schedule that fits with his needs. Having a son has given me a laser like focus and multiplied my thirst for success.
Tell us more about UX-App:
UX-App is a playground for interaction designers to experiment with product ideas. It fits into the category of wireframing and prototyping applications such as Balsamiq Mockups and UXPin. While it can do everything that industry incumbents are offering, it offers a unique value proposition in that it allows a designer to engage in free-form experimentation of unique and complex application behaviour without having to learn how to code.
Other products are limited to the simple components and stencils which come with the package. UX-App offers a complete suite of fully functional components. On top of this it is the only product to feature an extremely powerful framework for designers to build and test completely novel User Interface designs. By incorporating a powerful visual code editor and combining it with a robust animation engine, UX-App offers designers possibilities which not other product can match.
Words are cheap though So why not check out some of the awesome features of UX-App by seeing it in action here
All the best and happy prototyping!
You can find out more about Eli and his project below.
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