Harlan Brown is one of the newest team members at Nuxeo in North America. As someone who grew up with a love of working with computers, he played a pivotal role in Reader’s Digest technology improvements. Now he supports Nuxeo customers as they develop their business solutions with the help of the Nuxeo Platform.
Check out Harlan’s story.
Q: Can you describe your position with Nuxeo?
HB: I am a support specialist and solutions architect. I am responsible for customer care in the US (Western hemisphere) and I consider myself Stuart’s (Miller) right-hand man.
This means I answer the daily support tickets from customers. When I am not doing that, I am consulting. I am working on one consulting project right now. When I first started with Nuxeo (in Oct 2013) I also travelled to a couple of client sites.
Q: Your university degree is dual major in Computer Science and German. That’s an interesting combination. Tell us why you choose each one.
HB: I started learning German in high school and never wanted to stop. When I went to college I tested out the first year and decided to stay with the German language classes. It turned out to be a major.
But I was interested in computers first. I got my first computer when I was fourteen (an IBM, but I wanted a Mac) and have been learning about programming ever since. The first computer I worked on at school was a Mac.
Q: Did knowing the German language help you get your first job with Reader’s Digest?
HB: Yes, after college I wanted to live in Europe for awhile, so I applied for an internship through an agency here in New York. They found me the position with Reader’s Digest. It was a perfect fit because they were upgrading to OS X at the time and they didn’t have any local expertise. I had been working with it for a few years, so I was able to get the German office upgraded within a year and I was also instrumental in getting the US and all the rest of the Reader’s Digest offices in other countries up and running.
Q: You worked for Reader’s Digest for a few years. What drove the decision to leave that company and join Nuxeo?
HB: At Reader’s Digest I grew into a content management role. I was an administrator for editorial systems for a while and inherited Reader’s Digest’s XML repository. I learned a lot about content management after working with it for 2-3 years, but instead of supporting a content management platform for a company, I thought I would get more satisfaction out of working with the people who create those platforms.
I started looking around at companies who created software that Reader’s Digest was using, or that created software they might like to use for things like editorial workflow and content management. That led me to look at Nuxeo.
What actually got me involved with Nuxeo was really a coincidence. My fiancée works on Broadway as a costumer. We were at an opening for a play at one the theatres and her friend introduced me to her fiancé who happened to work for Nuxeo (Roland Benedetti).
I saw that Nuxeo was hiring Java developers and although it wasn’t exactly what I was doing at the time, it was something I was interested in. So I reached out to Roland. We had dinner and talked about what Nuxeo had been doing and what he was doing (Roland had since moved from Nuxeo to EZ Systems). He agreed to talk to Eric Barroca (Nuxeo’s CEO) and helped set up an interview for me.
Q: If you weren’t a Java developer, was there a lot of training required to get you up to speed?
HB: Not so much. I’ve never had a job title of Developer but I’ve always been writing my own code. Through the pursuit of my computer science degree I was trained as a programmer. Since then I have worked in development on and off.
At Reader’s Digest I had more of a project management role and was setting the roadmap for three developers I had working on our content management platform. I was looking at the sorts of things I wanted to achieve with our platform and also looking into the APIs, putting together proofs of concept I wanted the developers to work on.
Q. Your LinkedIn profile lists a wide range of development technologies, from .NET to Java. Do you think it’s good for a developer to learn a number of technologies, or is it better to focus on one set?
HB: I’m a firm believer that if you have a strong grasp of the fundamentals, you’ll be able to adapt yourself to any programming language. To be able to adapt well you need to expose yourself to many different things.
Q: You also have Certified Scrum Master on your profile. Can you explain what that is?
HB: Scrum is a project management philosophy. At Reader’s Digest we decided in our software development practices that we would adopt Scrum as a way to finish our projects. About a year and half ago I went to a week-long seminar with a Scrum professional and learned the agile framework. I then taught my team how to work within that framework and we realized a lot of benefits. We implemented a lot of content management features faster than we had ever been able to.
Q: Is this Nuxeo’s practice as well?
HB: In a way. I think everyone is working in an agile way these days. You want to release early and release often. Most people are releasing new features every two weeks rather than following the old waterfall software methodology where you would work for three, six months, maybe a year and release after that.
Q: You say you have the mentality of a hacker? What does that mean?
HB: A hacker is someone who is very curious about the things around them, especially things that have to do with technology. A hacker is a person who likes to pull things apart, see how they work, find new things to do with them. A lot of people at Nuxeo fit this description, and it’s one of the main reasons I enjoy working here.
Q: That lends itself well to open source models, because you can do just that, right?
HB: Yes, I love being at Nuxeo because the Platform is open source. So if you find something that needs to be fixed, or that you want to improve, it’s very easy to get what you need to make those fixes/improvements.
If you happen to be stuck on a platform which is not open source, you are at the mercy of the software vendor if something is not working the way you want it to. If your platform is open source, when you need something fixed and the vendor you are working with isn’t able to fix it on time, you can to look into the source code and fix it on your own.
Q: In your support work, have you ever dealt with a customer that’s hard to please?
HB: I haven’t been here very long, but I don’t think there are very many customers at Nuxeo like that. At Nuxeo we don’t try to do everything for our customers. Our platform is for developers, and we give them the tools they need to realize their own solutions. As long as we can provide guidance as they build their solution, they’re usually pretty happy.
I think we are very upfront with our expectations during the PreSales phase. We want our customers to succeed, so it’s important for us to be open and ensure that our platform is the right fit for their business needs. When I was in publishing it was a bit different. If I had an art director who was having a bad day, having computer problems, was on a deadline and needed a solution immediately, I had no choice other than to do the best I could and hopefully make them happy.
Here I don’t have the same type of stress. Customers have a better idea of what we can do for them and they aren’t going to ask for things we can’t deliver.
Q: You don’t work all the time, so what do you do in during your non-work hours? You are engaged. Will that be happening soon?
HB: We haven’t set a date yet, but hopefully by the end of the year.
I have a son who is nearly 2. I spend a lot of time with him. We do the normal things like walking, shopping, reading books. When the weather is nice we ride a lot (I take him out on my bike).
Up until 3 weeks ago, I lived up in the Bronx which is a little more than an hour away from the Nuxeo office in Brooklyn. I had a lot of fun up there exploring parts of New York City that most people don’t see much of. I’m looking forward to exploring Brooklyn with my family once the weather gets nice.