Entrepreneur Q&A: Dockins’ advice is to ‘get a programmable robot. Make it do stuff.’

by Todd Jones (tejones1971@gmail.com) 105 views 

Tim Dockins, who relocated to Arkansas just a few years ago, is a developer for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Meridian Technologies and works on the company’s profitlens product for the banking industry.

Dockins mostly works remote, but his company has office space in Sherwood. Dockins lives in Conway with his wife, Erika, and daughter Gwen. He is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Talk Business & Politics recently asked Dockins a few questions recently to learn more about his career and the company. (You can learn more about Dockins here.)

TB&P: What is your favorite thing about working for Meridian Technologies?
Dockins: Well, that’s pretty much a function of my position at Meridian.  I was hired for two reasons; to provide assistance and backup to the company’s Chief Technologist on consulting projects and to do new product development. I really enjoy the new product development and that’s a key component to enjoying my position here.

New product development is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. It fulfills my need for continual learning and improvement by challenging me in different ways. Right now I’m working on three different projects in some fashion or another using different tools. One is currently in the market, one is a BI tool for a recruiting/staffing business, and one is an internal product that supports part of our core business. It’s rather exciting stuff to me.

Tim Dockins
Tim Dockins

TB&P: What is the product you work on at Meridian?
Dockins: Our launched product is called profitlens. It is a bank profitability system aimed at small to mid-sized banks and credit unions. It helps identify areas of profitability (or loss) in their customers, organizations, or officers. It’s heavily customizable to work with all core banking systems. Our product map has us expanding it into marketing automation support such as customer segmentation by behavior.

I’m also working on an analytics systems for our IT staffing and recruiting business. We utilize a popular CRM tool but need more than it provides in terms of reporting and analytics. So, I’ve been developing a way to get the data from that CRM, crunch the numbers, and visualize it in different ways. This is a nice project for me because I’m architect and developer. I’ve chosen a stack that I like and I’m getting to use this project to prove it out.

TB&P: Which is your favorite programming language and why?
Dockins: I could go on and on about how good programmers shouldn’t really have a favorite, but honestly, that’d be hogwash. Sure, you want to pick the right tool for the job, but to be honest, there’s great latitude in platform choice for lots of projects. So, it often comes down to what the team is comfortable with using or with the lead’s favorite.

I’ve been programming in various languages since the late 80’s. My toolkit includes C(++/#), VB,  Python, Java, PHP, and JavaScript. These days I’m picking up R, Clojure, and TypeScript as well. Right now, my “favorite” would have to be JavaScript. It’s an incredibly expressive language that has so much to offer. It usually gets a bad rap for being dynamically-typed and for using prototype-based inheritance (rather than classes). But, I enjoy its functional programming aspects such as first-order, its anonymous functions and its ability to deal with asynchronicity.

TB&P: What is your favorite thing about being a developer?
Dockins: Continual learning and improvement. From when I was a kid to today, I’ve had a voracious appetite for learning. I used to consume books by the shelf. My learning is more digitized today, to say the least. What’s great about being a programmer is that I immediately take what I’ve learned and apply it. That’s also one of the great things about my position at Meridian. I’m constantly tasked to learn something new and apply it immediately. I love that.

TB&P: What things do you like most to develop?
Dockins: I like data and UI (user interface) work. I like being able to take data and use math and technology to pull out information that’s not immediately identifiable. It’s the next extension of what’s technology has done for us all along. We can travel by foot, but we use cars, trains, and airplanes to move faster and farther. We can look in the sky and see stars, but we use telescopes and other technology to learn about the things in the universe that we can’t see with our naked eye. We gather data and we can add and multiply, but statistics and machine learning allows us to see complex and subtle patterns that are intractable for humans to detect.

Ok, that sounds all grandiose. Today, I put that drive into data visualization and pattern discovery for business. I like building systems that gather data and turns it into something useful.

TB&P: What types of developers do you think businesses will need in the next 10 years?
Dockins: That’s an interesting and complex question. The software development industry is a congruence of the business environment, technology, and current events. But, I think some trends are apparent. It seems that there are tons of startups out there now and we’re not slowing down. Developers who can be fast, responsive, and innovative are going to thrive in that environment, especially full-stack developers. Also, big business is here to stay for the next decade, at least. With that, you’ll also have a big need for specialized talent. I think Big Data is still trending up so developers who have a keen sense of statistics, a business head, and data visualization will thrive in that environment.

TB&P: What would you tell a student looking to be a developer?
Dockins: Go program something. Don’t take computer science simply because you think it will lead to a good job or because you like playing video games. Go program something every day. If you aren’t programming outside of class, you are doing yourself a disservice by not tackling real-world problems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve interviewed people who can’t program a robot to get out of a paper-bag. Ok. That’s a bad joke. Truth be told, I can tell the difference when interviewing between someone who only codes at work and someone who codes because she feels compelled.

Actually, the robot joke is relevant. Go get a programmable robot. Make it do stuff. It’ll make you a better programmer.

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