Kevin Grossnicklaus is not only a prolific developer, Telecaster player, fly fisherman, home brewer, and gamer, but he’s also the Principal of ArchitectNow, a successful software development firm located in St. Louis. Founded over 10 years ago, his team designs, builds and launches robust web and mobile applications for startups and Fortune 100 clients alike.
We had the chance to sit down with Kevin and Chris Young, Director of Development at ArchitectNow, to get their perspective on building a business dependent on innovative, scalable, and reliable applications.
Can you tell us about one of ArchitectNow’s projects that you are most proud of and why?
Kevin: One of our largest deployments is a platform for a Fortune 100 retailer. This platform allows the client to track what suppliers and merchandisers are in the stores and what they are doing. Using MongoDB Atlas and Microsoft Azure allows us to scale this application to meet the demands of the client as we add features and users to this application. To give you a sense of the scale, at any one time this application can have over 60,000 concurrent users along with roughly 10 heavy data feeds from outside sources. MongoDB helps us rapidly consume and process this data.
Why did you found ArchitectNow and how has it evolved over the years?
Kevin: I founded ArchitectNow in 2008 right around the time the markets crashed. I had just spent 11 years running a team of developers for another firm but when that firm decided to get out of the custom software development business, I decided to take what I had learned and start my own business. For the first year, it was just me working remotely from my kitchen, but I quickly realized I could sell more work than one person could feasibly do. At that point, I hired my first two employees and we have slowly grown to the 13 employees over the years. As we grew, my wife quickly kicked us all out of our kitchen and we secured a formal office space!
Walk us through your process for building apps - how does MongoDB and the document model help you move fast?
Kevin: Many of our projects come to us as ideas with varying degrees of design. In these scenarios, we help our customers flesh out the specifics of their concepts and start to put the technologies in place for implementation. We take a lot of pride in being given this level of trust and we do as much homework as possible for our recommendations. Particularly when it comes to the database platforms, there are a lot of options out there. We want to choose something that we know is flexible and can scale as the client’s product grows, so that’s why MongoDB is our go-to choice for data persistence.
Our team has also really embraced the design and implementation best practices that streamline the use of NoSQL environments. For example, our user interfaces leverage the use of complex objects stored in the database to be managed and returned to our rich web-based UI’s developed in Angular or React to cross-platform mobile interfaces developed with a framework such as Xamarin. These interfaces typically communicate back through an API layer developed in either ASP.NET Core/C# or NodeJS/NestJS. Within these API frameworks we typically do the manipulation of any models persisted into MongoDB. As we design systems, we naturally think in these object oriented ways; so MongoDB's document data model is a great platform to plug into most of these architectures.
How would you describe the impact of using MongoDB Atlas for ArchitectNow’s projects?
Kevin: MongoDB Atlas helps us provision new environments for our clients in minutes enabling a robust DevOps continuous deployment process of all application components. All team members have Docker images running MongoDB for local development. Due to the consistent platform processes, we are able to efficiently seed sample data and recreate our entire DevOps pipeline for new projects, maximizing development speed. Everyone knows how the process works and trusts that the various layers of our architecture, including MongoDB Atlas, will be available and scalable as necessary.
What are some of the features of MongoDB Atlas that have been most helpful to the team working on these projects?
Chris: There are three features that we use on a regular basis. The first is the Real-time Performance Panel which is great for identifying queries that aren’t performing well. The second, is the Performance Advisor which is really useful for spotting and indexing trends, missing indexes or areas where we are not properly using existing indexes. Finally, the custom Monitoring and Alerts capability makes it easy to configure proactive warnings if there are issues. These all keep us focused on developing and delivering projects without having to constantly worry about the database.
Your team has migrated projects to MongoDB Atlas for clients many times. Can you tell us about your experience using the Atlas Live Migration Service?
Chris: It could not have been an easier process. When we started reading the documentation and setting up our first customer to use it, we thought, “it can’t be this easy.” But it actually was that easy and painless. We have now successfully used it a half dozen times and have not run into any issues.
Hiring is the toughest part of growing a business. How do you find the right people and what do you look for when hiring developers?
Kevin: When we hire developers, our primary focus is on communication skills and passion for technology because we know we can train or mentor the right people on any new tool. It’s more critical that we hire people that can effectively communicate their technology passion and that our clients can depend on to deliver. Focusing on those two things has led to a continued partnership with many of our customers for over 10 years.
What are some technologies you are excited about that you are using today, or want to learn more about?
Kevin: We’re most excited about getting into the VR or Unity development space. At the office, we have some great setups of gaming and VR systems and it’s a constant discussion between our team members and customers about how to solve business problems with these systems.
Additionally, platforms like Microsoft Azure have continued to grow with some great capabilities for development teams like ours and we’re just scratching the surface of what they offer. We’re excited to bring Bot services, Knowledge Bases, Image recognition, and other various machine learning based services to our clients soon!
Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to start their own business?
Kevin: Most businesses thrive or fail based on their sales processes. I often hear technologists say they want to start a business that either sells a product or is more of consulting business like ours. But I rarely hear any solid sales plans. While they may be great developers, they usually have little to no experience selling anything and convincing strangers to hire you over the thousands of other options they have is tricky. I tell people don’t quit your day job until you have your first 20 customers lined up and contracts signed.
Check out Kevin’s picks for books, conferences, and more.
Book: Game Engine Black Book: Doom by Fabien Sanglard. This book dives deep into the history of the project, the technologies of the time, and how Carmack and Romero put together the Doom game engine and iD software launched this legendary game. It’s a very technical read and is a great story about how a little creativity and determination can lead to successfully delivering a legendary product.
Conference to attend this year: Check out devupconf.org in St. Louis! We’ll be leading workshops and some talks, so come say “hi” to the team.
What are you learning next: We are hoping to get more into VR programming. We have a dedicated VR room at the office and a few of our team have started working on some game ideas in Unity.