A coffee with Johan den Haan (Mendix)

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Johan den Haan is the Head of the Research and Development department at Mendix , a company that delivers the tools and infrastructure to simplify and accelerate the design, integration and deployment of next-gen business portals and cloud applications

This focus on the business side and on cloud computing (topic in which we are also working on ) and, especially its motto no code just glory definitely attracted my attention (and, to be honest, Johan is interesting enough to justify an interview by himself!) so I scheduled an interview with Johan to talk about Mendix and his work there.

This is the result of the interview (once transcribed and edited to shorten some of the questions/answers), hope you enjoy it! (And don’t forget TO CHECK the previous episodes OF the “a coffee with” series )

Jordi Cabot (JC) – Welcome Johan. Maybe you can start by introducing yourself AND your POSITION IN the company?
Johan den Haan (JH) – I WORK FOR Mendix AS a head OF research AND development. This means that I’m in charge of product development and also of the community part of our products. This includes our app store and the way we approach the community.

JC – It’s NOT common TO find a research department IN a MDD company.
JH – Our R&D IS mostly focused ON product development but the things we ARE building ARE innovative AND we try TO use the latest insights OF universities AND other research companies

JC –How big IS Mendix?
JH – We started five years ago AND now we have around 60 people. We ARE growing fast AND we have also an office IN the USA which IS growing fast.

JC – It seems that Mendix has two different branches: the product AND the services you offered ON top OF that. Am I RIGHT?
JH –Yes the company IS split IN two branches, one IS product development AND the other IS the services department.
Product development IS our main focus. We don’t sell the modeling environment but licenses FOR the runtime environment (the modeling tool IS free OF use). Our services department uses the tool TO deliver projects TO clients but we focus ON delivering the tool TO partner companies that use the tool TO build business solutions. IN this sense, Mendix services IS just one OF the partners OF Mendix technology.
Of course, you need this service branch TO start, TO GET SOME FIRST customers TO GET SOME traction IN the market AND GET SOME stories that you can show TO future potential customers.

JC – Your focus ON the tool differs FROM other companies IN which the tool IS just the excuse TO sell services. Instead you believe you can make model just by selling the tool.
JH – Yes, it IS possible but you need the service department TO start. IN fact, the modeling tool IS free but the runtime environment that interprets the models can ONLY used during development. WHEN you want TO put it INTO production you have TO pay licenses

JC – WHEN did you start developing the tool? Was developing the tool the goal OF Mendix FROM the very beginning?
JH – Five years ago we started the company but before we were already developing the tool. The owners started the company because AT SOME point they realized they had something they could sell.

JC – AND what was the initial motivation TO CREATE a completely new tool?
JH – The FIRST motivation was trying TO automate the development activities they were doing over AND over again, this IS one OF the main reasons FOR MDD. But afterwards we saw that CURRENT MDD tools were oriented TO developer productivity AND IN our opinion one OF the main benefits OF MDD can be, if you CREATE the RIGHT tool, that DOMAIN experts can be involved IN the development projects. Communication WITH users could be much easier.
Therefore, the main motivation IS TO CREATE a tool aimed NOT TO developers but TO business engineers (people WITH analytical skills but NOT necessarily WITH a background IN IT) who can model the application AND ADD customer VALUE.

JC – This way you can have a direct communication WITH business stakeholders AND avoid a lot OF misunderstandings. AND also make sure that the application satisfies their REAL needs. How does the tool manage TO involve these business people? What ARE the necessary features/modeling languages FOR this?
JH – The most important thing IS TO provide visual models. I know there IS a lot OF discussion ON textual vs graphical DSLs but visual models ARE easier TO grasp FOR non-technical people. The SECOND thing IS that you split the application specification IN several models, each one written IN a specific DOMAIN specific LANGUAGE (a DSL TO model the USER interface, another TO model the workflow, etc.). This way you have small languages, WITH 3 TO 5 concepts each, that ARE really easy TO learn. Each person, depending ON his/her role, can use one OR MORE OF these modeling languages.
We call each VIEW OF the application a Mendix web page FOR MORE information AND do NOT hesitate TO give your opinion ON the questions AND answers OF this interview by adding your comments TO this post.

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