|Interviews One On One Dialogues With Forum Administrators, Forum Software Developers & Other Interesting People.|
Interview with Joshua Williams - IPS Development Coordinator
Joshua Williams, the Development Coordinator for IPS (Invision Power Systems), is the next person of interest to the TAZ Community to be subjected to an in-depth interview. Josh is very excited about the current and future IPS offerings, especially Invision Nexus. I'd like to thank Josh for taking the time to participate in this - TAZ interviews aren't easy to do.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm 24 years old and I live in Lynchburg, VA. I'm originally from Oklahoma, but I moved to Virginia to work for IPS. I have family in California also, so holidays are always a challenge for me. I live alone with my cat and drive a rather boring Sonata - at least it gets good gas mileage.
What is your educational background?
I have a bachelorís degree in Computer Science and an associateís degree in Math.
What do you consider to be your accomplishments?
Probably my degree in Computer Science, I was the first person in my family to receive a college degree and it's something I'm very proud of. Eventually I want to go back to college and work on a Masters Degree. I'm also very happy with how Invision Nexus is turning it out, but I'll talk more about that in a later question.
Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
Well I definitely had a few in college, but overall nothing too major. All you can do is try to learn from your failures and not repeat them.
How did you first get into coding / programming?
Wow, it's kind of hard to remember now - programming has been a part of my life for a very long time. I guess I first got into because I wanted to learn how to make games. I spent a long time playing with a Game Creator called Megazeux that had its own programming language called Robotic. Eventually I started working on a website about that, and began learning PHP in the process. I also dabbled in C, Perl, and a few other languages around this time. After that I started my computer science degree and kept on with it.
How did you become involved with IPB and how did you come to be on the IPS staff?
This is actually a very long story, so I'll try not to ramble too much. As I mentioned previously, I worked on a website for Megazeux. I'd gone through several forums I didn't like and then found Ikonboard. Only problem was that Ikonboard had not been released, but it was active on Matt's Website. I came back a week or so later and it had been released, so I downloaded it and began running it on my site. I stuck around Ikonboard for awhile and eventually became support staff there. When Matt and Charles left to form IPS, I left also and was asked to join the support team there.
I worked on several resource sites after that, the first one was IBHacks. Later we merged with IBMods to form IBResources, and then later merged with other resource sites to form IBPlanet. Somewhere in the middle of all that I was asked to join the IPS Team, which at the time was separate from the support team. A few months after graduating from college I began working full time for IPS and I've been there ever since.
That's a very abridged version of it, but I don't want to bore everyone too much.
Is it your fulltime job?
Working for IPS has been my full time job for almost two years now and itís been quite an experience. Weíve had some major changes and tremendous growth over the past couple years, itís always exciting to see what happens next.
What is your official title / job description?
My official title is "Development Coordinator". I'm mainly responsible for developing new products and services, such as Invision Nexus.
What specific parts of IPB are you involved in coding?
I'm not involved in the actually coding of IPB, that's all Matt and Brandon. I do make suggestions from time to time, but don't handle any of the actual coding of the product.
What about other IPS products?
I was the original developer of Invision Gallery, which has since been taken over by Adam. I worked on versions 1.0-1.3 and I really enjoyed developing it.
I'm now developing Invision Nexus, our soon to be released billing software. We're getting very close to our first public beta, and I'm really excited to see how it is received. We've almost finished creating our new interface for it; Rikki has been doing an amazing job with that. Nexus has certainly been a much bigger challenge than Invision Gallery was, but I've really enjoyed developing it. Nexus has reached the 'feature complete' stage for 1.0, so all that remains is to finish off a few odds and ends before moving into full scale beta testing.
Can you tell us more about Invision Nexus:
--How long has it been in development?
Nexus has been in development for almost a year now, we started full scale development around February of this year.
--Can you give us a brief overview of it?
Nexus is essentially a customer management system. It handles your customerís entire 'experience', from sale to support. The first version of nexus is primarily aimed at selling digital products and hosting services, as well as simple invoicing. We intend to expand future versions of Nexus to allow for easy management of physical products, so that you can use it to sell basically anything. Nexus also handles your customer support requests through the integrated ticket system and knowledge base system.
--What's the user interface like?
The user interface has recently been overhauled to be more streamlined and much easier to look at. The guiding principle of the interface is that you should always have quick access to any data or section that you may need. Toward that end we have implemented a navigation system that makes it easy to jump to any section of Nexus in only a few clicks. There is also a bookmark system that lets you save a link to any page you visit, then easily jump back to it at any time. There is also a 'dashboard' that opens in the current window, without refreshing, that gives you quick access to notes, stats, and other important information. The style of the interface is being developed by Rikki, and I have to say I think it's the nicest looking web interface I've ever seen. Obviously I'm a little biased on that, but I hope everyone will agree when they see it in action! We're all very proud of how the interface turned out and we will be releasing much more information on it soon.
--Who will use Nexus?
Nexus is intended to be used by anyone that wants to sell products or services. We've but a lot of work into making the system as flexible as possible.
--Is it a standalone application or is it intended to integrate with other software?
Nexus is a standalone application. However, it does have the option of integrating with our other products. For example, the design of the client area can be controlled by IP Dynamic. So you can design your site in Dynamic and then have your style carry through to the client area of nexus without having to edit anything. We've designed the module/hook system to be as flexible as possible, so products developed by others should also have an easy time integrating with Nexus.
If youíre interested in more information on the customization/integration options of Nexus, Iíve started a series of Blog Articles on that subject.
How did you and IPS decide to branch into billing software?
The old quote "Necessity is the mother of invention" is how Nexus came into being. Our own billing system was simply not good enough, it was hacked together from multiple systems and desperately needed to be replaced. We tried out a lot of pre-made solutions, but nothing worked for us without extensive modifications. So we decided to develop a billing system in house, and we also made the decision to offer it as part of our product line at the same time. A few months ago I posted an in-depth blog entry on the beginning of Nexus, if anyone is interested in finding out more on the subject.
Are there other surprises in store for your customers?
Oh most definitely, but unfortunately I can't tell you about any of them. We're always working on new ideas, services, upgrades to existing products, there's tons of cool stuff in the pipeline.
What advice do you have for people looking to get more involved with coding?
You have to stick with it; don't ever expect it to be easy. When you're first starting off, I'd recommend taking a look at other peopleís code to see how they've solved certain problems. Try adding new features into an existing application, that's a good way to ease yourself into development. When you feel you are ready, create your own project and follow through all the way to the end.
If you want to do development for a living, then make sure that you really love it. Programming can be very frustrating at times, and if you don't enjoy it you're going to burn out real quick.
Tell us about the Invision Community members.
We have a very diverse and friendly community; there are definitely a lot of great people on our forums.
Just how busy do you guys get after a major release?
It's really kind of hard to describe just how busy it gets around IPS when a major new version is released. The volume of support requests is easily five times higher than average, though most of that is install and upgrade requests. Every single department at IPS, from Sales to Development to Support is swamped during this time, it can definitely take a lot out of you!
Are online communitites an important part of the internet? Of life?
I think they are a very important part of the internet, I definitely expect to see a forum at any website I visit. I think they'll only become more popular as time goes on as well.
What are the most common technical mistakes you see admins making?
Probably installing too many mods or mods that are too resource intensive. Mods are great and all, I ran a mod site after all, but you have to know what your installing and try not to install every single mod you can find. A single badly coded mod can completely cripple a forums performance, which will definitely drive away your members.
What are the most common administrative mistakes you see admins making?
I'd have to say creating too many forums and not customizing the look of the forum. I think they default look of IPB is great, but when you see it on a hundred websites - they all begin to run together in your mind. You want your forum to stand out from the crowd, not be lost in it. Creating too many forums is also a problem, since it makes your forum look less active than it would otherwise.
What are your thoughts on IPB 2.1?
IPB 2.1 was a very important milestone for us, and I think we introduced a lot of new and innovative features. It's also important in that it laid the foundation for some upcoming features that I think will be really exciting for everyone.
What would you like to see added or changed in the next version?
Well I can't really talk too much about the next version yet; we're keeping that under wraps for now. I will say that I think integration is going to be a major factor as we move forward with the development of our products. Not just integration within our own suite of products, but with everything that you use on your websites.
Please describe your typical weekday schedule? Weekend?
On weekdays I typically work 9-6, sometimes later depending on what is going on that day. I usually start off by getting caught up on everything that happened over night, it's amazing how much can change for an internet company over night! Once I've taken care of anything that was assigned to me, I start working on Nexus. Usually the rest of my day will be focused on Nexus, especially now that we are trying to finish it up for release. We'll usually have several meetings a week, to discuss the progress of Nexus and development in general.
What is your ultimate career goal / dream job?
I originally got into programming to do game development, but I've realized over the years that I'm really not cut out for that. My 'dream job' would be to work on games at Nintendo, but I don't see that ever happening. I really do love developing web software though and my goal now is to continue on in that field.
How do you see the internet in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years? What about online communities in particular?
If there's one thing I've discovered, it's that predicting the internet is nearly impossible. I definitely think we will see a move away from desktop applications to more web applications. As the technology behind the internet matures, we're able to create applications that work much like a desktop application does. There's a lot of obvious benefits to that, and I really think we will see more and more of it.
What are your thoughts on blogging?
I think blogs are great, there are a few that I really enjoy reading. Blogging is an undeniable force on the internet now, and it's only going to get bigger and bigger. I do have my own blog on the IPS Forums, though I don't update it as often as I should. I'm going to try and stick to a regular blogging schedule once Nexus is released; I'll make that one of my New Year's Resolutions.
What are your favorite books? Movies? TV shows? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages?
Books - My favorite genres are Fantasy and Sci-Fi, but I donít read as much as I use to really. Some of my favorite series are: Chronicles of Narnia, Dragonriders of Pern, Xanth, The Belgariad and the Malloreon. I've also read quite a few Star Trek and Star Wars books, along with several Tom Clancy books.
Movies - I like basically every genre of movies, except for Horror. Going to the movie theater is one of my favorite things to do; I go as often as I can. I'm really excited about the upcoming Narnia movie, that was one of my favorite books as a kid and I can't wait to see how it translates to the big screen.
TV Shows - I like Comedies, Sci-Fi, and a few drama shows. Some of my favorite shows are: Star Trek (all of them), Babylon 5, Lost, Alias, Spin City, Frasier, Friends, Stargate, Dead Zone, and the list goes on. I really don't know what I would do without my Tivo.
Music - I don't actually listen to a lot of music, but I like just about anything - no favorite type or anything.
Games - I'm a huge Nintendo fan, I like just about everything they do. My favorite game series is The Legend of Zelda, easily the greatest games ever in my opinion. On the PC side of things, I'm a big fan of the Civilization series, Command and Conquer series, Deus Ex, Master of Orion, and a lot of others. Even though I generally prefer strategy/simulation games, my favorite PC game ever is actually Deus Ex.
Foods - Pizza all the way.
Drinks - Diet Pepsi, it's about the only thing I drink.
What websites do you visit on a regular basis?
The majority of my internet time is spent on our company sites. As for other sites, I like Penny Arcade, IGN, Gamespot, comingsoon.net, rottontomatoes.com, and a few more. My favorite is definitely Penny Arcade, I don't know what I'd do if that site every closed down.
What do you do for fun and relaxation?
I like to go to the movies, play games, watch TV, play with my cat, go walking, and anything else I can find fun to do here. There's also a lot to be said for doing absolutely noting, I certainly enjoyed that over Thanksgiving vacation!
Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
I really hate driving, it's one of those things that I do because I have no other choice. If there was a decent public transportation system in Lynchburg, I'd almost never drive anywhere. Another odd thing is that I actually read my junk mail. For some reason I feel the need to open absolutely everything that comes to my mail box, and I really have no idea why that is!
What does the future hold for Joshua Williams?
I've never been good at predicting my own future; I'd have never guessed that I would end up where I am now. I'd hope that I will continue my development career, maybe go further in college, but you never know what the future has in store.
What are your own personal issues and areas of dissatisfaction with IPB and IBS as a whole that you are trying to attack ASAP?
its always nice to read something about the developers that power the forums we read. enjoyed the interview along with some of the other interviews. Keep up the good work.
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