About Aaron Brander

That's me! Aaron Brander

Welcome to AaronBrander.com!  This blog started life as a book review site, and I’ll try to keep posting one a week. But I figured it was time to expand the horizon for this site – apparently I have more to say!

So what’s coming now?  A rather eclectic mix actually. I’ve buckled down and begun writing the Saulzar Codex – a serial series of short stories released once a month and focused on Saulzar, a brooding warrior tasked with the recovery of powerful artifacts while struggling to find his place in the world.

My wife and I love to travel, and we keep blogs and take a lot of pictures when we do. I’m going to draw on that store of writing and post some of our trips here – as well as post new trips as they come up.

As a programmer and project manager by profession, I have some thoughts to share in that space. There will be some technology blogs as well.

I figure if you are going to read what I have to say, you have a right to know who you are reading. So let’s play 20 questions, shall we?

1.   What do you do for a living?

I’m an Executive / Programmer / Architect / Project Manager / Customer Support / Technical Writer for Mindscape @ Hanon McKendry.  My official title is Vice President of Technology, but I came up through the ranks as a .NET programmer and then a project manager.

I’ve built many websites, mostly from a business logic aspect, rather than a front end, HTML, CSS aspect. I have worked with eCommerce, inventory management, content management, and even a couple of sites to track sports statistics.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been the Project Manager. I put in place better methods to schedule, track time, communicate on projects, and test projects.  We have been able to greatly increase our efficiency over the last few years.  In 2009, we were the Small Business of the Year for Grand Rapids.

I’m still the main contact on a number of projects for programming support, and I handle many of the questions that come in for our website management platform, webTRAIN.

Currently, I am also the lead programmer and architect for webTRAIN.  webTRAIN is a shared platform that hosts over 100 websites that we have built ourselves. It’s extremely customizable. We can do custom site designs, custom functionality, or just a template site. We are constantly working on making it better for our clients and for ourselves.

2.  What do you do in your free time?

Sometimes I think I have too many interests, but here’s a quick list:

  • Travel – weekend trips or globe spanning, I’m up for it
  • Reading – I’ve always got a book or two
  • Writing – I published a children’s story in 2012 called Westward Bound. I finished a 150,000 word story in 2012 called Shattered, that someday will be edited and put up on Amazon. And I’m now working on The Saulzar Codex.
  • Programming – I’ve built a site to track my library, track our softball statistics, and when my group of friends was too in to poker, a site to keep track of our poker league.  I’ve messed around with Android application development and Xbox 360 game development, but haven’t found the time to complete anything.
  • Sports: Working out at the Grand Rapids YMCA in the winter with lots of racquetball. Golf and Softball take up the summer months
  • Video Games – It was GoldenEye and Perfect Dark on the N64 in college.  Then it was Halo and Fable on the Xbox. Now it’s Halo III, Call of Duty II, and Oblivion on the Xbox 360.

3.  Who are your favorite authors?

There have been a number of phases over the years. I used to love John Grisham and Anne Rice, but I don’t read them much anymore.  During college, it was Tom Clancy, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton.  More recently it’s been Jim Butcher and Bernard Cornwell.   I can look over and see seven books from those two authors on my “Waiting to be Read” shelf.

4. What is your favorite sports team?

Go Spartans!  At least if we’re talking basketball. I made it to three games this year with my Dad.  I’m a big hockey fan and really like the Red Wings. I don’t have a favorite football team since we don’t have one in Michigan anymore.  In baseball, I’m a Tigers fan.

5.  Are you married?

Yup I am!  Denise and I were married in 2003. It’s been a great ride so far. Go check out her blog or website (it runs on webTRAIN). She’s a gifted photographer.

6.  Where do you want to travel to?

Oh boy.  We’ve been to Australia and New Zealand, and I desperately want to get back. Sydney is an amazing city, and the South Island of New Zealand is calling my name. We’ve seen the Great Wall and some other places in China.  Rome is happening in October 2013. I love history and there’s a lot there to experience.  Machu Picchu is also at the top of our list.

That’s just the short list; no need for you to have a geography lesson.

7. Do you have any side projects?

There have been a few over the years:

Branderphoto.com – it’s my wife’s business, but I handle the website

Libzig.com – need to keep track of your books? Here’s a great place to do it.

wwstats.com – We used this site to track our softball stats for a couple of years. I need to build an Android app for it so we can track it at the games.

That’s it for web based stuff. I’ve wanted to learn game development or Android apps for a while, but finding the time is tough – I’ve been out hiking too often!  I also have 2 stories that I’ve started, with about 100 pages total between the two.  One of these days I’ll be as organized in my personal time as I am at the office.

8. What sort of books do you like?

I read a lot of Fantasy books, even though I made fun of guys that did when I was in high school. I like historical fiction a lot. It’s nice to learn something while you are reading a story.  Thrillers and science fiction round out the majority of my reading.

9.  What blogs do you read?

There are a few that I read regularly:

Signal vs Noise – I’m a big fan of these guys. They seem to say the same thing I’m thinking pretty often or say things that I should have been thinking.

Patrick Rothfuss – great writer, great guy, great books.

Rands in Repose – a great read for any engineer managers

The Official Google Blog

Android Developers Blog

10. What are your strengths professionally?

I feel that I have strong communication skills, which in my experience isn’t too common for developers. I have strong reading skills, write well, and can verbally communicate an opinion to clients or other developers.

I have strong organizational skills and an eye for details and testing.  When I’m building software, I don’t neglect the little things in order to just get the big items done off of the checklist.

I know how to say no, and when to use it.

I know where to find information and how to get it quickly.

11.  What are your weaknesses professionally?

I am not the strongest programmer.  Don’t get me wrong, I will code efficiently and accurately. My code is clean, organized, and well written. But if you need a really cool algorithm using the latest technology, I am probably not the guy you need.  I think I could get there for you given some time. I’d be better off organizing and directing the rock star programmers that you already have working for you!

12.  What video game system do you have?

I’m an Xbox 360 guy. I was a Nintendo guy back in the day, and couldn’t stand Sega. I now cannot stand Playstation.

13.  What sort of technical skills do you have?

I am proficient in .NET (we write VB at Mindscape) and SQL Server. I could rattle off a bunch of acronyms for things that I know or have worked with, but when it comes down to it, it is .NET and SQL Server that I work with on a day to day basis. I know those technologies.  Other stuff I can work with, it just might take a refresher or a little research to get running on it.

14.  Was twenty questions too many?

Yes, I think it was. But that is no reason to quit now.

15.  What did you study in school?

Computer Science

16.  Care to elaborate on that?

Sure! I went to Grand Valley State University. I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science, with a minor in Business and another in History. The history minor was purely accidental. I had to wait two semesters before the Computer Science capstone rolled around again. I loved reading history, so I thought I’d just hop in and get that minor. It was a fun couple of semesters with a lot of REALLY long papers. Maybe I can dig one or two up to share on the site.

One last crazy note: while a computer science degree is great for learning the fundamentals of programming languages and how to build a program, it isn’t great for being a web based coder.  I realized when I graduated that I didn’t know how to build a website! I had to ask my sister, who was taking CS 101, how to do it. Seems they teach websites in CS 101, but I skipped that class.  I’ve got it pretty well figured out now.

17.  Where else have you worked?

I started by career at Stryon in 2002. It was a division of CyberNET. I left a few weeks before the Feds raided the building. And no, I didn’t have anything to do with that.

After Stryon was a short stint at NetPenny. Luckily, I was laid off on April Fool’s day, and started working at Mindscape two weeks later.

I worked with some great people at both places, and learned to value hard work, and above all, having work to do.  There were days at Stryon where there wasn’t anything to do but watch the blinking boxes.  Being bored is not a good thing at work.  It takes up too much time to waste it.

18. Do you have any pets?

I have a really cool cat named Burma. We moved to a farm when I was 12, and we got our first cat not long after. Since we had a barn, I assumed we’d have lots of cats and needed some sort of naming convention for them (yes, I was already too organized).  Asia was our first cat. It was 15 years before the second cat came along!

The convention still stands, though. My parents just got a new cat and named her Chile. Perhaps Denmark, Denver, or Dover is up next.

19.  What’s the coolest thing you’ve done recently?

Publishing on Amazon is awesome. Check out my Author page here: http://www.amazon.com/Aaron-Brander/e/B006X4O83M

20. Current favorite music?

There are a bunch of different things I’ve been listening to, but mostly it’s Mumford and Sons, Zac Brown Band, Fun., The Lumineers, Justin Timberlake, and Jay-Z. Throw in some Mozart, Vivaldi, and Bach or some Lynard Skynard, The Who, or Led Zeppelin and it’s pretty diverse.

~Aaron Brander – 9/10/2013