Jesse Curry has been at Haneke Design for 9 years. Prior to Haneke Design, he worked in game development.
We had an awesome conversation with Jesse at Haneke Design’s beautiful Tampa office, where gaming, VR, Tampa, and tech as a whole were discussed.
Roxanne Williams: I read on the company website that you got your start in game development. What games did you work on?
Jesse Curry: I worked at a company called Gorilla Systems. We were a company that had a niche in games for girls. We worked on Hannah Montana: Music Jam, All Star Cheer Squad 1 and 2. I was the lead for All Star Cheer Squad on Nintendo DS, and also worked on All Star Cheer Squad for the Wii. We did a bunch of license titles. Things for Disney, Nancy Drew and whatnot. Nothing super crazy, but a lot of fun.
Roxanne: What made you switch from game development to business application development?
Jesse: Mostly work-life balance. It was atrocious. I had 17 hour days for 3 weeks in a row, 7 days a week. I remember there would be days when I’d wake up before anyone in my family, drive to work, and come home after everyone had already gone to bed. I’d basically sleep beside my wife for a few hours and give my daughter a kiss on the way out. It didn’t really jive with a good life.
Matt Vaughn: Have you been following the whole Telltale fiasco going on?
Jesse: I have not.
Matt: They just laid off over 200 people after a year of people working under those same kinds of conditions.
Jesse: I saw they closed their studio, but I thought The Walking Dead was picked up by a different publisher or dev shop. It’s a hard business model though, because the success of their games is predicated on the license, not so much on the games themselves being good.
Roxanne: Considering that you’ve been at Haneke for almost 9 years, how has your role changed over time?
Jesse: When I came on, the company was an interactive design agency. We worked on development projects but weren’t really running them. I came on as the first mobile developer, doing iOS development at the time. We’ve grown from basically a few people developing to the point now where we’re more than half development staff. We’ve worked with a handful of development partners as well for some of the lesser-used technologies, or to help with overflow. It’s gone from a design agency with a technical focus to a development shop with some serious design chops.
Matt: When you say lesser-used technologies, what to you mean, for example?
Jesse: It depends. They may be a PHP framework or .Net. We can’t say that’s really lesser-used in general, but lesser-used for us, definitely. So in those cases, we’ll partner with somebody outside of the company.
We’ve been doing some development for the Cisco Webex DX80, a computer used for video conferencing. We have a client that provides a video relay service for the deaf and hard of hearing, and the DX80 is one of their hardware platforms. We spun up a little bit of help there when we were building a remote control interface so individuals could hang the hardware on the wall and use a remote from their couch. So in cases like that, where it doesn’t make sense to keep a specialized skill on staff, we’ll partner with outside sources.
Roxanne: What tech stacks do you use currently?
Jesse: The big projects that we have running now use Ruby on Rails, some Laravel on the back end, and lots and lots of React. We have some kind of custom hybrid mobile and mobile web projects where we’re taking a React web application, wrapping it, and then exposing some additional services. Lots of stuff going on in Swift for iOS, and Kotlin and Java for Android.
Matt: Since you’ve been in Tampa your whole life, can you speak to how the talent landscape has changed when it comes to tech? Is there better, more qualified talent in the area now?
Jesse: I think Tampa is growing pretty rapidly. One of the biggest things I see as a problem is that we still have very siloed resources. We have a few places where technology happens or technology jobs exist. We have the downtown area, which is more or less integrated; you’ll have people walking to lunch, bumping into each other – there seems to be a stronger sense of community. Then you have places like Westshore and the University area where you have these very siloed companies. The entire company exists on a few floors of a building, they may even have a cafeteria on site, and people literally never leave. There are certainly meetups and stuff like that, but I think the biggest issue we have is that lack of connective tissue.
I’ve been working with a handful of other folks in the area in a group called Emerging Tech Leaders. Our main mission is to tie those things together, to provide that connective tissue to allow us to bridge together St. Pete, Clearwater, and Tampa’s technology communities to help youth that are coming into the area connect with businesses, help businesses connect with talent, help individuals such as myself connect with the educational systems to help folks out, and people who are engaging in educational opportunities at places like Suncoast Developers Guild.
Matt: Toni is a friend of the office and a recent interview we conducted.
Roxanne: You mentioned Emerging Tech Leaders, and I know Lauren Davenport is part of that group, so you’re connected to Symphony as well?
Roxanne: We interviewed Chris recently as well!
Jesse: Oh good deal, I love Chris. He’s a lot of fun on Facebook too.
Matt: So in the talent vein, what are your thoughts on growing your own tech talent vs hiring from other companies in the area? Do you guys have any training programs that you offer employees?
Jesse: As a dev shop, I think you almost have to have some continuous education going on. There are certainly places where you can learn and write Java, have a 30 year career, and retire. It’s possible. But for companies like ours, where we’re acting as consultants and we’re bringing technical expertise to our clients, we really need to stay on the cutting edge, and as such, we’re constantly expanding the technologies we’re using. React didn’t even exist a few years back, and now it’s a major part of our business. 10 years ago, the iOS SDK didn’t exist, that’s a huge part of our business.
Looking at the technologies we have used in the past and the technologies we’re using now, there’s a massive difference. There are always going to be basic similarities with different platforms and frameworks at the architectural level, like the way that you organize code, general best practices, things like that. Those are going to spread across. But you definitely need to keep skills sharp and identify learning opportunities.
Not to pick on Java, but looking at building Java for the web, which is something that we were doing back when we did the Things To Do app for the St. Pete Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), we built our back end in Java, and that was a solid choice. But since then, if we had to do that again, we’d definitely lean towards Ruby on Rails, because we’d probably be able to get it done three times as fast, it would be more standards-compliant, and we need to be able to do that to compete in the marketplace.
We’re constantly trying to bring new knowledge into the organization. What we like to do here is make sure we have a catalog of goals for our folks. We like to try to help them achieve those goals by assigning them to projects that will give them an opportunity to use the new skills they’re learning. One of the things we also like to do towards our mission, which is to amaze and delight end users, is to try to have at least one piece of really polished UX – something that pops and wows our end users – on any project. In most cases, those are the projects where people can really jump into things they’re unfamiliar with and try to flex their skills.
That kind of continuous learning and pushing boundaries is baked into the DNA of our company.
Roxanne: That’s really awesome. This is one of the questions we’ve been asking most of the companies we’ve interviewed. We spoke to Stu from KnowBe4, and with all the growth that the company has seen, he said no, they’re not at the point where they can grow their own. They go for the more seasoned devs – which, in their space, is fair since they’re barely been any amount of cybersecurity stuff.
Jesse: It’s definitely a hard one. We’ve pulled a lot of our new hires from The Iron Yard, now Suncoast Developers Guild. They’ve been incredible to work with. I’m on their advisory board, so I’ve been able to provide a lot of feedback on their curriculum. Essentially, we end up getting the people where it’s like “I’d love to hire and train people on these technologies.” Their curriculum isn’t strictly academic. They require students to do a pretty tough final project in order to succeed in the program. You get folks coming in that have that sense of getting things done. A lot of times, I’ll see someone come from a purely academic background and they know how to do things, but they don’t know how to balance getting things done within a deadline with the required technical proficiency.
So we’ve been able to pull people from Suncoast, assign them as a Junior dev on a project, and help them grow under one of our development mentors.
Matt: We tend to see Haneke involved with most of the local tech/entrepreneurial community events we attend. For those who may not know, what events are you partnered with/attend?
Jesse: We act as the product arm for a lot of our clients. You’ll often see us attached to clients in many different ways, whether it’s helping build out a startup for someone local, doing the One World Observatory project, etc. We’ve been getting into VR. We always want to push the boundaries and we always want to be involved in tech where it makes sense. Prior to the Oculus Go being released, VR didn’t really make sense for too many of our clients, but now that we have this and we have the Oculus Quest coming in 2019, we’re looking at VR as the next thing. Very similar in the way that mobile app development was 5-7 years ago.
On our side, things we’re playing with a lot would be stereoscopic video, ways to confer experiences to individuals, and looking at ways that we can mix real time 3D presentations with that.
Roxanne: What do you hope to see in the next few years in Tampa Bay when it comes to technology?
Jesse: More connectivity between the community. A better sense of community and a better understanding of how big the technology community itself is here. We have giant telecommunications companies that have hundreds of developers on staff, we have Microsoft here, and we have all these smaller local development shops here. I think the development community is much larger than people give it credit for. But I would like to see some connectedness here.
One of the things I’ve always maintained would be incredible for Tampa would be if we could land a AAA game development studio. On any AAA game, you have such a wide swath of development. You have people doing AI, physics, visualizations, 3D, basically any programming task you can think of. All of those folks are very focused on the end user experience because games are really just pure UX. If we could get an anchor AAA game studio, it would be a massive win for the community.
In a lot of cases, those folks will come in and they’ll work at a studio through the course of a game. Something like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption where you have that 5 to 10 year dev cycle, you’ll have people coming in sort of starting their lives in the area. They’ll have families, kids in school, and develop some really strong ties to the area. When they decide to either leave that company or leave the industry, they’ll be creating companies here and branching off and keeping all those skillsets in the area.
Roxanne: What’s the company culture like at Haneke Design? I can kind of gather it’s awesome and nerdy.
Jesse: Hah! I think we always want to build solid user experiences, so that kind of drives everything. Everyone here is, in some sense, an advocate for the end user – sometimes even battling our clients a bit on what we think is best for the end user, because ultimately we feel like that’s what’s best for our client as well.
We very much like to get things done when we’re in the office. We like to have a very efficient day and an efficient workflow. We encourage a lot of collaboration between our developers and designers. The hope is that everybody can come in, bust their ass while they’re here, go home feeling very satisfied with what they accomplished, enjoy something else and recharge, and do it all over again. It’s what we try to drive. We want to avoid the development pitfalls where you have people deathmarching towards some nebulous goal. We place a lot of faith in our project managers. We depend on them to ensure that we’re all unblocked and we have everything that we need, that we can deliver on time and under budget. They’re looking out for all the high-level stuff, and the designers and the developers can focus on the end user.
Roxanne: How much staff do you have?
Jesse: We have 25 total.
Matt: Tampa Bay Tech partnered with several high-profile software company CEOs with the goal of promoting and developing Tampa’s technology ecosystem. You guys are part of that group. Do you have any insights into what the partnership has accomplished so far?
Jesse: I think the biggest things are the cross-pollination of talent and again, a lot of the previously disparate groups joining forces. Working together to ensure events aren’t sitting on top of one another. Just moving towards that sense of connectivity among the community.
Roxanne: Is there anything you’d like to say to anyone thinking of going into tech? Any words of wisdom from your years in the industry?
Jesse: Do it. It’s a pretty mellow career path, it’s fun, and you can definitely make it anything you want. Certainly with the way everything is going, software is becoming a bigger and bigger part of everybody’s business. Even companies that swear up and down that they’re not technology companies are technology companies. You can’t avoid it.
At the core, software is nothing magical. It’s pure and simple process automation. You take a process that is repeatable, and you encode that, and then you can run it over and over, oftentimes much faster than a person could, and more accurately. Any business that has any kind of repetitive workload is going to benefit from technology.
Even things like purely artistic endeavors, they still have customers and interacting with those customers, the lowest barrier to entry would be a website. So even those companies are technology companies. It’s a good field to get into, I think.
Matt: Who is a person and/or an organization that you think is doing something right and innovative in the area, outside of Haneke Design? And why?
Jesse: I’m pretty pumped on what Toni and the crew are doing at Suncoast Developers Guild. When The Iron Yard closed, it was a pretty huge blow to the community. Not just from the educational pipeline, but also the involvement that they all had in the community. Every person there has been deeply involved. I remember going back years to Ruby conferences where Gavin had taken a lead role, and really just driving education well outside of his role as an instructor. So it’s great to see that pillar of the community come back up.
Outside of tech world, I’m pretty pumped on what my wife is doing. She’s actually using technology to great effect in social media. She opened a bakery over a year ago and she’s been crushing it.
Matt: Which Bakery?
Jesse: Bake’n Babes in Franklin Hall.
Roxanne: YEAH! They have vegan chocolate chip cookies and they’re amazing!
Jesse: That’s the reaction I’d hoped she’d get! You’ve had the sleazy brownie, right?
Jesse: Oh god, you have to. The sleazy brownie is actually the chocolate chip cookie, a layer of oreos, a layer of chocolate brownie, and chocolate ganache, all vegan.
Roxanne: There goes my weight loss.
Jesse: It blows my mind. She’s gotten such a positive reaction from the community. She opened up Uber Eats orders and it was like, who’s gonna order stuff on there? But she has 6 packs of cookies on there, and people are ordering entire chocolate tortes at random times of the day.
Roxanne: Oh I’m familiar. The guys at the office have made fun of me incessantly for ordering a 6 pack of cookies at 3pm once.
Jesse: Yeah. I’ve been super proud there. She’s been busting her ass.
Matt: Any further thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Anything exciting coming down the pipeline for Haneke or for yourself?
Jesse: We’re really looking to get into the VR stuff in a serious way next year, so I’m super excited about the opportunities there. From a community / Tampa standpoint, I love what I’m seeing. I love seeing the growth and how people are starting to connect, and how people are getting excited. With Vinik’s group, Embarc Collective, opening up hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space. Allie Felix is a member of the Emerging Tech Leaders group, and I speak with Lakshmi quite a bit. So it’s great to see things like that going on and to realize that as good as things are now, we’re poised to get much better as well. We’re in a position where there’s no limit to the size of company and the size of opportunity that we could attract. It’s not like we’re a land-bound area that doesn’t allow buildings to be constructed over 3 stories. We’ve got huge opportunity and a great business climate. Really easy to do business in Tampa. Great tax base. Awesome weather. It’s nice to see the kinds of things that are available after work. I could leave, ride my bike to Hidden Springs and have a couple beers, head down the Riverwalk, go to the Hall, paddleboard. I have friends that boat literally every single weekend. There aren’t too many communities where you can really do that and are as fun and as ready to go.
Matt: Karts for Kids ring a bell?
Jesse: Karts for Kids? No.
Matt: It’s a charity Mario Kart tournament that we throw, raising money to buy games and consoles for the sick children at All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete. December 4th. Seems like you guys might enjoy that.
Jesse: One of our clients is BayCare, and we did the Unmonsters app for them. It’s a game for the children in their children’s hospital. So yeah. Sounds awesome!
About Haneke Design:
Haneke Design is a custom software development firm focused on delivering user-centered solutions for connected devices. Their core services center on iOS and Android mobile application design and development and website/web application design and development.
Haneke Design has been designing and developing mobile applications since the iOS and Android platforms were first made available, and has been designing interactive digital user experiences for the web for over fifteen years. The Haneke Design team is comprised of a cohesive, creative and dedicated group of designers, developers, and project managers all collaborating in our downtown Tampa office.
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