On Beer, Mobile Development, and Crowdsourced Testing: An Interview with Greg Avola

[interview]
Summary:

Greg Avola is the CTO, developer, and cofounder of Untappd, the popular social beer network. In this interview, Greg discusses fast-paced mobile development, crowdsourced testing, and new testing tools that can help you navigate many different mobile platforms.

 

Greg Avola is the CTO, developer, and cofounder of Untappd, the popular social beer network. In this interview, Greg discusses fast-paced mobile development, crowsdourced testing, and new testing tools that can help you navigate many different mobile platforms.

Jonathan Vanian: I'm here today with Greg Avola. Greg is cofounder and CTO of Untappd, the popular beer-friendly social platform and app. Greg, thanks for being here with us today.

Greg Avola: Thanks for having me.

JV: No problem at all. Let's start a little by having you tell us about yourself and your experience.

GA: Sure. Right now, I'm currently the co-founder and CTO of Untappd, which is a social beer network. The best way to probably describe it is that it’s like a Four-Square for beer, where you just contract and log in their beers from where they're at. My background is in computer science. I went to a college here in the Boston area where I'm originally from and got my master’s degree there as well as business technology. After school, I was really, really into programming. That was my forte. I remember building my first project back in high school, which would predict when you were going to die or something. So what you put in for your parameters and how much you weigh. One of the great experience was being able to manipulate data in a different way that I never thought was possible.

After college I actually went into a more business side of IT, where I did a lot of IT audits. Primarily background after college is more on the audit side changing management doing deployments in the financial world, which is strange from an IT perspective of what I do now.

JV: You have some enterprise experience, then, in working on some big projects.

GA: Exactly. I worked for about six years for two major corporations. One in the consulting world for KPMG and another for a financial firm here in New York City, where I live currently. I got my taste for different types of development processes in terms of deployment, in terms of change management, in terms of operations. After that, I wanted to spin off and do my own thing; I actually do Untappd on the side. My full-time job now, I work for ABC News here in New York City and I do web development for their platform. I guess you could say, I've got a broad experience when it comes to development processes. On the enterprise side, from being the guy as the auditor that nobody likes see come through their door to being the actual developer and trying to apply some of that logic that I've learned through the auditing world to my current position.

JV: How did you come up with that decision, because I bet we have a lot of people who are working on enterprise stuff on the side. They have a dream and they've got an idea they want to really launch.

GA: I always thought to myself that I have to quit my job and go back to college days where I'm eating Ramen and living in a box on the corner. I think with the technology we have available now and the potential free time that you might have and the services that are available online today are very cheap to spin up your own instances of web servers. There's definitely the possibility you can continue to work in a full time role and work on your side project on your own time. That comes to fruition. Maybe it takes off, maybe it becomes your full-time role or for me it actually helped me get a new job on a team based on my experience. It kind of works in mysterious ways, because I think a lot of people are hesitant, because they feel like they have to leave it all behind and put a 100 percent to it, but I think when you're building a small start-up or your building a small enterprise application, you can kind of do your own pace and see if it works for you. It's worked for us. As long as you dedicate some time to it and focus on that, it does work. It's possible.

JV: How many people are part of Untappd?

GA: It's just two people. It's myself and another co-founder who lives in California. My primary role within Untappd is mainly the technology side, so I'm focused on infrastructure, app development, testing, deployments. All the fun and interesting things, monitoring and all that stuff. My co-founder is responsible for the UI design side of the business, so we split those duties pretty well. I tell people all the time, I can make really cool things, but they look like crap, so then my partner comes in and cleans it up and makes it look all pretty. We're only a two-man team and we have over a million users on the application. It's a story I like to tell from people's perspective of "Can I build an app and get it off the ground with just myself and somebody else." I think from our perspective, I think that's definitely something that's possible. As long as you put your mind to it and put some time to it, it's definitely something you can do on the side.

JV: As far as development goes, why don't you talk a little bit about that. I'm assuming it's a rapid, fast-paced environment.

GA: Oh yeah.

JV: Is it agile? Are you doing agile just because you sort of have to?

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Jonathan Vanian's picture Jonathan Vanian

Jonathan Vanian is an online editor who edits, writes, interviews, and helps turn the many cranks at StickyMinds, TechWell, AgileConnection, and CMCrossroads. He has worked for newspapers, websites, and a magazine, and is not as scared of the demise of the written word as others may appear to be. Software and high technology never cease to amaze him.

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