Spotlight on Alumni

Charles Brian Quinn Rides Ruby to Make Clients Happy

Degree and graduation year:

B.S. in Computer Science, May 2003

Where do you live (city & state/country)?

I live in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood in Atlanta.

What do you do for a living?

I am a partner at Highgroove Studios (http://highgroove.com). We build database-backed Web applications for companies of all sizes. I run the Atlanta office, which is just down the street from Georgia Tech on North Avenue. We also have a product called Scout (http://scoutapp.com) that lots of companies rely on for reporting and monitoring. We develop in a language called Ruby, and we get to utilize tons of new technologies for our clients (and our own product-development). I love what I do.

What was your first job after leaving Georgia Tech?

I tried to start a company, and it was a spectacular failure. But it was an awesome experience, and I enjoyed every moment (except the failing part, of course). I was waiting tables in the evenings and on weekends to fund my startup, which was devoted to developing custom software for in-car computers to market to custom after-market shops. I later joined the “real world” (my first real job) as a software consultant at a company doing Java and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) development and consulting. I traveled quite a bit and got tons of experience in all kinds of different companies.

What do you like best about your current job?

I love using new technologies to solve complex problems with simple solutions. Our motto at Highgroove is “Keep it Simple.” As a student at Georgia Tech, I used to get excited about all kinds of crazy, technically-bordering-on-impossible things, like AI-infused interfaces and super-computing self-healing algorithms, but now that I get to use lots of emerging technologies on a day-to-day basis, I love adapting them to beautifully simple interfaces and uses. We like building rapid, customer-facing applications that can have immediate business value for our clients and ourselves. I also really love our offices, where we have built a relaxed work environment. We even have the old espresso machine from Octane (a favorite Georgia Tech coffee shop down the street).

What do you like the least?

I hate saying no to our clients. As a developer, it’s really easy when our clients ask for just one more feature, to just say, “You know what, that’s really easy, and I could probably knock that out in a 10 minutes (or maybe in an intense all-nighter).” But more often, saying “no” is the best thing you can do. Constraints actually help build working software and foster better relationships. Being able to put limitations on the interface, on the technology back-ends, on the work itself, and everything in a project actually creates a push-and-pull that gets things done. Building a simple, working interface is better than a technically complex, not-quite-working solution that never sees the light of day.

How did CoC prepare you for the working world?

The CoC did a fantastic job of preparing me to learn to learn. Looking back on all those incredibly hard, time-constrained, “totally unfair” projects, tests and assignments we had to do—turns out, that’s exactly how the real world operates.

What do you consider the single greatest advance—technological, sociological, economic, etc.—in computing since you were in school?

We don’t have flying cars yet, nor can I use a jetpack to fly to work, but the iPhone is a device that has truly changed the way we access the world. In my pocket right now, I have access to super-fast, always-on Internet (so I can answer any question, even trivia), access to all my personal media (movies, music, TV shows), maps (with real-time global positioning data), voice, text and all my important data. With Apple’s semi-open app store (and open-source technologies), more and more unique, neat ways of accessing data and interacting with the world are possible and still on the way. If I had to sound less like an Apple advertisement, I’d probably say that distributed source control systems (git, in particular), the adoption of more and more open-source software and technologies, and RESTful Web services have made the world a better place.

Operating system of choice:

Mac OS X. I’ve been a Mac user since OS X and haven’t looked back. I’m also a Linux geek – all our servers run Linux in various flavors, and I still (unfortunately) run Windows in a Virtual Machine most of the time on my Mac.

Which professional associations are you a member of?

I participate in a lot of open-source, ad-hoc communities that operate more like meritocracies. They don’t have any professional accreditations, but have plenty of professional folk.

What do you remember and/or value the most about your time at Georgia Tech/CoC?

I definitely remember late nights in the CoC lab with friends, working on projects that we thought were just simply impossible at the time, but somehow we all got through.  I loved the feeling of taking on the most challenging projects, stumbling, then excelling, taking pizza breaks at 4:00am, almost giving up, and then jumping right back into the thick of it – all along the way with friends – just the camaraderie we shared is something that I still value with many of my friends whom I still know and work with to this very day.

What faculty or staff member had the greatest impact on you?

Dr. Jim Greenlee was the most memorable – he taught the “weed-out” course at the time – it was a particularly nasty course that had tests where the average (40 out of 100) was curved up to an A. We all thought he was mean and spiteful, but he was like one of those coaches where, after he made you do all these incredibly difficult things, over and over, when you were done you were stronger, more capable and could handle anything. He was a great teacher, and oh-so-quotable to this day.

In your spare time, what do you do for fun?

I actually like to code and develop for fun! At Highgroove, we compete in lots of programming competitions, sponsor (and attend) technical conferences, un-conferences (conferences without structure), code-camps, hack-fests and meet-ups. I also ride my bike to work every day and for fun. I am really into pouring latte-art, and am a bit of a self-proclaimed food-snob.

If I had it to do over again, I’d be a _______________.

If I had to do it over again, I’d be a lawyer, and then go into politics. Lawyers are the equivalent of modern day warriors—I say if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Knowing what I know now, I’d still code and develop, but I’d definitely choose to be on the side of law. And then, of course, transition into a role where I can make the laws. Wow, did I really just admit all that?

Are any of your family members CoC/GT alumni?

I met my beautiful, talented, lovely wife at Georgia Tech!  She graduated with a B.S. in Architecture.  Both programs at GT are very challenging, so I can remember several times, taking a break at the early hour of 2:00 am to go visit her in Architecture Studio.

Do you stay in touch with other computing alumni? If so, who?

I do—many of my friends that I met at Georgia Tech have continued to be great friends: Kristin Marsicano (whom I understand is an instructor now at CoC, watch out!), my business partner Derek Haynes, and friends: Omar Zaki, Ali Bahmanyar, Charles Lumpkin, Loren Norman and many more.

Are you a member of an online community? If so which one(s)?

I help run the Atlanta Ruby User Group, which meets on-line and off-line. I’m also very involved in the Ruby on Rails community, and lots of open-source projects where we all interact online.

Anything else you’d like to share? Here’s your chance!

We’re hiring at Highgroove (http://highgroove.com)! Contact me at cbq [at] highgroove [dot] com if you like software development, working with clients and kicking ass with tons of cool new technologies. Oh, and with my best advertising hat on: sign up with Scout (http://scoutapp.com/) if you’re running a Ruby application in the wild for monitoring and performance analytics!