Christian Billen is the Chief Information Officer, IT Department at WarmlyYours. Recently, I had a chance to talk to him and requested him to share some of his experiences. Here goes.
Could you tell us something about yourself – your background, where you are based?
I was born in Belgium. My father was a programmer and I have self thought myself IT from an early age, even though I was forbidden around the computers of the house (but that’s what makes it fun). I studied programming analysis in school and immediately came to the USA after getting my degree. I worked for various companies as a consultant implementing e-business solutions in the dot com era and also helped small business build an IT infrastructure. I have certifications from Microsoft, Sun, Cisco and PMI and now I am managing the IT infrastructure and development of web based systems for WarmlyYours, a business located in the northwest Chicago suburbs.
Could you tell us a little more about WarmlyYours.com?
WarmlyYours is a twelve year old company based in the Chicago suburbs. We specialize in providing home comfort solutions to consumers and trade professionals. Our most popular product is an electric floor heating system that goes right under your tile. WarmlyYours is unique in that their growth was entirely due to the successful exploitation of the internet as a low cost marketing platform. We have invested a lot of R&D into our e-tools and continue to this day. We also strive to be as lean and efficient as possible by using powerful back end systems.
Why did you choose Ruby on Rails (RoR) as a framework for WarmlyYours.com?
Until then we had been mostly a Microsoft shop, .NET was the language of choice. We wanted to bring open source to the enterprise and leveraging that model. RoR had the potential to be a positive force because of its cross platform capabilities, the elegance of the language, the power of the framework and the strong support of the community behind it. We also wanted to adopt a more agile philosophy and RoR seemed designed around these concepts. So we decided to try it with a new project and were impressed by its success; now we would not develop in anything else when it comes to web applications.
Were there any surprises in working with RoR?
Sometime it could get quite complex to implement certain libraries (like Rmagick or Geos) and we had to trade our ability to be cross platform and focus on the *nix to get the most of the functionality. Beyond that RoR was quite painless.
You recently made a trip to India to setup your off shore development unit at Hyderabad. What was your impression about the RoR scene in India?
It is very much in its infancy, and in Hyderabad nearly non-existent as the hub seems to be in Pune, but we hope to remedy that. Luckily we found many enthusiastic people willing to help us achieve this goal.
What advice would you give startups about platform choices?
To be open minded about your options and evaluate the platform that will allow you to get the most accomplished in the least amount of time, time to market is everything. Sometime technology isn’t just the answer, consider the support of the community and how active the talent pool is.
Getting back to WarmlyYours, what are your future plans?
We plan to continue planning the next features of our flagship application Myprojects.warmlyyours.com, get our offshore team up and running as soon as possible, so that the real work can begin.We hope to deliver new features every month and increase our market share by offering value added tools to our partners, helping them with the selling of home comfort solutions.