Thinkful iOS Mentor Profile: Matthew Chung

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Location: San Jose, California

Current Job: Founder of The SIPI Company (a mobile app), Freelance Mobile Developer

Programming Pet Peeve: There are too many!

Interests Outside of Programming: Hiking, Making Movies (an old-career), His Dog

It’s an exciting time to be a mobile developer. What are you building now?

I’m working on an awesome startup right now called The SIPI Company — which is an app and smart toy company that helps children bridge the gap between the virtual and physical world. I’m the CTO. Outside of that, I work on a ton of different freelance mobile apps, most of which deal with an peripheral over bluetooth.

Awesome. The startup sounds great. What stage are you in now?

The project is in stealth mode, so I don’t want to say too much more. We’re a team of four now. We have a fully functional prototype and a series of investor meetings lined up.  

I know finding the right team is crucial. How did you meet the other founders?

My partner was a teammate of mine at GeoCities (which may have been before your time). We worked there together in 1999. [GeoCities was acquired by Yahoo! in 1999 and used to be the 3rd-most visited Web site.]

When did you start programming? And how did you learn?

17 years ago. At least. I studied chemical engineering at the University of Iowa. I worked part-time programming and that’s how I got into software development.

And now you’re doing mobile. When did you make the leap into mobile development? 

Well, I moved into mobile in 2005 while I was a technical project manager at MySpace. Let me just say the phones were not to smart then. They were a lot dumber, in fact. And the tools were just as dumb too. Remember the Motorola Razr? The Blackberry? That’s what we were building for then.

So, when did you leap into iOS? And how?

2009. iOS was the most elegant platform. The language wasn’t. But the platform. The operating system. The devices. They blew me away. At that point, I had a job at Sound Hound — a music search and discovery site — and I learned from my colleagues there, as well as through self-teaching.

Demand for mobile developers is growing fast. How did learning so early on change your career trajectory?

It definitely let me freelance more easily. It also helped me play a CTO role quickly. I think a very valuable engineer is one who can change hats: I can go from web to mobile easily. Knowing different languages proves that you’re eager to and capable of learning new things. The learning will never stop as a developer. iOS is specifically helpful because companies are looking toward mobile. iOS is easier to monetize so people start there.

Coolest app you’ve built. Go.

Made Fire (http://www.madefire.com/) — a motion comic book reader. I wasn’t the only developer there; there is a great team in place at Made Fire.

Why?

The artist could do whatever they wanted. We had to make that creative vision fit into an app. That was gratifying.  

Favorite dev job?

This might sound nostalgic but it was at GeoCities. I was younger, everything was new. The environment was supportive. I was doing C and Java and Perl. Ha!

Support is key to learning. What kind of support do you provide to your students at Thinkful?

When I was learning, I remember getting super frustrated when I had questions that I couldn’t answer. I love working through problems with my students so they don’t have those getting stuck moments. I answer questions, spark dialogue, and help guide my students. Someone might ask me about which library to use, and we can talk through it. When a feature doesn’t work, I go through the student’s code with them and troubleshoot. They learn how to problem solve on the spot.

I just chatted with your student — Craig — who loved working with you. Well done! What do you think made him so successful?

He was super invested in his work. He came to sessions with enthusiasm, asked great questions, and then ran with things on his own. I loved his ability to take initiative. It was great to see that.

Not to stir the pot….But, what would you say to a prospective student who asked: iOS or Android?

The cheap answer is to say “Use the platform you already own.” But it’s also probably the right answer. If you’re an iOS fan boy or love Apple products, go with iOS.

It’s early in the morning. You wake up. Grab your iPhone. What do you look at first?

Flipboard. Definitely.

Are there any other apps you couldn’t live without?

Pandora. Yelp. Gmail. Flipboard. Not much social anymore. Those four are my go-to.