Interview with Benjamin Amelot, Senior UI R&D Engineer

Interview Benjamin AmelotWe continue our series of interviews with Benjamin Amelot, Senior UI R&D Engineer at ActiveViam

Hello Benjamin, could you tell us a bit about your career path?

I am a senior engineer for Active UI, our user interface. Unlike many of my colleagues at ActiveViam, for me, IT was something I discovered late in life. To be honest, I didn’t fully embark on this path until my third year of studies at the Ecole Centrale Paris (Central School of Paris). Then I had my first professional experience with a major software editor. I worked there for two years, the first year in back-end development and the second in front-end. It was on this occasion that I discovered I had a clear preference for front-end!

What led you to work for ActiveViam?

In my previous company I was only one engineer among 10,000 employees, so I wanted to join a company on a human scale. In fact, it’s the product itself that attracted me. Working on such a comprehensive and ambitious user interface is an exciting challenge. And then, whilst making enquiries, I found out that a school friend of mine was already working there!

What were your first few months at ActiveViam like?

I started in July 2016 in Pre-Sales (PS). My profile was fairly suited to this role because I had the dual Java and JavaScript (JS) skills, but I fully discovered the business side and seized the opportunity to become part of this kind of team. I was able to discover a job that was unknown to me and would enhance my skills. I was under a bit of pressure because Proofs of Concept had to be executed within fairly short deadlines in order to get contracts signed, but the work is really stimulating.

Why did you transfer from Pre-Sales to become an R&D Engineer?

I was offered a change of position. On the technical side, I always had a preference for UI, and even though the product is already excellent, I felt a certain degree of frustration in PS from not being able to refine certain features myself. It was this desire to contribute to its improvement that prompted me to accept this job offer in summer 2017. Now I only work in JavaScript, but with a different approach. The demands are less about deadlines but more about the quality of the code. Sometimes we even agree to postpone the release of a feature until it has been perfectly refined. And the “teamwork” dimension is very important and motivating.

Can you tell us about the landmark projects you have worked on since you joined ActiveViam?

Interview-Benjamin Amelot workplace I would mention first of all the implementation of the selection on the tables, which allows drag&drop, keyboard navigation, copy and paste, column movement… From the development point of view it was much more complicated than you might imagine because there are lots of moving parts and it still took me several months from writing the first line of code, to seeing satisfaction among the first users.
The second big project I worked on took place during my transition period between the two roles, where I greatly improved our showcase. It is a web application provided to our customers and contains a set of sample codes showing in detail what can be done with our library. Users can view, side-by-side, a text editor and the result corresponding to the code it contains, which they are free to alter. Even if this is just a secondary project, this showcase is a very beautiful app in itself, because it transpiles and bundles the code written by the user, on the fly on the customer side, so I’m pretty proud of it!

Have you travelled anywhere for work?

I went to Geneva, London and Frankfurt when I was in Pre-Sales, and recently spent a week in Copenhagen to support our client Nordea on front-end topics in risk management projects.

What do you enjoy about working on IU?

Firstly, it is the job satisfaction. Upgrading an interface directly improves the working conditions of its users. I would love everyone to feel the satisfaction of a community when we release an improvement that we’ve been able to provide ourselves. To me this is a real source of motivation, and this source will not diminish over time – quite the reverse! Creativity also plays its part: in UI there are always a thousand ways to solve a problem. A feature will be totally different depending on the person who wrote it. We always put a little of ourselves into the product and all this contributes towards providing a tangible meaning and added value to our work.
And then there is the challenge, which takes at least two forms. First, our environment is changing extremely quickly: both our tools and languages change from week to week. Therefore, you must constantly review the way you work, without taking the easy route, and remaining receptive to the idea of change. Finally, the front-end often receives a lot of feedback, and you have to know how to handle these views and requests. If we can change this burden into a means of progressing in the right direction, then that’s even better. It’s not always easy, but we’d be bored if it were!

What is required of a UI developer?

You have to have a genuine sense of initiative, the ability to accept criticism and call things into question, even more so as we are particularly strict on code reviews: continuous integration, tests, typing tools… We check not only that it works well at the interface level, but also that it is well written and can easily be maintained.

What do you enjoy about being at ActiveViam?

The founders and managers are very approachable and you can discuss all sorts of subjects with them. We are not forced to make arbitrary technical choices, we have real freedom, which is very rewarding. The fact that there are no external investors is also felt at our level; we are fairly free of constraints and the quality objectives are not sacrificed because of the pressure of deadlines. I feel good about working here, and I intend to stay for quite a while!
To obtain further details on job vacancies at ActiveViam please see: https://activeviam.com/en/about-us/careers

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