Prairie Portrait: Zach Leatherman of Union Pacific
Name: Zach Leatherman
Bio: A software engineer attempting to remove the frustration from software for both the people using it and developers creating it.
Title: Front End Engineer at Union Pacific and Peanut Butter Enthusiast
Residence: Omaha, Neb.
Intro music: "Little Boxes" by Malvina Reynolds
Silicon Prairie News: You've worn a couple different hats during your tenure at UP. What do you enjoy most about your latest gig, as a front end architect?
Zach Leatherman: I love building stuff. It's the process of creation that gets me up in the morning. But what's the point of building something in a vacuum? It's far more satisfying to have an impact, to create something that will be used by others. Union Pacific creates an opportunity to make an impact every day with software that's used by their 40,000-plus employees.
SPN: From the looks of things, you're tinkering with several fun side projects. What's your elevator pitch for the latest and greatest of those?
ZL: My latest side project is a game called Twitter Tower Defense. Here's the pitch:
"The users that you follow on Twitter are distracting you and your limited attention! Use your mutual Twitter friends in a battle to ward off celebrities and social media experts and protect yourself from a complete information overload."
It will use your Twitter account to create a customized environment based on your account and followers. Hopefully, I'll have a launch page up on twittertd.com soon, otherwise you can follow me on Twitter at @zachleat for updates on it.
ZL: Looking back on Startup Weekend is a little bittersweet for me. Trying to win is an easy trap to fall into. Instead of focusing on a victory, it's far more productive and useful to attempt to build something sustainable. Keep your scope small enough to get a minimum viable product ready for the final demo and launch it. The hardest part is keeping it going after the weekend is over. Both GiftBright and Call Spinner fell prey to the number one killer of startups: loss of momentum.
SPN: You recently tweeted: "Imagine if Chuck Norris didn't care about being tough. Now you know what it's like when Front End Engineers don't care about design." Serious stuff. To what person or experience would you attribute your passion for solid design?
ZL: As someone who has had no formal training on design whatsoever, I've always viewed design as empathy. When creating software, you really have to attempt to put yourself in the shoes of whoever might be sitting in front of the computer at home, on their tablet in front of the television, or using their mobile phone on the toilet (don't lie, you do it). The most dangerous thing you can do is assume that you are the ideal person and that the majority of people think like you do. I love to watch people use software, even if it's not software I've created. The difference between the poison of experience and the purity of inexperience is fascinating.
SPN: The name of your personal blog, Web 367, comes from the terms Web 3.0, 6 Bladed Razors, and 7 Minute Abs. Clearly, you have a knack for one-upsmanship (or one-downsmanship in the case of the ab routine). So one-up yourself. What are some other examples of one-upmanship you could fuse to make another clever blog name?
ZL: It's pretty easy to be cynical with marketing, because so much of it is so bad. USDA Choice Ground Beef, now only 14 percent pink slime! Do you remember a few years back when Toyota had all those recalls for vehicles that wouldn't stop accelerating? Really put their "Moving forward" slogan in a new light, especially when they continued to show commercials using the slogan during the recall! Here's another one: Minute Rice takes 5 minutes to cook. What a scam! In what world should Minute Rice take longer to cook than a Hot Pocket?
Credits: Photo by Ryan Versaw.
Prairie Portraits: To learn more about this series, see our introduction post, or visit our archives for past Prairie Portraits. To suggest an individual for a future Prairie Portrait, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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