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An Interview with Ellen Shapiro Written by Enrique López-Mañas

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_Ellen is a mobile developer who has been building iOS and Android apps since 2010. She worked for years in Chicago, where she eventually became Director of iOS Development for a small agency called Vokal, then Lead Mobile Developer for the parking app SpotHero. She moved to the Netherlands in 2017 and joined Bakken & Bæck’s Amsterdam office. She’s recently joined Apollo GraphQL to work on their iOS SDK, and now lives in Madison, WI.

Connect with Ellen

Twitter: @DesignatedNerd

Website: designatednerd.com


You are one of those individuals who are extremely talented in both iOS and Android mobile platforms. What’s your secret, and how do you stay at the top of both development communities?

Part of my secret is that I started learning both around the same time, with the idea that I’d specialize in one when I felt like it—and that sort of happened. I’ve always been fascinated by the two different approaches to what is essentially the same problem. Here is a device, for example, that fits in your palm. It’s got a somewhat weaker processor than a normal computer. It’s definitely got less RAM, and it’s got a terrible battery. How do you take all of that and make an experience for users that’s good, consistent and interesting? And iOS and Android have long had different approaches to that problem. I find it interesting to see, both from a developer-tools standpoint and from a UX and hardware standpoint, how each platform approaches it.

You’re the founder of your own company, Designated Nerd Software. What’s the focus of your company, and what motivated you to start it?

At this point, Designated Nerd Software is mostly the umbrella name for all the random stuff that I do. I actually get paid by Apollo GraphQL at this point. When I first started Designated Nerd, it was called Designated Nerd Technical Support. I used to work in television production, and I always joke that I’m in technology because I knew how to set up a Mac with a networked printer in 2003—because I knew how to do that, people kept asking me more and more complicated questions, and I got better and better at Googling the answers.

Then you started developing apps for other clients?

When I first started developing apps, it was mostly trying to build a portfolio. I wanted to have something to show, primarily because I didn’t have a computer science degree. I had a certificate in application development from UCLA Extension. I wanted to try to be taken at least somewhat seriously, so I started building apps. Then, I tried to make things better app over app, trying to show that I could grow an idea over time—roughly at the end of 2011 when I finally got a job.

Ellen’s Recommendation

  • Planet Money podcast | National Public Radio (NPR)

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