As we already announced, on Thursday, October 6 at 7pm, the Tech Ninjas Series #1: Introducing Ruby on Rails event will take place at Seeqnce Community Space, in Hamra, Beirut. What’s cool about this is that one awesome coder will share his knowledge with DOZENS of hackers! That awesome coder is Constantine Nicolaou, a Ruby on Rails developer based in Beirut, Lebanon. Costa will introduce the RoR framework, with real-life examples from his experience developing on the platform.
Yesterday Seeqnce had an opportunity to interview Costa and find out more about his professional background, the reason he came back to Lebanon after having some great professional experience in the UK, as well as his current professional engagement. Costa also shared insights on some challenges and opportunities he particularly faced as a developer based in Lebanon. Moreover he emphasized the importance of startup accelerators in changing the environment and making things better. In the end he advised to other developers and entrepreneurs to embrace new technologies, to keep on researching and trying new stuff without being afraid to get outside their comfort zone. You can find the full interview transcript below.
Seeqnce: What is your professional background?
Constantine Nicolaou: I completed a BA in Management Information Systems studies at Haigazian University, Lebanon where I co-founded, designed and published a business and informatics magazine (BE-News). During my studies and in addition to working as a sys-admin and web developer for Saint Mary’s Orthodox College, I started surfcampus.com, an academic social portal for Lebanese students.
I landed in the UK early 2006 and joined a local District Council where I first started using Ruby on Rails. Coming from the world of PHP, Ruby on Rails was love at first sight and I soon became heavily involved in bringing legacy applications to the world of Rails.
In the meantime, at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, I joined Matt Wood’s team behind Sequencescape, which formed part of the Institute’s next generation sequencing platform. At Sanger, I had the chance to work closely with scientists and talented developers on complex requirements — specifically, handling and curating large data sets by building and integrating apps and API design.
I joined mekentosj.com team after moving back to Lebanon late 2009.
Seeqnce: What are you currently doing in Lebanon?
Constantine Nicolaou: I am working remotely forMekentosj, a UK based company. I work on Livfe, the collaborative component of Papers and the backbone of its cloud solution. I monitor and maintain the code on a daily basis, add new features, support customers, and maintain many other internal apps.
Seeqnce: You mentioned that you came back to Lebanon in late 2009. What was the motivation or reason behind this?
Constantine Nicolaou: First of all, my initial decision came as a more of a personal reason: I wanted to move back to Lebanon to be with family etc. And in fact I started noticing that the region is evolving and changing. Although there were no promises to make things better, it was good I came back and I am glad I did.
Seeqnce: As a developer, what are the greatest challenges you face in Lebanon?
Constantine Nicolaou: Lack of proper infrastructure which I believe is on the way. The next one would be the community. There is no community that takes care of developers, like having regular meetings to discuss and share ideas about technical issues, problems and projects.
Seeqnce: What opportunities do you foresee in Lebanon?
Constantine Nicolaou: I think there are plenty of opportunities in Lebanon: the Internet speed off, there are a lot of talents, lots of young people wanting to get things done and change things. I think if companies like Seeqnce provide, help and push forwards basic needs for technical people, for developers, than it will be much better.
Seeqnce: What is your opinion on the quality of developers in Lebanon and what do they need in order to compete globally?
Constantine Nicolaou: I don’t think that Lebanese developers need any additional skill, or I don’t think they need to be any cleverer, or do something additional other than being provided appropriate tools. I would dare to say that plenty of Lebanese developers are already competing internationally. There are plenty of really good quality apps being born here. To name a few: Woopra, Yamli, Naharnet and Birdy Nam Nam. However, we can have more, the more the merrier.
Seeqnce: Have you ever thought of founding your own web/mobile startup?
Constantine Nicolaou: The idea occurred to me a lot but I quite like what I am doing right now and I am having a lot of fun.
Seeqnce: Is there any new technology you are particularly excited about?
Constantine Nicolaou: I am interested in emerging technologies, cloud computing, NoSQL movement and DSLs (Domain Specific Languages). I’m huge fan and a loud voice on TDD and BDD (Test and Behavior Driven Development).
Seeqnce: What’s your view on startup accelerators like Seeqnce?
Constantine Nicolaou: I think they are needed for every environment and I think Seeqnce is doing an excellent job. They are super motivated, they advise a lot of people, and are really influencing and changing the environment.
Seeqnce: What is your final advice to other developers in Lebanon or in the region in general?
Constantine Nicolaou: My advice is to embrace new technologies, to not be afraid of pushing forwards and getting outside the comfort zone, challenge yourself and try new stuff. So don’t take everything for granted, keep on looking, keep on researching, keep on trying new stuff.