Adventures in TazWorks Software Development

It had been a particularly long, cold winter in the mountain state of Utah. I would often wonder why, why did the pioneers choose such an extreme, desert clime in which to make their home? I consoled myself with the thought it really wasn’t their first choice. Someone higher up the chain decided for them, that’s it. Who knows? What I did know was in early 2006 I was through risking my life traversing Bangerter highway: an ill-fated, overcrowded and dangerous road that winds itself suddenly to a halt, stoplight upon stoplight, up and down the West Valley.

It was midwinter when my mind spun wildly the moment I passed that dreaded road sign, reminding passers-by of the fatality that happened the week before. It existed to prove to me that “Yes, this road is dangerous” and “Yes, it could be you next to die”. Thirty minutes later I pulled up to my overly corporate tech job at Ingenix. I felt like Ron Livingston from Office Space, except this wasn’t a movie; it was my life <sigh>. I sat in my car and contemplated things. From within, the distinct sound of another commercial flight climbing out of Salt Lake International filled the ice blue sky. With some effort I summoned the courage to meander in. Lately my thoughts were highjacking the cargo-hold of a Boeing 747. They were telling me that nearly anywhere would be better than here, better than now.

Then I met Mr. Barton Taylor, and his sidekick in crime Scott Kimball. Who were they I wondered? The ad on the electronic mailing list sounded promising, but I wasn’t counting on it. But then again, it sure sounded promising. Listed there was the very open source technology I was itching to explore (Spring!), and to have someone pay me to do it would be a career dream come true. I mean hey, I had somewhat become a real hardcore Java nerd, but I had accepted that. True, at the moment I was still Ron Livingston in corporate hell, but who I really was is Jeff Bridges in Tron, fighting red tape money grubbers while kicking digital boogie man butt.

Initially I thought Scott was the boss. It was he, in a low voice over a hurried phone call, who invited me to lunch at Johnny Carinos. There I would have my shot to show Barton and Scott what I could bring to this small band of strangers known simply as Taz.

Over pasta and breadsticks, I dangled some colorful screenshots of a number of Web projects I had helped build in the past. Barton looked them over carefully, then over me as he appeared to size up this 30 something Xgener. I was hoping he would give me a chance. To me “it” seemed like a perfect match, and to my delight a few days later an offer was extended. I quickly accepted a software engineering position to work at TazWorks on my birthday, April, Spring of 2006.

That was six short years ago. Somehow I find myself, along with everyone else, caught up in hectic world of 2012. It’s a crazy time, filled with political turmoil and economic uncertainty. And yet, thankfully, work at TazWorks marches on. It really is a delightful place to work. I mean sure, there is the occasional bad day when software fails and spirits dampen, but those days are the exception and not the rule. The company has grown by three factors since then. I have now the distinct privilege to look over what we have been able to accomplish in those brief six years.

So what were some of the milestones along the way? There was the now famous “road across the swamp”. Could we successfully release the first set of searches, County Criminal being principle among them, to an anxious group of clients? Who would adopt the next version of background check software, and would they like it? “Sure, but would it be simple yet powerful?”, Jonathan would quip. We had the sense we were building something good, but the truth is a majority of Web projects fail, and I certainly didn’t want that fate to befall 2.0, having spent many many hours researching, plotting, planning and coding.

Early on, Scott and I drew up numerous model diagrams on the whiteboard at my house. Jonathan brought his valuable knowledge of 1.0 background check searches and vendors to bare. Bill got busy writing dialogs that would allow clients to add users to the system, while Barton scribed his dream and vision down for all of us to interpret slash translate. By that time the foundation was laid, the framework set. Initially the going was slow, as Barton will point out. However today, some years later, I’m happy to exclaim that our efforts have been a success!

TazWorks has grown year after year as over 90 percent of our clients now use the proven InstaScreen 2.0 platform. There is no greater reward for an engineer than to see something they helped build be useful to people. And while software is an imperfect art to be certain, with processes to improve and usability to tone, what a tremendous thrill it continues to be associating with people who have all worked long hours, together and alone, to see it all through. Here’s to many more years of success, both to TazWorks as well to all the background screening agencies we endeavor to serve.

I think it may be time we look into the future… The future Conan? Yes, the future Andy. Let’s look all the way to the year 2000. Err, the year 2000 and twelve…

In the year 2000, in the year 2000 (and twelve)!

Conan O’Brien will be completely hosed by NBC as Jay Leno’s replacement show blows, prompting them to foolishly move Coco back an entire time slot. 30 million dollars and several bruised egos later, Conan moves to TBS.

In the year 2000, in the year 2000 (and twelve)!

After the final movie installment of “Star Wars” ends it run in theaters, loyal fan/nerds all return home and jump out the window. Fortunately they all live in their parent’s basement so no one is harmed.

In the year 2000, in the year 2000 (and twelve)!

Taz launches plans to expand its InstaScreen background check platform, improving usability and broadening its support to Internet devices. The innovations are so successful, the company’s president is constrained to announce his ultimately unsuccessful bid for President of the United States. After a tempestuous time in hurricane-ridden Florida, he happily resumes his role as President of TazWorks to the relief of dozens of employees and hundreds of clients.

And so it’s true. No matter where Coco or Star Wars faithful eventually end up, the fact remains that the future of InstaScreen background check software is rife with innovation. We are in the process of implementing a new look, with new technologies to improve usability on multiple browsers and devices. Applicants will have greater success completing the application process, and processors a simpler go at accessing the data they need to get the workload done.

Now you know all about my adventures in Taz. I think I need a Coke. I like the hecho en Mexico kind from Costco, you know the ones with real sugar? Mmmm… Oh and those dark chocolate almond clusters too. Now that’s living. See you at this year’s users group. I hope this year I didn’t plan a trip around the same time. You know, I’ll never live that one down as long as I live.

Note: This post is by Justin Peck a senior software engineer at TazWorks. In this post, Justin describes his experience being hired to architect our version 2 background check software from its inception.