Singlewire Spotlight: James Elliott

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Each month, we’re featuring one of our stellar team members on our blog. Learn more about them and what they do at Singlewire.

How long have you been at Singlewire and what’s your position?

I’ve been at Singlewire since the formation of the company, and was at Berbee / CDW before that since January 2000 (I stayed at Epic a couple weeks after the turn of the millennium just in case I needed to help put out Y2K bug fires). I’m a software developer—I worked in the E-Business group at Berbee until the early days of the IP Telephony Applications group, when I joined to help create InformaCast.

Please describe what you do at Singlewire.

I design and write software, and fix, tweak and document it. When I come back to it later, I have to figure out how it’s supposed to work all over again, so clear structure and good internal documentation is simple self-defense. Sometimes I even get to get rid of software, which can be bittersweet. There are a surprising number of stages between an idea we (or our customers) think we want to pursue, and something that actually runs at scale and can be supported and maintained, so we are never short of interesting challenges.

What do like best about working at Singlewire?

Without a doubt, the people I get to work with. I’ve worked at a number of different places, and the culture and leadership here is outstanding. Being surrounded by smart people working well together because we care about our customers and each other, and knowing that we all have each others’ back when the inevitable problems surface, that’s wonderful and irreplaceable.

What’s been your favorite project you’ve worked on here?

I always have trouble picking favorites, and there are so many. Even though we now fight with the bits of it that are still sprinkled inside InformaCast on-premises, building the BRLAP database-to-web-page framework that we used as the skeleton of InformaCast was intense. There are better object-relational and web frameworks today, built by huge teams, but there was nothing like that at the time. I was able to leverage that into writing some books about Hibernate for O’Reilly Media. Pulling an all-nighter to come up with the license key system we used to make sure people paid us to use InformaCast was an experience in its own way. Working on the IP speaker protocol that got us our first patent, then rushing to the Chicago suburbs with as many power tools as we could find to help DDC assemble the first order of speakers. More recently, getting excited about learning Clojure and helping build the new mobile offering. I can’t pick the best, but the best thing is I don’t have to, there is always something new to work on.

What have you gained from working at Singlewire?

I was thrilled when we spun ourselves out as our own company, because it allowed us to define our culture and have a clear set of shared goals. In a small, focused company it is much easier to see how your own efforts and contributions really matter. Being able to share in the success of something you care about is a great privilege, and very gratifying.

What’s the best place you’ve traveled to and why?

I’m still terrible at favorites, but I do love visiting Barcelona (although these days it is starting to suffer from too many tourists, so I also feel a bit guilty about that). It’s such a lovely mixture of laid-back, modern Spanish and Catalan culture, great food, and incredible architecture and history. And, like me, everyone stays up late, even the grandparents.

Do you have any special talents?

I tend to pull them all back to software sooner or later… the last few years I’ve had a bunch of fun DJing electronic music at clubs, and putting on big light and laser shows with my partner Chris. But we got tired of how much work it was to transport, set up, and tear down all our gear, and how bad we were at making sure we actually got paid for the time and equipment. Still, that led me to write my own open-source lighting control software, and a spinoff project called Beat Link Trigger that synchronizes shows (light, laser, video, and even other musical instruments) to music being performed on Pioneer’s professional DJ equipment. It’s been used at big shows all over the world, and got a great write-up this summer in DJ Tech Tools magazine.

What was the last book you read?

Philip Pullman’s “The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage” which I was very excited to learn about from Marc Loy. It’s the first volume of a new trilogy set in the same world as (and sharing some of the same characters as) the amazing “His Dark Materials.” I still regret that I did not find some way to travel to London to see the stage productions while they were running, since the terrible Hollywood adaptation of (the first ⅔ of) “The Golden Compass” fell as flat as I expected it to when they chickened out and fired Tom Stoppard as screenwriter.

Spotify, Pandora or iTunes and why?

iTunes, specifically iTunes Match (which supposedly Apple is going to get rid of by 2019, I fear) because I need to actually own the music, and have it in the form of real (non-streaming) files. That way I can load it into rekordbox, check the beat grid and key, categorize it for different kinds of parties, and transfer it to a thumb drive to DJ with.

Where’s your hometown?

I was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., but only lived there a year before I was whisked off to Stockholm, Sweden (having spent some time in the peace corps, my dad knew he wanted to travel, and talked my mom into it, so he got a job in the international finance division of Goodyear). Four years in Stockholm were followed by four in Bogor, Indonesia (quite a change). We were supposedly going to Paris after that, and my parents were eager to return to Europe, when at the last minute it suddenly changed to South Africa. After a sleepless night of soul-searching they decided to turn that down, and we ended up in Mexico City, much closer to our relatives. My sister and I spent a month at school in Michigan with our grandparents while my parents took intensive Spanish at Berlitz in Chicago. Six and a half interesting years in Mexico City, at a British school full of embassy kids from around the world, were followed by a promotion to headquarters in Ohio. I finished my last two years of high school in Hudson, a small town that pretends to be in New England, then went to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York for my undergraduate degree. I came to Madison for graduate school, and apart from one year working for a startup in Boston, have been here since. I like it here, though I have been so many places, and have spent more time here than anywhere else, so I guess this is my hometown now.

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