Growing up as his neighborhood’s ‘computer guy’, Mats Mulder, started pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering before switching to computer science. It didn’t take Mats long to realize that code could be used to fuel creative projects, and during his time at school he started his own design agency. Now a front-end developer at Hadrian, Mats talks with us about the creativity behind code, how starting his own company affected his perspective on start-ups and the visual storytelling behind the Hadrian dashboard.
What drew you towards code and computers in the first place?
I actually have a specific moment where I realized that computer science could be the right fit for me. Originally I was doing my BA in mechanical engineering rather than computer science, but growing up I was the ‘computer guy.’ When it came to setting up Wifi or reinstalling Windows I was the first person everyone came to for help. At one point in time I knew the computer passwords of all my friends’ parents because I managed their computers. Everyone expected me to study something with computers, but I was a young boy and I was stubborn so of course I refused (laughs). I also didn’t code much at the time so mechanical engineering seemed like a great option.
At university I remember being jealous of the people who studied computer science. In fact, I remember a distinct moment when I was on the train:I was looking out the window, and I realized that my jealousy towards them was because I wanted to pursue computer science. I realized at that moment that it could be a great fit for me and I could be really good at it.
I started by just building websites for personal projects in order to learn more code. I really enjoyed it and I switched to computer science.
At Hadrian you’ve done a lot of work creating the website, and working on the dashboard. Once you learned about coding and switched into computer science what drew you towards using code for visual and branding projects?
What I like about code is how you can create something with it. Coding for me is a practical skill, it always relates to something that I want to create or make. I love seeing the end-result, and I’ll admit the visual surface aspects are what appeal to me. I like making pretty things that are unique and work well for the client.
For you, what makes a project stand out as unique?
When the end product creates an interesting and engaging visual experience for the user, I find that special. In my earlier days, before Hadrian, I created a website for a client that had an interesting scrolling feature. Information would remain blended into the background until the user scrolled by it, at which point it would reveal itself. Instead of a website where all the information was immediately available, the technique allowed for user attention to be attracted to the right locations at the right time. It really allowed for a story to be created.
Before you came to Hadrian you actually had your own design agency called Overbelicht. Did owning and starting your own agency make it easier to integrate into start-up life and styles of working?
Overberlicht was an agency I started while I was a student. However, when I graduated it wasn’t profitable enough to live on. I continued to work on it part time while also working as a developer for a bigger corporation.
Having 2 jobs at the same time was quite tough, and rather stressful. In a design agency setting clients can be quite demanding in terms of your time. We were growing quite rapidly so we had to work a lot of weekends and nights. When I actually worked on projects I also felt that I was constrained by budgets and client opinions. I decided I wanted to focus my time and energy on 1 job, and preferably one with a bigger team where I could learn and be inspired by people with more experience. That was when I found Hadrian.
There are links between having your own company and working at an early-stage start-up. The main similarity is how much there is to be done. In both settings having a team filled with people who take initiative and are full of a desire to take on new projects is important.
At Overberlicht I also had the opportunity to work on projects for other early stage companies which gave me some experience thinking about their unique needs. I also had some past experience doing a Masters that combined computer science with entrepreneurship. My Masters was based around the start-up scene within Europe and so in that sense I think I came to Hadrian with a background that prepared me for the needs of an early-stage start-up.
Now that you’re at Hadrian, what’s the most exciting project that you’re currently working on?
Working on making the Hadrian Dashboard increasingly user-oriented is an interesting project with big impact.
I think often in cybersecurity companies we run the risk of creating a dashboard that is too technical and data oriented, with a lot of tables. Right now we’re at the point where we’re taking all the data Hadrian’s product collects and creating a base for a dashboard that is shaped around customer needs. It’s incredible to see Hadrian get to a point where we can do more user interviews and use the information we collect to create a product that is differentiated by its easy user interface.
I’m also really excited by the team that’s working on the Dashboard. Our new Design Lead, Vincent, is coming from a design background as well, and has a really clear understanding of how to create a user-oriented product.
What’s one aspect of the Dashboard you are looking forward to developing?
Creating easy workflows and user interactions with risks. It would be easy to create a Dashboard that just had a risk page with relevant information but we want to go further to encourage user interaction. Our goal is to create value, not only in identifying the risk, but in helping the user work easily to resolve. Creating a workflow around the risk, so that progress on resolving the risk can be easily marked is helpful. We’ve also thought about allowing people to write comments to each other on the dashboard, so that you can work within the system, rather than just having a system that displays information.
Finally, how does your drive for creativity bleed into your life outside of Hadrian?
I have a lot of hobbies that involve an artistic perspective. For instance, I do a lot of wood working. A lot of the furniture in my home I built myself. I built the table, and this weekend I’m working on crafting some lamps to go above the table. I also do a lot of photography and videography.
One of the great things about Hadrian has been the opportunity to use my passion for hobbies such as photography on other projects. I’ve been really lucky to be able to take photos of key milestones and events for the company, and so get to experiment with that craft as well.
I have a lot of energy and I need somewhere to channel it. The breadth of projects at Hadrian has been perfect for me.