Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Founder Steve McConnell guides Construx Software to industry prominence

Author, CEO, Pateros favorite son

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PATEROS -- It has been some years since Steve McConnell has been a resident here, but the CEO of Construx Software in Bellevue still considers the city at the junction of the Columbia and Methow rivers one of his two nostalgic hometowns.

McConnell is also the author of several books, including “Code Complete”, widely regarded as one of the best practical guides to programming and software development.

Recently, McConnell’s employees hit on a unique way to honor their boss, bring attention to his Pateros roots and create a lasting memento all at the same time. They fashioned a street sign that could be affixed to the pole under the “Entering Pateros” greeting.

The new addition read: “Hometown of Code Complete author and favorite son Steve McConnell.” The crew hung the sign, snapped a photo of their handiwork and removed the sign. The photo was then matted, framed and signed by all 19 company staffers. They kept the secret until mid-August when, during a company getaway in Chelan, they presented the photo to McConnell.

Code Complete figures prominently in McConnell’s professional resume. It is one of the books he wrote before he founded Construx and it laid the groundwork for the later consulting and training specialties the company would promote. He wrote it in 1993 devoting some four years and 3,500 hours to the project. The guide was well-received and its first edition went through 30 printings and was translated into 10 languages.

In 2004, McConnell devoted another 1,000 hours to an extensive revised second edition 

McConnell used his own journey through the computer science field as a guide for the type of reference he would write.

“It’s the book I wish somebody had handed to me shortly after I got out of college and said, ‘O.K. here’s all the stuff you’re going to learn in the first five to 10 years the hard way, or you can read this book instead of learning everything the hard way’”.

Construx Director of Business Development, Paul Donovan described McConnell’s standing in the software industry this way:

“Steve really is considered one of the most influential people in the field of software development having written what many/most software folks consider the “Bible” of software development best practices,” said Donovan of Code Complete. “If you read some of the reviews of his books on the Amazon.com site you’ll get some ideas as to the impact he’s had on software development world-wide.”

McConnell spent his early childhood years in Pateros, was bussed to kindergarten in Brewster and attended first and grades in Pateros before his family moved to Spokane in 1971.

The McConnell home was located on the hill just below the twin water towers. It was also among those destroyed in the 2014 Carlton Complex wildfire.

 “I spent very, very enjoyable childhood years in Pateros,” said McConnell. “Pretty idyllic really; I felt I spent my childhood just wandering around the hills by the water towers.”

He was a toddler when the construction of Wells Dam changed the face and future of Pateros.

“I think they activated it when I was about three,” McConnell said.

The family relocated again to Puyallup, his other nostalgic hometown, when McConnell was a freshman in high school and he graduated Rogers High School in 1981.

McConnell attended Whitman College in Walla Walla and, like many first-year students, didn’t really know what career path he wanted to pursue. He decided to take one computer science class per semester as his “backup Plan B” so that, upon graduation, if he still hadn’t figured out what he wanted to do, he would have enough computer science training to get a job in that field. He graduated with a major in philosophy and minor in computer science. He then added a master’s degree in software engineering from Seattle University

McConnell did end up in computer programming and worked for Boeing and Microsoft among other companies before striking out on his own.

“I woke up one morning and said, ‘you know, I think Plan B might actually be Plan A’.”

That revelation planted the seeds of Construx, McConnell’s decision to form his own company and enter the competitive field of computer custom software programming in 1996.

“We were going to be a software development company,” said McConnel but, by his own admission, the timing was not ideal.

“Number one, we were going right into the dotcom collapse buzz saw,” said McConnell. “Second, it coincided with the rise of offshore outsourcing in India and Eastern Europe.”

During the nine years that Construx struggled to make headway in the custom software programming field, it also engaged in consulting and training “to keep the lights on” McConnel said.  

Before long another light went on and Construx management saw the writing – or rather the programming – on the wall. The consulting and training had always been easy, profitable and natural for the company whereas programming had been hard and unprofitable. So, once again, McConnell refocused on another Plan B. 

“It was a fairly rocky transition for us,” recalled McConnell, “because we had to lay off about 40 percent of our staff who weren’t able to make the jump to the consulting/training business.”

This company is 21 years old and managed to survive the dotcom collapse between 1997-2001 that took down about half of Construx’s client base.

“That was a rough couple of years,” McConnell said.

Continuing improvements and efficiencies in global internet communications have fit well into the Construx business model. 

“The advent of online training has been a big deal for us,” said McConnell of his company’s now worldwide reach.

What McConnell saw in the emerging industry of computer programming decades ago was “a field that was young enough and green enough where a person could still make a difference.”

In McConnell’s case, that perception was especially prescient.

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