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From Building RESTful APIs to Teaching Hip Hop: An Interview with VictorOps Developer DeAndré Carroll

Jessica Kahn March 14, 2017


DeAndre Bio Photo 2

DeAndré Carroll is a platform and API developer at VictorOps. He also has a multi-decade career as a street dancer, choreographer, teacher, and artistic entrepreneur as director of The FunKinetic Project.

JK: Which came first, dance or coding?

DC: I have had my relationship with computers far longer than I have been dancing.

I started programming when I was eleven years old. My elementary school in Northeast Denver had a program where they would pair mentors from IBM with kids they identified had aptitude for programming. I was usually the last kid at school, writing code in this little computer lab until 5pm. I continued coding in middle school and I took all of the classes that they offered in my high school. I was reintroduced to coding later in life through gaming.

What about dance?

My first formal dance training happened in 1993 when I decided to hop into a jazz class at CU Boulder. I had already been doing some street and club dancing socially because I grew up doing that. Then I joined a West African company and eventually became their assistant director, which was the start of a career teaching at studios, guest starring at some schools and doing some performances. Now I’m in Rennie Harris Grassroots, a dance company performing various street and club styles.

You’re balancing very different kinds of work.

When the tech boom started I found work as a web developer, so I actually started off in the more adult technical world. But there was a period of time when I tried to sustain myself for four years as a dancer and dance teacher, and that experience made me really understand what not having is.

When I went back to tech after working in dance full time for those four years, literally overnight I increased my annual income by $60K. I started feeling like I could actually support a community even with a small amount of money. I could make a larger difference.

It sounds like development complements dance. Like it pays the bills.

They’re pretty complementary. I am really driven to solve new problems and both of these aspects of my life are great for that. With each job, I have learned something new about an industry I had never thought about before.

At one company, my job was to find all of the software’s security holes, so I had to think like a criminal and figure out how people were abusing the system. Another company I worked for was an online grocer. We were always thinking about how to improve the customer experience for a demographic that was mainly moms purchasing for their households. I learned how food moves from farmers all the way to consumers. I never realized there was so much involved in grocery sales.

These different experiences foster a type of thinking and understanding about what all your resources are and being able to use them in novel ways.

[caption id=”attachment_14050” align=”alignnone” width=”600”]Dance Event Participants at one of DeAndré’s dance competitions[/caption]

What are you working on at VictorOps?

I’m mostly working on customer-facing RESTful APIs. I had been studying them on my own and implementing them since 2000. So when we started expanding our API set, I took the team through the ABCs of API design. This is what you want and this is what you don’t want. This causes this kind of problem, you need to decompose these a little better and make them a lot more useable. That’s the work I’m doing now. I’m also learning Scala.

RESTful APIs help companies that use the Agile methodology because they are good for gathering web metrics and finding efficiencies. So if we see that a lot of our clients are requesting two endpoints very quickly, there is a lot of network overhead associated with that. So we can create a new endpoint that aggregates them to get rid of the network overhead to pull that information down.

The great thing about APIs is that you can build systems that are different from what the original designers planned.

[caption id=”attachment_14040” align=”alignnone” width=”600”]Will and DeAndré Will La and DeAndré (right) at VictorOps[/caption]

What are some of your best experiences in dance? Any noteworthy performances?

I think I had my best gigs in schools. I spent a semester working as an artist-in-residence at a charter school for gifted K-8 students. They would pick one subject and they would study it from a variety of different perspectives.

They brought me in during a semester where they were teaching the civil rights movement. I came in to teach the music part. So I basically took the students on an evolutionary lesson on the development of African American music from its African roots–the influence of blues on rock and roll and gospel music. Many of the songs that had been around for generations in the US were repurposed for the civil rights movement. So regardless of where you lived, you just had to learn the new lyrics and they became protest and marching songs. I taught them songs and the dances that went along with them.

You look at a problem and you start thinking of solutions in terms of the tool sets that you have. I know how to dance, I know how to teach, I know how to program.

How are you using these different skills?

You look at a problem and you start thinking of solutions in terms of the tool sets that you have. I know how to dance, I know how to teach, I know how to program. I have started to learn more about the social architecture and the business side of the work. How do you build audiences and how do you sell things online? I picked up some marketing and soft skills and how to build community.

Artists don’t always know their true worth. They do it because they love it, but they also need to recognize and be able to explain that it’s a valuable asset to give to society. I am trying to figure out ways that I can take my knowledge from working in technology and build a community to support artists, but also allow artists to support the rest of the world—to use the power of urban dance to create healthy self-sustaining communities.

[caption id=”attachment_14041” align=”alignnone” width=”600”]DeAndré Dancing DeAndré African dancing with Cleo Parker Dance[/caption]

What are you most looking forward to tackling next?

One of the things that I am engaged in right now at The FunKinetic Project is a model where people pay a small annual subscription in exchange for access to the dance festival, events and resources in the community.

In tech, we bring resources together with very little friction. Let’s do the same in the arts, remove the friction and bring resources together so that everything doesn’t have to be donated.

If people can’t pay, then they can volunteer time and bank hours to use for classes. It’s a way to get dancers out and reach underserved communities doing what they do. They can be teachers and mentors.

The goal here is to transform artists into a workforce that can learn new skills and can connect with their art. In tech, we bring resources together with very little friction. Let’s do the same in the arts, remove the friction and bring resources together so that everything doesn’t have to be donated. I actually feel like I can tie all my interests together into one sort of coherent life’s work.

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