Len Li spent quite a few years trying to figure out his real passion. After leaving a career in supply chain consulting, he began to focus on front-end web development — then he found his true calling. Now, his mobile development work with Zola has been featured in the Apple store, and he’s even designing games in his free time.
Len re-visited Flatiron School’s campus to talk to us about the unique (and exciting) challenges of iOS development, and the moment he realized iOS development was the career for him.
How was it being part of the second iOS cohort?
It was awesome! I got a chance to really learn the Apple frameworks and get better as an engineer in general. I had done front-end web development before, but I hadn’t built substantial apps before. I felt like I was missing something, like I still needed to get better. So I boldly quit my job and decided to try Flatiron School! It’s been a great opportunity.
You’ve been developing at Zola (a wedding registry website) for the Apple Watch and iPad. What do those projects entail?
Technically, it’s actually the same app. There are challenges in making it a universal app, incorporating all these mini apps within it. But it’s been great — I’ve been at Zola exactly one year today and I love it. People are smart, and everybody is doing really well. Actually, our iPad app got featured by Apple, which was a big deal. I’m learning Swift on the job, and I have a great mentor.
“Before I did iOS or web, I had no idea what I wanted to be.”
How about developing for iPad versus iPhone?
iPad is really tough if you support multiple orientations. You have to account for so many different things, and it feels almost like you’re building another app within the app. Zola is very design oriented, and if the app rotates, it has to do so gracefully and animate well. It’s a lot of work since we support iOS 7, 8, and 9 in landscape and portrait.
A screenshot of Zola on iPad from the Apple App store.
What’s the biggest difference between developing for the web and developing for iOS?
There are actually a lot of similarities. For example, instead of placing a box with text inside a container on your webpage in front end, in iOS you might use pre-built classes called UILabel and UIButton. The hardest thing about iOS is learning the best practices and discovering the Apple frameworks. The best way to learn them well is from someone who knows them and is willing to walk you through it to figure it out. At the end of the day, though, they’re not that different.
After you finished Flatiron School, did you have any side projects you did on your own?
Yeah, I built a game called Shoebox Showdown, which actually helped me get my job now! I really recommend that to anyone who is applying for a job — build something cool and substantial. Before I did the game, I went on tons of interviews and people would ask me ridiculous questions that I couldn’t answer off the top of my head. As soon as I built this game, it proved I was hireable.
Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about taking the iOS immersive?
Try to do it first! Before I did iOS or web, I had no idea what I wanted to be. And even before I became a front-end web developer, I thought I was interested in project management and UX (User Experience) design. It turns out I’m interested in building product. As you try things, you discover what you don’t like. Once you experiment with something and you find it even more interesting, that’s when you know you’re on the right path.
Make yourself useful.