Meet 10xer technologist Antoine Leclair. Antoine is a freelance software developer who cofounded web applications, Signsquid and Snipcart. For the last couple years he’s been working on agile teams, building robust software backed by automated testing. We sat down with Antoine for a one on one to discuss his past (he began his career as an aircraft pilot and then moved onto his other passion – programming) and future projects.
10x: What initially drew you to working in the tech industry?
Leclair: When I was 6 or 7 years old, in the late 80’s, my stepfather brought home a computer. It was a Tandy Color Computer 3. What was awesome about this computer is that it didn’t do much out of the box. You had to write code. My stepfather read the code to me from a book, character by character, like a dictation. I basically learned to read and write code at the same time that I learned to read and write French, my native language. That allowed me to develop a good understanding of algorithms, abstract thinking and mathematics at a very young age. Ever since then as a kid I wanted to be a software developer and an aircraft pilot.
10x: Are there 10x related projects that you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?
Leclair: One of my customers is in the book publishing industry. They specialize in education, focused on K-12. They wanted to build a custom widget (interactive module) to include in e-books. The author would enter an equation, like PV = nRT, and the student would be able to play with that equation to get a better understanding as well as modify it for the current context. For example, they would be able to isolate n and get n = PV/RT. That widget would also allow students to compute the value of the isolated variable, filling values for the other variables. I searched for existing libraries that would do something similar and nothing like that existed, so I decided to build it completely from scratch.
In technical jargon, I ended up writing a parser of a mathematics language very close to asciimath to build an abstract syntax tree (AST) that the student can manipulate. And then, two interpreters: one that outputs LaTeX, so that mathematics symbols look good on-screen, and one that computes the actual value using the values entered by the student.
The reason I’m proud of that project is that 99 percent of web developers would just have said it was not possible to do, because it requires a strong understanding of computer science. Instead of telling the customer it wasn’t possible, I made it happen building it from scratch and created something cool.
10x: Any other interesting side projects that you’ve worked on or are currently working on?
Leclair: I always liked side projects, because when you build a side project, you can try new methods, new libraries, new languages, or stick with what you know and enjoy it!
These days, my side project is Grawl, a crawler that watches for broken links, like 404s, on your websites and sends you an email to inform you. The task may sound simple, but it gets interesting because it’s built in a way that allows it to scale and crawl hundreds of sites at the same time. It’s currently in alpha version.
I normally try to focus on only one side project at a time, to make the best use of my time. You don’t get much free time when you’re a father of a young child! But my list of future side projects is always full: build an electric skateboard, a flying robot, a solar cell phone charger, etc. Not to mention the many online courses on Coursera, EdX and MIT OpenCourseWare in my pipeline.
His other areas of interest include: playing piano or guitar, parkour, electronics and studying mathematics. For more information about Antoine, check out his profile here.