Some people are just naturally good at finding creative solutions to problems. Arash Eshgheh may be one of those people — but he also had to be resourceful when he started his career as a software developer.
“If you bring me an issue that you say is impossible, it just makes me want to solve it that much more. ”— Arash Eshgheh, eAlchemy software developer/architect
Eshgheh grew up in Iran, and studied software engineering at Tehran University before going to work in the late 1990s. It was nothing like being a software developer today here in Silicon Valley. In one of his early jobs for a container shipping company, there wasn’t a data network or even phone lines in the shipyards — so Eshgheh helped build a P2P network by installing satellite dishes.
He doesn’t really like the word “hack” — but that’s essentially what Eshgheh did during much of his early career. He hacked together software solutions to problems in a region with very little technology infrastructure.
Twenty years later, a proud U.S. citizen, Eshgheh is still at it, now as a software developer and architect for eAlchemy. Ask his teammates, and they’ll tell he’s the guy who can find a way to do more with less.
“Arash is so resourceful and scrappy,” said Chris Farkas, founder and CEO of eAlchemy. “He’ll consistently find that simple solution to a tough problem, and you’ll ask yourself, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’”
I recently sat down with Eshgheh to talk about his work — past and present — and how growing up in Iran helped shape his career.
Tell me about what you do at eAlchemy and your specialties.
My title is software developer and architect. I’ve spent a lot of time helping our clients move from VBA to .NET technology using modern API frameworks. And more recently, I’ve been doing a lot of work in Power BI, including building integrations with Telerik.
You started working in software development in Iran. Can you tell me about the work you did there?
After I finished university, I started as a low-level system programmer. I used to write device drivers and micro applications with Assembly and C. One of my projects in that time was converting English to Farsi fonts to display on point-of-sale device screens and printers.
After a while, I started coding business applications — it was a lot more interesting than device drivers. In 1997, I started a job for a container shipping company — and there was a huge need for solutions and applications. I spent the next few years analyzing the business and creating software applications to expedite and secure all of the company’s data transactions.
What was the technology scene like in Iran compared to the U.S. and here in Silicon Valley?
Well, for starters, the communications systems were challenging. In the year 2000, we didn’t even have phone lines in our container yards — so we had to install big dishes and peer-to-peer technology to connect to the nearest city. And we would then be able to send digitized documents with fax modems.
The other problem was that there were no software copyright laws in Iran. So we had to make physical locks for our software and keep the source code of our applications in a safe! But on the other hand, we could buy some of the best software in the world for very little money — usually by paying the price of a single CD or some floppy disks to store the programs. Because of that, I had the chance to work with and learn about the best programming tools. I’ve heard recently that the Iranian government is starting to create and enforce software copyright laws — which is a great news for Iranian software developers.
I’m sure everything was easier and smoother in Silicon Valley during that time — but working in tough conditions made me think more innovatively about solving problems. That’s also made me appreciate the tools and the technology we have here in the U.S. today.
I understand you’ve been in the U.S. for 11 years now. Do you ever miss it in Iran?
Well, I can’t deny that I have some feelings about my motherland and where I grew up — just as anyone would. But there are many things that I don’t miss about living there.
I appreciate freedom in a way that most people probably can’t. I don’t mean freedom as a political phrase — but freedom as a simple feeling in life, being in a place where no one judges you or discriminates against you for your gender, personal beliefs or your race. So I can say I miss Iran, but I never miss living in Iran. Also, I love the Bay Area and the diverse people. I feel this is my home, and I’m proud to be part of this community and to be an American citizen.
You’ve developed quite a reputation within eAlchemy as the guy who can hack together solutions to some tough problems. Where does that come from?
It’s partly just my nature. If I can’t immediately fix or solve something, I think more and more about it — even when I’m awake in bed at night. I can’t give up. At some point, I think of a solution or at least have a new approach that starts me down the path to a solution.
I think it also goes back to my experiences as a young programmer in Iran — and working in tough conditions. My managers there wouldn’t accept “no” for an answer. ”I don’t care how but it has to be done!” they would say. I’ve never heard this said here in the U.S. but it’s something that I used to hear often in Iran. And believe me, the last thing you’d want to say is “It’s not possible, Sir!”
Can you give me an example of one of your “hacks” that you’re particularly proud of?
Yes. After I moved to the U.S., I began working for a solar company, building web applications to help the sales team create cost estimates and proposals for clients. To show the potential cost savings of solar, the sales team needed the most updated utility rates. But the information came from our internal database with more than 16,000 rows of information. That database was being manually updated with information from external utility websites. Our company had recently laid off some team members — so maintaining that database was no longer possible.
So, I created a macro program that could scrape about 16,000 numbers from 2,000 rate plans on the utility websites. Then I wrote some code to simulate the way our rate analysts calculated the estimates based on those raw utility rate numbers. All told, it took me about two months to build and test that solution — but it worked pretty well. And after it rolled out, I was named the company’s “Employee of the Quarter.”
That’s very cool! How about something you’ve worked on recently that took a creative solution?
One of our clients recently asked us for an Excel tool that could generate a report that included picture fields. So, I used VSTO (Visual Studio Tools for Office) in Excel. I wrote an API that processes a calculation, and the tool calls that API, generates HTML, and the HTML is returned to the Excel file. The report was really fast and looked great. Most importantly, the client was very happy.
What’s your favorite thing about the work you do?
All of the opportunities to be innovative and solve problems, big and small. If you bring me an issue that you say is “impossible,” it just makes me want to solve it that much more. I don’t play a lot of games, but using code to solve difficult challenges gives me the same feeling as solving a tough puzzle.
What work are you most proud of in your two years at eAlchemy?
Probably my nickname — everyone calls me Mr. Cool! It’s probably because I’m pretty quiet and calm. I’m happy sitting and staring at my monitor, writing and reviewing code for hours without getting tired or bored. I’m also proud to be part of our brilliant team at eAlchemy.
You’re obviously very passionate about your job. What are you passionate about outside of work?
I love my wife — we enjoy every moment we get to spend with each other. She came from Iran, too, so we have a lot of memories to share with each other about our homeland. Some people may think our life is boring — we’re not really into having parties and we don’t do what many think of as exciting activities. But it’s not boring for us at all. I also like fishing but not for catching fish — I enjoy being in nature and close to water. It’s incredibly relaxing. I also like to write. Someday, I’d love to write a book about my adventures in life, but I’ll probably save that for retirement.