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Working at Big Nerd Ranch: An Interview with Aaron Hillegass

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InformIT sits down with Aaron Hillegass to discuss his job at Big Nerd Ranch and why he loves working there.
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InformIT: How did you get the idea to start Big Nerd Ranch?

Aaron Hillegass:Big Nerd Ranch started out as a professional services company for Apple technologies -- we did training and consulting on app development for the Mac. Over time, we've diversified into a wide range of "post-PC" technologies: iOS, Android, Ruby on Rails, HTML5, JavaScript, and Windows Phone. We've also hired designers and project managers so that we can create end-to-end solutions for our clients.

Our office building was an old ironworks that we purchased and renovated.

We started in North America, but now we also do a lot of work for clients in Europe and Latin America. We have an office in Amsterdam.

InformIT: How long have you been in business?

Aaron Hillegass: 12 years.

InformIT: What makes Big Nerd Ranch different from other companies?

Aaron Hillegass: Everyone at Big Nerd Ranch has a deep commitment to life-long learning and usefulness.

InformIT: What’s your favorite thing about working there?

Aaron Hillegass: I've hired (or been part of hiring) just about everyone who works for the company. Not surprisingly, I find them all to be delightful. The work we do is interesting, but my favorite thing is getting to hang out with these smart, caring people everyday.

InformIT: What have you worked on at Big Nerd Ranch that you are most proud of?

Aaron Hillegass: I'm very proud of the four books that I've helped author: Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X, iOS Programming, Objective-C Programming, and Advanced Mac OS X Programming. I'm more proud of the thousands of people who have attended our classes -- especially those whose lives were improved by the class. But, really, I think Big Nerd Ranch, the company, will outlive me and my students. I'm most proud of having created the company.

This was taken after the renovation.

InformIT: Why should people want to work at Big Nerd Ranch?

Aaron Hillegass: Most people would not be successful here: We expect employees to do great things with very little guidance. We have little patience for engineers who don't take their roles as craftsmen seriously. We hold each other to very high standards of personal conduct and professional integrity.

Some people would argue that we don't have enough perks: We don't have day care or a gym or a foosball table or a chef. There is no IPO in our future.

That said, smart, curious, kind people who believe that dignity comes through integrity and hard work seem to love it here. They seem to really like working with other smart, curious, kind people who believe that dignity comes through integrity and hard work.

Here's a video.

Here's a note from one of our recent hires.

We have 26' ceilings.

InformIT: What advice would you have for a new employee just starting with you?

Aaron Hillegass: Never stop learning. Never lie. Keep your promises. Treat the people around you with respect.

InformIT: Tell us an "It could only happen at Big Nerd Ranch" story.

Aaron Hillegass: Let me think about that. We aren't much for theatrics, so a lot of stories are kinda dull, like "I didn't think it was possible, but then I found this really obscure API and I made it work. The client was really happy, but not nearly as happy as they should have been considering what a miracle I worked."

Big Nerd Ranch Galactic Headquarters Tour from Big Nerd Ranch on Vimeo.

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