Jess Likens

Jess Likens

Cloud Architect & Azure Technology Evangelist

About Me

Technology is in my blood. The most amazing part about evolving my passion for tech into a career is that I actually get to make a living doing what I love. Every day presents new challenges, new puzzles to solve, and countless opportunities to branch out into new and exciting places.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

And that's why I love what I do: every day I get to make a little magic.

When I don't have my face surrounded by monitors, I also like to play guitar (poorly), basketball, tennis (if i can ever find someone to play with), and build things (real things, not virtual ones).

A Little History

Pacman on the family's Atari 2600. Our Apple IIe that was home to my first BASIC programs. Dad's "portable" Compaq that threw me into the unforgiving, yet rewarding, waters of MSDOS. Trying to learn how to get the little triangle turtle to draw shapes in Logo. The 386 we got one year (woohoo, VGA graphics!) that inexplicably wound up being used almost exclusively by me! The look on my face when I first heard actual speech coming from my cousin's computer as he played Wing Commander II. The hours of frustration trying to figure out how to properly set the DIPs on my first self-built computer, followed by the extreme satisfaction of booting up that 486DX2-66 speed demon.

The terrible (I mean really bad) role-playing game I wrote in QBasic. My fascination with the fractals generated by one of the upper-classmen at my school. My AP Comp Sci course where I was introduced to the joys of structured programming and basic OO principles. Learning how to build circuit boards, hook the inputs up to computers, the outputs to motors and sensors, and writing software to control fully-functional robots. The exponential expansion of my hardware and software knowledge as I forged (muddled?) through the rigorous CS program at UIUC (CS373, amirite!?).

These, and countless other, memories and experiences - and the people who made them possible - are all part of my digital DNA.

Latest Projects

Patent Engine

Patent Engine - Connecting Patent Lawyers to New Clients

Designed by patent attorneys, Patent Engine delivers objective verification that a particular lawyer is the right one for a given case. Use Patent Engine to discover pitch opportunities and share these results to demonstrate your superior expertise.

Find out more


EthioTown - The Definitive Social Media Hub for Ethiopians

Social media is an important tool for staying connected. Most corporate social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, were created from the ground up for American audiences. This is great for Americans, but it leaves other cultures wanting something of their own. EthioTown does that for Ethiopians. Created by Ethiopians for Ethiopians, this is a social media site that caters to the unique tastes and aspirations of Ethiopian culture.

Find out more

Project Void

Project Void - A Super Secret Game

Built using the latest Unreal Engine, Project Void is so secret that it doesn't even have a public web page yet! There is a rumor of someone managing to sneak some video footage out of the beta testing laboratory, but so far this is unconfirmed...

Work Experience

Cloud Architect & Azure Technology Evangelist - Polaris Solutions (2020 - Present)

As a recent addition to the Polaris family, I'm happy to have found a place where I can really spread my wings and take my passion for the Azure and .NET stacks to the next level. I give tech talks, support pre-sales activities, advise other Polarians on technical and agile matters, write technical blog posts, contribute to eBooks, support internal R&D projects, and, of course, provide architectural and technical expertise on client engagements.

I think what I love most about this job is my community of fellow Polarians. I've already learned all sorts of things from them, and it's wonderful to have the unique resource of our hive knowledge available to me. I also really enjoy getting out there and giving tech talks on new and interesting Azure topics. Chatting with fellow engineers, swapping war stories, and giving each other new knowledge really makes me feel like I have my finger on the pulse of the tech industry.

Cloud Architect & Agile Expert - Interactive Health (2015 - 2020)

As with many jobs, I wore many hats at Interactive Health. On the tech side, I led many enterprise initiatives, including:

  • Rewriting their main customer-facing web portal
  • Creating an Azure-based enterprise service bus
  • Performance analysis and tuning
  • SecDevOps practices
  • Azure best practices
  • Azure cost management
  • CI/CD pipelines
  • Developer mentoring

These projects let me stretch my skills out into other areas, including:

  • Agile mentoring
  • Vendor vetting, selection and management
  • Facilitating agile delivery across multiple internal and external customer groups
  • Managing contractors
  • Interviewing permanent and temporary Dev, QA, BA, and PM staff

A typical week might have consisted of working on a self-hosted Web API Windows service, moved into creating a pub-sub processor based on Azure Service Bus, followed up with leading a mob programming session where we introduce the core concepts of TDD, after which we might have moved into a discussion on rapid agile estimation techniques, and rounded it all off with a couple of RAD sessions where we moved from concept to working prototype for a content management system. I loved the chaos! The team was amazing, and even though we faced some extraordinary challenges, we handled just about anything that got thrown at us.

One of the most exciting parts of this job was our ability to fully utilize the entire Azure Cloud Services stack. From simple Web Apps all the way to complex data flows utilizing Service Bus, Event Hub, and Logic Apps, the reliability, scalability, and security of the applications we built around the Azure platform exceeded my expectations in almost every way. As the principle designer of Interactive Health's cloud architecture, I had the opportunity to really develop and hone my abilities and fluency with the entire Azure platform.

I was brought on as someone who could both bring the technology side of the house to the next level and amp up the agile practices of the team. I wasn't really sure what I was signing on for, but the challenges, and opportunities, seemed intriguing. I quite enjoy pushing people to achieve their maximum potential, and my team at IH had a whole lot of potential. I was totally psyched to be working with a group of people who are willing to jump head first into new things, and I'm proud of all the things we accomplished!

Technical Architect and Agile Development Mentor - Volkswagen Credit, Inc. (2007 - 2015)

In a nutshell, I "did it all" at VCI. All the standard buzzwords applied: MVC, n-tier, high-availability, responsive UI, mobile, customer-facing, employee-facing, incremental delivery, etc., etc. From creating a dealer-facing website using ASP.NET MVC CTP (this was back when we had to roll our own mechanism for form data persistence and validation metadata), to architecting the backend infrastructure that would support a next-generation credit and funding workflow system, and back again to creating a web core that would support both a responsive desktop as well as mobile experience - I ran the gamut there. By far the most fun I had was in teaching others agile practices and methodologies: TDD, BDD, point-based estimation, iteration management, developer empowerment, EIEIOs, and so on.

<steps up onto his soapbox>

One of my special (or annoying, depending on who you ask) talents is the ability to carve out spaces in which "things" can happen. What kind of "things"? Well, fun things. Different things. Exciting things. As developers, we read about, and become interested in, new technologies and design patterns. At home, it's easy enough to tinker with these. At work, though, it's often difficult to take these new things and convince others to try them out.

Our managers (and their managers, and the Big Bosses), and sometimes even other developers, may balk at the idea of introducing something new. There are the usual grumblings of, "It'll cost too much to do that," or, "I don't know how to estimate against a technology I've never used," or my personal favorite, "We'll add that to our backlog of technical debt." I find that, "No," as an answer given simply out of fear of the unknown is severely limiting and ultimately self-defeating. You can't grow personally without trying new things, evaluating how they're going, and adjusting accordingly. Similarly, organizations following the mantra of Change Is Scary will eventually find themselves having to perform company-wide overhauls, involving expensive reverse-engineering of existing systems, user retraining, figuring out how to transitition from old to new, etc.

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Walking trails blazed by others can take you to some really neat places where you can see and learn lots of fantastic things. For me, though, there is no greater thrill than veering off in my own direction and leaving a trail behind for those who are adventurous enough to follow.


So what's with all the soapboxing? I promise there was a point! I was very fortunate to have been able to enjoy a great deal of freedom to trailblaze at VCI, generally with good results. There is a space that exists between corporate paralysis and developer anarchy that is small, tumultuous, and very rewarding. I was at VCI for a long time, and I made it my mission there to occupy that space as much as possible.

We started with an organization that was completely waterfall, thoroughly siloed, and reluctant to adopt new technologies and practices. We transformed it into a place where agility is valued, cross-functionality is promoted, and new technologies are embraced. Despite the fantastic technical achievements I've had the pleasure of being a part of here, I'm most proud of those instances where we were able to convince the Powers That Be to take a chance and try something new.

Team Lead and Senior Developer - TicketsNow (2005 - 2007)

TNow was my first opportunity to dip my feet in the waters of ecommerce. It was also my first professional involvement working for a startup. It was my first team lead role, my first agile gig, and my first time doing TDD. In retrospect, I suppose I had quite a few of my professional firsts there. Career-wise, this was an extraordinary experience.

The startup atmosphere was invigorating, and I threw myself into the fray with enthusiasm. In short order, I found myself being asked to be the team lead for the group that was ultimately responsible for the rearchitecting and rewriting of the main TickesNow ecommerce site.

We were under an extremely tight deadline to accomplish this monumental task due to the company's desire to be acquired. We leveraged scrum to try to wrap our arms around the constantly changing requirements and shifting priorities. While we certainly made our fair share of mistakes, I was immediately fascinated by this new way of organizing the chaos that inevitably surrounds software development.

Designed and developed a taxonomic e-commerce website under an extremely aggressive timeline. Organized four development teams using scrum methodologies. Scheduled and assigned development tasks to team members. Conducted and oversaw test driven development. Acted as a conduit between the technical, marketing, and business units. Responsible for the technical interview process for the web technical unit.

Lead Developer - Anheuser-Busch (2003 - 2005)

Having sharpened my C# skills at my gigs with Spherion, I moved on to my first ASP.NET-based web project. We built a site that was designed to help lobbyists track legislation and regulatory issues. While the team was quite small, someone still had to play the lead developer role. I was tapped to do this, and I'm grateful for the experience.

This was a fun gig. It was my first all-remote project, so I had to reorient myself to the new work-from-home reality. After a few initial hurdles, I hit my stride and found myself being asked to be the lead developer on my first major ASP.NET web project. Granted, the dev staff was only two people (including me), so "lead developer" is a bit grandiose in this context. Nonetheless, it gave me the opportunity to understand what others look for in a lead. I had my fair share of humbling moments, and in so doing I learned that listening is generally more important than commanding.

The lesson that small, focused teams are faster than large, diffuse teams was not lost on me. You read about this, but there is no substitute for experience. With speed comes the need for flexibility, otherwise you can wind up running headlong into a brick wall. Requirement changes came fast a furious, and while this occassionally resulted in some heavy rework, more often than not we were able to accommodate these changes. This really drove home the point that there is a fine art to striking a balance between speedy delivery and high levels of abstraction and decoupling. It is virtually impossible to write code that is 100% "right" from the get-go when the definition of "right" is a moving target. SOLID can take you a long way with respect to making your code flexible to downstream requirement changes, but taking these principles too far can cause gridlock. Working with Anheuser-Busch, I had the opportunity to learn to fine-tune the balance between "good" and "perfect".

Developer - Spherion Consulting (2002 - 2003)

Developer - Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri (1998-2001)

Team Lead and Network Technician - Clark Refining and Marketing (1997)

Computer Technician - MasterCard International (1996)

Computer Consultant - Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri (1994)

GitHub Activity