Whether he’s beading a necklace or building new software, Brian Buikema is always focused on the end user—and that means leveraging both his creative talent and his technical prowess to create products that delight. As a senior software architect at WebPT, Brian spends his days researching, planning, developing, and testing software features that our Members need and want. But Brian is not your average techie; sure, he’s a computer nerd by trade, but he’s an artist at heart.
“I like to make jewelry—mostly beaded jewelry,” he said. “It’s calming, and I like getting to be creative. It’s good to get that right brain going sometimes.” It’s a hobby he stumbled upon “completely by accident” when he visited a bead shop in hopes of fixing a broken necklace. “I started to understand that I could do this myself, and for a lot cheaper,” he said. The store happened to be running a major sale on supplies, so he stocked up, and he’s been crafting handmade necklaces and bracelets for friends and family ever since. Brian has even gotten his 10-year-old son, Hunter, interested in the art of jewelry-making. “For Christmas, I had him put together a necklace for his mom,” Brian said. “It’s good. He enjoyed it, and it gets him away from the video games for a while.”
Of course, Brian was a bit of a gamer himself back in the day, when he and his friends used to pile into his dad’s gold station wagon—yes, gold—and cruise to the arcade at Westridge Mall (now Desert Sky Mall). There, they’d spend hours joy-sticking their way to the high score in Asteroids, Galaga, Tetris, Centipede, and Missile Command. But Brian was no mall rat; he was a hard worker and a self-described “book worm” who took his studies seriously and spent his summers bussing tables at a local resort. “I was a good student, and I made good money at the resort, so in exchange I got a lot of freedom from my parents,” he said.
He was especially serious about his computer science class—the first of its kind at his high school. “That was where I wrote my first program,” he said. “It was a check-writing program for a TRS 80 and a dot matrix printer.” Brian’s program was head-and-shoulders above anything his classmates produced. “I remember my teacher saying, ‘This is what you should be doing.’ And that kind of stuck,” he said.
After graduating in the top 1% of his high school class, Brian earned a scholarship to Arizona State University (ASU), where—not surprisingly—he majored in computer science. He also started to come out of his shell a bit more and, in his words, learned to “balance goofing around with going to school.” That part of his personality—though not always immediately evident—is definitely strong. “I’m not as serious as people think I am,” he said. “I don’t like to be serious all the time.”
During his sophomore year at ASU, Brian met a professor who recognized his vast potential in the tech field. That prof helped Brian land a part-time position at AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), which turned into a full-time job after he graduated. There, he worked on embedded software, including projects for nuclear-class Navy submarines. Eventually, though, he made his way into the startup software space, and that’s where he found his real professional passion: “I love getting hard problems solved that then greatly benefit the users and the business,” he said. “I’ve been part of six or seven startups, and it’s really cool to watch them experience so much growth in such a short time.” In fact, when he was working for an e-learning startup “back when e-learning was just beginning,” he built a tool that ended up fueling the company’s explosive growth from 40 employees to about 400.
When Brian joined the WebPT development team in 2012, the company was right in the thick of that exact type of growth—which is what initially attracted Brian to the position. “I was intrigued by the whole story—Brad’s garage days and also the PT aspect,” he said. “I dated a physical therapist, and I remember her coming home with this huge briefcase full of paperwork, so I totally understood the problem [that WebPT solves].”
In the years since Brian came on board, WebPT has continuously enhanced and added to its suite of physical therapy software solutions, most recently with the introduction of WebPT Outcomes—a project in which Brian was heavily involved. Of course, a developer’s work is never truly done: “We probably will always be working on it,” he said, noting that the Outcomes team already has several improvements—many derived directly from Member suggestions—in the hopper. “If you don’t put more in, your competitors will,” he said. “So, you’re always going to enhance. We’ll be done when our users stop asking for features—which means never. They’re going to think of things we can’t think of, and we’re going to keep listening to them.”
In other words, the possibilities are endless, and just like Brian can start a piece of jewelry not knowing exactly how it’ll look when he’s finished, there’s no telling what WebPT might look like five or ten years down the road. One thing that’s certain: we’ll never stop needing creative solutions—which means Brian will have plenty of opportunities to use both sides of his brain.
Fave Five with Brian
- Favorite food: Sushi
- Favorite movie: Tombstone
- Favorite sports team: Arizona Cardinals
- Favorite musician: Frank Zappa
- Favorite place: San Francisco