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Matt Varblow: Wizard of the Web

  Matt Varblow has been working at ACS almost before he was of legal age.  He started working here during the summers when he was 14 and 15, helping out with configuration control.  Even at that time, Matt was an old hand at computer programming, having taught himself to program in BASIC around age 10.  His favorite thing then was creating text-based adventure games and he’s still proud that he was able to sell a game that he created while in high school.

Matt VarblowThroughout high school and college, Matt worked at ACS full-time during the summers and part-time during the school year.  He helped in the development of multi-currency capability and worked in the IT department.  Matt went on his first client visit while still in high school and the client had to pick him up at the airport because he wasn’t old enough to rent a car.   In the early 90s, Matt was assigned to learn about that new-fangled web stuff and that became his major focus from then on.

Ray Zick, Matt’s former manager, has this to say about him:  “I have worked with Matt since his days as an Advantage intern.  He doesn’t make a lot of noise, but he gets a lot done and he gets it done right. Matt has both application and systems knowledge and is a valued resource on many projects at Advantage.” 

You might expect that Matt majored in computer science in college but he wanted to learn a broad range of engineering skills and so chose industrial operations engineering.   For that major, he learned about optimizing business operations, which has provided a useful background in his career since graduating from the University of Michigan.

Matt was working full-time at ACS in his senior year of college and soon became immersed in web development and consulting for clients and for ACS.  He created the first ACS website and was instrumental in the development of the Advantage Web module.  “I rely on Matt for the breadth and depth of his knowledge and his ability to translate his knowledge into practical solutions,” says Dick Hile, ACS vice president of technology.    ‘His knowledge encompasses virtually all of our Advantage software as well as a wide swath of industry trends and technologies.”

“I contact Matt whenever I have to write code for the web interface or code that interacts with it,” says developer Alan Cherney.  “He will often help me make it more user-friendly or more easily understood.  I’m always impressed by his level of care for the convenience of our clients who use the web interface.”

Today, Matt leads the eCommerce and IT Integration group at ACS.  Matt explains the group’s function as helping to integrate Advantage with client applications and websites.  The team gets involved with activities such as developing web apps, designing custom interfaces, helping to build design plans and other consulting.   He and his staff are in demand by clients who want help creating and integrating websites and other applications with Advantage.  Matt most enjoys being able to develop web pages from scratch and seeing it all come together.

“Matt has been instrumental in helping Ogden Publications achieve success on the internet,” says Tim Swietek, Ogden’s IT director.  “He has been a partner in pushing the features of Advantage to expose the functionality that was needed for Ogden to continue to grow its ecommerce presence on-line.  Whenever I need to discuss the internet or ecommerce I know I can always call on Matt.  He is always willing to help in any way he can.”

His team appreciates working with Matt as well.  “I had several bosses before I came to ACS, and Matt is easily the best boss I’ve ever had,” says Derek Johnson.  “He is easy to work with, and always respectful.  On top of being a great manager, Matt is a master at the technical stuff. He is exceptionally intelligent, and he makes everyone around him better, which is a rare combination in our field. He has a knack for getting right to the heart of the matter, and quickly transferring knowledge." 

In addition to all the web activities, Matt also gets involved with IT projects, such as the migration to .NET and is also responsible for technical aspects of the ACS website.  As if that isn’t enough to keep him busy, Matt is also called upon occasionally to participate in sales calls with prospective clients.  He is always happy to help out where he can, but is probably the happiest doing development.

“Matt's great to work with,” says Joe Wixted, manager of publishing business systems at Our Sunday Visitor.  “He's been very helpful to OSV with the integration between our content and eCommerce sites, as well as with the ongoing development of our ecommerce sites.  His knowledge of web technologies and breadth of knowledge of the Advantage application itself are impressive.  I've been hard-pressed to stump him!”

In his years at ACS, Matt has traveled all over the United States and to England, France and Denmark.  Andy Wright, system manager at Oxford University Press, has worked with Matt on more than one occasion.  “Like most clients, our first contact with Matt was when we implemented the WEB module and his knowledge and advice is just as crucial to us now as it was during that project,” says Andy.  “I’m always delighted when I get the email response ‘I’ve sent this to Matt’ because it means that Matt, or one of his team, will be sorting out my problem. I can be totally confident that what I get is going to work, that it will be what I need, and most importantly, it will be done straight away.”

 Although he finds travel to be enjoyable and interesting, Matt doesn’t like to be away from his family for too long.  He and his wife Rachael have five children:  Sean, 13; Jimmy, 11; Joey 9; Katie, 4, and baby Elena, 1.  The family lives in Dexter and, in addition to fish and hamsters, the kids have 13 chickens to care for.  Matt keeps busy in his off hours with the kids’ activities, which include soccer, baseball, swimming, gymnastics and canoe-camping trips.  Matt also enjoys playing soccer himself, in an indoor league during the winter months.  And of course, there’s Michigan football in the fall; Matt tries not to miss a home game.

 We’re happy that Matt is on the Advantage home team.

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