Software Development
Apps / Career development / Workplace culture

How Ian Dixon gets you to work on time

The creator of the DC Metro and Bus app started the side gig to “get some experience.” More than 595,000 installs later, he’s got his work cut out for him. Here's how Dixon works.

Ian Dixon created the DC Metro and Bus app two-and-a-half years ago and has since expanded to four other cities. (Courtesy photo)

You might owe a lot of time to Ian Dixon.
Every time you tap on the blue DC Metro and Bus app to judge how much time you have before needing to run out the door, it’s because of Dixon, who built the app in November 2012.
Since then, the developer has been working on app improvements and expanding to other cities. Versions of his transportation problem solver are now in Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago and Boston. But D.C. remains his most popular market with 280,000 Android and 315,000 iOS installs to date. L.A. is second in the line-up, and Chicago is a distant third.
“D.C. is one of the most wired cities in the country,” Dixon, who works and lives in nearby Arlington, said. “There are a lot of professionals running around with their iPhones checking emails, and they’re probably more apt to be using apps like this.”
When deciding what cities to develop apps for, Dixon sticks to large cities with well-used transit systems but, most importantly, cities where transit data is freely available for developers. Not all cities do, Dixon noted, and some make it harder than others. (A version of this saga has recently unfolded in Baltimore.)
Unlike other well-funded transportation apps like Citymapper and Moovit, Dixon is practically a one-man show at Dixon Mobility. (His wife helps him with administrative work.) He does all the work for his transportation apps at night after his day job as an enterprise app developer.
Here, he tells DC about building a business, being a working dad and burning that midnight oil.


What’s the first thing you do every day before doing any tech-related work?
I have a six-month-old daughter, but before her I would sleep up until the last second and then head into work. Now I’m on the morning duty. When [my daughter] gets up, I’ll take care of her, and we’ll play for a couple hours before I sit down to work.
I telecommute a lot, so I sleep until my daughter sleeps: Six, if I’m lucky seven — or as long as my wife can hold down the fort.
How often do you check your email, and do you use any program to get to ‘Inbox Zero’?
I don’t use anything specific to get to zero. I’m one of those people who has 25,000 messages in his Gmail inbox. I’m a little more diligent with my work accounts, but I’m not a big stickler. I guess I’m not that organized, but I get by so it doesn’t really bother me.
How do you keep track of your revenues and expenses?
Awhile ago when I realized it wasn’t just going to be pocket change, I set up a bank account and started keeping everything separate. I use QuickBooks, and last year I decided I needed to get an accountant to untangle the mess that is the tax system.
When you need a break, what are you turning to?
A lot of times if I need a break, I’ll switch gears and do something different. It’s really geeky, but I’ll go Google some related technology that maybe I’m not that familiar with and check it out. I’ll take a break from the task I’ve been looking at all day and look at something else for a change of pace. Maybe it’s just for learning or I’m curious. It could be something I think I might use in the future. I guess that’s the primary reason I work in development. It’s such a fast-changing space. There’s always so much new stuff to look at.
I will take a look at technical stuff on [GitHub], but I’m also really interested in the design principles for each platform — coding specifically for iOS or Android. They’re two very different things, which I’ve learned throughout this whole process, and it’s very hard to be true to both of them as you work on them at the same time. That takes a lot of time, and it’s more of an art than a science. I definitely have a lot of learning to do there.
What’s your gear?
I use a MacBook Pro 15-inch. I have a 27-inch Thunderbolt monitor. And any iOS or Android device I can get my hands on. I have an iPhone 6 and also carry an Android Nexus 5.
I like both of them for different reasons, but I had to bite the bullet and get both so I could be out and about and test my apps on both devices.
What are your time-saving tips?
Be disciplined about delegating.
When I first launched, I would spend two entire evenings creating an awful, awful icon for an app launcher, and I don’t have an artistic bone in my body so it would take me ten times as long and never be a good outcome. Now I’ll hire someone off For under $100 I can get really talented people to take care of that kind of stuff.
How do you split your time between your day job, your family and Dixon Mobility?
I hang out in the evening with my wife and when my daughter goes to bed, I’ll sit down and get to work. Lately I’ve been focused on getting one task done a night.
I’ve really found that since I’ve had a daughter I’ve had more limited time. It has really taught me to focus on one task and getting it done. I can’t let things backlog for weeks. Some nights that task might take a couple hours, but other nights I’m sitting up until 1:30 a.m.


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