A Practical Application

Developing creative solutions to life's large and little problems
Photo: Justin Meyer

If you’ve been to a service at Walnut Creek Windsor Heights on Sunday morning, you may recognize Nathan Friend as the bass player in the band. What you may not realize is that when Nathan isn’t plucking strings, he’s probably developing software for DuPont Pioneer or building apps on the side.

“I never was that much of a computer nerd growing up,” Nathan said. “My uncle showed me an old programming language. I used to make little text games in 5th or 6th grade, but it kind of fizzled out after that.”

Now Nathan is building applications that are transforming the farming industry through precision agriculture. Precision agriculture, also called site-specific or prescription farming, helps growers tailor their operations on a micro level for maximum output and profit. The apps do things like give farmers recommendations for what they should plant on their fields and intelligently tap into sprayers to apply exactly the amount of nitrogen the field needs in that specific location.

Nathan is also working on a master’s degree in human computer interaction from Iowa State University. Human computer interaction is the intersection between psychology, graphic design, and computer science.  “I’m hoping to leave the program with a broader understanding of how to design software,” Nathan said. “Much of my undergrad was spent understanding how computers work; my master’s degree is more focused on how humans work when they interact with technology. I’m hoping this will enable me to specialize more fully in front-end software development. I may even explore becoming a user experience professional."

In his “free time,” Nathan builds his own digital programs. Past projects include a musical instrument, a chat client, and an application that translates one programming language into another. “Most are goofy things I do for fun,” he said. “I find a new technology I want to learn, and the best way to learn it is to use it. I’ll use that technology to build my side projects.”

Nathan is currently building an online deck of cards that multiple people can simultaneously interact with. “I started working on it when I began dating my girlfriend, Bethany, who lives in Canada,” he said. “We needed a way to play card games over the Internet on our Skype dates. I couldn’t find anything that fit my needs, so I decided to build one myself.”

No Substitute
There’s no doubt technology has helped shape who Nathan is today but even he recognizes technology isn’t the end-all, be-all. “There are people who worship technology,” Nathan said. “They think of it as this thing that will cure the world of all unhappiness and get rid of poverty and sadness. But it’s no substitute for the real God.”

Nathan grew up in a Christian home and came to know the Lord at a young age. He went to Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. During the summer of 2012, he was offered an internship at Dupont Pioneer. He was looking for a place to stay, and through a family friend, he found out about a space at Big Blue, the house used for Walnut Creek’s campus ministry at Drake University. 

Nathan began attending Walnut Creek Church and got involved in a Community Group. When he graduated in 2013 and was offered a full-time position at Pioneer, he already had a church home. “Throughout my life, God’s opened up deeper understanding of who he is and how I should respond,” Nathan said. “Since graduating, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how it applies to my life.”

A Creative God
One way Nathan has applied his understanding of God’s character is by working hard to be excellent at his job. “I believe we are to bless our employer with our skills,” he said. “It’s easy for me to think that’s all I need to do. There is a level of evangelism that also needs to happen at work. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Nathan also finds he can serve God through the creativity technology allows. “I believe God is a really creative God,” he said. “There isn’t a lot more creative than technology. You have total freedom to build whatever you want. I think it’s God-honoring to create in that way. One of the reasons I want to create is that God created first.”

"One of the reasons I want to create is that God created first.”

Ultimately, to Nathan, technology is a means to an end. “Technology itself won’t be able to save people,” Nathan said. “But technology is going to continue advancing regardless of whether or not Christians will be involved. It’s important to be involved and to help drive it. It’s imperative that we have Christian leaders in technology because it affects so much of our lives. I feel really called to do it.”