Off the Hoof

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Develop Mental: David McCreath, Lead Developer


Here’s the third post in our series, Brief Interviews with Assiduous Mules. Read past interviews with Jessie Char and Shawna Seth.

What are the tools/programming languages every aspiring developer should know?

A front end developer should of course know HTML and CSS forwards and backwards. Now is the time to start learning the new HTML5 elements and getting comfortable with CSS3. Now that Internet Explorer 9 and Firefox 4 have been released, we’re in a very good position to see these technologies spread very quickly.

JavaScript is also essential for someone who wants to be a front end developer, and I don’t mean jQuery or Dojo. Of course you’re going to use libraries like these, but a developer who knows how to find his or her way around JavaScript without a

library will always be more valuable than someone who can’t.

Third, a front end developer that understands design—both as a problem solving practice and an aesthetic practice—is going to be far more valuable than one who just thinks designers make the pretty and thus can be ignored. Front end development involves making constant design decisions. That three pixel negative margin that the designer specified that means you have to figure out a hack for IE7? It’s there for a reason, and your job is to either make it work or come up with a compelling design reason—one that solves the problem—to do it differently.

You yourself have a BFA in Studio Art (Sculpture) and have worn a variety of hats in the web industry. Do you think it’s possible for young developers now to land work without a related degree?

I might get some static for this, but a front end developer probably doesn’t need a CS degree. But anyone interested in the front end would definitely benefit from getting an understanding of how servers work, how to work with databases, and what server-side development entails. And not just by setting up WordPress on a shared host. Learning that back end stuff is like learning to drive stick and learning how to change your own oil. Understanding what gear a car needs to be in to make it up a steep hill or where that mysterious black fluid comes out of a motor helps you know cars better. If you understand what kinds of hoops a back end developer will have to jump through to build that page or if a given module is likely to be tricky for a database to assemble on the fly, you can make more informed decisions about what your code should look like. You can help designers and IAs make better


NOTE: If you are in college getting a CS degree and your dream is to be a front end developer, finish your degree.

Top three songs/albums to code to?

Obviously this changes with mood, but the album on my laptop with by far and away the most plays is Talking Timbuktu by Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder.

Other favorites are the first four albums by X and Sandinista by the Clash for normal coding days. If I’m staring down the barrel of a deadline, I’ll turn to early Metallica, Judas Priest, and Rammstein. I have a playlist called CODE RED that’s just fast metal. But I don’t have to use it very often.

What’s the longest bike ride you’ve taken?

In a single day, somewhere in the 120 mile range, with a loaded touring bike. My wife and I toured England, Wales, and Germany for 9 weeks on our bikes in 1992. We didn’t keep track of total mileage, but it was several hundred, for sure.

You spent 10 years in Alaska. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen or experienced there?

I don’t think Alaska is any stranger than any other place, really. Maybe the daylight issue. At winter solstice, Anchorage gets about four to four and a half hours of daylight, and that light is kind of twilighty. Like it’s sunset all day. At summer solstice, that’s flipped and there’s about twenty hours of light and it never really gets completely dark. There’s a lot of talk about how to deal with the long darkness, but by the time I left there I was having a harder time dealing with the unending light. People get pretty weird when they’re sleep deprived and know they only have a couple of months to have summer fun.

My favorite thing about Anchorage was its proximity to the wilderness. The neighborhood we lived in didn’t get a lot of traffic and was bumped up against a protected greenbelt and trail that snaked through the whole city. In the spring and fall we routinely had moose wandering through our yard and in the winter we were a short walk from the longest contiguous network of groomed cross-country ski trails in the world. That was nice.

Creative Mornings

About Mule Design Studio

Mule creates delightful interfaces, strong identities, and clear voices for useful systems and nice people.
Also, We are funnier than all other designers.


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