I’ve been scouring the internet to find some folks in our fair city of Portland, OR who are willing to talk about their developer experience.
I was lucky enough to connect with Ken Stowell of Metal Toad Media. Metal Toad is an agency here in Portland with additional locations in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Corinne@Planet Argon: Tell us a little about you, where you’re from, stuff you like to do in your free time, favorite color??
Hi! My name is Ken! I’m from all over but mainly NW Oregon. Outside of coding, I have been playing guitar since I was a youngster and have been involved in various music projects over the years. As fas as color goes I’m a huge fan of grays.
How did you find yourself as a developer? Did you have a formal education? What kind of things were you learning in the beginning?
I took a fairly common path towards being a developer. I was in school on a track to transfer to OSU’s CS program. Almost all of my curriculum was .NET, and needless to say it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. One term a PHP class became available so out of sheer curiosity I enrolled. It didn’t take me very long to realize I enjoyed the direction that the web was taking software engineering; I shortly after came to another realization that my school was not going to offer any additional web courses (apart from ASP.NET) so I cut short my formal education and enrolled at the University of Google.
After that in early 2006 I picked up a few HTML and PHP books that held my interest very well from following the text’s examples and seeing changes in my software upon just refreshing the browser.
It was early in my learning career, so everything was really simple. The beauty in that though is that the excitement it carried was extremely amplified. I remember creating my first script that captured form fields from a contact form and sent them off – I was elated.
My day-to-day in JS land is a lot of time with Angularjs, nodejs and Grunt. Which I couldn’t be happier with. It’s kind of my fanboi stack.
Between 2002-2005 I had the awesome opportunity to live in Tokyo and a few other parts of Japan. Learning the language was difficult but there were a few things that were critical in learning early on:
- Memorization. Not everything made sense, in fact most everything didn’t make sense, but if I heard something I didn’t know, I wrote it down on a little note pad I carried with me and looked it up later.
- Repetition/Practice. Obviously it was easy to practice my Japanese while in Japan. That didn’t mean, however that there weren’t creative approaches to learning. My room mates and I implemented a system where 2 days out of every week we could only speak Japanese to each other, even though we were all American. If we broke we would always enforce some embarrassing punishment.
This translates to learning a code language as well. Not everything will make sense at first, but keep memorizing syntax, expressions and use-cases and it will all start to come together.
If you struggle with a specific principle, try actually coding it. If you succeed don’t assume that you’ve ‘learned’ it. Do it again, and again … and again!
How did you find a job with Metal Toad Media? What sort of projects do you work on there?
My employment at Metal Toad is the perfect example of how important networking and good impressions are. While every developer should experience the job of finding a job, if you play your cards right, after you get that job you applied for, you should never have to do it again. Have such a good work ethic and passion for what you do so that when a coworker leaves to a better job they will want to take you with them. Behold, the recruitment circuit. Be a part of the community, make a name for your self and people will want to hire you!
My workload at Metal Toad is awesome! I’m involved with some excellent outside development teams and design partners that inspire excellence on a daily basis. The sad thing, until they’re finished, I can’t talk about any of them!
For those trying to find jobs as front end developers, what skills do you think are important for becoming valuable in today’s job market?
For those wanting to get into traditional front-end work I say brace yourselves: a lot of tedious work in browser compatibility issues are coming. Especially when ‘easy-way-out’ tools are considered bad form and other tools like polyfills can bloat in usage really quickly and while they may extend support to IE6, they do not perform well.
Most importantly though, for those wanting to get in this industry, you have to be able to market yourself and then back up what you sell. Facade engineers get outed very, very quickly.
What resources have been valuable to you throughout your career? Any books or websites that have been especially helpful?
www.calagator.org is Portland’s tech schedule, and it’s an active one.
As far as books and other resources, you can find anything regarding learning tools and people you should pay attention to here:
Any parting advice for young developers?
Be a sponge. Some of the greatest learning opportunities are by watching senior devs work. See what they do and how they do it. Absorb everything you can.
Thanks Ken for giving such a thoughtful interview! To hear more from Ken, check him out on Twitter @ktstowell.