Midterm: Sasha Swetlowski

For my midterm, I chose to interview Sasha Swetlowski, a developer working in Atlanta. Swetlowski, as you will see from the Question & Answer segment, primarily works building websites. It was interesting hearing the trials and tribulations of a working developer who lives in an area so far from the Silicon Valley environment.

Swetlowski is the former colleague of a friend of mine. They both worked at a small marketing firm, before the company significantly downsized. Swetlowski graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta and is quick to describe himself as a multi-media artist—at the Art Institute, he actually studied audio production. He has a passion for building and creating things. His recent job search lead him to the design company SparksGrove, which boasts “creative solutions for every challenge.”

Swetlowski’s story and journey toward a career in coding are a true testament to the business. Both my developer friends and the people I’ve researched are overwhelmingly coming to coding from a seemingly incomparable background. However, he has found success via his creativity and curiosity.

In his interview, he says, “Learning new languages and methods is as easy as watching a few YouTube videos, but being able to write an elegant program requires more passion and careful thought.” Similar to what we’re learning in class, he explained to me that the most important thing to learn about coding (and maybe in general!) is to learn how to efficiently and effectively teach yourself to code.

The process of finding someone to interview was fairly trying, but in my research I discovered so many interesting projects specific to journalism. It refreshed my excitement to learn more about this world and how it all works.

What’s your name? Where are you from? Where do you work/what’s your job title?

Alexandre Swetlowski (aka Sasha) from Atlanta, GA, but I’m Russian. I just worked my first week at SparksGrove in Atlanta, GA. I’m a Web Developer.

How did you get into coding?

My neighbors were doing it back in 1994 or so. They were working with a language called Quick Basic 4.5. When I was a pre-teen I would go over there and talk to them about programming. Quick Basic 4.5 is a Windows DOS-based programming language. I made a lot of programs that drew lines and stuff. That was a big deal back then.

What’s the coding scene like in Atlanta?

I’ve had some different experiences everywhere I’ve worked. I’ve spent most of my time at Hot Sauce, and there I had my boss and another developer. There was this attitude that made afraid to ask questions, and I think that slowed me down a bit. I went to some other places, and saw that people are actually talking to each other and not just searching things. I’ve seen a little more of the industry in the last few months. I’ve learned a lot more from talking to developers. Talking things out. Even if it seems simple.

As a freelancer, one thing I worried about was being able to defend my code once I’d left it. Would the next people come in and judge me? I don’t know if it’s specific to Atlanta, but coders can be pretty judgmental of other people’s coding. And I’ve done the same thing. I try to be careful of that.

What sort of development do you primarily work in?

I mostly build websites. My strengths are in styling sites using SASS, but I’m hesitant to tell employers that because many of them feel like that’s an easy aspect of development.

What languages do you use primarily, and for what sort of applications?

PHP, JS, HTML, CSS, SASS, MySQL, and Javascript libraries like Angular and React.
Developers with lots of Angular experience are in high demand. I was recently laid off and looking for work and browsing job descriptions. Angular is the hot item right now.

What do you find most challenging? Or, is there a recent event that really stumped you? How’d you figure it out?

Most challenging would be staying on top of current technology. That’s very important, but being able to write a program should be your core skill. Learning new languages and methods is as easy as watching a few YouTube videos, but being able to write an elegant program requires more passion and careful thought.

What development project have you completed that you’re most proud of?

All of them. A few months after finishing a project you look back and realize what you have learned since the previous project.

What are you most interested to learn next about development?/What’s exciting that’s coming out of Silicon Valley?

I’m studying the most on Drupal, React, JS, and ES6 at the moment. My new job at SparksGrove is as a Drupal developer. I have worked on Drupal sites as a front-end developer, and I’m very familiar with how Drupal sites are built, but being the one to build Drupal site structures is new to me.

Spaces or tabs?

Tabs.

What’s a project you’ve worked on recently?

Credit Risk Monitor. For this project, we used Drupal. It’s similar to WordPress—it’s a CMS. We used PHP. When you’re using a CMS, it spits out HTML pages. Then, once it’s there, the front-end stuff takes over. I was the front-end developer on that one. I was worked with one other developer who would set up everything on Drupal.

Did you have to know any graphic design for this project?

I didn’t design that site at all. I would look at the designs, and the designers would say, “Make it look like this.” I’d usually do it the way they said, or I’d push back and say “It might make it a cleaner implementation if we could do it this way.” That sort of thing. Usually I’m thinking about making a page work in tablet and mobile as well as desktop. You need to keep that logical order of things flowing left to right, and make sure the site will make sense despite how it’s being viewed—things like titles and subheadings need to be maintained through certain break points.

Any wise words for us poor souls learning coding over the summer?

Like any skill, you have to be passionate about it to master it. Find a specialty or niche. It’s easy to spread yourself thin in this stuff.

And, if you were a prize fighter, what song would they play when you walked into the ring?

The Super Mario Kart victory song.

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