Developer Profile: NPR’s Wes Lindamood

For the profile, I reached out to Wes Lindamood, who works as a senior interaction designer for National Public Radio. 

What made you decide to pursue a career in web development?

I graduated from college 17 years ago. Man, I’m getting old. Anyway, when I was in school, I had a strong interest in journalism, graphic design, and advertising. Unsure of how to combine my interests, I turned to an amazing advisor, Dr. Cassandra Reese. It was her wise counsel that guided me to the interactive multimedia program in the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. I was immediately captivated by the potential to tell stories and build experiences with code. I’ve been working at the intersection of journalism and design ever since.

Wes worked for several other organizations before landing his current job at NPR in 2010. Before joining the NPR Visuals team, he worked as a platform and enterprise story designer for USA Today and as an art director for the American Chemical Society, where, among other things, he worked on the organization’s website and on producing its online newsmagazine.

What drew you to work as a web developer for NPR?

Quoting Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Michel Martin has said that NPR is “unbought and unbossed.” The phrase “unbought and unbossed” was Chisholm’s presidential campaign slogan, and when applied to NPR it means that the public, not shareholders, own us. Our mission is to create a more informed public, and make our work as widely available as possible. That mission not only influences our journalism, but the code that we write.

How has your time at NPR influenced your perspective on web development?

I’m fortunate to work on a team that believes in open-source software development, and freely sharing what we know. The code we write has been used nationally and internationally to tell stories of protest, war, and the fight for freedom. The ethos and work of the open-source software community has been hugely beneficial to me over the course of my career, and my appreciation of it has only grown in my time at NPR. I hope my contributions have helped make the community stronger.

Some of the digital projects Wes has worked on at NPR include:

  • Project Argo – a reporting collaboration between 12 NPR member stations hosted on an open-source platform Wes helped build;
  • Life After Death – a digital story exploring the aftereffects of Ebola in the village of Barkedu in northern Liberia;
  • the award-winning documentary Lost and Found, which looks at the life of photographer Charles W. Cushman;
  • and (my favorite) an episode of NPR’s Planet Money podcast, titled Making a T-Shirt, which takes an in-depth look at the creation of a single t-shirt. The Planet Money web documentary was a collaborative effort between the visuals team and the podcast’s staff. In an explanation of the project, Wes described the teamwork, stating, Often in editorial settings, the design team is brought in after the story has been reported. I cannot emphasize enough how important it was to this project that the entire team was involved in this process from the beginning. Collective brainstorming sessions were crucial to forming a shared understanding of the story to be told. It allowed reporters to consider content that would lend itself well to a web-native experience while they were in the field, and allowed the design team to begin to consider the presentation of the story, even as we were working on other projects.

Outside of NPR’s work, what is your favorite website or digital story project out there right now? 

I discovered Robin Sloan’s app, Fish: a tap essay, at a time in which I was reflecting a lot on the kind of work and storytelling I wanted to do online. In the essay, Sloan asks us to think about the difference between liking something on the internet and loving something on the internet. Sloan’s thoughts about stock and flow, and the need for durable stories that stand out from the constant stream of news has had a huge influence on me. I continue to think about how to apply the principle of stock and flow to my work and my life on a regular basis.

What advice do you have for someone like me who is just beginning to learn how to code?

I think there’s a false belief by folks that are just starting out that experienced programmers write all their own code by hand. This belief is reinforced by bad hiring practices, and it’s simply wrong. Experienced programmers look up code snippets on the internet all the time. Taking an existing piece of code, dissecting it, trying to understand why it was written the way it was, and then adapting that code for your own use is the best way to learn. Bonus points if you write about what you learned, and share that with the community to pay it forward. 

Like our class, Wes uses GitHub as a platform, and you can find samples of his code there, as well as work from the NPR Visuals team.

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