Practice, Practice, Practice

Web Developer Profile – Jamie Newell

For my midterm, I profiled a coworker’s husband, Jamie Newell, who works for Discovery Communications, or as many know it, The Discovery Channel a.k.a. SHARK WEEK! But Discovery also owns TLC and Animal Planet, among many other popular T.V. channels. Jamie has been a web developer there for 3 years at the headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Prior to joining Discovery, Jamie was the Director of Web Development at Amplify Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. for 3 years, and before that, spent around 11 years doing freelance web development in the area. I asked Jamie to tell us about his journey to becoming a full stack developer.
//* What is your current job/title and what do you do for Discovery? 
My title is Web Developer and I primarily develop websites and interactive learning modules. Our website is very interactive by design, which was one of the reasons I chose Discovery! *//
//* What programming language(s) and CMS do you use for work?
Well, of course JavaScript as I just said, but at Discovery I also use HTML, CSS, and PHP languages, and work a lot with Drupal and the React JavaScript library. *//
//* How did you get into web development? What drew you to it? 
I messed around with programming growing up and enjoyed the challenge of solving technical problems, along with the satisfaction that came from creating something. In my early 20s I volunteered to create a website for a recording studio that I was working for at the time and decided then that I would pursue web development as a career. *//
//* Is that still the same reason you enjoy it today? Or has it changed with time? 
Yes, the challenge of solving technical problems is still what I enjoy about web development. It’s true — even someone with years and years of experience still encounters new and tough challenges when programming (more often than you’d think!). The problems are just often more highly technical.  *//
 //* If possible, can you recall some early struggles you had learning languages/programming and offer any advise to us newbies? (Anything you can think of that helped you succeed.)
My biggest struggle in the beginning was not being able to find answers to my questions. At the time, there were very few online resources to go to for help, so I spent a lot of time experimenting. While finding answers, tutorials, and examples is much easier nowadays, I would still advise experimenting. *//
//* If you had to pick, what would you say is of your favorite language and why?
At the moment I am enjoying working with the recent versions (ES6 and later) of JavaScript. There is always something new to learn and to manipulate. *//
//* Can you describe a favorite development project and detail (high level) how you built it? 
While working at Amplify, I designed and developed a collection of highly interactive advocacy tools that I integrated into our clients’ WordPress and Drupal sites in order to engage users and encourage them take action in support of a cause. The tools were built with PHP and JavaScript, and would push and pull data from the APIs of social media platforms, geolocation and mapping platforms, third-party advocacy platforms, and the Sunlight Foundation, to name a few. *//
//* How do you stay up to date on the latest in the programming world? Blogs? Websites? Programs? 
By spending time reviewing projects on GitHub! It is a great resources once you figure out how to navigate and utilize it. *//
//* Any other insights you’d like to share with the class? 
The industry advances very quickly and it can be overwhelming trying to keep up. Many of the shiny new languages and frameworks do not stay popular for very long so stay focused and don’t jump from one hot framework to the next. Experiment a lot with the language you are already learning and build from there. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (and jQuery) will outlast us all. I’d say to all those learning the ropes to just practice, practice, practice! *//
A huge thanks to Jamie for taking the time to provide us all with some words of wisdom. It was encouraging to hear him say he uses the same languages we are learning now in his daily work. I know I have a long way to go, but this made me feel like I could talk about his work with him — I now have the basic tools/words — and maybe, one day, work alongside him. We are only halfway through the semester and I’m already seeing results!
I can only imagine how difficult it must of been for Jamie to teach himself how to code… And it made me think about how much I have been relying on Google. I know Greg encourages us to search for answers to our problems, and it makes sense since the resources are so readily available, but perhaps going forward I need to experiment and fail a couple times to really learn. I will say that Codecademy gives us the opportunity to experiment a couple times in each lesson, and I have found that by try 3 tries, often, I will finally get it correct. The failure forces me to really scan the code I’ve written looking for errors.
The project Jamie worked on for Amplify really struck me. I work in cause consulting so I was able to really connect some dots and see how a tool like that would have a huge impact for a non-profit or advocacy group. His example got me excited to learn PHP next week and got my brain cogs churning in thinking about a possible final project.
I laughed when Jamie said he uses Github as a resources to stay up to date on all things web development and to learn new techniques and tricks from colleagues. I think I found it funny because Github seems so abstract and mechanical. But in understanding how it works to some extent, I can see how reviewing others projects could be quite helpful. Sounds sort of similar to inspecting webpages to see how certain things were coded.
The insight Jamie left for us is poignant I thought. It was the first or second class when I asked Greg why everyone isn’t using Apple’s programming language, Swift, because like all things Apple, (I’ve read) that it is super user-friendly and clean. I think I even asked if there may be a future where there is one universal, open-source language… but that is for another time. I appreciate how Jamie warns of the “shiny new languages” and says to instead keep practicing the “oldies.” That is just what I plan to do!
I really enjoyed this exercise and hearing from a web developer in the field. I can’t wait to read everyone else’s profiles or project descriptions this week — and see what advice or take-away they provide.

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