It’s quite fascinating that I can edit my blog post sitting on the train from London to Edinburgh and have Wifi access thanks to the Nationalexpress. I’m pretty impressed with that!
I’m happy to present the next web developer interview with Colin McMillan who I had the pleasure working with a short while back. Here it comes!
Name: Colin McMillan
Bio: I’m a self-taught Web Developer and Systems Administrator with 9 years commercial experience. I’ve built up skills through roles as in-house developer with small-scale organisations building content managed websites, as well as large corporates building complex business applications. I have been with Dog Digital, one of Scotland’s leading Digital Marketing agencies, for over 3 years and currently sit as Senior Developer and Infrastructure Manager.
- PHP / MySQL
- ASP.NET (C#)
- LINUX & Windows Systems Administration
- Networking and Security
- Playing house and disco at the odd local party
DJ Roki (seriously needs updated!)
Question 1 (Colin Brown): Over the past 2 years mobile web browsing has become far more common and accessible, gadgets such as Apple’s iPhone has helped to raise the bar in this field. How important do you think developing websites for this medium is? Should mobile browsers, such as Mobile Safari be one of the web browsers we build websites to comply with?
Colin: Absolutely, although the nature of the build will be dictated by the client. Even now many clients do not stipulate mobile compatibility, and an agency will rarely put in the extra work required if they don’t have to! This is a question about whether the agency should be persuading clients to make the extra investment to ensure mobile compatibility, as clients don’t seem to be prioritising this yet. However I think the new generation of mobiles are pretty good at representing the standard build so maybe soon there won’t be any separation.
Question 3 (Diego Campo): Have you thought of changing your career during the last year? If so, which one?
Colin: If I could open a small restaurant in the Scottish Highlands and spend my time cooking seriously good food for a living I probably would. It’s more a dream than a likely career change though…
Question 4 (Colin McMillan): As a developer you need to keep on top of emerging technology. Given that there aren’t enough hours in the day, how do you decide what technologies or languages to pursue?
Colin: To answer my own question, it is sadly dictated by clients and technology marketing, and not by the best technology for the job. I have a love/hate relationship with .NET and at one point would have run a mile rather than have to learn it. It has now become the platform of choice for many clients and is therefore unavoidable. I’ve had no time to investigate Python, Ruby on Rails, or even some of the PHP frameworks out there like Zend, Cake or Symfony which I feel may be more stable, easier to learn and faster to develop in than .NET.
Question 5 (David Poblador): How has open-source/free software changed the way you develop software?
Colin: I’ve come from an Open Source background, through a proprietory middle period in my career to end up using a mixture of both. I can’t say Open Source has changed the way I develop software as it has always been the way I develop. I have certain expectations on how things should perform which have come from using PHP, MySQL and LINUX that I am often frustrated aren’t reflected in .NET, SQL Server and Windows.
Question 6 (Kilian Valkhof): What do you strive for most in your code?
Colin: Perfection! No really, I am a ridiculous perfectionist and have often spent far too much time trying to find the most elegant solution to a problem. One of the biggest changes I’ve had to make in recent years is to balance timescales (and therefore budget) with producing clean, modular, and stable code. Sometimes I manage that…
Question 7 (Catherine Bartlett): Tell me about the best developer you’ve ever known.
Colin: Tricky, as the only other web developers I’ve worked with are those at Dog. I have a lot of respect for Crawford (Tait) as we’ve worked together on a number of projects at Dog and in other positions in the past too. His PhD in Computing Science gives him a great core knowledge that I’ve never had and he has a great mind for taking a problem from a different angle. Seeing as he’s a mate but also my Manager I now feel like a total kiss-arse…
Question 8 (Erik Vold): What are some of the new technology trends that you think we will see in this century?
Colin: Hard to imagine what we’ll see in the next ten years let along this century (so I’ll deal with that more manageable timeframe)! I expect we’ll have wi-fi available across every major city. Mobile devices will become more powerful than today’s PCs, and will be completely dependent on connectivity and integration with the Internet. 2D holographic projection will become available so you can view HD movies from your mobile on the nearest wall. Oh, and we’ll get to work on jetpacks and hover-boards.
Question 9 (the contributer would like to remain anonymous): How much of your work time do you spend analysing defect reports so that future instances of the same defects may be mitigated, or altogether removed from future builds?
Colin: Quick answer? None. We don’t have such a thing as defect reports. We fix bugs when they arise, and it’s pretty rare that the same bugs will come back. Just different bugs… some midges, some spiders and the odd cockroach.
Question 10 (Alan Graham): We are bombarded every day with new approaches, new libraries (Prototype.js vs jQuery, Java vs .NET, PHP vs everything), new free services (Google Analytics vs ???). What criteria do you use to quickly decide what to use?
Colin: That’s tough and relates to question 4. It’s pretty hard to appraise these things yourself as you’d end up spending all your time investigating and not developing. People around the workplace pick up on things and they then get tried out. If they work then there is no need to try the other one. We use jQuery primarily because one of our guys got into it, it does the job so there’s no point in wasting time trying to figure out Prototype.
Question 11 (Richard Kelly – fellow online marketing dude): How much of a pain do you find developing and re-developing code for SEO?
Colin: I don’t see it as a pain – more something that is now part of the job. Obviously if you have to overhaul a site that uses querystrings to then use friendly URLs, there can be a lot of pain in getting it to work, however that’s the way things need to be done so it’s necessary. Most of the time though, for new sites or complete re-skins, the templates and coding is getting done with SEO in mind through the whole process, so it’s just the “right” approach.
Question 12 (Felicitas Betzl): Having worked in a variety of agencies I’ve seen major collisions between account/project managers and developers for a variety of reasons. Can you think of 5 tips you can give account and project managers, which you think would make developers lives easier?
- Don’t agree to something with the client without either knowing exactly what’s involved and that there’s time and budget to do it. If you don’t know, don’t commit!
- Don’t let a project brief run away. Make sure there’s a spec and stick to it (or get more time and money).
- Don’t micromanage, but at the same time don’t take your eye off the ball. There’s a balance to be struck in keeping on top of a project and making sure it stays on track.
- Be (more) honest with clients. A lot of the time they can tell you’re lying or spinning something. If you’re straight with people they’ll respect you more and not be on your back as much.
- Answer the fecking phone!!!
Question 13 (just for fun): What is your favourite cartoon character?
Colin: Bod! He / she was the first cartoon I remember seeing. I found all 13 episodes on VHS in a Co-Op for a fiver a couple of years ago. It had a sticker that said “relive your mis-spent youth” on it and brought back so many happy memories of ice cream and strawberry milkshakes…
Cheers, Colin! This is a really fun interview! Looking forward to eating in your restaurant up in the Highlands