The JavaScript Developer: In conversation with Jeffrey Auriemma

The JavaScript Developer is a series of interviews with JS developers where they share their stories, inspirations and life lessons. This is the fourth part of the series.

Jeffrey Auriemma

What is the one thing that is common to both programming and music? They are both creative and they both help you express yourself. Jeffrey Auriemma has best of both these worlds. He has been a music teacher for a major part of his professional life. On the other hand, his love for programming introduced him to the world of apps and websites at the age of 12.

Today, Jeffrey is a Front-End Developer at Discovery Communications where along with a 7-member team, he works on building and maintaining a platform of electronic resources and textbooks for pre K-12 schools.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Tell us something about yourself

I’ve been breathing for 28 years, making music for 19 years, married for 5 years, and was a teacher for 6 years. I’ve been writing bad code for 14 years, less-bad code for one year and employed as a full-time programmer for two days.

A line or two about the current project you are working on.

I recently joined the front-end development team at Discovery Education where I am working with some very talented people. We are creating and maintaining a suite of web apps for students and teachers.

What made you choose programming as a profession?

All professions are full of new and exciting ideas, but these ideas can be slowed or stopped by a variety of factors (i.e. money, politics). I was a teacher for six years and saw first-hand how a maze of competing interests can discourage innovation. The technology industry, on the other hand, has tremendous scope for creativity. I regard creativity as one of the highest human ideals, so to be able to work on developing products where imagination is the only limitation is compelling.

Tell us something about the first project you worked on: what was it, how you went about figuring it out, the obstacles you faced, the outcome, etc.

The first project I completed was when I was 12 years old (1998). A classmate and I had partnered to start a local web design firm to build websites for local businesses. Our first client was a fish market and seafood restaurant – deliverables included the usual local restaurant items – hours, menus, services, information about the business, catering, and so on. We used Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop to mock up the design elements (throwback!) and then hacked together the rest of the code ourselves. The project ended up looking pretty good for a website made in the Netscape era.

One quirk that set the project apart was displaying a webcam feed to the user. There were four webcams set up throughout the business that showed employees cleaning fish, preparing food, etc. I don’t recall precisely which technologies we used to deliver the video feed to users (this was 1998, after all, and I had homework to do). All things considered, the client was happy and I had some extra cash to buy a Sega Dreamcast later on. We call that a win-win.

What would be top 3 resources that you would recommend beginners-level JavaScript programmers to learn advanced stuff about JavaScript?

Book: JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford. Read this, get confused, look things up, repeat. If you don’t have the cash, check your local public library.

Web: pluralsight.com – worth every penny. This site has a massive amount of online course modules on programming languages, apps, IDEs, frameworks, and libraries. Great for JavaScript padawans and Jedis alike.

Real Life: if you’re in a metropolitan area there are sure to be meetup groups that focus on web technologies. Join one, attend a meetup, and talk to people. I use meetup.com and am still active in Chicago programming meetups.

If there is something you would like to say to fellow programmers to inspire them to code in JavaScript, what would it be?

JavaScript at its best can be very expressive and efficient. If you haven’t looked at JavaScript in a few years, look again.

What is the biggest criticism you have faced till date?

I am my own worst critic. My greatest weakness is my lack of professional experience.

What is the biggest compliment you have got till date?

“You’re hired.”

What do you do when you are not writing codes?

When I’m alone I tend to hit the gym, ride my bike, hang out with my cat, play guitar, compose music, write about JavaScript, read the news, and drink espresso, usually not at the same time. When I’m with my wife I really enjoy taking long walks, watching a good film or a favorite TV show (we are especially fond of The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones), and eating out at a great restaurant.

3 Apps you cannot do without and why?

IFTTT, because I can create customized logical connections between applications, augmenting their functionality.

Uber, because getting driven around Chicago has never been easier or more cost-effective.

Google Play Music, because my somewhat large personal music library can be accessed from any device. Offline access is especially useful.

Two gadgets you cannot do without and why?

My Motorola Moto X phone has been indispensable. I like it so much that I didn’t even root it. Also, my Home Theater PC (just a stock ASUS desktop that I bought in 2012 with an upgraded graphics card) running XBMC has enabled me to ditch cable and consume my favorite music, sports, videos and games on demand.

Which fictional character you love the most and why?

Captain John Yossarian from Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22. Though not without flaws, he valued life over death at every turn and wouldn’t be coerced otherwise.

Your favorite game (online or otherwise) and why?

This was a tough choice, but I’m going to pick a game called Bohnanza because it deserves more attention than it gets. Bohnanza is a card game that is built on the premise that all the players are bean farmers (story of my life). All cards can be exchanged by barter and the game can take on a very cooperative or competitive tone. The rules are minimal so the gameplay is highly dependent on the personality of the players.

Who or what is your biggest motivation?

My wife and family – everything I do revolves around them.

What key traits do you think are needed to be a successful JavaScript developer?

Curiosity, humility and decency. Trying to embody these three qualities got me through day two on the job.

What would be a dream project that you would like to develop in JavaScript?

I’d love to work on a project that makes full use of the Web Audio API and its awesome potential for music creation and analysis.

One life lesson you would like to share with developers who are new to the field.

My teaching and music experience opened the door to my current job. I got my first interview at Discovery (an education company) partially because I was a teacher. When I met the front-end dev team in my second interview, we instantly connected by talking about music. As it turns out, 5 out of the 7 front-end developers here are active musicians.

People who can write decent code according to instructions are relatively plentiful. What sets a developer apart is his or her ability to innovate and draw context from the world around. Embrace your interests outside of programming and apply those experiences to the projects you work on. Take it from me: you never know how your unique past might connect you to people and opportunities in the future.

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