The JavaScript Developer: In conversation with Brian Rinaldi

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

Brian Rinaldi

Brian Rinaldi is the Developer Content Manager within the Developer Relations team at Telerik. He was instrumental in launching the Telerik Developer Network. He also helps with the editing, curating and promotion of the articles that are published on the forum.

Prior to joining Telerik, Brian focused on publishing HTML, CSS and JavaScript developer content for the Adobe Developer Connection at Adobe. Over the years, he has published in a variety of technical publications, has presented at numerous conferences and events and has served as a technical editor on a number of books. He is also the Founder of Flippin’ Awesome and blogs at remotesynthesis.com. He lives with his wife and two kids, Luke and Sam, at Boston.

Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Tell us something about yourself

I spent about 15 years as a traditional developer, working in ColdFusion early on, and then at varying times doing HTML, JavaScript, Flash and Flex – though lately I focus purely on HTML, JavaScript and mobile. In my role, I sit somewhere between being a traditional developer advocate (or evangelist) and a professional author and editor, having always had a passion for working with both content and the community.

What does your work at Telerik involve?

My focus since joining Telerik back in February has been on launching and growing the Telerik Developer Network. I am not only in charge of putting together the site itself, but also helping find, edit, curate and promote the articles that are published on a variety of technical topics.

What made you choose programming as a profession?

I actually graduated college with a degree in History and English. Despite having barely touched a computer during my college years, upon graduating I began to teach myself web development, Flash and Director. I really enjoyed it and continued to take courses to learn more. I learned ColdFusion via a training course and built a site that became popular. This got me my first job as a full-time programmer with a start-up and the rest is history.

Things were much easier back then though. The dotcom boom made it so that you could get a job as a web developer with limited experience.

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.

My first big project was an online grade book for teachers. My wife was teaching and, at the time, using things like Excel spreadsheets or even paper to track grades. It was inefficient. I’d just learned ColdFusion so I decided to see if I could build a better, more flexible grade book that would even allow teachers to share grades with their students.

I built the site and it was hugely successful, getting thousands of users within a few months (which, for 1997, was a good amount of users). It also helped me get my first job.

What is the biggest criticism you have faced till date?

For many years, I think I was the stereotypical developer. I was idealistic about perfecting my application architecture – cleanly organizing my code, separating my concerns, creating abstractions, etc. This caused me to overcomplicate my applications and miss deadlines in the pursuit of writing the best code possible. Of course, 6 months later, I’d look back and that code still looked like crap – in my own harsh opinion.

I’ve learned from those mistakes though. I now value the compromises that developers have to make between getting things done right and just getting things done. I meet other (usually younger) developers who remind me of how I was and I realize that I must have been, at times, tough to work with.

What is the biggest compliment you have got till date?

I have always been identified as the problem solver when I was on development teams, and I considered that a huge compliment. Whenever someone had some complex issue to fix or application to build, I was often brought in to help solve or proof-of-concept the difficult aspects of it. I loved that.

What do you do when you are not writing codes?

I read an insane amount of blogs and news – always trying to learn. The topics I read most are about programming and the tech industry as well as non-work-related topics such as sports, music, entertainment, video games and news. If my feed reader goes a day without me checking in, it quickly has thousands of unread posts.

According to you, what is that one book that all developers should read?

I tend to keep up with development via sites and blogs. I read books from time to time, but rarely get dogmatic about any of them.

3 blogs you follow regularly and why?

My focus lately is all on web and mobile, so my favorite blogs are on the same topics – and I follow hundreds. My favorite way to keep up with them though, for most people who can’t or don’t want to follow hundreds of individual blogs, is via weekly newsletters like HTML5 Weekly, JavaScript Weekly and CSS Weekly, to name three of my favorites.

I should probably note that, on a related topic, I also co-edit Mobile Web Weekly.

3 Apps you cannot do without and why?

I am totally not an apps person. I would much rather just use the web (and don’t get me started on web sites that do the “Download our mobile app” splash page). However, I rely heavily on the DropBox app to access files remotely, the WordPress app to manage my sites remotely, and the NewsBlur app to read my feeds.

Two gadgets you cannot do without and why?

I’m a pretty big gadget guy, but most of them are not vital. The only ones I consider vital are my HTC One and my iPad. I am always reading, even on the go.

Which fictional character you love the most and why?

I have always loved Batman – from watching Adam West and Burt Ward in the cheeky series when I was a kid, to the Tim Burton take and, of course, the recent Dark Knight trilogy. When I buy comics, which I do from time to time, I also frequently go for Batman. Granted, I have big concerns over the upcoming movie as I personally hated Man of Steel and worry Batman will get the same treatment.

Your favorite game (online or otherwise) and why?

Right now it’d be Titanfall on my Xbox One. The graphics are amazing and the gameplay is fun. I keep getting new games but just keep coming back to this one instead.

Who or what is your biggest motivation?

My family. I am grateful that I have a job that allows me the opportunity to spend time with them, especially as a work from home employee.

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

The willingness to learn. That not only means keeping up with new trends, but it also means not getting religious or dogmatic about the language and tools you know. Our industry is one of rapid change, and you have to be open to it or be left behind.

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

Programming is an enterprise that allows you to think there is a right way and a wrong way and so many developers get caught up in wasting time focusing on their tool being the right tool, their architecture the right way, their solution the most efficient one, and so on. Every solution is really often a balance of compromises – not just in terms of actual code, but in terms of figuring out a way to work with our colleagues and meeting our deadlines and navigating company politics – a lot goes into the job beyond just the code being written. It’s important to know when to compromise and when to stand your ground.

Have someone you’d like to see featured in this interview series? Add them in the comment section below.

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