I took the time to sit down with our front-end developer, Liam Yorke, to find out what makes him tick. How did he get into development? What’s his normal day like? What are his recommendations for budding developers? It’s all here…
Ryan Noble: For people who don’t work in the same room as you, tell me a little about yourself…
Liam Yorke: In the office I’m usually just sat at my desk clicking away while listening to one of the many podcasts I’m subscribed too. Occasionally, when I need to charge my headphones, I’ll chime in on some of the random office conversations that crop up.
Outside of work, I’m a huge stand-up comedy fan, love to play board/video games, and watch a ton of TV and movies. Along with that there’s always some kind of project that I’m working on. Sometimes that’s a fairly “webby” project but there are also a ton of others.
Recently there was the time I invested in re-decorating my entire flat, designing a card game, building a pretty big LEGO Batman display, trying to teach myself to cook better at home… A range of things.
Ryan: A busy guy. With all of that going on, how did you get into development?
Liam: When I was in secondary school, through a number of different influences, I became interested in making web pages. At that time, I was using Microsoft Font Page (gone but never forgotten). I made several small sites for myself and friends, however, Front Page was basically a design tool and so I never wrote a line of code.
After a year or so of that I discovered Dreamweaver (at the time, [known as] ‘Macromedia’) and continued to make the occasional site every now and then. While doing this in my spare time I completed my college courses in multimedia and got a fairly regular retail job, working my way up the ladder.
Fast forward 7/8 years [and] I was creating things on my computer and listening to podcasts. One of these podcasts, from director Kevin Smith, talked about finding something you enjoy doing in your free time and making it work for you. It was at this point that it clicked with me that all this stuff I did in my spare time was something I could be doing as a career.
Within a year I was at university as an older student learning to code. As I sit here now, I’ve been a professional developer for 5 years but still often state that I’ve been “pretending” to make websites since 2002.
Ryan: That’s amazing. Taking the scenic route into development clearly worked for you. Now that you’re in it, what’s a normal day for a front-end developer?
Liam: There are two different types of day when working as a front-end developer.
Most days I come into work and there’s a large ongoing project that requires me to focus in for the day and work through vast sways of a website. This usually means flipping back and forth between my code editor and the design documents, slowly building up fully-functioning websites by writing out line after line of new code.
These days offer up a fair bit of trial-and-error when we are implementing something completely new or I’m just trying to do something in a cleaner and better way than I would have previously. This process means there’s always something new to be learning.
The other kind of day is where I have a number of smaller tasks to work through or even some quick support issues as they’re coming in. These days require a fair bit of content switching and are usually the days where I have a bit more interaction with others in the office while we discuss solutions.
Ryan: Good to know! Now I know not to interrupt you if you’ve kept quiet all day. It’s a large project. Do. Not. Disturb. What tools would you say are crucial to your job?
The essentials are simply a computer and an internet connection. As long as you have both, you’re good to go. I even used to work with someone who just coded everything in (vanilla) Notepad.
For me, though, I use PHPStorm to write code (can’t live without linting[, a tool that flags errors as you work through]) and PhotoShop, Illustrator or XD to create any kind of images we need or review the work that our design team have created.
Contrary to what you might think, another huge tool for a developer is Google.
It’s simply not possible to have all the code you need stored in your mind and I often describe what I do as professional Googling. A key skill in this job is simply knowing how to ask the question you need answering to get going as quickly as possible.
Ryan: I’m glad I’m not the only one hitting up Google a few times a day… How do you keep up-to-date with the latest changes in development?
Liam: I follow a couple of development blogs and Twitter accounts, such as the Codrops Collective series or Smashing Mag. Through this there are always interesting bits coming in, and every now and then I’ll see a big change or a great new idea that can become part of my day-to-day work.
Ryan: Great – they sound worth checking out for any developers. Speaking of which, what do you think the next big thing is for developers?
Liam: Day-to-day development, at least for [front-end developers], tends to have to hold off on the brand-new ideas. We have to wait until [big ideas] are at a point where they can be fully integrated and are accessible for our clients’ needs.
Something that has been big on blogs and in experiments of late is the CSS Grid[, a new 2-dimensional layout system,] and that’s just now getting to a point there I can start to bring it into my everyday development tool kit.
I used it for the first time in a project last week and even so only in a very small test. It’s more acting as a proof of concept, but with some of the brilliant examples I’ve seen online in the past year we will be able to branch out with new ideas and uses until we are developing almost entire designs using the CSS Grid.
Ryan: Sounds like an exciting time for developers, agencies, and clients. What’s the most memorable project you’ve worked on?
I’m the type of person whose favourite thing is often the last thing that I’ve worked on.
As a result, at the moment, I would say that my favourite project is the DSB Offshore website that we are on the cusp of launching. It helps that our design team did a fantastic job updating the design of their current site. Putting it together was very challenging (in a good way) and we included some really interesting tweaks.
That being said, ask me again in a month or so and that answer will probably have changed.
Ryan: I see what you mean – that’s looking really good. Outside of projects you’ve created, have you ever seen a website you wish you’d created?
There’re one or two ideas that I’ve had, never acted on, and then seen done better than I had thought of them by someone else. A great example of that is Next Up Comedy[, a streaming service for stand-up comedy].
But a site that I wish I’d come up with is the Million Dollar Homepage. I found out about it a few years after it had hit the news. Now, admittedly, I would have been 16/17 at the time and wouldn’t have had the business mind needed to make it work but the functionality, even then, I could have created, and it doesn’t hurt to think of what could have been.
Ryan: Suddenly I find myself wanting to learn how to code… On a totally unrelated note, what would you recommend for someone who wants to get into development?
Liam: Just give it a go. There are plenty of great free text editors out there – Atom and Sublime – and there’s a never-ending library of tutorials, code examples, ideas, and reference material for you to make a start.
For me, developing started with the idea of making a silly little corner of the web for myself so maybe start there. Make yourself a simple little homepage, write a bit about your hobbies, and you’re off. From there you can keep coming back to it adding and improving functionality as you have new ideas.
I’d also recommend that you get to know the developer tools in browsers like Firefox and Chrome.
As you’re browsing around the web, if you see something interesting, right click and choose to “inspect”. Not only will this help you get an idea of how things are done but it’ll also give you the chance to play with the code live in the browser. You can make small tweaks and changes that’ll help to spark new ideas.
Ryan: Thanks – that’s really useful. That even makes me want to try, so I imagine it’s even more helpful for anyone with an eye for coding. And finally, what are you working on today?
Today has been one of those smaller task days. I’ve been fixing up a bug on the header of one website, creating new modules for a client’s responsive emails, and making some amendments to a document-selling section that we are adding to another website for Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology.
All that while looking at some smaller updates for another website that we are getting ready to launch.