Conversations at efelle: Developer Mat Harris
What initially got you interested in development?
I was working at a nonprofit association in DC and they needed help with one of their sites, which was using just a basic website builder template. After jumping into some HTML code that needed to be altered, I went down the rabbit hole of ‘this is something new and I want to learn how it all works’. So I started taking lessons online at places like Team Treehouse and finished their front end development track. Then after moving out to Seattle and working from home, I had to redesign and redevelop one of their sites on Wordpress. That was the first thing I really had ever done in terms of a web development project and then I came here.
What drew me in is the problem solving, being presented with a design or a concept for something on the web and figuring out how to build it. Then understanding the building blocks and tools that are required to be able to facilitate those types of projects.
What's your general approach to development or what do you find important in development?
It kind of depends on what point in the development process I'm starting at. So for brand new projects, I will look at the designs and I'll try to determine how the content will create the different components on a page. Then, I break down the design even further to the barebones and elements, so you can use those things to build off of. Starting out with elements like the style guide is really helpful because once you have those done, you can just build out everything else and the rest just kind of cascades.
Name a project you'd love to contribute to or create.
Pro Publica - it's one that I've always wanted to work on. They do a lot of data science and have a lot of really big data sets that are interesting to my political background. I'm interested in being able to work with that kind of information and trying to present it in a meaningful way for folks to be able to access it.
Do you see development as a potential medium for social change?
100 percent. I think Tech has a problem where a lot of the time profit is put first. There's a lot of good that's happening in the open source world, so that is where the change will happen because when you have the ability to collaborate and have everything transparent good things happen. But people go to where the money is. So it goes both ways because you can see how information flows and how that kind of stuff is built by where the money is being shifted.
A lot of the smaller nonprofits who work on global issues don't have the budget to be able to afford to do a lot of the web development that they need. So, if developers were more altruistic, maybe they could build some good things that they didn't have to be paid for. But everyone wants get paid because we live in a capitalist society.
I always wanted to start an agency where you do work specifically for non-profits since, a huge way that information and awareness gets raised these days is through technology. Like you said, they don't have money to spend or the ability to go to big agencies to do it. So if there is a way that you could build something that worked specifically towards that, it would be so cool.
That's why things like Wordpress have taken off because Wordpress itself is open source, it’s easy to use, and everybody has the ability to use it. The cost comes in if you want to customize it with your own branding/design. A lot of nonprofits have one person who does all of the marketing and that includes the website design, entering all of the content in the site, and creating blog and social media posts. That's where I got my start, doing the communications side.
The nice thing about working here is that I'm surrounded by folks who know what they're doing and I am able to bounce ideas off of them.
What frustrates me about development or the internet in general?
Sometimes there's an inattention to user experience and accessibility problems. There are a lot of interesting features that you see on the web, but they aren't accessible for other people or some design choices make it hard for everyone to be able to navigate. There's been less of an effort to have those kinds of considerations when we're in a fast paced environment, but it's becoming better and better.
How do you see the internet evolving in the next five years?
I think virtual reality and augmented reality are going to start becoming more and more a real thing. It's becoming cheaper to build out a decent VR or augmented reality set. We just don't really know how it's going to be used, it doesn’t seem like there is a need for it right now.
It will affect the internet by some of the spaces that we're used to will probably become more in that realm, especially in social media. I think like augmented is probably going to happen before virtual. Google Glass fell through but there are still companies that are working on things like that that.
It’s slowly starting to happen, so probably in 10 years it will become more widespread. It’s like Moore’s Law, where it hits the exponential curve and it's going to happen faster and faster as time goes on.
What do you want to improve on or learn about this year either work related or personally?
I want to volunteer more and become more a part of the community that I'm in, not only locally but professionally.
Favorite aspect of efelle?
The ability to learn on the job, to be constantly learning and with people who are interested in trying new things.
What are your desk essentials?
Well I have a lot of political buttons and pins that I've collected over the years. My Bartlet/Hoynes coffee mug. And a giant notepad, it doubles as a mouse pad but also good for taking notes.