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Chris DeMars

Tuft & Needle

Chris DeMars is a front-end developer from Detroit, Michigan working remotely for Tuft & Needle. For his community contributions, he holds awards as a Microsoft MVP in Developer Technologies and Google Developer Expert in Web Technologies. He is also an international speaker and organizer for Vuetroit and co-organizer for the Ann Arbor Accessibility Group.

Inteview image for Chris DeMars

What led you to become a developer?

I started building on the web around 1996. I was young, but I loved computers. I had a computer when I was 2.5 years old. It was a Tandy running DOS. I used to play Hangman and a couple of other games on it and that is the machine I learned how to type on.

I started off my passion for development with QBasic just writing basic...no pun intended, programs that would ask questions and would output your answers. I could even change the colors of the I/O. I thought I was so cool that I could tell the computer things to do and it would do it!

I actually had an old QBasic book from the early ’90s, but I don’t think I ever finished it. As this is the case with most tech books I have.

That led me to the web. I started building web pages with expages then upgraded to Angelfire and cjb.net domains. Remember those? Oh, the days of the blink tag and marquees. Marquees STILL work!

Sara Viera created an awesome website called Make Frontend Shit Again, this was when the web was fun. Animated gif’s, with a hard g, “under construction” graphics. Oh, those were the days. I sure do miss them.

I mostly built on the web for fun. One of the first sites I built was called “The Twilight Zone” and it featured spiral graphics, the Twilight Zone theme song, and some animated gifs you could download. Then I built a website for leopard geckos. I won webring awards for that one lol. As I got older, I freelanced a bit, worked as an indy contractor for a local company all while working a non-tech job, then moved on to different corporate companies once I got my foot in the door, now I work at Tuft & Needle, the O.G. bed-in-a-box company and I absolutely love it.

What’s your setup and development environment?

My setup at home is pretty fresh. I have an Asus 27” monitor with an Asus 15” portable monitor and off to the right is my 2018 MBP. I also rock an Azio MK Mac wired keyboard and Logitech Triathlon Bluetooth mouse.

I use VS Code with Nightowl as my theme and Fira Code because ligatures are cool. I also use Photoshop and Sketch for design work. Hyper with zsh for my terminal because I dig fast apps built with Electron. And I have all the browsers I think I might need for development and testing. Of course Slack and Twitter for keeping up with the #DeveloperCommunity.

There is also podcast equipment as well. I host a podcast called Tales From The Script.

What’s your favorite stack to work with?

Any stack that I can use a Mac with lol. I have worked in backends from Java to C#. Currently, I am in a Ruby backend, but luckily for me, I have stayed out of those as much as I can. The front-end is where I shine.

What are your top 5 go-to repos?

This is such a hard question. Anything that piques my interest. I love all the things that Sindre Sorhus does, he has mad talent. Plus, any great things that come out of the accessibility space I usually check out.

What technologies are you most excited about now?

Since HTML, CSS, and Accessibility are my bread-n-butter, ALL the amazing things you can do with CSS today. I love flexbox and grid, CSS variables are going to blow up! At least that is my prediction.

What does your ideal workflow look like, from messing around to production?

If I am working on personal stuff I like to start brainstorming ideas and come up with color schemes etc. Then I sketch the layout and ideas on paper with a pen, yes, I still use pen and paper. After that, I might design my drawing in Sketch or Photoshop, possibly just design in the browser. Once all looks good and I test things out, I will host and deploy to GitHub Pages, but have been leaning towards Netlify.

What are you currently learning?

Building cool things in Vue and React. Right now I am working on a pizza app in react and a “Days I’ve quit smoking” app in Vue. I am not a JavaScript developer by any stretch of the title, but trying to brush up my skills is always good.

What project are you most proud of?

One thing I always talk about even though I don’t work for the company anymore was a big customer-facing project where I worked on 99% of the accessibility. It was the first application released as an IT organization that was 100% accessible to all our users. That was a huge win.

What are beginner developers not learning that is critical in this day and age?

HTML and CSS hands down. There is this thought in the industry, even a whole following that JavaScript is the be-all-end-all of the web and that is just not the case. Two-thirds of the web is made up of HTML and CSS. The fundamental building blocks of the web. Yes, JS is important, but without markup, you have nothing. More emphasis has to be given to HTML and CSS when beginners are learning.

Approaching it from the JavaScript side, beginners should learn vanilla JS before they jump into any libraries or frameworks. If all of those fancy libraries and frameworks went away tomorrow, would you know how to write ES5 or ES6?

What tech challenges are you facing at your company?

Since I work remote, that is a huge challenge. Having the discipline to actually wake up and focus with so many distractions around is hard. I’m not a gamer so turning around and turning on Fortnite or whatever the new hotness is for games isn’t an issue. But being able to focus for 20-30 minutes at a time to accomplish a task can be a struggle.

You just have to buckle down and bang out some code regardless of what is happening around you, besides emergency situations, etc.

Working for a company with a lot of smart devs is also a tech challenge, especially when you come in having to learn new things. The imposter syndrome sets in hard, sometimes I even think to myself, “Why was I even hired?”.

Getting over that is hard, but it gets better day after day from the positive feedback that is received through others on my team, including leads and other teams that work with me.

What music do you listen to whilst developing?

Anything you want to promote or plug?

If you want to check out Tales From The Script, you can find it on the podcast app for Apple, also Google Play and Stitcher. Follow me on Twitter or check out my Medium blog where I write about the web.

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