In this issue of Behind the Dev, we're going to be taking a look into the day-to-day of Jim Seconde.
If you don't follow him on Twitter, make sure to check out his profile at: @SecondeJ!
Behind the Dev
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
How did you first get into web development?
My workplace sent me on a course in 2011, because the business needed more advanced application options than the current ones I was working on - there’s only so much you can do with Microsoft Access and VBA(!). Up until this point I’d coded some fairly basic jQuery and HTML, then deployed some hacked-together Joomla! Sites (“deploy” meaning: FTP the files up) without really knowing what I was doing.
I metaphorically threw the dart at the dartboard and, “Hey, lots of people use PHP!” was the result, so I went on a course in PHP and Symfony. At PHP London, I got an offer to work as a junior at a music industry startup using Silverstripe and Symfony, and that was that: my journey was complete.
As a DevRel, what’s your typical day like?
There is a reason that Developer Relations (DevRel) is highly in demand, and (for the most part) highly compensated. Context-switching is a battle I have to face each day, and although DevRel differs depending on the needs of the business, it tends to have many similar aspects to it.
A typical day depends on what is happening in an engineering sprint, where we are in the year regarding Conference Season and what the status is of the products I’m specialising on. I usually have to triage in the morning: perhaps 2 hours on a new blog post if one is in the works, 1 or 2 hours on new presentations, a solid block of time in the middle of the day on open-source engineering (including triaging GitHub issues). If I’m travelling to a Meetup or Conference, I'll spend some time on networking within developer communities, collate feedback on products and work on OpenAPI design.
No day is ever the same, it’s quite the rollercoaster.
Are there any tools that you use on a daily basis?
I wouldn’t be able to cope without Jetbrains’ PHPStorm. I’ve never been able to replicate how intelligent it is at reading projects and integrating with PHP, VueJS or React, Docker, Git, the command line and database connectivity. I tried piecing together VSCode once and it just didn’t cut it. And a few years ago, I had a go at configuring advanced Vim, but it just wasn’t for me.
Being a Developer Advocate doesn’t mean you get away from any of the stuff you either love or hate. Slack and Jira feature heavily, but Google Calendar integrations are my best friend. There are so many plates to spin in this field that I wouldn’t be able to function without me being able to dump everything in there. My calendar went from empty to “this looks like a CEO at a multinational” overnight.
Is there anything in particular related to development that you enjoy working on the most?
I am effectively “customer 0”, which is what all good DevRel teams should be, in theory. In highly functioning teams and departments, you are part of the design and feedback process. From that perspective, I’ve loved watching products like Postman change from something I picked up once to test some REST calls to a fully functioning cloud-based API design IDE.
There’s something still magical about full-stack development when something “just works” that you’ve created. Creating a demo app that phones a user, gets the voice input, transcribes it using a 3rd party SaaS and fires remote procedures within something like Symfony or Laravel makes you punch the air when you see it working. I don’t think that feeling ever goes away - it’s especially poignant when my focus is on Developer Experience these days, which is something that Laravel particularly also focusses on.
If you could go back in time and give younger James some advice when you were first starting in development, what would it be?
I worked for 7 years doing two jobs simultaneously in London. I was the Technical Manager of a Fringe Theatre in North London, and I was a Business Intelligence developer working with various forms of SQL. For 4 of those years, I didn’t have a day off except the odd summer holiday for a week. There are appalling strains being put on our youngest generations when it comes to starting out the world of work, but I would highly recommend not doing two careers at once like this in one of the world’s biggest cities. It fried my brain.
Do you have any hobbies outside of web development?
I am a complete music anorak, and always have been. This comes from my brothers’ bringing me up on a diet of big-beat, hiphop, drum and bass, indie, rock, techno and dub. When I was 13, I bought ‘Endtroducing’ by DJ Shadow and got into vinyl culture. It’s never really gone away, as apparent from my record collection that now weighs far too much for it’s own good. I used to get on the decks, but being a husband and full time Dad just doesn’t really permit for things like that anymore.
Cooking is probably my other love. When my boy gets older, come round mine for my Turkish Saffron Chicken and Iranian Bahara Lamb Kebabs on the BBQ. That’s how you use a BBQ, I don’t want burned sausages with a miserable sachet of HP Sauce.