Design(ing) Community

Photo: Joel Adams
Photo: Joel Adams

If you build it...

Community is important to the denizens of the London Roundhouse, whether they work on the west side, at Ellipsis Digital, or 40 feet (“one good Nerf gun shot”) to the east, at Engine SevenFour. And when a community doesn’t already exist, members of the Engine SevenFour team will build one. Derek Martin had already done this, creating a PHP meet-up group early in 2015, one of 13 official tech-related meet-up groups in London, Ontario. Not to be outdone, Todd Rumball, Engine SevenFour’s front-end developer, created his own group in July.

Like so many things in this city, the first front-end meet-up group started with a single tweet from Todd’s personal Twitter account, @rumball:

Looking to start a front end web developers group in London Ontario #ldnont. tweet back if there is any interest. UI/UX HTML CSS ETC...

— Todd Rumball (@rumball) June 5, 2015

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Todd was already building a following for himself by curating and sharing links to articles of interest to front-end developers; this was a logical next step.

Todd went to school to be an artist, but recognized that wasn’t a really practical career. So he went back to school for computer repair and programming. His unique education turned out to be invaluable for employers who needed someone who could do artwork and graphic design, and programming. Which led him to web design, which he’s now been doing for 20 years, concentrating on UI.

He notes that the job description for front-end developers can be pretty fuzzy, with people performing a range of jobs. He defines the work as some combination of designing and implementing user interfaces. “We like pretty things,” he says; these “pretty things” are often those elements that make a website appealing to use.

Front-end development “isn’t always considered ‘real programming’,” he says with a wry laugh. That said, there are a lot of people in the city who are doing this important work. And when talented front-end developers work with skilled back-end developers, the result is a site or app that pleases its users.

The first meeting of the front-end developers took place at Hacker Studios (also home of the PHP meet-up group); nearly 20 people, from more than a dozen companies, turned up. One person was looking for work, and received two leads from the group.

Todd had planned a couple of different talks, but shelved them both. “I wanted to facilitate conversation—there’s so much we could learn from each other.” At this first meeting, people introduced themselves—and like so many groups in this intertwined city, a number of people had worked together at different companies in the past.

The front-end developers talked about the languages and frameworks they were using, including JavaScript’s Angular and Ember, and jQuery; stylesheet languages like LESS and Sass; and taskrunners Gulp and Grunt. They discussed the communications between web clients (browsers) and web servers—even though front-end developers mainly focus on the the client (front end), it's important that they also understand the protocols for communicating with the back end (web servers).

Of course, they talked about the importance of starting a new application with a good base, stressing the importance of good UX/UI design. And, as with all programming, they talked about evolving techniques: where Photoshop was once the tool of choice for designing UI, most of them were now using tools like Sketch or Visual Studio Blend, or even doing web-based design.

There were questions about workflow and collaboration, and how best to create prototypes. And there were answers. And a surprise visit from Tom Mulcair, who was meeting with local supporters in the main room at Hacker Studios. All this in less than 90 minutes.

We got to meet Thomas Mulcair at @ldnontdev. First #ldnont dev meet was great. pic.twitter.com/nUYCG3fYIe

— Lisa Fehr (@lisa_warfehr) July 24, 2015

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Todd sees this group as a place for people to get answers to their specific questions, as well as a forum to talk about new technologies, and present “the cool stuff members have built.”

Lisa Fehr, another Engine SevenFour developer, says that the conversation continued after the meeting’s official end, at the London Ale House, including a discussion of the upcoming developers’ pub meet-ups.

Todd has already set up a Twitter account for the front-end group. And in the continuing spirit of collaboration, there’s talk of connecting the front-end and back-end groups. ‘Cause the only thing better than a community is a more inclusive community.

If you want to attend one of the Engine SevenFour-created meet-ups, you can get details here or here. And if you’d like to work with people who create apps, websites and meet-ups, check out the Engine SevenFour job postings.

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As a copywriter, Laurie Bursch also works on the front end of websites, and deeply appreciates the people who produce beautiful (and usable) homes for her words.