Thanks to The Nerdery for underwriting the ‘Know this Nerd?’series.
Ian Fitzpatrick is a freelance web developer living in Minneapolis by way of Portland. Asia, Baking, and Contra are but a few of his guilty pleasures. Ian is also startup friendly.
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When and how did you originally become interested in technology?
I started out, like so many kids of my generation, on a Commodore 64. That got me started down the rabbit hole. Some years later I discovered that Bulletin Board Systems were “a thing”, and it was game over from there. Even now my brain gives me a dopamine hit if I hear a 2400-baud modem handshake sequence.
At what age did you write your first computer program? What did it do?
At age eight I started playing around with the Macintosh SEs at school. It’s not quite a computer program, but on an SE I created the “Ian Padlock System”, which hilariously “secured” files by hiding them in a series of nested folders. Listen, I didn’t have Bruce Schneier around then to tell me that “security through obscurity is not security”, okay?
Which do you prefer in programming, the struggle or the achievement?
I prefer the achievement inasmuch that means actually seeing folks use the thing I built. I dig the process of creation, the struggle, but it pales to the kick you get from having real users. I want to create software that makes people smile.
What people, groups, projects, or resources were most influential in your development as programmer?
I’m a self-taught coder with a liberal arts degree. I didn’t have formal CS training. So I was mostly influenced by programming book authors and other technology essayists. My first “real” programming was on the Microsoft stack, Charles Petzold was huge, and also a site called 4GuysFromRolla for ASP (this was before .NET).
The entire O’Reilly Media publishing empire, moreso in their early days, had a gigantic impact on me. They took the ethos of simplicity and minimalism and applied it to just not what they taught, but how they taught it. Lately Rosenfeld Media has taken this to the next level with their books on User Experience, which are shockingly good.
Of course Joel on Software is mandatory reading, as are Paul Graham’s essays entrepreneurship and technology. Also more recently, Steve Blank and Ash Muraya for their customer-centered product development approaches
What do you do now? What languages are you proficient in?
I’m a full stack freelance web developer. I see myself as a trusted business advisor to my clients, who also happens to have the skills to execute on their business initiatives by coding.
My go to language for webapps is Python with the Django Framework. Django is Python’s answer to Ruby on Rails, and it rocks. I’ve also been doing quite a bit of WordPress work lately, which I’m really enjoying. The community of WordPress developers here in the Twin Cities is full of super awesome folks, and they’ve helped me a ton.
What do you enjoy about it?
I do a little of everything, and that’s the way I like it. If I stare at one language for more than six hours a day, the brackets and braces all start to run together and my brain turns to mush. I’m working on three projects at the moment, finishing a WordPress site, creating a Python/Django webapp, and building a Phonegap mobile app. For me, this means life is good.
If you were to be doing anything else, what would that be?
Boardgame designer, organic vegetable farmer, coffee roaster. Basically, any job that at some point might be parodied on the show Portlandia. Now about that adult urban hide & seek league…
What does agile software development mean to you?
I do most of my work solo, and most formal agile processes assume a team. I like the culture of agile though. “Test assumptions”, “release working software early and often”, “embrace change” etc.
Where do you spend most of your time online?
The sites that are now hard wired into my brain stem and seem to type themselves into the URL bar are: Hacker News, Twitter, Boing Boing, and Waxy Links. Oh and TECHdotMN, natch.
What concerns you most about where technology is headed?
The demise of the general use computer. Perhaps it will go full circle, at first just us nerds had PCs, then suddenly everyone had a computer, and now the pendulum is beginning to swing back again. We need more makers, not more consumers.
What excites you most about where technology is headed?
Technology frameworks that reduce boilerplate coding and make independent programmers vastly more efficient. These frameworks keep getting better and better. I’m not just talking about Ruby on Rails or Django, but Twitter Bootstrap, Zurb Foundation, SASS and LESS, Node.js, and on and on.
These frameworks are democratizing software development, and allowing indie developers to flourish. It’s an amazing time to be a web developer.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to give shout-outs to two groups. First much praise and all glory to Don, Kyle and Teke at CoCo Coworking who have single-handedly fostered a community that is the spiritual core of the indie tech scene in the Twin Cities. Also, thanks for helping me to pay my mortgage you guys.
Second, big ups to all the folks at Minne* for putting on MinneBar and MinneDemo. I moved to the Twin Cities five years ago and didn’t know a soul here. The creative, independent-minded folks I’ve met through these events have inspired me and shaped my career.