#S01E04: Cassie Evans

The thing I appreciate the most is that the web industry doesn’t stand still. You’re constantly learning.

Cassie is an incredible front-end developer from Brighton. I've followed (and been a fan of) her since she started at Clearleft. Watching her go from front-end developer to international speaking superstar has been a joy (I'm sure Bytesconf had a big hand it that) and I was super stoked when she agreed to feature in this series.

What is your job title?

My job title is officially ‘front-end developer’. Front-end encompasses so many things nowadays though, so that doesn’t tell you an awful lot!

My role falls more in the ‘front of the front-end’ category. HTML, CSS, UI interactions, design patterns and accessibility. I write JS too, and enjoy it, but it’s not the core focus of my role.

I work at Clearleft in Brighton. We’re a small independent design agency, with a big focus on UX. Front-end dev is seen as an important part of the design process. A way to deliver good visual design and UX research to the user.

I went quite a roundabout route to get to where I am today.

How did you get where you are today? What is your education background? How many jobs have you had?

I went quite a roundabout route to get to where I am today. My parents moved to South Africa when I was about 10 and I went to uni there, studying photography. I worked freelance for a couple of years, doing photography and a bit of graphic design.

But when I moved back to the UK I lost all my connections and struggled to get that going again. I did bartending for a while and then managed to get a job doing photo retouching at a modelling agency. That wasn’t the best time. It didn’t sit well with me from a moral standpoint, and the work was incredibly tedious. I was comfortable though, and honestly, probably a little uncertain of my own abilities at that point, so I didn’t have the confidence to leave. Luckily, (in retrospect) I got made redundant, so that decision was made for me.

I got back into pub work and started learning how to code in my spare time. It can be quite isolating learning to code, there’s a lot of sitting and frowning at error messages, and feeling a bit stupid. Finding the Brighton Codebar community and attending their free workshops really helped to build my confidence.

A year or so later I had my first job at an ad agency, I found my love for web animation there, as I was making a lot of banner ads and jazzy landing pages.

There’s only so long you can focus your energy on building things that everybody hides with ad-blocking software. I wanted to build things that were more useful, and had a bit more impact, so I started job hunting, luckily Clearleft were on the hunt for a Junior at the same time.

It was someone, rather than something that caught my imagination and got me into coding. Around the time I got made redundant, I went to a house party, and met a woman who’d just finished a coding bootcamp. She was spectacular, loud, excitable, brimming with enthusiasm for everything she’d learnt. We talked drunkenly at each other for hours.

Her enthusiasm reminded me of the excitement I felt back in the early 2000’s, making custom myspace profiles and neopets pages for friends. I hadn’t thought about that for years.

On her recommendation I went to a free coding workshop at Le wagon. I felt pretty out of my depth, but I met another wonderful woman there, Jen. She introduced me to Codebar Brighton and took the time to give me guidance and advice. We sadly lost Jen to depression late last year.

I’m forever grateful to Jen. You never know how much a conversation or small act of kindness is going to have on someone's life. I try to emulate that whenever possible.

What is your tech stack? What languages do you use? What are your projects built with? Do you interact with servers, if so, what kind? What do you develop on/with?

At work we’re pretty tech-agnostic - We often integrate into our clients dev team, and we’re building things that existing teams will have to maintain, so we make tech decisions based on what’s best for the client and the end user. This is great, because I get to learn a lot of new technologies and frameworks. But it does mean I’m in an almost permanent state of imposter syndrome.

My own website is built using Hylia, an Eleventy starter kit that Andy Bell put together. Static site generators are awesome. Deployments are super easy too, as they’re managed with Netlify, which is just the best thing to happen to web development since flexbox.

Eleventy is the only *big name* static site generator I’ve tried. I personally like it because it’s just built on JavaScript, you don’t need to be familiar with react or vue to get going.
I also used docsify to put together some documentation for a workshop I ran, that was really lovely to work with

In my spare time I mess about a lot with creative web technologies. I’m especially into SVG animation. But I’ve been tinkering around with p5.js and three.js too. I run a creative coding meetup called Brighton Generator, and that’s a great source of inspiration!

I run a creative coding meetup called Brighton Generator, and that’s a great source of inspiration!

What do you love about your job?

I really enjoy having a job that’s both creative and technical. Visual problem solving is so much fun. I’m happiest when I’m solving a complicated layout problem, making graphical effects with filters, or figuring out some knotty animation code.

Being able to code still feels pretty magical. The fact that you can open a text editor and just make something, from nothing. Magic.

What could be better?

I’d sometimes think I’d like to work on a bigger team, maybe on a product?
Because we work on a lot of smaller projects, with different tech stacks, I feel like I don’t have enough time to iterate and really go as deep into understanding things as I would like.

But the grass is always greener, and I’m sure after a few years of working on one product with a certain tech stack I’d be desperate for some variety.

What do you love about the web industry?

After working in photo retouching, which was really repetitive, the thing I appreciate the most is that the web industry doesn’t stand still. You’re constantly learning.

I really appreciate the knowledge sharing too. There’s this wonderfully collaborative, open-source, ‘knowledge is for everyone’ attitude to the web

There’s this wonderfully collaborative, open-source, ‘knowledge is for everyone’ attitude to the web

What are your frustrations with the industry?

I feel like the tech industry takes itself far too seriously sometimes. I get frustrated by all the posturing and gatekeeping - “You’re not a real developer unless you use x framework”, “CSS isn’t a real programming language”.

I think this kind of rhetoric often puts new developers off, and the ones that don’t get put off are more inclined to skip over learning things like semantic markup and accessibility in favour of learning the latest framework.
Having a deeper knowledge of HTML and CSS is often devalued.

Being a relatively visible woman in this industry comes with it’s own set of frustrations too.

Knowing what you know now, if you were to start again in the industry would you do anything differently?

There was a tweet I saw the other day by David Khourshid that said:

“It's amazing how often the difference between "I'll never understand how to do this" and "I'm pretty comfortable doing this" is literally just trying it once.”

When I started learning how to code, I was pretty nervous of trying new things. I put off learning JS for a long time, which I don’t regret at all, It lead to some very fun CSS only experiments! But I think if I could go back and start again, I’d try to be less nervous of giving new things a go.

This is actually valid advice for current-me too.

If you enjoyed this interview, would you consider buying us a round? Make sure you mention Cassie Evans in the message and i'll make sure they get half. Thank you.