I love how sharing the industry is. So many people freely give away their knowledge, learnings and code for practically anyone else to use.
Matt is one of those elusive people on Twitter I have followed for ages, never really engaged with but have always enjoyed the mix of tweets about web dev and his daughter. He seems to follow and talk to a lot of people I follow and talk to, so it only seemed natural when he reached out about being involved in this project. I've found it rare to find a "real-life" picture of Matt, so when I saw the one above I realised he looked nothing like I imagined.
- What is your job title (and feel free to talk about where you work)?
UX Engineering Architecture at Hireup, Australia where we help people with disability find and manage support workers.
- How did you get where you are today? What is your education background? How many jobs have you had?
I have been interested in computers and programming for as long as I can remember: I was 7 when my parents bought the family a ZX Spectrum +2 which I began programming on by copying code from magazines. I continued programming as a hobby on the Acorn Archimedes, Amiga and then PC, while also dabbling in graphics software to satiate my love of design too. I modded (before modding was a thing) games like 1991’s Manchester United Europe to replace them with my preferred team, Wolverhampton Wanderers 😄
It was 1996 when I finished secondary school, and during that time was given many opportunities to use the Internet over a 28.8Kbps dial-up connection. For the next 2 years at college, I studied a general Information Systems course which introduced me to a lot of different technologies and domains, but it was the Human Computer Interfaces module, where I built an interactive, web-based dinosaur encyclopaedia, that really set my heart alight: the web was the perfect hybrid of allowing me to embrace coding and design/UI at the same time.
After leaving college, I couldn’t find a developer job so quickly rose up the ranks in a pie factory, before going to Australia for a little while. When I returned, I saw an ad at a local online travel agency (think early Expedia), so I offered to volunteer my time to learn the ropes in a professional setting. I took in a portfolio of things I’d built on the web, and they offered me a job straight away! I stayed there for a year or so, before I had enough of flagrantly plagiarising other people’s work, and left to teach basic computer literacy to the elderly and people looking for work (thinking “being a tutor” may look better on my CV since I wanted to emigrate to Australia).
I moved to Australia in 2006, and immediately contracted to one of the largest media publishers as the sole front-end developer in a small team tasked with rebuilding all of their flagship websites to… remove their content. They were unfortunately putting all their eggs in a Macromedia Flex paywall basket, and let’s just say it (luckily) didn’t go as planned.
After 6 months of daily, 6 hour round trip commutes nearly killing me, I found a senior Front-End Developer job in a local, “technical” agency. I spent 9 years leading the front-end direction of the team, building things for all sorts of clients: small business, banks, local and national government, which is where I learned to embrace the importance of web accessibility.
After working with or for everyone in my hometown of Newcastle, I decided to try the bigger Sydney market. I had a short, toxic stint at a famous Australian email marketing company, then had a great time at a leading sports publisher learning React and functional programming along the way. I then went headfirst into working remotely for a company in California, before doing 2 years remotely leading the front-end team at a national sporting body to rebuild all 19 websites and 38 apps.
As mentioned earlier, I’m now the UX Engineering Architect at Hireup, a for-purpose startup that is helping to build a more inclusive community. Here, I remotely lead the direction of the UI engineering and the user experiences we build for all users, regardless of their ability.
I'm really excited by what’s coming in v3 of Vue.js
- 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?
For the last 3 years, my favourite front-end framework has been Vue.js, and I don’t see that changing any time soon; I'm really excited by what’s coming in v3. Vue is just easy to learn, feature-rich and flexible enough to perform in many different environments.
After writing CSS for nearly 20 years and creating many frameworks along the way, I’m now heavily into atomic CSS; writing yet another framework that we use and love at work.
I’ve been a Mac user for 4 years (although I customise it to make some things more Windows-like… thank you uBar, Contexts and Spectacle!) and my preferred editor is Atom, which I’ve heavily customised as well. I’ve tried VS Code many times, but I just can’t get on-board with it. I’m not sure what the future holds since technically Microsoft owns both, but I will hold on to Atom for as long as humanly possible.
I’m big into Design Systems and component libraries. Creating consistent experiences for our users is obviously a massive benefit, but setting structure around the way we design and build things also heavily benefits our Design and Engineering teams.
- What do you love about your job?
I love that I can finally fulfil my passion for creating accessible experiences in an environment that fully requires it, and that we’re baking accessibility into all of the components and features we build. It’s amazing that I’ve now managed to create an army of engineers and colleagues that actively focus on accessibility, unlike in all my previous roles where I’d only manage to convince a couple of people that providing basic human rights for all users is a baseline requirement of our jobs.
It’s also nice that I seem to have garnered a lot of respect from my peers.
I love that I can finally fulfil my passion for creating accessible experiences in an environment that fully requires it
- What could be better?
Being a startup, we’re experiencing a few growing pains as the team scales, and being one of only a few remote employees in a less-experienced team can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. Nothing is insurmountable though, and we’re hiring great people and making progress to solve our pain points.
I also wish developers learned that we’re the unique ones on the web, and the world is full of millions of people unlike us
- What do you love about the web industry?
I love how sharing the industry is. So many people freely give away their knowledge, learnings and code for practically anyone else to use. For this reason, I also like to give back, and when I find the time, write blog posts, present at meetups and create open source libraries that hopefully solve others’ problems like they do mine. But mostly, I just read Twitter 😀
- What are your frustrations with the industry?
I also wish developers learned that we’re the unique ones on the web, and the world is full of millions of people unlike us, be it with motor deficiencies, learning difficulties or vision impairments, and to empathise with and cater for them appropriately.
As much as I’d like to fill in the blanks, the areas I’m specialising in are still rapidly changing which keeps very busy enough as it is.
- Knowing what you know now, if you were to start again in the industry would you do anything differently?
I wish I’d been less self-taught. I feel I’ve missed out on some fundamental computer science principles which makes it harder for me to understand or contribute in some areas of the codebases I’ve worked in. As much as I’d like to fill in the blanks, the areas I’m specialising in are still rapidly changing which keeps me busy enough as it is.
I would have also made sure to update the design of my website after 7 years…
If you enjoyed this interview, would you consider buying us a round? Make sure you mention Matt Stow in the message and i'll make sure they get half. Thank you.