Episode 47 – Can you be more than just a developer?

Too often in our careers when we want to move up, we tend to think that the only path of doing so involves moving into management, but that’s not necessarily the case. One of the best things about working in the tech field is the many variables in terms of which career path you can choose. Management is but one of many paths that you can take as our next special guest shares with us.

Meet returning special guest, Kevin Mack. Kevin was last on the show back in episode 26 and now he has returned to share further insight into the many career choices that are available when you get into tech. Kevin went from being a UX practitioner to getting involved in digital solutions, sales, and the creative side of things. Listen in to episode 47 as Arsalan and Kevin tackle the topic an guide you through how you can maximize your potential in the tech industry.

Kevin Mack’s Bio:

Kevin Mack <https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevindmack> is a developer, designer, and consultant that is focused on creating user interfaces and user experiences for large-scaling websites. Kevin is also a co-founder and co-organizer of The Columbus Web Group where he actively participates in growing and educating the community around design, development, best practices and standards for the web. You can find him on Twitter (@nicetransition) <https://twitter.com/nicetransition>, YouTube <https://goo.gl/jrHuQH>, CodePen <http://codepen.io/kevinmack18/>, or GitHub <https://github.com/kevinmack18>.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi, everyone. Today, I have a repeat guest. His name is Kevin Mack. Kevin is a fantastic guy. I have really admired him from a distance for a long time. There are some exciting things happening in his life and I think those would be really valuable for us to know. It looks like he is moving up in his career going from a UX, or user experience, practitioner to digital solutions, some sales, and some creative director work. It’s an interesting mix of activities and I’m not sure what that is all about, but that is definitely a path for someone who is a designer, developer, or a UX practitioner. These are ways of moving up the corporate ladder without just becoming a manager. He is also really involved in a lot of activities. So, welcome, Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you for the introduction. I can provide a little bit of clarity to my work and how I got here without really going too far into detail. Since the last time we talked, it’s been an interesting year that has gone by. I feel like everything that I’ve been involved with in my career and education, whether from myself or through being mentored by others, it’s kind of come together. So, my new role is definitely a really exciting one. It’s kind of a dream come true.

Kevin: I get to really focus on the creative side, and with the creative side I’m not just talking about the visual design side, but the creative thought and thinking outside of the box as well as innovation from a technology standpoint. So, I’m trying to bring creative thought from both the design as well as technology standpoint for the current clients that we have, as well as future clients. With all of this, I still get to keep my hands dirty and design and develop and work on a lot of strategic vision for our company, as well as the clients that we have. I still get to develop and design and work closely with my team members from their standpoint.

Arsalan: I think, for people who don’t know you yet or for those who haven’t seen or heard your earlier interview, you are Kevin Mack. Please describe yourself. Who is Kevin Mack?

Kevin: I started web development in 1995 and before that I grew up in a household full of art. My mom was an art director at the Washington Post. So, I grew up around art. In 1995, I brought my love for art and design into what would later become my career and future on the computer. From there, I learned as much as I could and picked up a new language whenever a new language would come out or when I became aware of a new one. I would try to learn it in my whole thought of learning different things was to focus on one thing until you get it right and you truly understand it, and then move onto the next thing. So I was never trying to learn 50 things at once, but rather mastering one thing before moving on to the next.

Kevin: During my career I’ve kind of jumped around from doing everything from print design, web design, front end desk, architect, to UX team member. So, I really had a lot of great opportunities. At one point I was the head of digital marketing of the corporate company. It just another list inside here, but I played every role from designer, developer, project manager, tech lead, design lead. I’ve also worked in different industries from being on the client side to agency to consultant, and I even ran a few companies on my own in between all that.

Kevin: I’m also heavily involved within the community and I believe that education should be as inexpensive as possible, if not free. The people who have the knowledge should be sharing it with other people. With that, my buddy and I started Columbus Web Group about 3 ½ years ago. Our mission was to provide free education and to inspire other people who come to our meet ups or the workshops that we put on.

Arsalan: That is a lot of different things that you have done. It is a big list of all the different things that you have done and you have worked in different capacities. It almost seems like your switching fields in a way, but my guess is that is not how it feels to you.

Kevin: No, not at all. I feel like it’s the people that I surrounded myself with and the way that they’ve inspired me. It’s the little nuggets of information that you get that have helped me to grow into who I am today. The different roles and opportunities that I’ve been in come into play almost every single day. So from a tech point understanding design and from a designed point understanding the technology is really critical. Every single day, I’m having conversations about setting design budgets, tech budgets, designing around the platform or designing around our scope. Without the full knowledge of the spectrums, I don’t think I could do that or do it as accurately as I do it today.

Kevin: One of the other lessons that I like to tell people is that there is a huge difference between knowing with something is and knowing how to do it. So, I encourage people to go out and try to learn as much as possible, not necessarily knowing how to do it, but what it is. The big difference is that when people try to get in the weeds of how to do this or what the specifics of this are, they end up learning it, but it takes too long and their mind is focused on too many things. But knowing what something is as opposed to how to do it, you can apply your knowledge of what your team members are doing or what that technology or design aspect is to help better your knowledge of the tasks or skills that you’re doing.

Arsalan: We talked about something earlier and what caught my eye was that you had mentioned to focus on one thing, and stay with that thing that you’re trying to learn and don’t try to learn too many things. I’ve heard this from other people. That’s really interesting. However, in the context of web development, I’m not really sure. If you’re just starting out you kind of have to learn a lot of things just to get started. Don’t you think so?

Kevin: Yes, I would say that the net does have to be a bit wider in the beginning. If you’re getting started in web development, why that net should be a little bit bigger in the beginning is because there are a lot of pieces to learn and over time, you have the opportunity to learn them. But, it’s really to identify which aspects of the developments spectrum that you want to be a part of. When someone says that they want to get into development or technology, do they want to develop video games? Do they want to develop websites, native applications, desktop applications, or create hardware? So, there are a lot of things that you can go into that our full-time careers, but identifying it early on is the reason why in the beginning that net can be a little bit larger.

Kevin: The traditional ones can pair together. So, if you see the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, you should learn all three of those at the same time, but then really focus on where you’re going to be. Are you going to be on the UI side or do a deeper dive into CSS and be more on the application/architect side and build single page applications or anything that deals with JavaScript.

Arsalan: So, learn the basics first. Get your bearings. Then, specialize in one thing and dive deeper into your really comfortable. Then, see if you need to learn something else. I think that’s really good advice.

Arsalan: I’m inking about the different roles that you’ve played and the different organizations that you’ve been part of. I was just wondering if you liked one thing over another better than the others?

Kevin: That’s a tough question. Different people like different stages of projects. With that, I’ve always really enjoyed the beginning of projects. So, typically, the beginning of projects has a discovery where you’re doing your research, your removing assumptions, you’re bringing clarity to it, you’re planning out the solutions and putting the requirements together. Then there’s the initial kicking off of the project and making it come to life, and setting the cadence for the team and the pace for the project. I really enjoyed that aspect of it, and that’s probably my favorite thing to do. It’s the middle of the project that I don’t really care that much about. Boring isn’t the right word, but that’s where my mind kind of goes for lack of a better word. I can be board in the middle piece of it, and a lot of it is because it can be repetition or on revisions you’re iterating through something that you thought could be done but it’s taking a little bit longer. That’s kind of a back way of answering your question, but if I had a favorite piece, then it would be focusing on the UI architecture and how you’re going to build something to scale, even without knowing the requirements.

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