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Dev of the Week: James Sugrue

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Dev of the Week: James Sugrue

· Java Zone ·
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Every week here and in our newsletter, we feature a new developer/blogger from the DZone community to catch up and find out what he or she is working on now and what's coming next. This week we're talking to James Sugrue, principal front-end architect at Avego and DZone zone leader. Some of his most recent DZone posts include:

Spring IDE and the Spring Tool Suite - Using Spring in Eclipse

Beginning Backbone: My First Book

Help Shape the Future of Java EE 8

1. What have you been working on lately?

I’ve spent the last few months working on a reboot of a mobile app, written using Titanium from Appcelerator. This makes me excited for a number of reasons. Firstly, Titanium means that you can write native apps using JavaScript, rather than Objective-C or Java.  Now, while I’m traditionally a Java developer, I made the switch to JavaScript last year when I joined my current company. After a year of intensive JavaScript programming I can’t imagine using anything else (sorry Java devs!).

Secondly, I’ve been a fan of Titanium for years, and have developed a few apps in my spare time that have had reasonable success. I was lucky that everything aligned, and now I get to use Titanium in my full time job.

The app is all about carpooling. The company I work for, Carma, provide a great solution that helps you to find people going your way, and from there allow you to join a car or make a little money to cover your expenses as a driver. The app gets really interesting when you consider the interactions required when tracking the location of the users, especially when handling cases where there is bad network connectivity.

We’re a small startup, so I get to work closely with the marketing, design and product teams. This gives me a better appreciation of the usability and design aspects than a developer usually gets. I’m constantly trying to improve myself as an engineer who is concerned with the front end. There is no better way to do this than to get involved in every aspect of the product.

2. You recently published your first book, Beginning Backbone.js. What was it like to focus so deeply on writing? Was it a valuable exercise for you as a developer?

It’s always been an ambition of mine to write a book, and I had been using Backbone.js extensively before moving on to Titanium, where it is also used. The opportunity arose, and after over five years of contributing articles for DZone, and reviewing other peoples books, I thought the time was right.

I can’t lie - it took a lot of work. There were many lost weekends over the writing period, but I did get it turned around in about four months. It was a great way to learn the technology even more; as you are providing instruction to others, you have no choice but to know the real in-depth details. I feel like I am a better developer, both in JavaScript and Backbone, as a result of writing the book.

If you look at the book, you’ll see that it covers a lot of different topics, from the basics of JavaScript, through the detail of Backbone and onto topics such as testing, continuous integration and architecture.  It’s in this way because that’s the type of book I felt I needed when I moved from the Java world into JavaScript. I hope others will find it useful.

Will I do another book? I’m not sure. But I will definitely be writing more in-depth articles on JavaLobby,  and  the Mobile and Web Builder Zones over the coming months.

3. Are there any particular developer tools or resources you couldn't live without?

Well for a start, I’m glad that I work from OSX every day, as JavaScript tooling does seem to be better.  I use Grunt all the time, and Sublime Text as my code editor. In general, the tooling for JavaScript is way more lightweight, which means why machine gets to stay cooler :-)  Other JavaScript workflow tools such as Yeoman are really useful, and advancing at a rapid pace.

Obviously I use Titanium Studio a lot, along with a number of different modules to make the apps I create function better.

4. Do you follow any blogs or Twitter feeds that you would recommend to developers?

Naturally I visit both DZone and HackerNews for real tech articles. It seems over the years I have managed to follow a good cross section of the tech community on Twitter (my username is @sugrue).  If you’re like me and have Twitter in a background tab all the time, here are five accounts that I’d recommend following:

- DZone (https://twitter.com/dzone ) for general tech
- HackerNews ( https://twitter.com/hackernews ) another general tech
- Fokke Zandbergen (https://twitter.com/FokkeZB) to keep on track of Titanium news.
- Addy Osmani (https://twitter.com/addyosmani) to know more about JavaScript and related tooling
- Darcy Clarke (https://twitter.com/darcy) more on HTML5/JavaScript and UX 

I’m fascinated by the tech industry, and for general news about startups and acquisitions, I go to Techmeme every morning.  The Verge has always been fantastic source of news too.

5. Did you have a coding first love -- a particular program, gadget, game, or language that set you on the path to life as a developer?

VTech PreComputer 1000I think I’ve always wanted to be a software developer. When I was young I had two devices that set me down the software road. First, I had this VTech PreComputer 1000 (http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/324), which was pretty good as a kids ‘computer’. It had this thing called Pre-Basic, which you could type out on the one line LCD display. Almost impossible to debug, but I loved being able to create my own thing. And then I had a Game Boy, and thought the possibilities were amazing, and dreamt of being able to create games like Tetris and Super Mario.

I guess I was brought back to earth when I picked up this ridiculously old book on programming games in BASIC aimed at kids - you know the type, just coding what you were reading on the page without really knowing what was going on. So I’d run these on my old 386 and find that it didn’t work. The first time this happened I guess I was pretty disappointed and walked away. But after it happened enough times, I just got into debugging and making it work again.

Since I was 9 years old, there’s never been a question about what else I would do in my life - it had to be Computer Science at university. I feel really lucky that I picked a track that got me to a place where I love what I do. You’ll always hear me gushing about how this is the golden age for software developers, and how we live in a  world of infinite possibilities thanks to the huge advancements made in software frameworks and affordable hardware (Arduino/Raspberry Pi).

To be a kid interested in game development these days is a completely different story - there’s so much out there to get you started really quickly. If you can grasp JavaScript, then you can pretty much do anything.

6. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

Exciting News!!! Signalong Songs is officially available on the App StoreAs well as writing the book last year, I set this up this foundation called donate:code (http://www.donatecode.com). Still in the early days, the idea is that charities, schools and community groups can register projects, while developers and designers can register to help out. There’s no money involved for either side - the idea is that the developers can help the charities build apps, websites and systems that would otherwise cost them. It started when a charity asked me to build an app for them. I decided that instead of taking the cash I could donate my code, time and skills to them. That allows the charity to use that money somewhere else. Although everyone likes to make money for their work, this was really rewarding. You can check out the app, Signalong Songs, on the iOS App Store (iPad only) http://signalongsongs.wordpress.com/ . It allows kids to learn sign languages along with a video and subtitles of nursery rhymes. The reason I’m mentioning this here is that I’d love to get more developers registering their interest. If you’ve got a chance, please go to donatecode.com and discover a different way to give!


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