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The Front End Rally: Collaboration, Innovation, and Cold Beer

A front-end developer is an invaluable player on any web creative project team. They are tasked with bringing the vision of designers to life using the behind-the-scenes framework built by the back-end developers. Straddling the design and code worlds, front-end developers must stay ahead of both design and code trends. With the accelerating pace of change in the industry, to go it alone as a front-end developer is to risk missing out on a tool, skill set, or framework that could reduce costs and quicken time-to-value on any web project.

Recognizing the importance of collaboration, three of SilverTech’s own front-end developers got together to form the Front End Rally which describes itself as:

A community of Front End Developers dedicated to meeting, talking, and sharing ideas about the latest and greatest technology, techniques, and workflows together.

Ahead of the next Front End Rally Meetup, which takes place on May 12th, I spoke with one of the rally’s co-founders, SilverTech’s Senior Front End Web Developer, Jeff Ayer, who was recently named our Innovator of the Quarter for his work utilizing a new browser technology called WebGL.

Collaboration between designers, front end, and back end developers is hugely important.

What is the Front End Rally? What are its origins?

Jeff Ayer: We were really under the gun on a lot of projects we were working on. There were too many projects. We needed to hire and we needed to hire quickly. I came up with the idea of a better way to get a look at some people’s skills, and meet them face-to-face and have them come in to the company and see the space was to start a Front End Rally. We’d give ‘em free food and beer, and a free lesson, and hopefully get a resume out of it.

Now it’s morphing into a way for us to get together, have some food, and learn some new things. It’s now becoming what it was originally advertised to be, a free forum for creativity and collaboration.

How do you come up with topic ideas?

JA: We ask the group - which has grown to about 156 members - for their feedback and suggestions for topics. They’ll chime in and give their feedback. Unfortunately, they all want to hear about AngularJS, which is a front-end framework that I don’t like.

What is it about Angular that rubs you the wrong way?

JA: One of my biggest reservations with it is this: I feel that when you go to a website, the content should be there so that you’re looking at a flesh and blood live page. Then, if you want to do some fun stuff on top of that, the javascript is the icing on the cake. What Angular does, is it takes away the flesh and blood so that all you have is a shell of a page. It is embedded in that page all throughout the code and then based on the tags you use and the little code that you have to set up it reaches out to the server, grabs the content that you want and injects it into the page. That I have a huge problem with, at its core.

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As a front-end developer how important is collaboration? What role has the Rally played in collaboration?

JA: Collaboration is hugely important. Ideally, it should be collaboration between designers, front end, and back end. And you just bounce and triage and then you come up with the ultimate solution. As a developer, I love to work with designers.

I noticed there’s an accompanying Slack Channel, how active is it?

JA: Very. But, Slack doesn’t make it easy to get into a Slack team. Typically, if you want to get into a Slack team, you’ve got to ping the admin. Then, they have to go in and add your email address, then send you an email to get it. So, I made an application that automates that process. Because of that we have people joining and we have a few really great threads going that have already made a difference.

Next up is the Flex(box) Gon' Give It To Ya meetup on Thursday, May 12th. Can you tell us a little about Flexbox Layout? How does it make a front-end developer's life easier?

JA: It’s interesting, but still very unusable. The specification for the flexible containment elements came out about 5 years, but it takes about 10 years for browsers to catch up. So, it’s still not widely adopted. But, it will be and it will be good for people to be up on it and have an understanding of it.

Typically, with HTML, now you have to create a block and you have to say this block is this high and this wide. Then, you create another block and then you can stack them vertically or horizontally and then have them wrap. Where flexbox is great is you can give the blocks arbitrary height and width units based on their expansion. You can say, I want this to take up a certain amount of space, then you can say to the next one you can take up a certain amount of space and then to the next one you can say, you’re only supposed to take up this amount of space. Then, it just understands widthwise and heightwise where its positioning is and then the next one understands that as well. Then, they can stack not only left to right and top to bottom. You can change their orders without doing anything.

The other benefit is with Arabic and certain Chinese languages the reading order is different, so this allows you to easily flip.

Flexbox is…well, it’s flexible.

What’s next for the Front End Rally?

JA: Sound. I’m a huge proponent for sound in the web. I need people to understand that it’s not 1990 anymore. There’s a lot that we can do. I am building an application that lets you do a soundscape for your website and then get an embed code for your site. It’s called Swoosh.

Ian Hughes, Content Marketing Strategist
Meet Ian Hughes, Content Marketing Strategist

After pursuing careers as diverse as filmmaking and professional soccer, Ian landed in the Financial Services industry where

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