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The personal site of Jamie Knight, a slightly autistic web developer, speaker and mountain biker who is never seen far from his plush sidekick Lion. View the Archive

Thoughts on "My Advice to Young Designers and Developers"

Andy Budd recently wrote about the advice he has for young designers and developers.

As a young(ish) developer, I took pretty much the path Andy describes; I wanted to share my thoughts on how its turned out for me.

My path.

When I finished college, I did university part time as I built up my own business (+ Lion). About half way through my degree, I jumped ship and took a job at the BBC where I have been kept busy, working on iPlayer and whatnot.

Roll on 2.5 years; I am a senior developer and I just purchased a little flat in London.

It’s been one hell of a ride. As I read Andy’s piece many things rang true. This peice is a response, with a reflection of the positives and negatives, based on my experiences. Hopefully, other young web folk will find it helpful.

The disadvantages.

“By comparison, the majority of people I know who went straight into a career ended up hating what they did for a living”

Yep.

Well I am getting there. The web does not excite me like it use to. I look at other developers around my age and I feel out of date. I work in a big organisation with big organisation technology adoption. Most recently, I have felt something is missing from my life, the excitement.

I feel somewhat old and tired. Many of my friends comment that over the last few years I have seemingly gone quiet. I am less bold, and I make less things. Settling down has got boring already.

I also feel massively disconnected with my peers. My boyfriend is a university student, sometimes he feels like a complete alien. I am not into music, I am not into much “youth culture”. I don’t find BBC Three funny.

I wonder if I sold my youth. Granted (as I will get to later) I was in a different position to most, but essentially I am doing now what I did when I was 19. That feels pretty bad sometimes. I didn’t explore the world, or learn to scuba dive.

I feel like I missed out on some stuff. Stuff I cannot describe. I cannot say I am that excited and enthusiastic about spending the next 40+ years doing what I do now.

But with all that said, there are some major advantages too.

The Pros. (it’s not all doom and gloom)

The biggest positive, is that I have financial stability. I live well within my means and always have. I saved my earnings and I brought an affordable flat I can live in for half my current income.

Andy mentions settling down:

“More importantly, travelling is a lot of fun. It’s also something that gets harder to do as you progress in your careers, buy houses, raise families and settle down.”

He is right about family, but I think that conflates the issue a little. Having a family happens to people even when they don’t go into early employment. So while I see his point, I think its a little weak when it comes to the family argument.

I don’t agree regarding buying a house. My flat is an asset, if I dont want to live it in, I can just rent it out. I already make back some of my costs by renting out the spare bedroom.

I have settled down, but I also have security and that security gives me options. I just need to be brave and take them.

Professionally I also feel I have grown a great deal since I joined the BBC. I am doing essentially the same thing as when I was 13 (making websites) but I am now doing it a completely different way. I have managed teams, built at insane scale and learnt so many lessons about how to build things that dont fall over and are flexable.

I feel like I have made the most of what I have been given. If the web bubble bursts tomorrow, I have set myself up for a secure future. (though writing that out feels like I’m being a right arse!)

On Balance.

On balance I think there is alot of truth in what Andy is saying. I am on the path too hating my job, and his article is one of the things which has really made that apparent to me.

But I have options and a secure base to operate from. I can fix it and I have invested in my future.

What would I say to young people.

My advice to young people basically falls down to “how secure are you”.

If like I was, your facing homelessness without a safety net, then I think profiting from your skills now is not a bad choice. In my opinion, the web is a bubble, and if you can make enough to give yourself a secure future then that is entirely what you should do. This means doing the work, earning well, but living like a hermit. Make the most of it.

If you have security, for example supportive parents then there is less risk. As Andy suggests, traveling looks mighty fine. I have seen people combine traveling with working to great effect.

One place where I do agree entirely with Andy is about appreciating money. If you’re a young web folk and you spend all your earnings on beer and cars, then I do feel you’re missing the point.

Final thoughts.

Thats about it for my thoughts. I would like to thank Andy for his post, I don’t fully agree with him, but I think he is touching on an important topic.

Technology has enabled a certain age group to jump the entry level jobs. That has social and personal consequences and discussing them is only a good thing.

Published: 20 March 2014 | Categories: , Permalink

Device Convergence Please.

I think the recent talk of iOS and OS X convergence is interesting. I think is also misses the point a bit. I don’t want a single converged OS, but I do want converged devices.

I find the idea of a single device which can run iOS and OS X appealing. A device which I can carry with me, then dock to use for basic computing taks such as word processing and perhaps software development.

This is not a new idea, Motorola did this with the Atrix. However, the Atrix did not offer me iOS and OS X… it only offered Andriod and Ubuntu which don’t appeal to me.

I think, my ideal combination would offer the following.

Combined Storage

If I had OS X and iOS on a single device; I would want a single storage pool for both systems. I would expect iTunes on OSX and iOS to share the same files / database.

Keep iOS file system free.

While I want the same databases (eg, photo library, iTunes library) I don’t want a file system. I want to keep file management outside of the UI.

All the power of OS X.

I would like OS X to offer the complete UNIX enviroment and to be able to run my regular apps*. I want to be able to dock my iPhone, do some work in Coda 2, then undock it to watch a movie on the train.

A light touch.

iOS and OS X are both best of breed. Even when on a single device they have to remain themselves. I want both, not a horrible mixture. Keeping OS X just when docked is fine by me.

Published: 23 February 2014 | Categories: , Permalink

Media Center 2014.

I recently moved house and as part of the move we decided to take a reset on our TV and media setup. This posts documents where we are going with the system and some of the things which we have come across along the way.

What we need.

In a nutshell we needed 5 things out of our new media setup:

HD Satellite TV with record & export: We don’t get great DTT TV reception here, and we have multiple satellite outlets in the wall. So satellite seems the way to go, with the ability to record, pause and export shows as an essential.

iTunes Library playback & streaming: Between us both we have about 750gb of media in our iTunes libraries. The new system will have to be able to serve these libraries (to iPads etc) and allow playback on the main TV in the lounge. As an added complexity, much of our content is DRMed so we need to use Apple software to play it back. (bah)

Bluray playback: I have a growing bluray collection. I have exported the main films, but occasionally I like being able to watch the extras included on the disks. So the ability to playback blurays is important, it does not have to be easy though.

Flexible F1 & Football: The F1 was pretty boring last year, but if it gets interesting again we want to be able to watch it. My partner also likes the football so the ability to watch it, without a long commitment is important to us.

Oh yeah, Backups: The last part of the puzzle is a sensible backup system. Right now, only my most important data is backed up via dropbox. My media library has been living on a couple of different drives, but its been practically homeless.

So thats what we need. Here’s my approach so far.

The hardware.

I already had a USB Satellite TV tuner (an eyeTV Sat), and a USB bluray drive. I also have a 2008 500gb Time Capsule. We’re also running on 35mb/sec Fibre broadband with no usage cap.

I did look at what combination of boxes I would need to get everything I wanted. There were a few YouView boxes which could do most of our needs, but they were pretty pricey (£200-300) and didn’t solve the iTunes problem.

I did research using a Raspberry Pi as an XMBC frontend with an iTunes server for the Apple TV…. but that looked like a very complex setup and by the time i brought a large enough external drive and made a suitable case it would be another £150-200 on top of the YouView box.

So, in the end, we went with another Mac Mini; a really fast one.

I found a fast i7 Quad Core model going for a good price on gumtree as an unwanted present. It already has a 1Tb drive and 16Gb of RAM in it, so our immediate needs are met. Nicely, there is an easy upgrade path to fit a 2nd drive too, so when the time comes, we can fill it with another 1-2tb of storage.

I decided waiting for the next gen Mac Mini would not be worth it. I don’t need a big screen, so an iMac was also out of the running.

Software

On the software side, each need has a slightly different software solution.

Satellite TV: The eyeTV software works really well, I can get all the HD channels and I can pause and record TV. A nice feature is being able to edit and export recordings into iOS friendly formats directly into iTunes.

ITunes & iTunes Remote: iTunes holds all the media and it can stream it to the Apple TV and the iPad , etc. We can also use the iOS devices as a remote control for the TV.

MakeMKV, Handbrake, VLC: MakeMKV can stream blurays to VLC for playback, or extract them for conversion with handbrake. Works for DVD’s too.

F1 and Football: we are looking at getting sports via a monthly Go ticket. Its not cheap, but it is cheaper than the satellite package for the same content and its a one month subscription so if the F1 gets boring we can cancel it.

Backups: The Mac mini pretends to be a time capsule for the MacBooks in the flat. It then in turn does a Time Machine backup of the media to the time capsule. The Time Capsule is a little small, so the media backup is selective. I don’t bother backing up what I have on iCloud as I can always redownload it. This provides enough coverage for our needs and results in a 3x backup of my most important files (on dropbox, on the mac mini and on the time capsule)

First Impressions

The system has been pretty impressive so far, the Mac Mini is very capable and has happily chewed through 50+ DVDs and a stack of blurays. Watching a Bluray is a little fiddly, but it works.

The iPad / iPhone remote app is rather brilliant. Being able to select what to watch on the sofa and then have it playback on the TV is really awesome. We have also used the iTunes home sharing quite extensively. We have an Apple TV somewhere in our moving boxes, and when i get some free time i’m planning on setting it up on the TV to give us TV on one channel, and Media / iTunes on the other.

Performance is mostly flawless, when pushing it hard by simultaneously converting videos with handbrake, exporting TV shows into iTunes and extracting a DVD its not buttery smooth but it does work. When running full tilt its not super quiet, but it is quiet enough.

Wrap Up.

I’m really happy with how the latest stab at a media centre has worked out. It has all the capability I care about, wrapped in a energy efficient and reasonably simple package. I would prefer for the software side to be more elegant, but the combination of the Apple TV and Mac mini covers all the bases without much pain.

I also plan on building on the setup with a bunch of side projects. I’m just starting to explore some basic home automation (lighting control, energy and temperature monitoring) with a view to possibly building myself a Panic inspired dashboard.

Ultimately, I think the new media centre has made my new lounge a better place to be. Its got some flaws, but it’s a marked improvement on the clunky locked down hard to read Skybox and the homeless iTunes libraries of the past.

Published: 15 February 2014 Permalink

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