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Q&A with Harry Roberts

Consultant front-end architect, writer, speaker

© Stefan Nitzsche

Hey! I’m Harry. I’m a Consultant Front-End Architect (I clear floats for a living) from the UK. I specialise in CSS Architecture, performance, and scalability. Basically the CSS side of working on big projects/teams.

I’ve been working for myself since November last year, and since then I’ve had the great fortune to work with some really fantastic clients. From people like the BBC, to individuals in their homes out in the hills of Frankfurt, so I’ve seen a lot of variety. It’s been great.

Software / hardware

My hardware is pretty simple. My day-kit comprises of:

  • 13'' MacBook Air which has been kitted out with more RAM and storage. I love Airs, purely because of their power and portability—it’s hard to find a machine as good as the Air in that respect. Considering I move around a lot with work, I need something light and discrete, but that can also turn its hand to most of the work I need it to do.
  • iPad Mini which is mainly for reading stuff like Hacker News, or for displaying my presenter notes at workshops
  • iPhone 5S because I need a smartphone, but I don’t want the configurability that something like Android might offer. I want a reliable, decent phone that JustWorks™. And to call it a phone is somewhat naive and dated anyway—our phones are way more than that to us, we carry them around with us all day every day, doing far more than making calls. It also has an _excellent_camera, which lends itself well to my Instagramming. I’ve never been let down by an iPhone yet.
  • Apple Thunderbolt Display for when I’m stationary. They’re expensive (dare I even say,overpriced), but I can’t fault it. The amount and quality of the extra real estate is a real treat.

My software is similarly lean:

  • iTerm2 is my Terminal of choice. I spent 90% of my time in Terminal.
  • Vim is my text editor. I made the big switch to Vim about a year ago (perhaps a little over) and now I write everything in Vim. I often find myself typing jk:wq (leave Insert mode, save, and exit) in Tweets/Facebook/email/etc.
  • Git is my VCS of choice, pretty much everything I do lives in Git. I also use Git from the command line.
  • Chrome is my preferred browser for anything I do on the internet, I use it on all my devices.
  • Spotify keeps me going. I listen to music all the time, and Spotify makes it so enjoyable and painless (and cheap).
  • Finch is an incredible, incredible app that I’ve been alpha testing a little lately. I can’t go into too much detail, but it’s basically (among other things) a way of viewing your responsive dev-sites, live, on any device in the world. It means I can test my work-in-progress on my phone without having to push anything to a staging area, or manually putting anything on a publicly-available URL. It makes responsive workflows so much faster and more efficient. It’s very alpha at the moment, but I hear there’s a beta about to launch, so you should definitely keep an eye on the Twitter account: I honestly think Finch will be something of a game-changer for front-end developers.
  • Dropbox is where I keep nearly all of my stuff, so I definitely couldn’t live without that.

You can actually read a little more about My Setup.

Ideal work environment

It’s hard to say, as I’ve never really found it. A few things I know really work:

  • Being around friends motivates me a lot. I’m—as I type this—working from my friend Josh’s offices. Hacking on stuff together with, or even just near, like-minded people really gets me pumped. I also worked very intensely alongside one of my really good friends Nick Payne a couple of years back (we’re talking non-stop hack weekends, and late-night code marathons), and that was really great. I just seem to get a lot of motivation from being around nice and enthusiastic people.
  • Music is a big thing. Being able to listen to music hugely effects my output for the better.
  • Casualness really helps. I like being able to chill out, not have to dress formally, and just feel comfortable. I can’t work a strict 9–5 because I can’t guarantee that I will have a constant stream of ideas and solutions between those hours. I like being able to wander about, chat, grab a drink, and work at a productive rather than prescriptive pace.

Work inspiration

Real-life, mainly. A lot of what I do is about trying to solve and simplify problems when building websites. It turns out that people have been building ‘things’ for centuries, and, even though they were working with tangible materials, a lot of the principles of common-sense production methods can be carried over to our work on the web. I have a keen interest in construction and architecture (not in an academic sense) because a lot of the problems they’ve encountered and solved are much the same as the ones developers do.

People you admire most

Professionally, people like Nicolas GallagherNicole Sullivan, and Jonathan Snook are really important. They’ve done a lot of solid work in taking CSS more seriously, and actively working to make it a more powerful tool.

Personally, my parents are a huge inspiration. They’ve taught me a lot about work ethic, capitalism (in a nice way), and making your own way in the world. They’re a pretty great rags-to-riches story, and without them, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the motivation to keep getting up and working hard to get where I want to be.

I also have friends who I really admire because of their skill, passion, drive, and determination. I always love seeing people succeed off the back of their own hard work or ideas, and I have a lot of friends who are doing that every day.