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Q&A with Tim Murtaugh

Web developer in NY, technical director for A List Apart

My name is Tim Murtaugh, I’m a web developer in New York City. Along with my partner Mike [@mikepick], I run a small web shop called Monkey Do. We build responsive sites that run on content management systems like ExpressionEngine. (Actually, ExpressionEngine is pretty much the only system we use at the moment.) I’m also lucky enough to be the technical director for A List Apart, the venerable magazine for people who make web sites.

What software / hardware do you use / love?

When it comes to hardware, I’m pretty much all Apple: iPhone, iPad, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better machine available than the MacBook Air. It sits on my desk connected to Apple's 27” display, but the 13" screen is big enough to get real work done on the go. It’s light enough that I barely notice it in my backpack, and the battery will last an entire flight from New York to California. And, of course, the industrial design is simply the best.

One exception to my Apple dedication is a Kindle. The iPad is great for many things, but when it comes to reading, nothing beats a dedicated device or a reflective e-ink screen. (Plus that 30-day battery life.)

As for software:

  1. Coda 2 (Which I don’t love, but I haven’t fallen for anything else yet. It’s hard to break a habit long enough to give something else a real chance.)
  2. Transmit
  3. Git / GitHub
  4. Photoshop
  5. Rdio
  6. Evernote
  7. Tweetbot
  8. Dropbox
  9. MAMP Pro
  10. Sequel Pro

Of all of these Dropbox is possibly the most critical. I lost a machine to a fluid spill recently, and I was up and running on a borrowed machine in about 25 minutes. It might be slightly silly, but I don’t have a comprehensive backup solution — I find it sufficient to simply back data up to multiple cloud solutions (Dropbox, S3, iCloud), leaving me to re-download lost apps as I realize I need them. (Even now on this new machine I probably have half a dozen apps I downloaded, used once, and then forgot about… why pay to back those up and waste time restoring them?)

What is your ideal work environment?

I’m not sure actually. Once I get into a zone, it’s easy to be productive almost anywhere, as long as that place includes stable internet, a big enough surface to put my Air, and isn’t louder than my music. I’m a believer in background noise; there is always *something* playing while I’m working, be it a show on Netflix I’ve seen before, or music on Rdio, or (a relatively new habit I’ve picked up) a guy playing Minecraft live on Twitch.

It also depends on the work I’m doing — are we in the phase of a project that requires input from others? In that case I’m more likely to be working heads up, talking to people around me, tweeting and generally aware of the worlds.

Am I actually getting down to the work of building something? My head’s down, my headphones are on and I’m probably not going to hear you until you call my name a few times.

Where does your work inspiration come from?

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” With the pace of progress being what it is on the web, a lot goes into a well-built site that weren’t even considerations 5 or 6 years ago — but that having been said, it's fantastically liberating to throw up your hands and say,

You know what, just get the thing built

A launched site can be improved, but a site that never launches because it’s not perfect doesn’t do anyone any good.

Who are the creatives you admire most?

‘m easily distracted, so I admire anyone with a strong sense of what they want to accomplish and the self-discipline to buckle down to it.