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Q&A with Nick Westendorf: On a Coder's Day & the Zombie Apocalypse

Below is the latest installment of “Getting to Know You, Symmetri,” starring our very own Nick Westendorf.

Give us a little background on yourself! What brought you here to Symmetri, and what inspired you along the way?

I was born in December back in 1980. From what I understand, I spent the first year of my life as a largely under-developed infantile creature. I was incapable of speaking, to say nothing of my inability to write a line of code. Although, at the time, I’m told I was more interested in shiny, colorful objects and milk. Well, that wouldn’t do at all, so I endeavored to improve myself.  Progress was painfully slow, but by the third grade, I was programming in BASIC.  But, as with most people of that age, my focus rapidly evolved and bounced around wildly. Before working at Symmetri, my professional interests included wanting to be a lawyer, a writer and an artist.  I’m still interested in those things, but the one constant has been computer technology.

One of the first computers I owned was an IBM 286. The salesman told my family the hard drive (a whopping 20 megabytes) was so incredibly massive, we’d never fill it. In 1999, I created my first website using a (now antique and laughable) web editor called Aardvark. When I entered college and university, I fell behind on web technologies as I focused more on writing and literature. I even moved to Chicago to have more opportunities in that field than the small town of 12,000 I grew up in could provide. That didn’t work out so well, and I quickly found myself in retail, then unemployed.

After a year of unemployment, a friend in Missouri retweeted a recruitment company, who had monitored a job listing aggregation site that included a post from Symmetri on Craigslist. Shortly after, I began working here as a content editor; later, a web developer as I caught up to speed on coding.

So to answer more directly:  I got here by keeping my interests open and keeping up with evolving technologies such as social media. The same things inspire me. Never believe anyone who claims the technologies of today will be adequate for tomorrow. I have an old 20MB hard drive and a job I found on Twitter that say otherwise.

What do you do during a typical day at Symmetri?

I usually have three to four projects I’m actively juggling. They’ll include some basic website content updates such as swapping an image or posting a press release, scripting old school, table-based HTML for an email marketing campaign, or building a full website. Most people who aren’t programmers or developers would probably be surprised by how little time is actually spent writing code in a given day. I respond to quite a few requests for technical advice; provide CMS documentation; slice up images in Photoshop files, and plan, plan, plan. Plan a lot = code a little. It doesn’t always work that way; especially if I’m trying something new.

Like all agencies, our workload is uneven. On slower weeks, I’ll try to get everything done early and spend a day or half-day toward the end of the week working on an internal or experimental project or delving into an aspect of web development I have no expertise in (you mean, such as this digital etch-a-sketch?). Programmers, developers, engineers and most everyone working in computer science stops being relevant the second they stop wanting to learn.

What do you see the world-of-dev evolving into in the next few years? How could this benefit B2B companies?

I don’t like to speculate for the same reason I wouldn’t dare say a 20MB hard drive could forever provide all your storage needs. That said, here are a couple items that interest me:

  • 3D rendering via browsers themselves (without flash, without any server-side engine; example here). This has fantastic potential for manufacturers and the engineers who go to their websites trying to determine whether their motors, gears, positioners and so forth will work with their application.
  • Gamification as a means of making websites sticky and encouraging user participation: This has proven results in getting users actively engaged in a community-based website, but seems to be largely misunderstood as adding actual games to websites.

We all saw your chainmail armor last week, but are you really prepared for the zombie apocalypse? 

I am prepared for the short-term, yes. I have my armor, shield, helmet, swords and axes to help me survive the initial wave of brain-starved zombies. As you are no doubt well aware, developer brains are quite tasty to zombies. The logical, analytical-focused brain of a developer is like chocolate-covered, deep-fried steak to a zombie. Now, that might not sound good to you, but that’s because you’re not a zombie. But the truth is, no amount of medieval equipment and skills can help you survive for long-term against waves of relentless undead. For the long-term solution, I’m afraid we need a Symmetri space ship. Really, it’s the only answer. Be it zombies next Thursday, a giant killer asteroid a few years from now, or our sun-going supernova in a few hundred centuries, we have to escape Earth.  And I’ll be happy to help build Internet 2.0 on whatever zombie-free planet we find out there.