S1 E43: A huge fan of spending as little time as possible typing (Mike / @genericmikechen)

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**Mike:** Mt Dew Huh?

**Eddie:** I am, I am doing better with.


**Mike:** even though you promised Kat

**Eddie:** Yep. I was doing, doing Much Better with Water. I actually have a, uh, Tumblr that actually tells me how much water I've drank for the day. So I've been doing good at like, a lot of days, drinking like 40, 50 ounces. Um, but yeah, I have been, I, I admit I got sick and I don't know why sickness is what did it to me, but.

I was down to only one Mountain Dew a day, and then I got sick the last couple weeks and I actually like broke. Right. I fell off the bandwagon and I've been doing probably two mountain Dews a day, so I do have to scale that back now that I'm not as sick anymore.

**Mike:** it, no, it makes perfect sense. You just, you reach for what's comfortable when, when

**Eddie:** Exactly.

**Mike:** so I totally

**Eddie:** Yeah.

**Mike:** Sorry, la last question before we kind of get in are my levels okay? I like plug in my audio interface like every, like two weeks, so I don't know if, uh, every, everything okay.

**Eddie:** Yeah. Um, it could probably use just a little bit more volume if you have a gain or something like

**Mike:** Yep. Check, check, check.

**Eddie:** Yeah, that's good.

**Mike:** All right. Not clipping or anything. All right, sounds good.

**Eddie:** No, yeah, you're hitting about halfway up, so.

**Mike:** Okay. Perfect.

**Eddie:** Awesome. Cool. All right, well, I'll do a, a little intro and then we'll get started.

**Mike:** Sounds good.

**Eddie:** Welcome to another episode of Web Joy. I'm excited to have Mike here talking today. Mike, say hi to all of our listeners.

**Mike:** Hello everyone. Hello, Eddie. Good to be on the podcast.

**Eddie:** Awesome. Well, we're, we're happy to have you. So for those who might not know who you are, go ahead and just give us short intro, right. Who you are, what you do, um, the general detail.

**Mike:** Sure. So I am Mike. I am, uh, the CTO and co-founder of a small startup in based out of Virginia called Motiva. Uh, and we are pretty niche. We do, uh, we're, we're a mental health startup. And we connect, uh, pre-licensed therapists to supervisors. Uh, it's an important part of their, um, their licensure journey.

Uh, and so we are essentially a marketplace that connects, um, connects those two populations together. Um, just a tech company that does that. So, um, that's what I do for work right now. Uh, do you want me to kind of get into a little bit of my background and like how I got into tech and stuff like that? Or is that the next question?

**Eddie:** It is the next question. Um, but yeah, either way. So, yeah, I guess how did you get into all of this? Right? Um, seems like you've, you're a fun, exciting part in the journey. Uh, that sounds really cool to be part of a mental health startup and everything. So, yeah, like how did you get interested in technology?

What journey did that take you on? Um, how did you kind of end up where you are today?

**Mike:** Sure. So, yeah, I, uh, have been doing this about 11 years. So I'm self-taught, uh, started teaching myself back in 2009 and I learned, uh, back, back then, I was like in, uh, on, on the med school track. Uh, so. You know, very similar to Cat who, who you had on recently. Um, and I was doing clinical research, uh, and I had done my whole pre-med thing and was getting ready to go to med school.

Um, and then I decided I hated it. , I, I didn't wanna do any of that. Um, and, uh, you know, tried biotech for research for a little while, uh, and then decided to like basically pivot, uh, entirely. And I, uh, started learning, uh, programming on my own, uh, back then. Like just books. Uh, I bought a bunch of books and studied and uh, just tried to figure it out on my own.

Uh, built a couple of small toy apps and then eventually landed a job at a small startup and kind of worked my way up to bigger startups and then, uh, wound up in Silicon Valley at some lar larger companies that you've, uh, probably heard of, like Yahoo, Google, Airbnb. And then coming back, uh, down for a landing, uh, so to speak, in, in startup land.

So, uh, yeah, that's kinda the arc of my, my journey is, you know, kind of getting going to bigger, bigger companies and then, uh, and then smaller, just we're, we're a 21 person company right now.

**Eddie:** Nice. That's awesome. What was it that kind of drew you back to, you know, startup and smaller companies and stuff? Once you kind of got up to the larger companies, what was it that kind of tugged you back down?

**Mike:** Yeah, it, I mean, I, I knew pretty early on in my, uh, my big tech journey that I was gonna be back in startups. Uh, eventually. Um, I just find the feeling of like creativity and ownership. To just be so much stronger in startups and like, kind of like the impact that you can have on, um, on pe. Like I just feel a lot more connected to my work, um, when I'm, when I'm in a smaller company, uh, just being able to own like a feature from end to end.

Um, like talking to the customer who I've impacted, or sometimes like a lot of the times. At a company this small, like my customers are the employees, and I, I have a relationship with them. I get to see, you know, how my work has impacted their lives and how much better it's made their jobs. And so I really like that, uh, feeling.

And I just, I didn't get that for many, many years, uh, when it, when I was at these, this bigger company. Um, I, I mean, I think like, you know, you reach people on a broader. scale Uh, but the trade off is, you know, everyone's just kind of a metric, right? Like they're, they're a number and you're trying to, you know, make those numbers go up, uh, or like whatever direction that you're trying to get them to go in.

Um, but you don't see the impact that the technology actually has on like, an individual person's life. So I really like, uh, you know, kind of feeling that in, in startup land.

**Eddie:** That's awesome. Yeah, no, that, that makes complete sense. Um, I'm. Glass drum. Not even in that, that big of a company. Right. But definitely like closer to Silicone Valley, you know, sizes than all the startups and small, like, design agencies I've worked for in the past. And, um, definitely already kind of feeling that like at not even, you know, as big a, you know, c as some companies get, it's like, okay.

Yeah, there's a little lot of moving parts here. And like you said, it's much more, you're kind of zoomed out from everything. Right. And it. As you zoom out from a photo, all those individual pixels, like they blend together into a tapestry, but you're no longer looking at pixels, right? You're looking at the pattern and the image that comes out of it, but it's like, well, the, if those pixels are people like that, that's a huge, that's a huge thing to zoom out of, right?

And like something that you kind of have to remind yourself like, oh no, these aren't just pixels. These aren't just numbers. Like these are people, and I can definitely see how it would be refreshing. Step back out of that and into where you can actually see who you're impacting. So I love that.

**Mike:** Yeah, no, I mean, nothing, nothing against, uh, people who, you know, kind of prefer having like, oh, I want. You know, I wanna work on this product that like, you know, 10 million people use. You know, I think there's, there's, there's something magical about that too, that you can do that in technology and you can like, you know, push it.

Like, probably you can't push a change like in the same day that impacts like 10 million people probably need to go through like, a lot of review to do that. But, uh, you know, nothing against that and some that, that's what, you know, does it for some people. And, uh, but for me it's like that, that wasn't really it for me.

**Eddie:** Yeah. Well, and I love that about tech, right? Like it literally spans so much that you can have people who are really passionate about, I'm gonna build this niche thing for five people, right? And then you have. People who are gonna work for a company and build something. And like you said, once it gets deployed and goes through all the systems, like it hits millions of people, maybe billions of people.

And um, that's just cool that you can have the same skills and you can choose like which of those areas you want to be in, right? And find the sweet spot for, uh, what works for you.

**Mike:** Yep. Totally.

**Eddie:** Awesome. Well, you know, as every episode in this podcast, we kind of just say, Hey, like what brings you joy? Right? What have you been up to lately that just kind of stuck out to you and kind of gets you excited?

**Mike:** Sure. Yeah. So, um, I wanted to talk a little bit about. Um, you know, I've been been doing this long enough that I've seen the evolution of fr uh, front end development in particular. Um, and so I am, you know, primarily front end developer, but, uh, you know, kind of lean, full stack and, uh, from, from what I've seen, a, a lot of, uh, kind of, sorry, let me just

Um, yeah. So, uh, All right. I'm, I'm just gonna take it from my, my the beginning of my, my answer. Um, yeah, so I, uh, my, my journey has been like, you know, primarily front end. Uh, I, I probably, you know, became a front end engineer. Like I became what I would call a front end engineer, uh, around my, my second or third year into, into my, you know, career.

And I. I, I am like really struck by how much front-end engineers care about the developer experience. And this is something that I still feel like, you know, front engineers get bright more than other languages that I've, I've used in the past. Um, it's not that, it's not that like, you know, backend engineers don't care at all about dev experience, but I feel like front end engineers take it to like another level.

And I think there's a trade off here. So I just want to caveat this. Um, it's really complicated to set up a lot of these like tool chains on front end engineering. Like, you know, people complain all the time about like, oh, what's M p M, what's brew? All these like, different like, package managers that you need to like know.

And so there's like a pretty big barrier to entry, to like getting into, uh, into like this, these like tool chains. Um, like a lot of people say, oh, you know why I used to just be able to. Throw some HTML in a file and like some JavaScript in a file and then some CSS in a file. And like, I didn't have any like these build systems, but these build systems add like a ton of value to my life, , and I understand why they exist.

And so like, my thing is just around developer productivity, I'm like really a, a huge fan of just, um, spending as little time as possible. Typing, like just trying to like type manually, like enter keystrokes in, um, like, you know, kind of like shortening the feedback loop between, um, Uh, like, you know, writing code and seeing it in your browser, um, like automating a lot of like the kind of like the things that are just really annoying about, um, about web development.

Uh, I found that like so many of these things have improved so much over the course of the past decade. And just to give you a couple examples of this, Um, like I remember, uh, back in like 2013 or 2014, I started using this technology called Browser Sync. And back then, uh, browser sync was like this revolutionary thing where I would just have two monitors and I would like edit code on one of the monitors and it would just update in my, my other monitor in the browser.

Like I could just edit some CSS and it just get injected into the browser. And nowadays it's like so boring, right? Like create, if you like spin up, create React app, it's like, uh, you, you get that out of. But back then it was like, I had to, I used to have to just like, you know, write my code and then go into my browser and hit the refresh button and, you know, maybe it takes like, you know, five, 10 seconds, like, you know, that's really slow.

But like, you know, maybe it takes a couple seconds to refresh, but that's enough time for me to like, lose my train of thought and like forget, you know, forget what I'm doing. And just the, you know, kind of just these like tight, these tighter feedback loops, uh, have really just improved my productivity over the.

Um, a lot of another example is just like prettier, like, uh, there's this, uh, Lin lint tool called Prettier that just formats your code. And, uh, I used to used to have to do that manually. It's just like, it used to be such a pain in the butt. And, uh, there's just so many things now that just I don't even think about anymore.

But, uh, yeah, I, I, I remember like I had code reviews at Google where all we would do is. Knit syntax. Like, just like, oh, you forgot a space here. You, uh, you should have broken the line here. And I just, I don't spend any time doing any of that stupid stuff now because, uh, I have a computer that does it for me.

So just, yeah, I, I've seen just the evolution of these, of these tools and I take, you take them for granted now because so many like. Uh, boiler plates and stuff come with them, but, uh, but man, I, I was around when they weren't there. They didn't exist. And, uh, it was just such more, it was so much more of a chore, um, to, to, to do web development back then.

**Eddie:** Yeah. No, I, I totally get that. Um, I love, I love a lot of those tools as well, and I actually, the last company I worked at was using really old code base. It was not easy to work with because it had been J S P, and then they, like, they weren't able to move to a complete s p a, so they were like mid transition from Js p.

You know, uh, angular s p and so essentially it was in this place where rather than actually loading up the whole thing, like you would load up a G S P page and some of those pages would activate an Angular app inside the page. But if you navigated, you were doing a full page refresh, and then you'd get angular and maybe, you know, there were some different things you could do while on that page that wouldn't cause a page refresh.

The build thing was crazy cuz we were still having to, you know, bundle it back up into being injected in these different, um, JSP pages. So we did not have a lot of that tooling when I started there. Um, and thankfully we. We made a lot of progress, um, in the years I was there. And so when I was leaving, we finally were able to start using Prettier and we were doing, we got up to Angular 11 and it was actually exporting like a true s p a, um, aside from like a couple pages that were, um, still, so we were able to actually do like live refreshing stuff and, um, yeah.

Then now being at Glassdoor, I mean, , um, you know, using much more modern tooling, um, starting to migrate into next, which obviously does all the things like

**Mike:** Yeah.

**Eddie:** really nicely. So yeah, it's been, you know, a lot of those tools have been out for a little while, but, um, in certain companies, like you still don't have access to that.

And then when you suddenly do, you're like, oh, this is amazing,

**Mike:** yeah, yeah. J S P. Man. Yeah. I started, I started with Java and uh, I did JSPs for a little bit. Um, I, I'm not even like comparing to JSPs. I'm like, uh, I'm comparing to like, yeah, just, uh, I, I was using PHP at the time, which is, you know, I, I think like, uh, you know, we weren't at enterprise at, at my, at my first company.

Um, but yeah, J Jssp, like, I can't, I can't imagine, um, like trying to combine those two things. I'm glad you, I'm glad you got outta that

**Eddie:** Yeah, it was. It was, it was painful.

**Mike:** Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And I, I think, you know, you mentioned next JS too. It's like, um, you know, there's a, I think like s spas are no longer cool. Uh, which I get , like, I think like that's, uh, and I, I, I understand like, you know, I think, um, it, it's a, it's a flawed, um, It's a flawed, uh, you know, paradigm for a lot of different use cases, like an Sspa blog Makes no sense, uh, in, in many ways.

But I still think that like, you know, the developer tooling around, um, around like, React, uh, is so amazing that like, I, it's like very painful for me to not have it, uh, even when I'm trying to like develop like a multi-pay app and, uh, yeah, just like, you know, tools like Next JS and Remix are, are out now, uh, which is, you know, like, I, I get that.

It's like, you know, we've kind of come full circle to like, oh, away from, uh, sorry. Did, did, did my audio just call out, come cut out for a.

**Eddie:** Um, maybe slightly, but not anything. Major. Major. You're all right,

**Mike:** So, yeah, I, I, I get that like, uh, you know, we've kind of come from full circle on like, you know, we used to do multi-page apps and then we did single page apps, and now we're like coming back to multi-page apps. But now I get to keep all the tooling that I used to, that I, that they used to like, kind of bring me joy when I was, you know, doing development.

And I can still move super quickly, uh, in the developer experience. And I get, you know, like, Uh, and, but you know, the trade off, like I said at the beginning, is like a very overcomplicated build chain that like, you know, I, I totally get that. There's like downsides to it. But, uh, you know, for someone who's like seasoned as like really comfortable with this, uh, these like tool chains, um, it, uh, I love it.

I, I like, I can't get enough of it.

**Eddie:** That's cool. Well, and uh, oh, I have a feline visitor. Hello? Feline visitor. Uh, my office used to be upstairs and, um, This is the first day I'm actually working and recording podcast downstairs, and the cats don't quite know what to make of me being down here anyway. Um, you gonna stop meowing, please?

**Mike:** I think it adds Charact.

**Eddie:** Yeah, exactly. All right. Um, anyway. Yeah, totally. I think. One benefit to next and remix and stuff is, I do feel like in some ways the big barrier to , the big barrier to entry is having to figure out how all these things work together. And I do feel like if someone spins up next or remix, it's so much easier now to just dive in and have all this stuff for free, rather than having to like, you know, learn 10 different tools that all need to work.

**Mike:** Yep. I.

**Eddie:** I totally agree. Like I started using P H P, uh, back in 2005 or something, and yeah, having like p h P versus remix, like with React, like, that's just a dream.

**Mike:** Totally. Yeah. And I, I think this was like a big problem too when I was learning React, um, back before we had these like kind of frameworks to kind of like tie a bunch of different concepts together. Had to cobble together my own router had to cobble together my own form library. And with remix, you just get everything out of the box and like I, um, You know, some people don't like that.

Some people like, uh, just like, oh, I want to use form or my own form library. And I'm like, who cares? I don't care. Like, I just, I wanna be productive. I wanna work on like the business logic. Um, and uh, yeah, there's so many frameworks that like, kind of make these decisions for me. That, you know, I can make these decisions.

I don't want to, like, I just, I, I think it's like a waste of time. And so I get these frameworks that like, have, have put a lot of thought into it. Have a lot of people like kind of battle testing it for me. Um, and, you know, g god bless, uh, open source, uh, contributors. I've just, I, everyone gets a benefit so much from it these days.

**Eddie:** No. Absolutely.

All the things, the coughs, the meows. Thank you Jasmine. Um,

yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, without open source contributors, like we'd be in such of a, a worse place. I mean, um, Yeah, it definitely, all this stuff coming together just is, is nice. And like you said, I think I never really got into Ruby and thus never got into Ruby on Rails. But one thing I always liked and appreciated about Ruby on Rails was how it was opinionated and you could just sit down and spin it up and it just, the, the whole sys ecosystem was made to work together and, um, I love that. Next and remix and right, like we're kind of starting to get that where we get some opinionated frameworks that do everything for us and it's like, yes, you can kind of decouple this stuff, right? Someone wants to spin up, react, and they just want to, you know, cobble together. You know, 10 different things.

That's great. Like you do you, but if someone just wants to spin up a project, like I was doing a hackathon back in May and um, I was like, well, when am I going, you know, used to do this hackathon, um, it was an internal Glassdoor hackathon and I was like, oh, like let me just spin up remix. I've been wanting to do something with remix and like, it was so easy to spin up and like start building this thing in remix and like, I'd never used remix before, but in this like three day hackathon I was.

Able to spin it up and make like a huge amount of progress for never using it before. So that was super fun.

**Mike:** I totally agree with, uh, the Ruby on Rails discussion too. I used Ruby on Rails for a while, and even though, um, you know, I was mostly a front end engineer, I still used Ruby whenever I was like starting a side thing because it was so easy. It was just so e like rails init and you're, you're off and running and you don't have to, you know, you don't have to decide on like a directory structure.

You don't need to decide on anything. You just follow the convention and you are just writing business logic and, uh, so much of the stupid stuff is extracted away. Um, I, I, yeah, like I felt. For the longest time, that just wasn't true. That that wasn't possible in the front end ecosystem. Um, pick. Yeah. It was like, just pick all, pick all the dependencies and make sure they work well together too.

You know, like I remember, uh, one, one, like the thing that almost made me abandon react was I was like using a, you know, I was trying to like integrate like Redux and Redux form into React. Uh, and then like, uh, I was running into problems with like Redux form saying, oh, um, you know, if you want to, like, there's a critical bug in React.

You have to upgrade to this version of this, like release candidate and react to fix it. And so it's not even just like picking the dependencies, it's also making sure that you are on the right version of dependencies, such as they, that they all work together where with remix is just like they've already done that, they've already like, tested it and make sure it all works.

And, uh, yeah, like that it, it, it's not that you. A hundred thousand different, like front-end engineers need to figure that all out. It's just the core team needs to figure it out and then everyone else gets the benefit from it.

**Eddie:** Yeah. No, that's awesome. Yeah, we ran into a lot of that at my last company, like when we. We got stuck at Angular four, I believe, because Angular five used Webpac five, I believe. Oh no, nevermind. They used the Angular cli, which we had chosen not to use. . Um, but then we waited long enough, angular 10 came out, I think, and that used Webpac five.

So then it's like we had to like figure out, okay, we have to be able to, you know, transition over and we have to be able to support Webpac five. So then we're like, do our dependencies support Webpac five and like there was all this math to make sure that we could go from Webpac four to Webpac five.

It's a lot of drama. Uh, so yeah, I, I like other people making those choices for us.

**Mike:** Yeah, I think anyone who hasn't like gone through like a version upgrade or like, you know, been, not, been, been able to upgrade to some version of a library because some other version of a library that you also depend on doesn't support that version. Um, like, I think, you know, just, just do that a couple times and you'll like really support frameworks that cobble everything together,

**Eddie:** Yeah, . Exactly. Awesome. Well, you know, every episode, um, we always kind of say, Hey, like, is there anything you've been working on, anything that you want to share with the listeners that you know they might find helpful or want to check out? So I just wanted to ask if there was anything you were working on that you wanted to share.

**Mike:** Um, not so much right now, Eddie, but I do want to get back into writing. Um, I'm actually like, this is my first, uh, like public commitment to , to putting out a series. I wanna, I wanna write a series called, Um, uh, what new, what new web developers should know about X. Um, so I'm, I'm gonna be covering topics like, uh, you know, kind of like the 2 0 1 version of topics, like what every web developer needs to know or what, what new web developers need to know about, like form validation or security.

Or, uh, H E T P or like thinking through, uh, all these like, different topics that like, you know, you're probably not gonna get at a bootcamp. But, uh, I wanna start kind of thinking about those and like, kind of teaching those topics. Um, so I will be writing at my website, uh, Mike chen.io. And so I will probably be trying to put out a newsletter or something like that, uh, in the near future.

Um, I, yeah, I, I'm saying this right now. I haven't started doing it. I'm saying this right now on this podcast because, uh, so I'll be embarrassed if I don't do it.

**Eddie:** I love that accountability by putting it on the public

**Mike:** Yes, for sure.

**Eddie:** Nice. All right. Well then if you're listening to this, and you heard this, either a Mike got it out there and so I didn't cut it out or B, Mike still didn't get it out there, but I wanted him B, embarrassed and accountable anyway, so you should check the show notes and see if there's any links to that stuff and see if he actually completed it.

**Mike:** Sounds good. Yeah. That, that's a, I, I appreciate you. It sounds like you're gonna put it out, uh, regardless. Uh, so I appreciate you doing that and keeping me accountable. Um, but, uh, will you, will you, uh, sorry, will you plug my Twitter too and stuff like, I'm gonna try to start tweeting again.

**Eddie:** Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I put all that stuff in the, um, in the little like recording thing at the end on behind music I mentioned people's, um, website, U URLs, Twitter account, um, et cetera. So you're good there.

**Mike:** good.

**Eddie:** Awesome. Um, let's see here. What was I gonna say? Uh, I was gonna say something else, um, to build up that, oh, But yeah, I think, yeah, that sounds like some really cool, uh, topics.

So I'm excited to, to see you post it and, uh, you know, whenever you get around to it and, uh, hopefully everyone else enjoys it as well. Well, Mike, thank you for joining us today. It's been a pleasure just chatting, getting to know you and your journey. Um, hearing and chatting about, you know, some developer productivity stuff, really a good thing to take joy in.

**Mike:** Agreed. Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

**Eddie:** Absolutely. And everyone thank you for listening and we hope you have a great day. Bye.

Creators and Guests

πŸ’» Eng Manager, Design System @Glassdoor πŸ’¬ Helping software engineers grow their career with empathy. πŸŽ™Host of @WebJoyFM. Tweets in πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ/πŸ‡²πŸ‡½
Mike Chen
Mike Chen
Self-taught eng ➑️ CTO @motivohealth | I help new web developers level up their careers | Building @frontendeval | Husband/new dad
S1 E43: A huge fan of spending as little time as possible typing (Mike / @genericmikechen)
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