Ben Howdle on JavaScript, iOS and picking fights

The podcaster and developer explains how a passion for JavaScript has driven his impressive career.

One of the 10 nominees for Young Developer of the Year in the 2014 net Awards, Ben Howdle is a freelance software developer based in Worcestershire, UK.

Co-host of the Upfront Podcast he's been working for KashFlow for the last year, architecting and building a fully responsive single-page Backbone.js app. We chatted to him to find out more...

What are your main areas of expertise?

JavaScript. Whether it's building complete applications in the browser or on the server with Node.js. I just love me some JavaScript.

Give us a summary of your career so far.

I started out at an electrical engineering company helping out with their office network and Windows Server before getting the chance to help build a couple of PHP/MySQL internal sales/stock tools. I gradually moved more towards the front-end and web design, and started picking up freelance clients (by clients, I mean friends and family), then began to teach myself more advanced stuff in the evenings.

This work got me a job at a mobile web publishing company based in the Midlands as a Web Developer (LAMP stack) building internal tools and client facing projects (Microsoft, Hyundai, etc…).

It was there where I really found a passion for JavaScript (I already knew jQuery, but didn't have a decent grasp of JavaScript), so I knuckled down and got myself deep in JS development, learning Backbone.js and other client-side application techniques and patterns.

Howdle works as a developer for accounting software company KashFlow

I then got the amazing opportunity to go and be a JavaScript developer for KashFlow in London and re-write their front-end to work as a single-page Backbone.js app. I had an ace time in London and met some great people, whilst continuing to publish tools and libraries for the community and collaborating with some really amazing designers and developers.

After a while I was doing enough of this that it allowed me to go freelance at the start of January 2014! I now get to work on some really cool projects with some exciting companies and get a lot more time to work on my own products, which is the eventual dream.

What have you been working on over the last year?

As I mentioned above, I've spent the whole of 2013 re-writing KashFlow's front-end to work as a Backbone.js app. Was a great opportunity to really throw myself into front-end development and get deep into memory profiling, build tools, etc…

Howdle has made a number of products available to the community via his website

I've also released a number of products, libraries and tools (all on - some for learning, some for collaboration enjoyment and some to scratch an itch.

What have been the particular high points of your career?

I'd say getting the position at KashFlow as a JavaScript Developer. I'm not really one for becoming too much of a specialist, but I think it's good to own a few areas of your skills. This job allowed me to really get into JavaScript development and building large-scale apps (with all the fun they bring - auth, navigation woes, memory leaks, garbage
collection, etc…).

I'm happy with my set of skills now, I can build ideas into products, but having that time at KashFlow really helped me hone those few key skills for front-end development.

What are you excited about at the moment?

To be honest, iOS. I released an app in 2011 but mostly bodged it together with code from Stack Overflow, so I didn't really learn much at all. So little, it actually put me off app development, maybe why I threw myself into web technologies more.

However, now I've done a lot more programming (Node), I'm revisiting iOS from the foundation level (C, then Objective-C, then iOS development), so I'm trying to gain a much deeper understanding of native technologies.

I'm certainly an advocate of the web stack, and it's certainly more gratifying when building a web app, because of the rapid development and ubiquity of information, but there's something about iOS development that makes me really want to pursue it and make it part of my permanent skill set.

Tell us about an important lesson you've learned in your career.

Gosh, lots. Probably one of the more important ones, and one I've learned very recently, is pick your fights. By "fights" I don't necessarily mean with other people. Is something really worth you getting worked up over or spending your time on? I also mean the fights you have with yourself. The barrage of tools/libraries/techniques/stuff you "should be using" - do what works.

Give up trying to know everything about everything. Have fun, be with great people, release cool stuff. If you manage all those three, who cares how you did it?

Name an 'unsung hero', someone you admire who deserves more recognition for their work.

A few spring to mind:

  • Dan Harper - such a smart dude. He has written multiple tutorials for TutsPlus and really knows his stuff.
  • Tom Speak - he's a developer working in London. He has zero ego, lots of passion and is a genuine guy.
  • Daniel Grant - I worked with Dan for my time at KashFlow. He has a very strong UX mind and knows CSS like no-one I know (well, a few, but he's up there!)

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