Harry Roberts on big CSS, working for Sky, and being a home bird

One of the 10 nominees for Young Developer of the Year in the 2014 net Awards, Harry Roberts is a consultant front-end architect from the UK, who writes, tweets, speaks and shares code about authoring and scaling CSS for big websites.

From the North of England, but working internationally, Roberts went into business on his own in 2013 and is behind the inuit.css framework. We chatted to him to find out more...

What are your main areas of expertise?

CSS and its architecture, scalability, performance, etc. I help big companies write big CSS for big products.

Give us a summary of your career so far.

To keep it really brief, at ages:

  • 15: Bedroom developer for fun.
  • 17: Part time at a tiny agency in my hometown (on an evening, after college).
  • 18: Full time at a larger (around 40 people) agency, Sense Internet, in Leeds.
  • 19: Moved to a tiny (four of us) VC company in Leeds.
  • 20: Got Senior Developer role at BSkyB (hundreds of us).
  • 23: Went consultancy (just me, but I meet loads of new people all the time now).

Alongside all of that, I've had CSS Wizardry stuff going on: open source, talks, workshops, writing, etc.

What have you been working on over the last year?

I worked for about nine of the last 12 months at Sky, on Mobile Sky Bet, which was a really, really great project from a technical point of view. I worked with some very clever designers, developers and product people on that.

Roberts recently worked on gambling app Skybet Mobile

Roberts recently worked on gambling app Skybet Mobile

After going consultancy, back in November, I've worked with a variety of clients including the Financial Times, Booking.com, Smashing Magazine, and a series of smaller clients in a number of different countries. They've all been really great in terms of motivation, passion, the desire to do better, the products they've been working on, and the people as individuals. My job is to make friends now, basically.

What have been the particular high points of your career?

I live too transiently to ever really detect high points. Nothing's been great, nothing's been bad, it's all been formative. And I don't mean that in a miserable or negative way: I'm just very fortunate in that it's all been decent. On the whole, I've worked with talented, kind, generous, fun, passionate individuals since day one.

What are you excited about at the moment?

Right now, probably getting home and seeing my girlfriend. I've been working on-site with a client here in LA for a while, which has been really great, but I fly home in two days' time. I travel a lot, and I enjoy it, but I'm a real home bird.

Roberts' framework inuit.css is cooler than a polar bear's toenails

Roberts' framework inuit.css is cooler than a polar bear's toenails

In general, I don't tend to get excited - the web moves to fast to get your hopes up about anything. I'm just looking forward to more fun work with great people. I suppose I get excited that I get paid to teach people how to build websites. That's cool.

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

Again, there is no one thing for me. In general:

  • Through working at Sky: Common sense and pragmatism prevail: this is business, not a place for perfectionism and gold-plating.
  • Through working at Sense: Culture is worth more than money in the workplace. I used to look forward to going to work on a Monday purely because of what a great company it was to work for.
  • Through working for myself: Be confident, be firm, be polite, be personable, be approachable, be good: you are the business now.
  • Through working at Sky: You have no idea just how little you know about so little: this is a big, varied industry.

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

This industry is far too big to be summed up by an awards ceremony that will crown 22 winners; there are more people out there doing great work than we'll ever really know. These are a few people I know personally who are far cleverer than I'll ever be:

  • Bryan James is a great brand- and creative-designer from England. He does all of my branding work and, coincidentally, his Hashima Island project is up for a net Award.
  • Jamie Mason is a really close friend of mine, and an incredibly talented JS engineer. He just gets his head down and produces great work for people who need it. He also made the increasingly popular ImageOptim-CLI.
  • James Hall is the closest thing you'll find to an actual rockstar developer—I once walked past his office at about midnight to find him coding away on some open source stuff, drinking tequila from a pint glass. He's off-the-scale kinds of intelligent (he made jsPDF as 'a bit of a challenge'), always happy to help, and always learning how to do great things even better.
  • Nick Payne is one of my closest friends, and the most humble, diligent, hard-working, understated developer you'll ever meet. The only think keeping him 'unsung' is his own humility. I get off on introducing Nick to professional contacts, because they all come back with the same 'I never knew it could be so good!' He's a pretty swell guy.

Vote in the net Awards!

Celebrating the best in web design and development, the 15th net Awards is open for public voting until 24 March. With a record breaking number of nominations this year, it's set to be the biggest and best yet. Have your say by casting your votes here.

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