Episode 258  on February 26, 2018Behind the Screens

Behind the Screens with Jerad Bitner

Lullabot's newest Development Manager Jerad Bitner talks transitioning from developer to manager, what's the story with VR in the web, and be on the lookout for Sirkitree P.I.

Transcript

Chris:
Going behind the screens with Lullabot's technical project manager and development manager, Jerad Bitner. How's it going, Jerad?
Jerad:
Pretty good. How are you doing?
Chris:
Not too bad. You recently just got this new title of development manager. Tell me a little bit about how that is and how that came around?
Jerad:
Yeah. That's a good question. I don't know. Yeah. I guess, I've been a project manager for about five or six years now. It's not a whole lot different than that. You're working with people on projects. Except, the project is more about their career than it is about getting a client project done. It's a little bit different focus, but it's still about just being an advocate for a person and the things that they need and want out of life and out of what we can do for them at Lullabot.
Chris:
Does that take you completely out of the code then or are you still working actively in the code, in the projects along with working as overseeing developers?
Jerad:
Yeah. Well, what it means is more like half my time is for project management and half of my time as a development manager. Well, that's how we structure it, but if the need is there and I need to be on a project, I'll still jump in and help on a project. It does fairly take me out of the code. I learned pretty early on in doing technical project management that it was ... I had to do one or the other. I had to be coding on a project and assume that role where I had to be a project manager on a project and assume that role because there's weird conflicts of interest that you get into if you're doing both of them at the same time like, should I take all of the easy tickets because I've got all of this other stuff. I've got to organize over here and I can't get real deep into it. Is that really fair for the team?
I like that separation of role, at least, per project. That being said, I don't code a lot on projects these days, but I do a lot of code on my own. I still do a lot of JavaScript and various other forms of art and things like that. I could still get a good repertoire of skills in there, but day job wise, more of a project manager. Development management responsibility is more spaced throughout the week touching base with people and following up with certain things.
Chris:
You still got your hands in the code just in your spare time now, not for the job.
Jerad:
Yeah. Yeah.
Chris:
How does that break up? Because you started out as a developer.
Jerad:
Right.
Chris:
You did a lot of backend work. I remember seeing your name on modules and things and around the community.
Jerad:
Yeah.
Chris:
You went from that to project manager to, now, development manager. That's a pretty fast progression, I guess, from being on the frontline of the code to, now, overseeing and working with the developers around the frontline. How is that separation for you? For me, as a developer, I was always afraid to get out of the code because that's where I like to be.
Jerad:
Sure.
Chris:
I like being on the frontline than getting in the bottom. How has that been for you to make that transition?
Jerad:
It was a little difficult at first, I think. You don't feel like you're quite as in the know because you have to have a higher level of everything. You can only know a little bit about each portion because you've got to know so much more. You don't get as deep. You get a little more shallow of a knowledge across a project or anything. Since it's a slightly different discipline, if I do my day job organizing projects, it gives me more brain space for doing the code that I want to do on my own time. I've done a lot experimenting with various frameworks, PHP and JavaScript and even some other virtual reality type applications and things like that. It feels like it gives me the space by not having to do that all day. I'm not coding all day. I've got more room to focus on the code that I really want to do as more of a personal thing.
Chris:
That makes a lot of sense. You do a lot of work with VR. You're one of our big VR advocates.
Jerad:
Yeah.
Chris:
How do you see in that space come around lately? Is it emerging in the webspace more or where do you see that going and the applications of it?
Jerad:
Yeah. It is. Web VR is a thing. You can get into it fairly easily with a framework called, A-Frame, which is a JavaScript framework. It's very declarative but allows you to create a VR scene the way you would an HTML page just by using specialized markup and including a JavaScript library. That's the biggest one that I've seen. There are other ones out there, but I tend to pay attention to that one the most. Not to say that it's the best one or anything and won't get into that, but it's still the web browser. It's geared towards displaying text and even those good WebGL integration with our browsers. It's getting better and better. It's still behind what a video game engine can do because its primary purpose is to work with graphics.
Filling behind the curve, I think it's probably almost always going to fill behind those. Web browser is going to fill behind the game engines, but at the same time, you could do some pretty interesting stuff with it pretty quickly, in fact. Just generating geometry and texturing it and animating it really quickly, you can do some really fun stuff in a really short amount of time. Of course, it fits in with some of the decoupled stuff that Lullabot does and other companies are doing where you could have, let's say, a Drupal backend for your content or asset management, and then have VR front-end on that that connects to the JSON API and do some just pretty fun stuff what that too.
Chris:
Where do you see this going in the future? Let's say, five years from now, how does virtual reality fit with the current state like the web as we know it?
Jerad:
Sure. That really depends on the market. We haven't seen a lot of clients who are wanting immersive experiences for their content. There's not a whole lot of thought being put into how do you manage your content in a virtual environment. The thing I like to think about sometimes is like we have a lot of 2D elements that are very typical like radio buttons and check boxes and stuff. Those could be different in VR. If you extrapolate that to the admin interface in Drupal, what would the admin interface in Drupal look like in VR? I have no idea, but it's like this whole new space that you could conceptualize and find things that work. I'm looking forward to the Drupal admin in VR. What would that look like? It just throw stuff out in the wall and see what works. It's also new and unexplored. That's really what excites me about it, but like I said, monetarily and client wise, we haven't seen a heck of a lot of demand for that stuff yet especially in the web side of things. We'll see.
I'm hoping within the next five years, we have our first VR client and we're using Drupal in the backend and we've got VR in the front and this really cool immersive thing that we could showcase. That's some of my goals.
Chris:
Yeah. Yeah, nothing is established on that. We're pushing the boundaries around the frontier but were like, "We need to invent what these things can do."
Jerad:
Yeah. Yeah.
Chris:
I'm going to ask you for two pieces of advice here.
Jerad:
Sure.
Chris:
We bridged two topics. What was the biggest factor that led you to want to make that move into project manager or into dev manager?
Jerad:
Project manager into dev manager was, I guess, that was more about career progression. That was part of it. I think we all have this inherent need to feel like we're progressing in life and in our career. That was a step towards that because like I said before, it's very much like project management but kind of a different angle but more from the human focus. Getting to know how to do that, just being interested in people is something that's more and more my interest. People who know me know that I'm not typically very interested in people in general. I like technology and I don't really like politics. I speak what's on my mind. I can be very blunt. I've had to learn how to use that two advantages in my life. I don't know. I guess I'm looking forward to the growth that's going to come with that more than anything. This is a scenario I don't know heck of a lot about, but I think I could do pretty well because of my track record with clients and everything. Let's dig into it and let's explore it further.
Chris:
You could say, maybe, don't be afraid to step into something you're unsure about that you're going to leave everything else behind because I think from the answers that you gave earlier, there's still would be space to explore code ...
Jerad:
Yeah.
Chris:
... if that's what you're passionate about.
Jerad:
Oh, totally. Yeah.
Chris:
Sort of my talking you early on when I first start with Lullabot looking into project management, that was very reassuring. The code will still be there. You can still find time to do the things you want to do. You're not leaving it behind to take on a new role. It'll all be there.
Jerad:
In fact, you don't feel shoehorned into particular languages or technologies at that point to actually solve what you're getting paid to do all day. You're getting paid not for the code for organization and then, well, a heck I can learn whatever code I want to than on my own time. I feel like I have room and space for that. Yeah.
Chris:
Excellent. We'll do one more quick piece of advice related to the virtual reality stuff.
Jerad:
Sure.
Chris:
I know you and Dave Burns have a lot of articles out on lullabot.com about getting started, weighing different frameworks over one another, but if somebody is interested in getting started on this, what's the easiest way for them to experiment with web VR? What's that advice? Well, how should they start?
Jerad:
The lowest barrier to entry, I would say, is just Google Cardboard. Get a cardboard headset. You can find one for $5 or whatever and your phone, existing phone, as long as it's a smart phone and not flip top.
Chris:
Yeah.
Jerad:
If you can use that to experience some of the things that have just been built out there and get some ideas and if it catches your interest, you really haven't invested a whole lot. If there's tiers of headsets that you'd go up from there and if you want to experiment with any sort of creating your own experiences, as I mentioned, A-Frame is a really good one because it's very web developer friendly. You're going to understand it pretty darn quickly. Really, it's just adding another dimension onto it. Typically, you're laying things out X and Y, two dimensional, flat. Just add the Z axis and that's what you're doing then. Yeah, A-Frame and Cardboard are probably a really, really good places to start.
Chris:
Great. Flip it away from the work and the code for a little bit. The go-to question, if you woke up tomorrow and the internet was gone, no VR, no web VR.
Jerad:
Yeah.
Chris:
I suppose you could still have your virtual reality. It's just not on the web anymore.
Jerad:
Sure.
Chris:
The short way to think about it is, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Jerad:
Yeah. Policeman. Actually, yeah, I laugh about it but that is one of the things I've been interested in, firefighting and police work. I think the investigatory nature of police work like as a detective or anything is extremely interesting to me. Yeah, I think I would probably want to become a detective.
Chris:
I haven't had that answer before. I really like that. It goes along with the nature of being a project manager, trying to-
Jerad:
It really does. Yeah. Trying to distill what clients actually wants and figuring out their motivations behind things in order to get a priority to say, "Yes, you can work on this."
Chris:
Okay. You've got three young kids. Have you gotten them into coding or playing with any of the virtual reality stuff yet?
Jerad:
Coding, not so much yet. Viola is almost six. She's just at the point where she can read. That’s soon, I'm hoping she picks up a little bit of that. The other two are way too young. Vincent is getting into video games. That's really fun for me. Sebastian is just learning how to talk. Not too much there. VR wise though, I have put the headset on the older kids. It's funny because there's a program I like to use called, Sculptor VR, which is basically building things with Voxels. She'll get in there and she'll build like elaborate castles and say that these are over here, this is a fairy that came over. She's got this elaborate scenario and she'll build this and show it to me. I'll put the headset on and I can walk around it. I'll save it for her and then I'll put the headset on Vincent. He immediately goes to the rocket launcher and destroys everything.
It was very telling for me too like their personality types and maybe something could be said with boy and girl and boy there, but that's what they do in VR. She wants to build. He wants to destroy.
Chris:
That's pretty funny. All right. Well, I always end the interviews with sharing little things in gratitude.
Jerad:
Yeah. Yeah.
Chris:
Is there somebody you'd like to say thank you to share some gratitude with who helped you along the way?
Jerad:
So many people. I feel like, Man, Dave, David Burns is probably at the top of my list just because he's been my brother since high school. We've supported each other's careers for so many years. Yeah, I just definitely would not be where I am today without him and his support and ideas and antics. I think somebody else would probably be Liza Kindred who, early on, was part of Lullabot and helped Dave and I actually get into Lullabot. We worked with her and just got some connections there. That was really nice. Within Lullabot, she's not longer at Lullabot. I still miss her very much, but Angie Byron, I learned a lot of what I now use for project management from her. Yeah. I'll go with three if I can.
Chris:
Absolutely. Absolutely. That's hard to narrow one down sometimes.
Jerad:
It really is.
Chris:
Especially when we've been around this long.
Jerad:
Yeah. Like my mother, I could say.
Chris:
Yeah. I know, right? You're going to think, who's going to listen to the podcast too. That's not the one.
Jerad:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris:
All right. Cool. Thank you very much, Jerad.
Jerad:
Yeah.
Chris:
This was great.
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