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Moving On Up With James Padolsey

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Read Time: 10 min

At only eighteen years old, James Padolsey has proven himself to be a developer worth tracking. Hosting a knowledge that exceeds that of many people twice his age, it truly is a wonder how he's advanced so quickly. Today, we'll talk with him about his origins, his experiences working at his first design firm, and his thoughts on web development in general.

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- How old are you?

I'm 18.

What part of the world do you live in?

I live in Hampton, UK (near London).

Favorite programming language?

Definitely JavaScript.

Mac or Pc? Or both?

PC, I've never had the pleasure of working on a Mac.

Frameworks - good or bad?

Frameworks are a superb way of speeding up the process of development and ensuring a solid architecture... The only time when I'd say a framework is a bit over-the-top and unecessary is with CSS. CSS frameworks are nice in theory but in practice are not useful and probably waste more time than they save, I would never consider using one for a project, unless the client insisted upon it.

Javascript library of choice?


Text editor of choice?

Komodo Edit

When did you first get into web development? How old were you?

This depends on what you mean by "into web development" - Back when I was nine my dad gave me a copy of Net-Objects (a very primative WYSIWYG app) to play around with. It totally confused me at first but I did eventually manage to launch my very first website with it. The website was a gallery where I posted pictures of my favourite cars, pretty basic but back then I was amazed at just the concept of everyone in the world being able to view it! Not too long after that I was introduced to Macromedia (now "Adobe") Dreamweaver (back then in version 4.0) which I immediately dismissed as too complicated... It was not until much later, at about 14 when I got my first laptop that I really got into it.

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What is your primary area of expertise, relatively speaking?

I'm not sure I'm really an "expert" in anything yet, but what I'm best at is front-end development: CSS, HTML and JavaScript are my main areas of focus. I enjoy working with PHP also. I also do some design work but usually only for personal projects.

When first starting out, what gave you the most trouble?

Getting a hold on CSS and semantic HTML markup was very tricky. When I first started coding websites (instead of using a WYSIWYG interface) it took quite a while for the power of CSS to kick in. I wasn't originally interested in JavaScript, probably because I had no idea what it was - when I did decide to learn it I found it quite a hard language to grasp, especially the favourable unobtrusive flavour of it.

How have you managed to learn so much at such a young age? Any secrets to your success?

I don't think there's any one thing which I can attribute it all to. To be good at anything takes perseverance and a drive to learn, but more importantly I think you have to be really passionate about it and be genuinely interested. Another thing, always ask! Having an "enquiring mind" really helps when you're starting out in any field. Don't just sit back and expect the information to fall on your lap, go out and find it! Try to contribute to blogs, post on online forums, visit conferences and always be willing to lend a hand to your peers.

"The only stupid questions are the ones left unsaid."

You don't need to spend money to earn money! You don't have to go out and spend money on courses, books or certification - all the information you need is online. Web development books can provide you with some very helpful insight and a solid foundation to various technologies but relying on books alone isn't going to get you anywhere.

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Now that you've had some time at your first job, was there any area that you felt massively unqualified for? Were there things that you wish you had learned earlier?

The first couple of weeks of my new job felt like a rollercoaster - there were so many new things to learn and many of things I hadn't even heard of at all! The first project I was on involved developing a site to be viewed solely on mobile devices. I'd never done that before so it was a great learning experience!

All projects at the new job ran on either Java or ASP.NET - two things I knew very little about. Most of the work I was given was purely front-end although it would've been nice to have had a bit more knowledge about those two technologies! I was never working on a project devoid of server-side software, there was always something going on in the background and when developing all the front-end stuff I had to make sure not to break anything in the back-end!

I'd worked with PHP quite a lot before but developing with ASP.NET seemed to be completely different, Java projects were easier to grasp because it felt the same as PHP (to me at least). Also, I had never used any version-control software or Quaility Assurance systems before so I had to learn both of them from scratch. Plus I was never quite sure when I was allowed to "check in" my work, I was always worried about screwing up the next deployment to UAT (User Acceptance Testing). In the first month I found myself asking a lot of questions, luckily my colleagues were really understanding and helpful! In the area of front-end development; HTML, CSS and JavaScript I didn't feel too under-qualified - In fact, the few technologies that I was good at spared me my sanity while working there!

You mentioned that you left your first job after three months, it was meant to be a one year internship, what happened?

To be honest, it just didn't keep my interest. I really enjoyed the three months I had, and I am very grateful to the agency for giving me the opportunity but after a while the monotony of a 9-5 job really started to kick in. I don't know how people manage it, seriously! Working in London is great, it's very busy and exciting, but it's so expensive to work there, plus travelling to and from work took up about three hours of every day. Commuting is hell! There's no room to do anything on the train, so you've got no choice but to stare at a bunch of depressed city workers!

The job itself was a very good experience and I learnt tonnes. The projects were fun in some parts, but incredibly tedious in others. I was never able to be with a project from the start, I was always joining in on projects that had already begun weeks or months before. That isn't necessarily a bad thing but it would have been nice to be with a project from its infancy.

Before this job I had always been my own boss, I was in charge of every step of each project, but now I had to listen and report to a technical manager and I didn't really have a lot of control over the direction of the projects, although the teams I worked with really welcomed my contributions and ideas, which was great!

Another reason I left after only three months was because I really didn't want to spend my entire gap year doing just one thing.


Overall, it was a fantastic experience and gave a massive insight into how the industry really functions.

Did you feel ahead of the curve with any technologies - even more-so than your superiors?

The people I was working with were all very talented, they were all proficient at their jobs. The web developers in the company had a meeting once every other week in which we discussed industry news and new technologies and techniques - This was great to do since somebody always had something interesting to talk about. There wasn't always a good turn-out at these meetings but they were very good to have nonetheless.

I felt I was a definitely ahead of the curve with a couple of things but most people there were very up to date, at least, in the technology department. I do remember having one "lecture" - it was a 101 photoshop course being given by someone from the creative department - all web developers had to attend. It ended up being a bit of a disaster because the vast majority of web developers (including me) in the room knew way more than the person giving the course.

"It ended up being a bit of a disaster because the vast majority of web developers (including me) in the room knew way more than the person giving the course."

What areas of web development are you currently studying?

Recently I've been looking into Adobe Air, I've developed a couple of small apps - nothing big yet. I'm constantly learning more about CSS, HTML and JavaScript too. Even when you think you know most of it there's always something else.

You're currently applying for university. Have you considered skipping this step and moving straight to a firm? What would you say are the pros and cons of such a choice?

Every other day I consider halting my application to University. To be honest, no matter how exciting University may be, it just seems like another way of delaying real life. The only reason I'm going is because I don't know what I'd do if I didn't go. I've been in the education system for most of my life, and now society is urging me to go back for another three years!

If I do decide to go, then after University I'll probably continue freelancing - At this stage I cannot imagine myself working for another firm unless the job really sparks my interest and gives me a real reason to get out of bed in the morning.

What's next on your "to-do" list?

Well, I've got to finish my personal statement for my University application. I've also got a couple of projects in the air which I would love to get on with and complete. Beyond that, I haven't got any solid plans for the near future.

As you know, many of our readers are young and are just getting started in this field. What advice would you have for them?

Never give up, and never underestimate yourself! You're probably better than you think you are!

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In this tutorial I will be showing you how to create a style switcher using jQuery and PHP. The end result will be an unobtrusive & entirely degradable dynamic style switcher which will be quick and easy to implement.

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How to Load In and Animate Content with jQuery

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In this tutorial we will be taking your average everyday website and enhancing it with jQuery. We will be adding ajax functionality so that the content loads into the relevant container instead of the user having to navigate to another page. We will also be integrating some awesome animation effects.

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Thanks so much to James for taking the time to be interviewed. Beginning today, we'll be posting a weekly interview on Friday - Saturday for some of you folks. In these interviews, we'll be learning about web developers from every point in the spectrum.

At only eighteen years old, it's incredible how talented James has become. You can learn more about James Padolsey via the following resources:

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