I’m here with Trys Mudford, Lead Developer at Tomango, to find out a bit more about this unassuming young gun who’s taking the responsive scene to whole new levels.
As Trys sits down, I begin by asking him about some current projects…
Hi Trys. Thanks for taking the time out from your busy schedule to talk. What have you been working on this week?
“Well, I’ve been finishing off a new property letting website for Stuart & Partners, which has been quite complex. The site includes a bespoke property search system, with email sign-ups/subscriptions for new clients, portal integrations, and some PDF generation so the guys at Stuart & Partners can print off property details for their window displays.
So that was a challenge - but that’s pretty much done now.
I’ve also made a start on a new website for Nutley Edge, integrating with their holiday cottage letting system. All good fun…”
*So if you got to choose what you’d be doing next week, what would be your perfect project? What’s the stuff you really like working on? *
“As much as the back-end heavy projects that I’ve been developing this week are a nice challenge, if I could choose, I’d say I prefer working on front-end only projects, where I can really get into detail on performance and accessibility and optimising the site to be the best it can be from a visual point of view.”
Accessibility is your “thing”, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you say?
“It’s certainly a growing interest. I’ve realised over the last year or maybe even 6 months or so that accessibility is much more about how a website as a whole should function, not just catering for people who may have disabilities or impaired vision. And by considering accessibility from the start, it impacts on the planning, design, development, marketing and content - the whole approach.”
You went to Responsive Day Out earlier this year, didn’t you?
“Yes, that was in June. And despite being called Responsive Day Out, it kind of shows how far the industry has progressed that being responsive isn’t just about being adaptive to screen sizes, it’s about being responsive to users and their requirements and their environments; for example their connection. So performance is as much a part of accessibility as any other element.”
So which of the projects you’ve worked on recently has come closest to your ideal project?
“I would say Hailsham Town Council.
The design direction was clear and the approach from the outset came from an accessible point of view. The design was modular, so each section was essentially like a building block that could be used to make a page. That gave me the opportunity to create a pattern library, which in turn meant I could focus on the details of each element rather than working on complete page templates.
So by optimising each individual element that goes into making up the page, everything is optimised itself to the best it can be, rather than having to be compromised to work as part of a page.”
So from your ideal project let’s go to the other end of the scale; I expect there are certain things you’d choose not to have to do. So what would be the one thing about your job you could choose to never have to do again, what would it be?
“Well, I was going to say server migrations, but I might just expand that to hosting as a whole!
The server migration we did a couple of years ago was a pretty big undertaking, and apart from getting a shiny new server out of it at the other side, it was a largely unappreciated task. But I guess it was one of those jobs that had to be done, and it’s set us up well in the long term.”
What’s the thing that people just don’t get or understand about your job?
“I think “time” - the amount of time that it can take, and it ideally would take, to do a project.
I could happily spend a near-infinite amount of time on a website, constantly tweaking and optimising and finding better ways of doing it. And that’s why having a good feedback loop with the client over a longer term is so good, because it means you can constantly find ways of improving a site, incrementally working at it to improve it.
I could happily spend days and weeks on a site or a section of a site, but I guess the trick is knowing when to stop - when good enough is good enough and when it’s just me being a perfectionist.”
So do you find that difficult?
[Pauses. Grins] “Yup! Although I think I’ve got better over time at stepping back. But at the same time, as I’ve continued my learning, I’ve wanted to put more into each section. So it probably balances out.
I certainly want to deliver the best that I can - every time - but you have to be mindful of budgets and timeframes.”
What do people tend to say when you tell them what you do for a living?
“They usually fall into one of two camps; one has the expectation that I’m writing the matrix or something, and the other is that I’m “just making the menus work”. Not much in the middle!”
So most people don’t really understand what you do?
“I think it’s a stage in the process [of a web project] that can be…overlooked? Or taken for granted, perhaps. But that’s fine…”
He’s says, through gritted teeth!
You started working here in October 2012. What do you remember about your first day?
“I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years…
I remember on my first day feeling…well, out of my depth, really. I was 19 years old, it was my first desk job, and - well, it got better as the day when on. I think - if my memory’s correct - I did some graphic work, cutting out some images so they had a transparent background, and added some content to a site.”
What’s surprised you the most about your job since you started?
“I don’t know about surprises about the job specifically. That’s just evolved over time and I’ve been able to explore avenues I’ve been interested in, and been able to bring that in to my work. That’s been quite a gradual change.
I guess it’s been more a change in the way we develop websites. Back when I started, we were developing fixed-width sites, with reasonably static content (although there were CMSs I suppose) and it feels like that was a long time ago. With the dawn of responsive sites, the sites we’re developing now feel very distant from the ones we did back then.”
What’s the best thing about working for Tomango?
“The variety of projects. Each week you could be working on a completely different project for a client in a different industry. It’s interesting to research other industries as we’re building those sites, just to get a flavour of how they work and what works for their clients. There are certainly some industries that I never thought I’d get involved with.”
What’s your favourite part of the day?
“Any time when headphones are on, I’m focusing on my code, and my coffee’s going cold in its mug on my desk. Generally when I’m not being distracted, I’d say.
Actually, I don’t know whether I should say that…”
It can’t all be good, though - what’s the worst thing about working for Tomango?
“I think…project length, sometimes. It would be nice to work on some projects for a bit longer, to really go into more detail.”
If you could change one thing about the studio, what would it be?
“I think I’d get a coffee machine, I reckon. I know the kitchen area’s quite small, but I’m sure Mike wouldn’t mind if we took some of his desk space…”
If you could choose to take on the role of someone else on the team for a week, whose job would you choose?
“I’m not really sure. I’m not sure that I envy anyone else’s job.”
Ok…then who’s would you be least likely to choose?
“I suppose I could pick up my crayons and give design a go. I think I’d prefer that to the planning. Or the marketing. Yeah - design would be my “least worst” choice, I think.”
And finally…what advice would you give to any aspiring young developers out there?
“Keep learning. There’s never a lack of things to pick up and improve on. There’s always different avenues of code and development that can be explored…
…and then take that knowledge and either work it in to a side project you’re working on - or an actual project.
My passion for responsive development kind of just happened. It was a case of trying to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry - following a lot of “trend setters” on twitter, that sort of thing, and then getting a feeling that was where the industry was going.
I tried it out on some side projects and then “secretly” [grins] trying it on some actual projects before introducing it full-time into the workflow.
So I think it’s definitely worth keeping an open mind. For example, even if you’re fully intended on becoming a front end developer, there’s always a time when you’ll need to do some back-end development, and vice versa.”