Today, we’re introducing Brent Hoover, software engineer, former professional musician, and community lead here at Reaction Commerce. A long-time developer, Brent has been coding front-end and back-end for the web since the very first dot com boom (the olden days!), and as a proponent of open source, he’s an active GitHub contributor and a founding member of Reaction’s Code of Conduct Committee. He is currently based in Calamba City in the Philippines, where he lives with his family. We asked Brent a few questions about his personal and professional journey:
You’ve been developing for a while now. How did you get started with what you're doing, and how did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been working with computers on and off since I was 11, but I got my start on the web back in 1998, when I was working for Charles Schwab on their “Special Projects” team.
I had an idea for an internal web application that would make it easier for desktop admins to install obscure and antique apps for various divisions within the company. I submitted a request, but because they were busy inventing web trading, it was taking forever. Eventually, someone on the Schwab team said, “We have this little group that runs Cold Fusion. Why don’t you go work for them and develop this app?” I locked myself in a storage room, taught myself Cold Fusion, and been working in web development ever since.
To be working at Schwab in San Francisco, right at the time of the first Internet boom— it was a pretty exciting place to be.
You specialize in Python. Did you have to learn Node.js and Meteor specifically for Reaction? If so, how was your experience?
I had written one small app in Node.js back when I worked at Grindr, and I’ve played around with Meteor, but mostly, it’s been all new. Working with Meteor and working with raw Node is really not the same. That being said, a lot of what Meteor brings to the table is the fact that it makes Node easier to understand and use.
The hardest thing for sure is the Async/EventLoop model. Even though Meteor smooths over a lot of that, it can still bite you.
What’s one thing you’re currently working on, and what do you like best about the project?
I just finished doing our search feature, and that was fun because I got a chance to use a lot of the experience I’ve had, working in ecommerce for all these years and designing lots of search systems. And that’s generally what I like about Reaction Commerce: you get the chance to “rethink” how you approach the basic ideas of how you sell stuff on the Internet.
You live in the Philippines, right? Tell us about your experience. And what’s it like to work remotely with the core team?
If you are going to live anywhere in Southeast Asia as an American, the Philippines is probably the easiest. English is one of the two official languages here, American culture is very prevalent, and generally Filipinos have a positive view of Americans. On the other hand, you do have to remember that you are a foreigner, so be sensitive to subtle (or not so subtle) differences in culture. First hard lesson learned: don’t pat a small child on the head. To me, it might mean, “Hello, small child!” But here, it means, “You are an idiot.” Someone had to quickly pull me aside, explain the difference, and apologize.
The most difficult thing to adjust to has been being “the other.” Because we don’t live in one of the big cities, people don’t see a lot of foreigners, so I attract a lot of attention, wherever I go. If you are very introverted like I am, that can sometimes be uncomfortable, although a majority of the time, people are just looking out of curiosity and you get used to it. Or try to, at least.
I have worked remotely before, so I was aware of most of the potential problems. The biggest challenge now is the time difference. The Philippines is 16 hours ahead, which means my hours and the team's hours are almost opposite. Oftentimes, we aren’t even on the same day. There’s no clever way to get around this, but everybody tries to make small adjustments to accommodate me (afternoon meetings, for example). Generally, the team has been very understanding.
Working from home can be a challenge if you don’t properly structure out your day. Do you have any morning, afternoon, or evening rituals you like to perform throughout the day?
Well, having two school-age children pretty much eliminates the need to add any extra structure to your life. I get up, help get them off to school, etc.
The only real “lifehack” I can offer here is that I try to stay away from email or any other type of discussions until I am ready for a break. For me, mornings are the most productive, and sometimes discussions can really sap your energy without accomplishing anything. I try to get a chunk of work under my belt, first thing in the morning.
You’re the go-to guy for all things related to our community. You’re also on our Code of Conduct Committee. Based on what you’ve seen so far, how would you describe Reaction’s community of contributors, and what would you like to see in our community moving forward?
One of the most exciting things for me about working at Reaction Commerce was the opportunity to work in open source. I had been involved in the Django community before and really found it to be a great experience, and not just in the ways you might expect. I learned a lot about helping people who aren’t typically a part of the “tech community,” and getting them involved. That was why I suggested we put together a Code of Conduct, even though we are still just getting started. I think it really helps set the tone. Then, Sara took it even further with our great diversity statement. I loved that.
We want all sorts of people involved in the projects, not just coders: we want designers, writers, etc. And also we want to provide a friendly space for beginners. Not just beginners to Meteor, but even to web development in general. That’s why I enjoy being on the Gitter channel: I like to try and make sure that people’s first experiences with Reaction Commerce— trying to get it up and running— is fun and exciting.
What’s a piece of advice you would give your younger self?
Trust yourself. You will often feel like you have no idea what you are doing, right up until the very moment you discover the solution.