Meet Erik Kieckhafer, Software Engineer

Today, we’re introducing Erik Kieckhafer, developer and software engineer on the Reaction Core team. Erik leads the Components project alongside Mike Murray, and can be frequently found answering questions in our developer chatroom. He is an avid fan of hockey, chatbots, and bizarre canned foods. We asked Erik a few questions about his personal and professional journey:

Tell me about yourself. How did you get started with coding, and how did you get to where you are today?

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I’ve had a computer since I was 8 years old, so I’ve always been really into gaming and going online. I still have my Internet access card, which was a special card you had to buy, ‘cos it was the first time I ever got to use Internet at school. They didn’t even spell my name right, but I wasn’t going to pay the exorbitant replacement fee for their mistake. In middle school, I took a class on how to make websites, but I didn’t study code or anything web dev-related in college—I went to school for journalism. I did take an online media class, where my classmates and I built a website for the Cronkite Zine, an online magazine for ASU’s journalism school. The site won a Webby award for Best Student Media website.

The year I graduated, the economy crashed, so all those journalism jobs went away. I ended up finding a job working in PHP, making websites for a company in New York, where I stayed for 7 years. Then, my partner and I moved out here to LA. I was freelancing for a bit, then I started working at Media Temple. Then, a year later, I came to Reaction, and now here we are.

Did you have to learn Node.js and Meteor specifically for Reaction? What was your experience like?

I was somewhat familiar with Node before, but I had no experience with Meteor at all. I didn't even know what it was until I started working here! It’s been tough, but it’s also been good—everyone is really helpful, and because both Reaction and Meteor are open source, there's a lot of information out there. If you don’t know something, you can always figure it out. As far as challenges, I’m so used to the backend and the frontend being different. Conceptually, everything running together is great, because then you only have to deal with one type of code. Still, it was hard to wrap my mind around it at first, especially since I had worked mostly with PHP before that.

What’s one thing you’re currently working on, and what do you like best about the project?

At the moment, everyone at Reaction is busy building marketplace. Operators create an overall store, and within that store, anyone can have a substore and sell their own products. We’re building one right now for a specific brand—it really is the future of ecommerce. Everyone wants to build their own brand and sell their own things, and marketplace provides an easy way to brand yourself within your own space. It’s really interesting seeing what other people sell, and how that umbrella brings it all together.

With the marketplace project we’re currently working on, we allow Instagram influencers to build their own shop and refer their followers to new brands. This is what they do on a daily basis anyway, but our new marketplace allows them to take their posts and sell the exact clothes and accessories they’re wearing directly in their store. These influencers may have a following that’s unique to them, so thanks to marketplace, influencer audiences get to discover new brands, and new brands get to attract more people. Starting to build that for these people is really cool.

Tell us more about Reaction Bot!

It’s a Slackbot that takes keywords in and responds to them with preset responses. So, for instance, type in #timezones and it’ll bring up a list of current times around the world. We have team members all over the world—the Philippines, Colorado, Los Angeles, and all over Africa—so it comes in handy. There’s also #drivetime, which tells you how long it takes to get to HQ.

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Creating a chatbot was probably my first real dive into Node itself. I built one at my previous company because I wanted to learn more about Node.js, and I just kinda took it from there. I used a package called Botkit, which was really easy to build off of.

You wrote a blog post about the challenges of working in open source. How has this changed for you, especially now that you’re leading community meetings?

When I wrote that blog post, we were just starting to convert everything to React. It was my first time working with it, so people were kind of seeing me learn it on-the-fly, which was interesting. Now that I have a few months of experience, I now know enough to help other people outside of our codebase. Now, I’m able to go into our Gitter chat rooms and answer questions. It feels nice to help out other people, or when other devs mention me specifically in the chat. I think open source continues to help me become a better coder. Open source also saves you from doing the same thing twice. One of our partners, Daniel Honig of Boomer Digital, built his codebase off of Reaction. Now, we’re taking a piece of a feature he built, the ability to create wishlists, and expanded it into our Collections project. You can’t really do that with closed source projects.

What excites you the most about the ecosystem? What are you most excited to learn more about?

This is my first time working solely in the JavaScript ecosystem, and to me, it’s really exciting how all these new technologies and frameworks out there, like React, are built on top of core JavaScript. That gives me solace knowing that the core language is still there, and will (hopefully) be around for a long time. And like I said before, having the same language on the server and the client makes for faster development and an easier to maintain codebase, something you don't get with a language like PHP.

How would you describe Reaction’s community of contributors, and what would you like to see in our community moving forward?

They’re great. A bunch of guys in the community have been extremely helpful and knowledgable, like Daniel and also Lorenzo Campanis, founder of Artlimes. It’s great that they’re sticking around and willing to help others. It really shows how much they like what we’re doing. There are also plenty of beginners out there, which is awesome, but sometimes it can be tough answering the same questions over and over. The good news is, we’re working on a better way to get beginners onboarded.

Do you have any advice for JavaScript beginners?

It’s cliche, but do one of those to-do list tutorials that every single site has. It’s the same, it’s tedious, but it’s a good way to get into it. And definitely look into open source projects, too. A lot of projects have open issues that are very, very small. These issues are very simple fixes, but they’re too small for the core team to take on. Do one thing and contribute—it’ll make you feel accomplished when it gets pulled in. It’s a really effective way to learn, no matter whatever you’re trying to get into.

Fav coffee shop in LA?

The Dunkin’ Donuts on Wilshire and 12th. I moved out here from New York, so it’s a little reminder of my time living out there.

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