Meet Mike Murray, UX Engineer

Today, we’re introducing Mike Murray, UX engineer and front-end developer. An avid product designer, problem solver, and long-distance cyclist, Mike builds all of the public-facing, front-end UI for the Reaction Commerce platform, as well a bit of the backend. Previously, he’s worked on website, app, and game UI for companies like Media Temple and The Zimmerman Agency. He’s also the creator of Overlist, a nifty, handy-dandy productivity app for checklists. We sat down with Mike to learn more about his day-to-day.

How did you get started with what you're doing?

I’ve always had an interest in building things, ever since I was a kid— Legos and things like that. When I got my first computer, I learned how to program, and started building things on that. Fast-forward through college to my first job, where I built websites, games, and apps for clients at an ad agency. I've been building stuff pretty much ever since.

What are you working on at Reaction?

I work on the front-end part of the Reaction Commerce product building UI for the admins, along with some other things. Right now, I'm working on theming, which will allow users to either upload their own themes or modify existing themes, live from within the store. I’m also working on order workflow, which will make it easier for users and admins to login, see all their orders, and quickly fulfill them in just a few steps.

What do you like best about the project you're on?

It’s the first time I've gotten to work on a project that only uses JavaScript, one of my favorite languages. With Meteor, it’s also easier to do things that don’t come so easily in other platforms. Usually, the client side is written in JavaScript, and the server side is usually PHP, Ruby on Rails, Django, or Python. When you’re using two different languages across servers, you just don't get that same sort of code interoperability. Whereas with Meteor, it's just better linked together.

What are some challenges you’ve run into?

Just figuring out how to make theming work with Meteor is a big challenge. The way this app works, it's different from PHP, and it's different from something like WordPress. Usually an application is compiled, which means everything is running on the server per request, so as soon as somebody makes a request, the app runs, and content is delivered. With Meteor, you can't easily do it the same way, since the content is delivered straight to the users, and nothing is compiled in the application and served by the server. Figuring out a way to modify an application that's already been bundled together, which customers can customize to make it their own— that's a challenge.

What does your workflow look like?

When a problem needs to be solved, I try to make a prototype and walk through it a couple times to see if it works. I continue to refine that process until I get the desired outcome, with as few steps as possible, and as straightforward as possible for the user.

Do you have any UX principles that you live by?

  1. Simple. No unnecessary graphics.
  2. Put yourself in the shoes of the user, whoever that may be.

How is it different doing UX for a startup geared toward a developer audience versus working at an ad agency?

I have more control over how the flow works. I can build it the way I think is best versus the way somebody else thinks is best.

I’m making things for myself. And I'm a developer myself, so I would want it to be as easy as they would want it. That's a benefit to building for developers— they can give you feedback. They're testing things, and they help by sending in a fix themselves that you may not have seen, so you find out where the holes are, and you patch them and solve them together. Lots of times people have fixed things that I've missed or caught. I can't catch everything all the time, but when someone else looks at the problem in a different way, then I get a sort of idea as to how other people think as well.

When you build for developers, you're talking directly to the users, so you're always getting direct feedback, versus building in a bubble, and not knowing if what you’re building is actually making a difference. I guess that's all a part of working for a startup. You're one level closer to your actual users.

What are some unique challenges and benefits you've faced working for a startup like Reaction?

One benefit and challenge: the size of the team. We're very close to each other. We talk to each other on a regular basis and we help each other through tons of interesting problems. However, you’re responsible for a lot more. Being in a small team, you have to be the owner of a certain part of the application or process, whereas in a bigger team, you’re able to delegate out tasks to other people.

Do you have any morning or evening rituals?

As soon as I wake up, I'm starving, so I eat a bowl of cereal immediately. At 11:45, I have to be on my way to lunch, because I'm starving long before then, and at 5, I have an early dinner when I get home. My life revolves around food. I dream about it. In the morning I’m already thinking about where I'm going for lunch, and in the afternoon, what I’m going to make for dinner. Curry is my favorite.

What are your interests outside of tech You like travel and cycling, correct?

Traveling, I really love. Recent trips include Mammoth for skiing, Iceland, and Japan. And yes, I like long distance cycling and minor competitive cycling for charity. I did a bike ride for multiple sclerosis a few years back, and this year, I'm doing a ride for Levi's Gran Fondo in Santa Rosa.

What are you looking forward to tackling in the coming months?

I look forward to doing this ride in October. it's been awhile since I've done a long distance ride with a challenging course, so it's a good excuse to get back into cycling more. Professionally, I hope to build Reaction into a product for production use, and most importantly, I aim to make sure theming is solidified and ready-to-use. It’s gonna take a bit of work to get it right, but I think I can do it.

What's a piece of advice you would give your younger self?

I've always told myself to never give up on a problem, because eventually you'll find a solution to it. Keep trying, and don't get frustrated, because you won't solve anything when you're angry.

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