Meet Pat Newell, Community Developer

Meet the contributors who help Reaction grow. In our ongoing series on community, we share what’s new with our GitHub repo, profile a developer, and shed some light onto what it’s like contributing to Reaction. In this installment, we spoke with Pat Newell (pmn4), frontend developer at Rent the Runway. Since 2017, Pat has contributed several PRs and bug fixes to the Reaction repo, and is an active member of our developer chatroom.

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Tell me about yourself.
I am a husband and father to three young kids and live in Virginia. I had little experience with computers when I went to college, but was required to take a computer science course. I was hooked from the start. Nearly 20 years later, I love it even more.

I have had some twists and turns in my career, even getting out of tech for a few years, but I never stopped writing code. I am currently employed full-time by Rent the Runway, a dress rental business based in NYC, and when the rest of my family is asleep, I wake up early—and stay up late—to build Brewline, my Reaction Commerce project. I drink a lot of coffee. A lot.

How did you come across Reaction?
I had first started to build Brewline, an online pre-sales site for breweries selling special releases, on Spree. I was working with another community member, Daniel Honig, on some of the Marketplace features of Spree. During our many conversations, Daniel introduced me to Reaction. He was like, "You've got to see this."

So, I started to investigate. What sold me was: 1) the modern, responsive UI, and 2) the reactivity. Reactivity was also super important to me, since we were essentially doing flash sales. Also, having a live quantity update is an amazing feature for driving urgency and sales. Once I saw a demo of it on Reaction, I was like, “God, I just have to switch.”

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You’re a developer for Rent the Runway and other ecommerce brands. Tell me about your experiences there.

Rent the Runway is unlike any other commerce company I’ve worked for—a totally different animal. Because it’s a rental business, it’s more like booking a hotel room vs. buying clothes. One of the coolest things I’ve worked on so far is dynamic pricing. Some very smart analysts looked at our sales data and spotted trends to guesstimate demand. So that’s how we determined that a dress would be $100 on a particular date in the middle of the summer, and $150 on this other date in the winter. We had to rip apart the whole system to decouple price from product, which was really hard, but really cool.

How many people are on the engineering team?

Somewhere between 50-60. Our engineering team is a big one, with a lot of roles. I’m on the storefront team, which mostly focuses on renting product. The warehouse and backend team writes software for inventory, fulfillment, etc. We actually have this intense process of getting a dress out the door—returns, identifying the dress, dry cleaning, deciding whether it’s going back out or onto the rack.

And where were you before this?

I was at a company called Group Commerce, which essentially created Groupon clones. Content-driven brands like the New York Times and The Boston Globe were wanting to try ecommerce as a business model. We were creating daily deal-type stores for them. That company was acquired by another company that did something similar.

You’ve had a lot of experience with limited edition-style commerce models. Has that contributed to your decision to build Brewline as a flash sale site?

To be honest, that style of selling has existed for a while—we’re just building a web product to go along with it. Breweries are already selling small batch runs on Instagram. They advertise a limited quantity amount and tell people to be at the brewery at a certain time. They're already acting as daily deal sites.

It seems like you’re really open to working with many different languages and frameworks. What do you feel are the pros and cons of Rails vs. Node, in relation to ecommerce?

In general, I have a lot of love for Ruby. I really disliked it at first, having come from a .Net/C# role, but once I wrapped my head around the language, I couldn't get over how nicely it read, and how quickly projects came together.

Reaction has been my only experience with Node, but I’ve been writing JavaScript for 2 decades now, so it wasn’t bad. It’s sometimes nice when you’re writing JavaScript in the browser and Ruby in the server, because your brain automatically knows which code you’re writing. When you see Ruby, you think, “I’m thinking about server stuff.” So it’s hard to remember that it’s JavaScript in both places. It hasn’t been bad to pick up at all, although Meteor’s learning curve is much steeper than Node’s.

How long have you been contributing to the ecosystem? What drew you to contribute?

My first pull request came at the end of 2017. My site uses data from Untappd, the social network for beer, so I wanted to add it as an OAuth provider. I noticed that the available providers were hard-coded into the admin, so I wrote a small change to allow for additional providers to be included. The developers maintaining the repo were quick with feedback and seemed genuinely excited about community contributions!

What projects/concepts/technologies are you looking forward to tackling for the remainder of the year?

Brewline is a side project, but I’ve found that it’s helped me in a lot of ways. I’m one of the more senior engineers at Rent the Runway, so there are times where I have to seek education elsewhere. Building an ecommerce site is wonderful education. I’ve learned how other people have solved similar problems with different techniques. It’s definitely been a lot of fun.

Aside from that, the marketplace features of Reaction will remain my focus this year. I have enough on my plate between Brewline and my full-time role at Rent the Runway. Any other new technologies will be a product of necessity.

Who, within the community, would you like to see us interview next?

Daniel Honig and Loan Laux are the two community members who have helped me the most, so I'd like to hear from them!

Anything else?

Just to sing your praises. Open source allows me to tinker and have an incredible site up and running without a ton of work. Nothing but love for you guys.

How to contribute to Reaction

New contributors, regardless of who they are or what their experience level may be, are always welcome to our community (see also: our Diversity Statement).

Ready to join our repo? First, read our Code of Conduct. Then check out our beginner-friendly contribution guide on how to get started. If you find something you want to work on, let us know. If you're interested in a particular project and you aren’t sure where to begin, feel free to ask. Start small!

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