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Big Nerd Ranch Q&A with Chris Aquino

Jade Hill

Chris Aquino is the Director of Web Development at Big Nerd Ranch. In addition to fearlessly leading our front-end web team on client and internal projects, he teaches our Front-End Essentials bootcamp and authored Front-End Web Development: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide. Chris spends his free time consuming large amounts of sushi and watching The Big Lebowski.

We recently interviewed Chris about his work at Big Nerd Ranch, how he stays relevant in his field, and the release of our newest book.

You can follow Chris on Twitter: @radishmouse.

Chris Aquino

What made you want to begin a career in programing? What brought you to Big Nerd Ranch?

I’ve always loved gadgets, gizmos and computers. I went through phases in college when I would take up other interests, but I always found myself back in front of the computer, toying with a new Linux distro or learning something new about coding. I don’t have a degree in computer science, but I never even thought of working in a different industry.

Funny story: my wife and I were on our honeymoon a few years ago. We set aside 10 minutes each day when we would check our email or Facebook and be otherwise unplugged. I freaked out when I saw that I received an email from Aaron Hillegass. I had a couple of the Big Nerd Ranch books at home and was a huge fan. I turned to my wife and said, “I just got an email from the guy that wrote the Bible!” My wife responds, “Moses?” I met with Aaron when I was back in Atlanta, and I had a job offer that afternoon.

When looking back on your career, what do you feel is your most significant achievement?

My biggest achievement (besides co-authoring a Big Nerd Ranch guide) was transitioning from writing code full-time to my current role managing the web team. It was a big shift. I traded in the instant gratification of getting code to run for the long-term satisfaction of helping other engineers learn and grow. I still write plenty of code, but my team is always my first priority.

What are you really excited about on your current project(s)?

The web team at Big Nerd Ranch is doing some really interesting research right now, and I’m enjoying soaking up that knowledge. One of the things we’re looking at is combining peer-to-peer browser technologies (like WebRTC) with WebVR experiences. On the server-side, we’re building expertise in creating massively scalable, fault-tolerant systems with Elixir. I’d have to say that Elixir is currently tied with JavaScript as my favorite programming language. While JavaScript has tremendous reach, Elixir is really elegant.

Why did you decide to write Front-End Web Development: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide and what was the process like? How do you feel about the finished product?

I learned JavaScript at a time when there were few good books on the topic. Nowadays, there are almost too many. But despite that, there still wasn’t a book that showed a practical approach to solving problems using HTML, CSS and JavaScript. I wanted to write that book, and I wanted to make sure it was accessible without dumbing everything down.

The process was extremely demanding. Todd and I worked very closely with Liz Holaday, our supremely talented editor. I hadn’t realized how much time and effort (and coffee) it would take to lay out the code and the text so that the concepts “stacked” appropriately from chapter to chapter. Thankfully, Liz was there to guide us. Several of our co-workers also pitched in by working through the chapters and giving us feedback.

I’m very pleased with the final product! I hope that it helps folks out there trying to make sense of the landscape of front-end web development. On the other hand, I’m really looking forward to expanding it, because there are a few topics that didn’t make the cut. Luckily, we’ll get to cover those during our bootcamps.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Time travel! More specifically, the ability to manipulate spacetime. I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who, but I think I’d prefer Hiro Nakamura’s abilities. I tend to have too many projects going on at once, and I always wish I had more time to work on them. Also, you basically get the power to teleport, which means no more sitting in traffic or dealing with delayed flights.

You teach the Front-End Essentials bootcamp. What do you like most about teaching? What do you expect your students to leave with when they attend your course?

I really like the flow of our front-end course. It’s young compared to the other Big Nerd Ranch bootcamps, but it has gotten really smooth as we’ve refined it. That said, I absolutely love it when the students have questions that take us outside of that structure. Those moments give us a chance to explore a topic together—I stop being the teacher, and we all start learning something new together.

After my students return to their jobs, I expect them to approach front-end development fearlessly. They’re now grounded in the fundamentals, equipped with debugging skills and are totally ready to tackle front-end topics beyond what was covered in class.

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