Episode 181 – Map Your Own Career Path and Avoid Promoting Yourself into Misery with Jake Archibald

 In Podcasts

Phil’s guest on today’s show is Jake Archibald. He is a Developer Advocate at Google. Currently, he is working with the Chrome team developing and promoting innovative tools like squoosh.app. He is there to promote web standards and developer tools to all who will listen.

Before beginning his career at Google he worked for the BBC developing their web services and JavaScript library and standards. Later he moved to Lanyrd.

Today, he is a well-known conference speaker. Jake has delivered talks at JSConf.Asia, LDNWebPerf and SmashingConf London, to name a few.


(00.49) –Could you give us an understanding of what your current role with Google as a developer advocate is like? Jake starts out by explaining that it is a really varied role that changes from day to day.

Last year, he was working on Squoosh.app, an image compression tool for the web. It uses codecs from C and Rust to compress images in the browser.

Other times he works on web standards. He is also involved in fixing Chrome bugs.

He sees is role as promoting the web rather than just Google services. When other browsers get things right they praise and promote them too. His aim is to help everyone to get more out of the web and working for Google has not constrained him at all he has been given the freedom to speak freely, which helps things to move forward faster.

(3.50) Phil asks him to tell the audience about his work with the BBC, which was also all about web standards. Initially, Jake made web pages for TV shows. He then moved on to work on the BBC’s JavaScript library, which they use on pretty much every one of their pages.

One of the biggest challenges he faced then, was keeping everything backward compatible. BBC policy meant that everything they produced had to be accessible using free tools, even older versions. Because, at the time, the newest version of Safari was a paid for tool, everything they built had to be compatible with the older version because it was still free.

(5.41) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? The thing that made Jake successful was being in the right place at the right time. He feels there is an element of luck involved in everything.

When he started out he knew very little about the web. But, within 2 years he had learned most of CSS, HTML, and JavaScript. So, when the web exploded he was able to exploit that knowledge to the full. This was despite the fact that there were, and still are, gaps in his knowledge.

Not knowing everything will not stop you from progressing in your IT career. So, don’t get hung up about it. Just maximize what you do with your current skills and keep on learning to succeed.

(8.00) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? That happened early in his career. He was working for a large corporation looking after their site and intranet. One day the HR department asked him to take some of the job postings and install them on their intranet. It sounded easy but was far from it. The way their site worked with cookies made it very tricky to scrape the information, so it could be added to the intranet.

At the time, he knew nothing about Perl. But, it was really the only solution. So, he had no choice but to work out how to do it. After a bit, he managed it and the team he was working with were really pleased. But, he realized they had zero understanding of what it had taken to achieve that result.

At that point, he realized he had not found his dream job. In fact, it was going to be quite limiting, so he had no choice but to move on. That felt pretty bad. He was pretty disappointed.

The other worst moment was when he broke the BBC’s iPlayer, their streaming service. He had not uploaded something properly. An error which, after two weeks, broke the corporation’s streaming service when a rarely used server was pulled into use. Only then did the error become apparent. He was blamed, despite the fact that it was a weakness in the deployment system that ultimately caused the issue.

(13.58) – What was your best career moment? For Jake, being able to contribute to the HTML spec was a huge moment. The web will outlive him, so it feels good to be leaving a legacy, something which others will continue to benefit from.

(15.45) – What excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? For Jake, the fact that the web and JavaScript are still growing is exciting. In 10 years it is going to look very different than it does now. We are going to be able to do so much more with it.

(17.55) – What drew you to a career in IT? When Jake was given his first computer at about the age of 7, he was hooked. He loved programming stuff that resulted in immediate visual feedback. So, he fell in love with the web the moment he was introduced to it.

(19.00) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? One of Jake’s first jobs was working for a UK retail chain called GAME. Weirdly, his then boss told him to “get out of retail as soon as possible.” He pointed out that the pay was awful and the job was rarely enjoyable.

At the time, the job fitted in well with his studies, so he stayed. But, he took the advice to heart and was careful to make sure he did not follow a career path that led to him working in retail.

(20.55) – Conversely, what is the worst career advice you’ve ever received? Interestingly, that came from a deputy manager at GAME. He wanted him to go into retail management. Fortunately, his direct boss had already pointed out to him the pitfalls of that career path. So, Jake did not make the mistake of staying in retail.

(21.19) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Jake would make sure that he got a grounding in the basics. His career path meant he skipped a lot of the simpler stuff. Now, he is struggling a bit because of this. He wishes he had done more of a computer science based course. Instead of the multimedia orientated one he actually completed.

(22.38) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Jake’s primary objective is not to get promoted into misery. It is something that he has seen happen to others. It is all too easy to get taken further away from what you enjoy doing every time you get promoted. Plus, of course, every time you move up the ladder you end up with more responsibility. He would rather take a sideways move than end up doing something he does not enjoy.

Right now, his focus is web performance. He thinks that a lot of the bundling tools have got things wrong. So, that is very much a focus.

(24.07) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Becoming a confident speaker has made a huge difference to Jake’s career. One conference talk led to another until he started to become well know. When that happened, finding work became really easy.

The thing he enjoys most about conferences is speaking to people after he has given his talk. Jake finds that he learns so much from those conversations.

(27.00) – What do you do to keep your own IT career energized? Jake says that he embraces procrastination. The most important work he has done has happened when he has meandered away a bit from what he should have been doing. Giving yourself a little time to explore is a great way to get the creative process going and come up with something really different. It is a great way to break the cycle of boredom and re-energize yourself so you can get some of the more tedious stuff done.

(29.13) – What do you do in your spare time away from technology? Jake walks a lot, especially in the countryside. He finds it to be a good way to get away from things, take a bit of exercise, re-set and re-energize.

(31.00) – Phil asks Jake to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. While at school his art teacher said to him “you get better with every painting that you paint.”

Now, he realizes that is true of coding too. You need to practice to get good at it. If you are not developing the skills you want on the job. Take on small projects outside of the workplace to help you to do so.


(2.35) JAKE – “I’m paid by Google to promote all things web.”

(5.50) JAKE – “Learn to be in the right place at the right time.”

(14.11) JAKE – “Contributing to the HTML spec was a huge moment for me.”

(16.36) JAKE – “In 10 years, we’re going to look at the web now and think that looks so ancient.”

(22.40) JAKE – “Don’t get promoted into misery.”

(27.00) JAKE – “Embrace procrastination, as much as time allows.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/jaffathecake

GitHub: https://github.com/jakearchibald/

Website: https://jakearchibald.com/

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