All things tech in a JavaScript world – Q&A with Josh Ghent

We sat down with Josh Ghent a Lead Software Engineer at York Press. Discussing everything from How he got into Development to the tech community.

1. Josh, we have worked together for years now, whether it be placing you, discussing your growth plans or simply attending/arranging meet ups to give back to the JS community, but can you give everyone a brief introduction to yourself?

Yes it’s been a long time! I’m Josh Ghent, currently Lead Software Engineer at York Press – a e-learning platform targeting the Middle East and Europe. As lead engineer, I’m responsible for the team’s day-to-day, infrastructure and DevOps work as well as some meaty programming work. I thrive on improving system architecture to save money and deliver more robust systems. I’m also co-organiser of LeicesterJS, the largest tech meetup in Leicester, and founder of a product called TurboAPI, an installation-free tool to help you improve your API and Application performance. 

2. You have a wealth of experience in the industry. How did you first break into software development, because it wasn’t down the traditional university route?

You’re correct, I never went to university. I did spend hours debating and weighing the options however and ultimately came to the conclusion that it wasn’t right for me – as I wanted to dive straight into the practicalities of being a developer. Instead I chose to spend my nights, after days at college doing space engineering, learning to code. I’d done bits of code when I was younger, creating mods in Java for Minecraft and creating CSS for my MySpace page but nothing extensive. I decided to dive into online courses to learn frontend technologies – HTML, CSS and Javascript. Out of all the courses I tried, one stuck – FreeCodeCamp. I truly swear by it getting me a job and recommend it to every aspiring developer. However, my first job interview involved SQL. I’d never written a line of SQL in my life so I spent the previous evening studying sqlzoo and anything else I could find online – I guess it worked because I got the job! And the rest, as they say, is history.

3. So you are managing a JS team now completely remotely, across continents! A lot of companies have had to make this switch due to COVID, some have thrived others have struggled. What would be your best piece of advice for managing a development team remotely?

In my view, remote work has amplified bad traits at a company, they were just masked by being in person. The two best pieces of advice I would give would apply to ‘in office’ working as well – namely communication and trust. To expand on that a little, communication needs to be asynchronous meaning that instant replies are not expected and it needs to be clear around the objectives and expectations you have. Additionally, you need to trust your co-workers, direct reports or anyone else you work with – not just to do the work but that they are giving of their best and everyone is treated fairly, respectfully and credibly. A study by “Great Place to Work” found that the defining characteristic of a Fortune 100 best company to work for was a culture of high trust so it’s critical, especially now.

4. And when it comes to growing a team, interviewing etc remotely. Surely that makes things tricky bearing in mind you may never meet the people you’re working with, face to face. How have you found that, and again any advice you could offer to people who are maybe doing this for the first time?

I’ve had mixed results with remote communication. Meetings run in a similar fashion to in person but meet-ups and other social events can be a challenge. With all remote communication, just act as you would in person. Try to keep your camera on and use lots of emoji’s in written text (many may view them as unprofessional but they’re an easy way to communicate feeling when someone doesn’t know you personally). When running social events, I would advise people to try to use the remote setting to do things you wouldn’t have done before – whether that be speakers from international locations, online games, collaborative white boarding or pair programming. Think of remote as a helper not a hinderance. Reframe the conversation from “how can we do this in-person thing online?” to “blank slate, what does a remote event look like?”. 

5. From a candidates point of view, is there anything extra or different you would look for to make you more certain about hiring someone without having to meet them?

A good sense of humour helps! Someone who has a history of being self-motivated, which is a huge barrier for remote workers; And someone with great written communication – ideally with a demonstrated writing ability via a blog or similar. Having a home office helps, but I personally know some fantastic engineers who work from their kitchen table surrounded by a fanfare of distractions and produce fantastic results – they’re the heroes for working during this time.

6. You have a large presence within the wider tech community, how do you juggle organising meet ups & all your side projects alongside working full time?

I’m flattered at you saying I have a “large” presence, the reality is I’m just a person doing something I enjoy. And the way I juggle it is… drumroll… I get help! Simple as that! Whether that be my wife (Gabriella) tackling dinner an evening I have to work late or the fantastic team of organisers we now have for LeicesterJS. I prefer not to “juggle” things and instead organise my time via the time blocking method that was popularised by Cal Newport. I am also a religious note taker – if something pops up that I need to do, it gets written down. It cuts down on cognitive load of holding all those tasks in your head, as I personally have an appalling memory!

7. On that subject, your side project Turbo.API. What is it? Who’s it for? Tell us a bit about it

Great Segway :D! TurboAPI is a tool created out of frustration with the current crop of APM’s. You spend hours configuring them and even have to change code to get the data you need. TurboAPI lets you do performance and load testing of your application without installing a thing. This enables you to not have to worry that your application will ever slow down as you scale your customer base. Although the name implies it can only test API’s, TurboAPI also supports testing the performance of systems end-to-end so you never need to build a health check for your microservice based system again!

8. Finally the past year has been a tough year for everyone, what are the positives you’ve taken out of it?

I feel incredibly privileged this year, more than ever, for the basics in life. A family, a home, a job. It sounds cheesy but it’s easy to take those things for granted. Additionally, I’ve enjoyed being able to work remotely so I can spend more time with my family, learn to cook and focus on my health a bit more.

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