Jonny McLaughlin — I’ll Make A GIPHY (Engineer) Outta You

By Cowerks

GIPHY. You may have heard it considered as the Google of GIFs, the startup backed by $80 million in venture funding, or the company that allows everyone to express themselves through the most animated and awesome way possible – the GIF.

But how does this Grand GIF Generator stay consistently creative? Well, they hire the best employees that ask all the right questions.

Jonny Mclaughlin, Director of Engineering at GIPHY, asks himself ‘Ok, how can I make this ridiculous?’ after meeting all the requirements for a project.

“Whether it be animation, weird or funny copy, whatever can be done in the time left. I always try to deliver a project with a little bit of personality in it,” Jonny said.

The office culture at GIPHY cultivates a highly imaginative atmosphere.

“Creativity and animation play a huge part in the company’s brand and aesthetic, so it has been a perfect fit for me,” Jonny said.

 

The Sharpest Tools In The Shed

Harnessing all of the creativity at a company can be difficult and directing it the same direction is even harder. So, all of GIPHY’s engineers are brought together by a common dev toolkit. These tools act as the glue for their group endeavor to make a better, more animated world.

“At GIPHY, we’re using React and PostCSS which get compiled with Webpack,” Jonny said. “All of our JS is written in ES6 and we’ve implemented Redux for data and state management. The back-end is built on Django.”

React is a front end javascript framework built and open sourced by Facebook – it’s hip and cutting edge. Redux is a design pattern for building react apps, so people have a structured way of doing things as opposed to just writing a bunch of unmaintainable code. Gnarly stuff.

Jonny has adapted to an ever-changing landscape for Front-end developers, Javascript, in particular, has made some huge advancements. “There has been a big shift of focus towards the engineering side of things, rather than the end product,” Jonny said.

Intimidating that tools of the trade change all the time – yes.

According to Jonny, though, it’s “totally not a bad thing!”

via GIPHY

Nevertheless, a creative atmosphere and the proper toolkit still doesn’t magically create the best company concoction. The agile process is key to any successful dev team and therefore any company who uses a dev team. “The agile process as a whole has really helped us stay on track at GIPHY,” Jonny said. “We do two-week sprints so I always know, when I come to work on the last day of sprint, today is my day to make this thing fun before delivering the feature. Those days are always the best days.”

Setting up a system of work hard and play hard is a good system.

Drawing Side Inspiration

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Call it Sidespiration. Call it whatever you like. Being creative generates more creativity. That’s why side projects are so important – bringing that side project creativity back to your day job can help you look at a problem differently or rethink your workflow.

“I think it’s very important to work on fun side projects. That is your chance to do things the way you want, and it’s a great time to experiment with new technologies.”

So, Jonny has been playing around with Gatsby (a static site generator for React). “It’s really awesome,” Jonny admitted. He also uses SASS and Kirby CMS for generating content.

“Learning by doing has helped me a lot in my career,” Jonny said. “And with sites like CodePen it’s really easy to build and share experimental projects.”

Jonny said a fun one to work on was his Mario Kart 7 project, built shortly after the emergence of the iPad and around the same time CSS animation was becoming more widely supported.

via GIPHY

“Previously, the agency I worked for made mostly promotional microsites for Nintendo in Flash and they were all highly interactive and animated. This was the first one built without the use of Flash. It has some cool animations, fallback HTML5 video for iPads (which was also a new thing), and even worked in the Nintendo Wii browser. It was a big success and helped show the client that we could build non-Flash sites without sacrificing interactivity and pizzazz.”

Having side projects prove a point is a fulfilling practice. Check out Jonny’s Tumblr Music as another golden example (he built it during a 24 hour hack day).

What Do Engineers Do On Their Free Time?

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Besides work on cool side projects, they create really memorable adventures just like everyone else. Jonny is into skateboarding and camping. So, we asked him what his most memorable story involving those activities…

“I was on a skate trip in eastern Washington and some friends had gone on a camping trip out there as well. We were on our way back to Seattle when we realized our friends were camping out there, so we decided to meet up with them. I had work the next morning, so I slept in the back of a friend’s car and woke up around 4am. My friend let me borrow their car, and I drove all the way back to Seattle.”

Jonny went on to describe the morning commute of a lifetime.

“I drove through the mountains. I saw deer in a field. It snowed for a bit. I saw waterfalls… It was the most amazing morning commute I’ve ever experienced. I made it back to Seattle about four hours later, and made it to work right on time.”

A lot better than every other Monday commute, ever…

via GIPHY

Advice For Aspiring Engineers

So, you want to be an engineer, huh? Have you spent hours thinking about the possibilities and what you should be doing?

Jonny’s advice: “Go to events, follow design or web blogs, look at web showcase sites…do anything you can to constantly surround yourself with inspiration. Don’t be afraid to have a personality that shows in your work. Front-end development is an art and Front-end developers are artists.”

(Readers who are also Asbury Agile attendees are off to great start.)

Not every artist struggles with finding inspiration – but they struggle with getting it out of their own head. Embrace your inner artist and let the keyboard take it away.

“So don’t ever feel like you have to build everything to look or feel a certain way. There are always ways to express yourself as an individual in your work. You don’t have to just move pixels around!”

via GIPHY

Asbury Agile is coming up fast! It will be hosted at The Asbury Hotel on October 7th. And Jonny wants to see what it means to be a part of the NJ tech scene.

“I’m still pretty new to the East Coast, but I’ve definitely been blown away by the tech scene here. I’m looking forward to meeting developers in the area and learning more about what the industry in NJ has to offer. Show me the cool things you’re building!”


Check out what Jonny is up to on Instagram and Twitter.

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