In this week’s edition of My Job Could Be Your Life, we learn about what it takes to create high-end websites, mobile apps, and interactive multimedia installations.
Name: Sunil John
Job: Web developer at Jam3
In 30 seconds or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
Jam3 is a design and production agency that makes high-end websites, mobile apps, and interactive multimedia installations. I would characterize myself as a front-end developer. I take static compositions and wireframes from a designer and turn them into functional pieces of software. Sometimes, my art director will give me a rough idea for a visual effect or animation, and I’ll bring it to life through programming and various stages of prototyping. I personally use Flash for the majority of my work, but we use a variety of technologies in the studio, depending on project. We work with ad agencies, and we also work with clients directly, so there’s a diverse range of projects that come into the shop. Some days I’ll be working on a campaign for a product, and other days the work will involve telling a story through a complex digital narrative. The last two big projects I had the opportunity to work on were the Jam3 website and Bear 71, which was an interactive project for the National Film Board.
How did you initially become interested in working in tech?
My first exposure to interactive multimedia was in 1992, in the early days of the internet and before my chosen career even existed. My elementary school had a Mac lab with this software called HyperCard. I used to make really bad choose-your-own-adventure-style games. I think I still have them saved on some floppy disks back home. When I finished high school, I wound up going to university to study biology without any pressure from my parents, who are both Indian and physicians. I ended up specializing in pharmacology and toxicology, and after I finished I worked in a bio-therapeutics lab for three years studying spinal cord injury. It was a rewarding job, but I found it was very repetitive. In 2003 I was the only one in the lab who had my own website, even though it was just a fan site for Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog from Conan O’Brien. It was a fun project for me—I had taught myself Flash and built the site— but I realized that maybe this was something I could actually do, so I quit my job, took a year off, and tried to build a portfolio doing pro-bono freelancing work. Having little experience, it was difficult to get paid jobs freelancing, but I soon had enough work to apply to Sheridan College for their Interactive Multimedia program.
How did the program prepare you for a career in web development?
It’s an eight-month post-graduate program that generally accepts project managers, designers, and developers. They expect some level of experience, so it was kind of challenging for me since I didn’t come from any of those professional backgrounds. The program covers a broad range of different technologies, so you kind of have to pick and choose what to focus on. I focused on Flash, and when the program finished in April I volunteered at the FITC Toronto design and technology festival. I accidently sat in on a session where my future boss was giving a presentation on the first digital Happy Meal for McDonalds Europe, and I thought it was a really interesting way to use Flash outside of an internet browser. So I looked up the company, which was Fuel Industries in Ottawa. My wife was studying at the University of Ottawa, so I moved there and worked at Fuel for a year and a half. One of the projects I worked on was an interactive billboard in Times Square where you could play Frogger on the screen using your cell phone. Then my wife finished school and moved back to Toronto, so I moved back after I had a job offer from Jam3. The partners at Jam3 are all alumni of the Sheridan IMM program.
What skills are increasingly important for developers to have?
How has the economic slump affected the tech industry?
The tech industry is not immune from today’s rocky economy. Companies need to be more creative to stay competitive. Sometimes that means producing great interactive work across multiple platforms, for less money and in shorter timelines. Three years ago an online campaign for a client might just have been a simple Flash micro site with a skip intro. Today the clients want their content to run on their favourite mobile device that doesn’t support Flash. That means that the same campaign produced today might be a hybrid site that uses Flash and HTML, [and] showcases the best of both technologies. The Flash app that you see on the website could be exported to iOS and Android devices and run as native apps.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of what you do?
Being on deadline can be stressful. Personally, I’ve taken something that was a hobby for me and made it my profession, so it can be hard to separate your personal life from your work. My favourite part is going into work everyday and never knowing what to expect—I’m always flying by the seat of my pants. One of Jam3’s newer initiatives is Hack Day. This is a 48-hour period in which we stop all client work, split into teams, and develop prototypes based our own creative and technologies that get drawn randomly out of a hat. My team’s project involved an Xbox Kinect, a projector, an Arduino microcontroller, ESPN API, cats, keyboards, cats on keyboards, and a bunch of broken drill bits and saws. Our project was pioneering in its approach to using the XBOX Kinect, but sadly our team placed third in the competition. Hack Day feels like being back in school, and the knowledge gained during these periods can be directly applied to future client projects. I like to prototype—to see if something is feasible, and then build upon that. That’s the most exciting part of my job.
Think your job could be somebody’s life? Email Wyndham Bettencourt-McCarthy.