Blog Post

Pixel art of Ben Walter being interviewed

Interview with Ben Walter

Job Title: 

Solutions & Web Developer

Place of Work:  

UVA Alumni Association

Industry your place of work utilizes or any specialization you’ve done:

I work at a higher ed non-profit focused on alumni engagement.

What got you into Web Design/Development?

A friend and I built a website for a History Day project on the Cuban Missile Crisis in ninth grade, and another in tenth grade about Stanley B. Prusiner.  We enjoyed hanging out and working together, and at that time (the late 90s) everything felt so new and exciting but also still really approachable because there weren’t a million frameworks to learn and browsers didn’t really support much.  The following summer we decided to see if we could earn some money building sites (turns out yes), and I’ve been doing it ever since!

What does a typical day or week look like for you? What sort of things do you do?

I’m currently in a transition period, moving away from smaller daily tasks like content publishing and email deployment and focusing more on bigger strategic projects. This includes web development and systems implementation. As a technology generalist, I slot in basically wherever we need to develop solutions to business needs.

What types of web technologies do you work with most often (languages, frameworks, CMSs, however you want to answer this)?

WordPress, PHP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Bootstrap, ExpressionEngine, ASP.NET WebForms and Razor Pages, C#, MySQL, MS SQL Server, Salesforce Marketing Cloud

What is your favorite thing about your job?

There are two things, really.  One is solving a problem or building something in an elegant way.  Elegance can come in different forms.  It could be a clever bit of code, or beautiful simplicity, or perhaps long-term sustainability/maintainability.  Whatever the case, it’s that feeling you get when you know you did something well.

The other thing I enjoy is helping people.  Being able to say “I got you” when someone has a need, and then delivering just feels great!

What do you wish you could change about your job?

At the moment, I’m happy to say not much! But I’ll always want work to be more fun and more fulfilling. Whether that comes from camaraderie or collaboration or mentorship, I’m just looking to keep work in the right perspective:  do good things and feel good while doing them.

Where do you see your section of the web development/design industry going?

Maybe this is wishful thinking or the cranky old man in me, but I’d love to see a simplification and return to fundamentals of good web design/development.  Over the past 5-10 years, there’s just been an explosion of frameworks, tools, libraries, etc. that feels impossible to keep up with.  As a generalist, I simply can’t, and I imagine it’s a challenge for anyone just starting out in the industry.  But for all the fancy new tools available to developers, I still see so many bad websites.  OK great you’ve got a little design flair on a UI element, but if I can’t actually use it, then what’s the point?  If I can’t find the info I’m looking for, or do the thing I’m trying to do, the site has failed its purpose.

Likewise, if another developer (or your future self!) comes in and can’t figure out what you’ve built, you’ve really hamstrung the organization.

Fortunately, I think the increasing emphasis on digital accessibility might help.  When you think about building something to be accessible, you spend more time thinking about how to build it “the right way.”

What technology and/or skill do you wish you learned before you entered the industry?

Hard to say since that was so long ago, and both the web and I were so young!  But a skill I’ve sometimes wished I was better at is the ability to promote and advocate for myself to business managers.  It’s one thing to be a really talented developer (not saying I am!), but practically speaking, your prospects will be limited if you can’t show others your value.

What are you looking to learn or what skill are you looking to build next?

I mostly learn things as new projects demand it, but an area I’m always looking to grow is accessibility.  Things like: what exactly is the best way to semantically markup an element? Very satisfying!

What questions should I have asked that I didn’t? (Please also answer it :-D)

Perhaps a useful question would be:  what technology or skill would you most recommend a new designer/developer learn when starting out?  To which I’d answer:  basic HTML and CSS.  You can do some really cool things with just those tools, and if you don’t have a solid foundation with them, your work with the more advanced technologies will be shaky.

Anything else you’d like to tell future designers and developers?

Never underestimate the importance of being confident in yourself.  Be humble and open to both learning and teaching, but belief in yourself will open many doors.

Last Question: If you had to be a zombie and you had to eat someone’s brains, whose would it be and why?

I have so many questions!  Do zombies get differential satisfaction from one person’s brains versus another’s?  Is there a leveling-up effect if you eat a particularly smart person’s brains?  Is it preferable to eat a “good” person’s brain or a “bad” person’s?  I don’t want to undead a good person, but wouldn’t undeading a bad person increase their badness?!  Or am I simply overthinking this and as a zombie would simply eat whatever brains are available?  I’m not a high maintenance zombie, right?  Maybe I’ll just eat John Rhea’s for making my brains hurt with this question…