Michael Novotny avatar

Michael Novotny

About

Why?

The ZEIT websites says "when in doubt, please apply". So... That's totally me right now. The best way I can describe it is this... ZEIT is like the super cute and popular boy / girl in high school that you're dying to ask out, but you're just too chicken to, when in reality.

Past

I guess you can say I was born into development. My dad has been in IT and programming for 49 years (finally retiring in December 2018). As far as I can remember, we always had a computer in our home. Well before it was a common household item. This meant my brother (also a developer) and I got to fiddle with them from a very young age. I loved everything about them from the loud, clicky keyboards to being able to create something out of nothing.

I considered going to college a formality. I already knew I what I wanted to do, I just needed the piece of paper to prove it. There really wasn’t any other way into the tech industry back then, not like there is today. I zeroed in on a respectable community college in the area and dug in. I was in and out and done in 21 straight months, working full time at the age of 19.

My first gig was in the insurance, investments, and retirement industry at Principal. I modified and maintained projects that updated customer accounts after the markets closed. Most of what I worked on was written before I was born, using COBOL, JCL, and CICS. After a few years of mainframe life, I transitioned into an internal team that supported other development teams. My primary project was an app that managed all of the companies digital assets. After 5 years, I decided to make a dramatic change.

I spent the next 2 years as a full time worship leader at Lutheran Church of Hope. Music has always been a second love of mine, and at that point in my life, there was no better time to take that risk... No kids, no significant other, no notable responsibilities, and a $20k pay cut. I learned a lot about working with volunteers and I loved jamming every day. However, as time progressed, I grew tired of working nights, weekends, and holidays. I also met my wife and the future we dreamt of together was better supported by being a developer again.

While I was transitioning out of a worship, I started getting requests to make websites for friends. The web was an entirely different world than mainframe development. I started with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but found it incredibly cumbersome to create even the simplest of designs. Anyone remember "9 slicing" for rounded corners?! Maddening... These quirks of web development at this time led me to Flash, where, if I wanted rounded corners, I drew them. Done! I was convinced... I spent $100 on a Building a Website in Flash 8 course, watched the entire thing with haste, and I was off. Soon, Flash evolved into ActionScript 3 and Flex and I rode the RIA wave for the next 6 years.

It started with a small startup called Influent Soltions where we made an app for professional photographers to create wedding albums, which also had a sister partner company that did the printing. My time at Influent ended abruptly when the primary financial invester committed suicide and his entire estate was liquidated because it was all a sham. Fortunately, while working at Influent, I developed a good relationship with a contracting company called Cynery Systems where I did a variety of projects for other companies before that ended abruptly too, due to the sagging economy. I struggled for several months in 2009 as the economy slowly recovered until I started working at WebFilings (now called Workiva) on their flagship app for real-time financial reporting, compliance, data collaboration.

Towards the midpoint of my time at WebFilings, which was still very Flash / Flex heavy, Steve Jobs penned his infamous “Thoughts on Flash”. Many of my coworkers shrugged it off. They all felt Flash’s capabilities were unmatched and Steve’s ambitions for an open web were nice, but unrealistic. I had about the exact opposite reaction... I took it as writing on the wall. It was a career defining moment for me. Fortunately, the web developer experience had drastically improved, namely in the forms of HTML5 and CSS3. My hook into this new area of web was WordPress.

Again, I started doing small websites for friends to cut my teeth. Starting from scratch every time was tedious, so I sought out to find a simple, but extensible WordPress theme. That's when I came across Standard Theme by 8BIT. It was exactly the foundational starting point I was looking for. I became very deft, very quickly, thanks to the mastership of Tom McFarlin (we still text every day), to the point where 8BIT brought me on to lead their customer product support, answering customer questions and issues, and to lead their quality assurance, testing for new features and regressions before releases. Standard Theme became so popular in the WordPress community that we were approached by Automattic to be one of the first 10 paid for premium themes offered on WordPress.com, which was an amazing oppertunity to work alongside the creators of WordPress themselves. All this in-depth knowledge and experience led to me creating WP Test and announcing it at WordCamp Atlanta 2013. This also gave me the opportunity to become a technical editor and code reviewer for Envato's Tuts+. During this time, I also wound up taking on the sole development role of Iowa Girl Eats, a popular food and family blog with millions of monthly page views. It gave me the opportunity to take on some real world challenges that I would have otherwise never faced on my own websites, like dynamic scaling and caching.

With my HTML, CSS, and JavaScript skills sharpened, I was approached by my former manager at Principal to start a new team at John Deere that specialized in frontend development for the MyJohnDeere project, which helps farmers optimize their operations for maximum efficiency and yield. Our team's purpose and goals changed over the years, starting with doing all the frontend work, to onboarding new frontend devs, to doing all the componentization of all the reusable frontend modules, to creating tools to enable all frontend devs to easily create and maintain modules and full stack JavaScript apps. Throughout all these transitions I went from contributor to tech lead to product owner to architect where I eventually spent a majority of my time working as a liaison between UI / UX, the business, and our devs to accomplish our objectives. I learned many good lessons here, like test driven development, feature toggles / dark launches, i18n, UX principals, managing 175+ internal NPM modules, and overseeing, coordinating, and fostering the growth of all our JavaScript developers.

Present

I was one of a handful of people who were asked to join Hy-Vee to completely and radically transform their entire dev culture. Hy-Vee had done well to position themselves as prominent and premier retailer in the midwest, but knew they had to kick it up a notch as they turned their focus and perspective from local competitors to industry leaders entering the grocery and delivery space like Target, Walmart, and Amazon. We were the first wave of external hires the company had seen in decades, which means we've introduced a slew of new concepts and paradigms to the company, like agile, recruiting, cloud hosting, APIs, data and event driven architecture, distributed applications, microservices, and more. My day-to-day is spent working in Hy-Vee's innovation center, leading one of the web and teams (our team focuses on ecommerce, pickup, and delivery), transitioning our legacy applications to modern tech, recruiting and interviewing applicants, mentoring, moderating internal tech levelings, and leading the frontend strategy. Hy-vee is also the first place I've worked that cares at all about a11y, so that has been

Future

The past couple of years, I've began to pay close attention to the things that excite me the most about development. And so far, these are the clear standouts for me.

  1. Making development easier and quicker for other developers.
  2. Mentoring, coaching, and teaching others to grow their skill sets and to help them unlock their full potential.

What I'd like to Fix or Add

Of the things you have listed on your website as openings, I feel I could help with the following based on my experience.

  • Accessibility
  • Communications and Community Development
  • DevOps and Automation
  • Frontend Engineering

There are a few areas that come to mind when I look across everything ZEIT where I think I could provide value if there is a need.

  1. I've been fiddling with Next.js since version 2. The way it abstracts away the "JavaScript fatigue", yet allows for nearly infinite extension is a thing of beauty. Arunoda and Tim have been killing it, but I'd love to help out in any way I can, if they need it.
  2. Now is just unbelievable. It and Next.js are probably the biggest dev productivity boosts in the past year in the JavaScript space. It the perfect culmination of all the things you guys create. I am wowed and amazed at each and every release. I have no idea where you're taking it next, but I would love to help in any way I can.
  3. I am infatuated with Electron and when I saw Leo post about electron-next and electron-next-skeleton back in July 2017, I was blown away... I've only recently discovered that this has evolved into Neutron. I don't know if ZEIT is intentionally secretive about their Electron efforts, but my interest is piqued! I am not sure if Leo needs help our not, but I'd love to contribute.
  4. It looks like the Next.js documentation is still split between the README on the repo and nextjs.org. I'd love to get this sorted out.
  5. ZEIT has so many nifty developer productivity boosts, like pkg, release, serve, etc. As I said above, I am drawn to things that make developers lives easier. I'd love to help build and maintain projects like these and probably several more that y'all find a need for doing your day to day work.
  6. Evil Rabbit is freakin' genius! It would be an honor and a pleasure to codify any design he creates. And can we please release a component library of his design library / guide?!
  7. With the recent switch from Slack to Spectrum, I'd love to help out users / customers with questions or issues.
  8. ZEIT has a DNS location in Iowa, of all places! I could just drive over and check in on it if there's issues. 😉

Questions, Comments, or More?

Ask away on Twitter or on my GitHub AMA!