The Artisan Files: Chris Fidao
The Artisan Files / updated: January 22, 2015

The Artisan Files: Chris Fidao

In this weeks Artisan Files lets meet Chris Fidao. Chris is a coder, speaker, and writer. As you can see in the picture he also has an uncanny ability to make others either gaze in excitement or go to sleep.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? How’d you get into web dev?

Yea! I’ve always been doing some sort of web development since I was young. My father (a graphic designer) starting doing web development when everything turned from paper to the internet, so there were always some HTML books lying around the house. I think I made my first web page when I was in 6th grade or so. I never got beyond HTML though, I’m surely not the Hacker News stereotype of programming since I was in the womb.

I didn’t really do anything passed that (other than playing video games) until I had some college courses which caused me to dig up some old HTML knowledge and add a bit to it.

I learned some programming in college courses but didn’t really learn anything until I graduated. However, before I graduated – right before senior year, I had a terrible internship in a corporate behemoth. That was really informative – in that it let me know that I didn’t want to work in that kind of environment.

When I graduated I moved back home. Since I didn’t have any idea other than what I didn’t want to do, I gravitated towards something I always liked doing – web pages!

Using the really incredibly basic programming skills I picked up in college, I “worked full time” absorbing videos. I never use it anymore, but ActionScript 3 is still my most favorite language – event-driven, “real OOP”, lots of cool math to use. Anyway, I sat in front of my computer and got yelled at by mom (“Get some exercise!”) for months before finding my first job at a (then small) marketing agency doing a bunch of LAMP development (My face is still on their careers page!).

That’s about it – I kept up with the self-learning and also learned a ton on the job, as you will when working under deadlines!

You run a very popular newsletter, servers for hackers. What made you decide to start this?

I was a stereotypical PHP developer for a long time – I knew PHP and Javascript, and that’s about it. I used WAMP/MAMP exclusively and was scared of the console (“Who uses a console??”). But over the years, I’ve run into so many times where a lack of server knowledge (and really, general programming knowledge) caused real problems.

This was especially poignant one late night/early morning when deploying a large application to a scaled infrastructure (load balanced web servers and clustered MySQL). I wasn’t aware of all the gotchas of a distributed environment at the time, and as you might imagine, that completely ruined by already hectic night! It was probably 11pm when that happened on a test-run in production. We finished around 5am. This experience was the true genesis of my So You Got Yourself a Load Balancer article, which I wrote a year or two later.

It was sometime after that experience that I started digging into other languages and eventually made a conscious effort to learn “the server stuff”.

Having this type of experience led to me realize that there is a gap in resources for for all the people in similar position as my past self – those just getting started into the server world, and especially PHP developers who can go through an entire career without ever having to learn the server stuff. That’s an example of PHP’s power, but ends up being detrimental on those nights when there’s no tech support to help you through your issues!

I started by writing a lot about servers and code on but eventually I decided to start to help spread knowledge about servers specifically.

Now anytime I’m doing something new (in unfamiliar languages or in servers), I have a markdown file open and I record every server command or “gotcha” I run into. That way I have articles and reference ready for my future self. I also use Evernote extensively to save any useful resources on specific topics. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful that habit has been to me!

How do you see web development changing over the next 5 or 10 years?

“More mobile” is a cliche, but developing for mobile (apps or web) is definitely a growing trend. Cheap (Android?) smart phones are going to explode in emerging markets, if they haven’t already. If that’s a persons primary means of interfacing with the internet, that means there will be a lot of people attempting to make money in the mobile sphere.

Servers are becoming more and more of a commodity. We’re seeing more and more services built around them (Forge!). This makes larger and more complex infrastructures more obtainable, but also means our “sphere of required knowledge” (so to speak) will need to grow!

I’m also hoping CSS gets more and more powerful – it’s very nice to have CSS take the place of otherwise expensive Javascript. Since even the most outdated browsers are starting to modernize, this is one area I’m finally hopeful for.

What’s interesting to see is how so many “native” application SDKs (Mac OS with xCode/Objective C, Android and Java) can be replaced with web-languages and then processed into “native” applications – for instance, Phonegap, Titanium and Appcelerator. I’m not sure this means web applications will be taking over native, compiled applications, but it’s interesting that these markets have come up for those with “web-language” experience (Javascript!). So many people know how to code now! Especially in the high-level languages (Javascript, Python, Ruby, PHP).

You go to bed early right? What is your typical daily routine?

Yeah, I seem to. I go to bed somewhere around 11pm. I make an effort not to stay on the computer too late – My brain just gets fried after so many hours. I really believe in the idea that we only get around 4 hours per day of actual productivity. I try to beat that my changing what I’m doing during the day (Customer support versus coding versus writing and side projects), but who knows if that’s a reality or not!

I usually finish work, get food and hang out, and then somewhere later I’ll squeeze in an hour or 2 for catching up on things, testing out ideas, or writing for and other ideas I have. I usually read before going to bed – sometimes fiction and sometimes technical books.

Can you tell us about your local environment. What apps do you use everyday?

I’m a Mac user, but I used to use Windows. Once I got a better idea of how Linux works (and realized where our applications went when in production), I started uses Macintosh. Their system is the closest I can get to a Linux server and still have all the tools I need like Adobe and Microsoft Office products. I still use virtual machine almost exclusively for development though. I’m super anal about installing unneeded development software (especially any long-running processes like a database or web server).

This means that the actual benefit of a Macintosh over a Windows server (for me) is the ability to have common *nix command line tools available natively. I could technically do it all inside of a virtual machine, but I do actually like Mac’s OS better overall.

For development, I used to use Sublime Text, and I had a good round of Vim + Tmux. I still keep up on Vim and terminal-based tools for when I’m inside of servers. I’m primarily in PHPStorm now, however.

I also make heavy use of Chrome, 1Password, Evernote, HipChat, Skype, Terminal (plus tabs and often some tmux sessions), Vagrant (always vagrant!) and occasionally Textual for maximum IRC distractedness.

And of course there’s Adobe products and Microsoft Office stuff – they’re always necessary.

There’s so much going on in “the internet” that I’m fairly convinced that I’ve gotten onset adult ADD or something. I listen to Spotify a lot when I’m trying to zone into something. Having a nice heavy set of headphones and a decent playlist helps me concentrate now, where as, I didn’t used to need that. (Isn’t that supposed to go the opposite way?)

Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad

My desktop rotates between messy and minimal. Right now I have a folder called “desktop” on my desktop which has a fair amount of crap on it :D. Also, you might notice that I have set my Mac set to show hidden files. No more hiding .htaccess files on me, Mac!

Do you have any hobbies outside of the computer?

I also breathe and sleep a lot, if that counts? [Who has hobbies outside of computers?] I’m probably really unbalanced…

But I play mediocre soccer and guitar as well! To those ends, I have both the soccer ball I found in my parents garage and a Fender Strat (American), which I didn’t find in my parents garage. It’s funny though, I took lessons for guitar and learned it like I learn a lot of programming stuff – heavy on the theory and light on the practical. I know all sorts of scales and modes but only a few songs.

I also help (along with a bunch of great people) some local meet ups – if you’re a developer in CT, check out!

I should mention writing here as well. While I write almost exclusively on computer-related topics (blogging, newsletters, notes to myself), it comes from enjoying writing and (apparently) making content people find useful.

If you was stranded on a desert island what three things would you bring with you?

Can you plan ahead for being stranded on a desert island? Like, can I being a helicopter with me and just fly home?

Either way, here’s the definitive list of things to bring along when stranded on a desert island:

  • Tom Hanks
  • Book on philosophy that take tons of readings to comprehend (I got the time finally, right? Might as well try to be like Captain Picard).
  • Everything Dwight says

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