A Book Apart

Get to know Jeremy Wagner

Nov 17, 2021

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Jeremy Wagner portrait image in front of trees.

Meet Jeremy Wagner 

Up next in our Meet the Author series, we’re getting to know Jeremy Wagner—author of Responsible JavaScript. He talks about the inspiration that comes from blasting underground metal music in his car, the dark calm and quiet of his basement office, and how he grapples with self-doubt.

ABA: What is your favorite thing about your workspace?

Jeremy Wagner: My workspace is sequestered in the basement in a somewhat typical dudelike fashion. I like a lot of things about it, but mostly that it’s dark. I have a small lamp in the window box that gives the room a soft glow, sort of like a lantern. Makes the cold Minnesota winter nights feel a bit more cozy.

ABA: What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?

JW: If I had to pin down one pattern in my routine, it’s that I try to kick off most days by making coffee in my french press. I’m predictably imperfect, though. Sometimes I resign myself to the coffee maker on those mornings where I’m really dragging my feet.

ABA: In your opinion, what should someone consider before starting out in web design / development?

JW: I’m no expert, but most jobs in this field are an exercise in extreme adaptation. I try to minimize how much churn I deal with by focusing on learning web platform APIs before their abstractions when possible. That kind of knowledge tends to endure, but it’s hard-won. Most hiring managers aren’t as interested in that type of working knowledge as they are in the framework(s) du jour. That’s fine for a time, but the liability of that kind of learning is that you’ll eventually burn out. Compared to the web platform, the stuff that abstracts it is constantly changing, and it can be exhausting to keep up with. 

ABA: In moments of self-doubt, how do you recharge and rally to keep going?

Self-doubt is an immutable part of who I am. I don’t know what to do to rally and keep going. I have lows, low lows, and occasional middles. I don’t rally. I’m tired. I try to persevere and do my best to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It’s no inspirational sentiment, but I’m not going to plow through this with a smile when the times we live in are so thoroughly fucked. We all need a paid year or two off to figure out who we are, because we’ve all been working too damn much.

ABA: What does the tech industry need more of? Less of?

JW: The tech industry needs more honest conversations about frameworks and their user-facing impacts on our work when it comes to accessibility and performance. I mean, we are talking about that kind of thing already—but we’re still not seeing the kinds of improvements in the user experience that really matter for those at the long tail of performance. We need to prioritize our own comfort as developers after what’s best for users.

Dovetailing into that last point, the tech industry needs less assumptions about users and the capabilities of their devices and network connections. We don’t need rationalizations about who our users are, and who we can decide to exclude. We need to avoid the frontloading of expectations that occurs when new frameworks and technologies are discussed. We need skepticism first—not hype—and to critically evaluate how we do the work.

ABA: What is your go-to source of inspiration when you’re trying to get out of a creative rut?

JW: I love underground metal and metal-adjacent music. Sometimes I like to go for a drive into the city and blast shit on my car stereo. My go-to record is Into the Lair of the Sun God by Dawnbringer. If I’m feeling low, it helps to crank up that record and remember that ordinary people are capable of great works of art.

ABA: Is there a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night? What is it?

JW: Enduring the industry.

ABA: What characteristic do you most admire in other driven/creative people?

JW: Focus. Everything I do is an exercise in forcing myself to focus so I can be productive. I have to grab every chance I can to get things done. It’s amazing I was able to get a book done on top of a full time job. I don’t know how I pulled that shit off. I see these brilliant people in this field building incredible tools with apparent ease and it’s intimidating. I know it’s never truly easy, but there are people out there who are so prolifically productive, and I deeply admire them. I have to grind through everything. Maybe they do too, but it all seems so effortless to me, some goofball peering in from the outside.

ABA: What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without to get you through a week?

JW: ​I honestly don’t know what I’d do without my office stereo. I have a great vintage Onkyo receiver with a 2.1 setup of nice speakers I bought in high school that refuses to die. During the work day, I like to put on a low key jazz album or a lo-fi hip hop stream. That helps me focus to the extent that I’m able. I need that. It also helps me cut loose later in the night when I want to blast some great metal records after my work is done or just want to re-watch some episode of Cheers for the hundredth time.

ABA: Is there a piece of professional or life advice you’ve gotten that has always stuck with you? What is it?

JW: Someone at a job long ago once told me to stop saying “this works for me” when they brought me bug reports on user interfaces I had built. This was over a decade ago when that was the kind of shit developers would often say—or so I observed for myself. It forced me to better understand the kinds of challenges potential users might face. Slow networks, slow devices, edge cases, or browsers I hadn’t considered. I try to keep that at the top of my mind as best as I can, because “meh, it works for me” is lazy. It excludes people. I want to do less of that.


Learn more about all our authors—check out the rest of our Meet the Author series!

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