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About a year ago, jcs started an interview series with various members of Lobsters; only three interviews were published. This is an attempt to revive the interviews, particularly now with the larger userbase. The original series attempted to mimic The Setup

Today’s interview is with Lobsters user conroy.

Introduce yourself, describe what you do for work and how long you’ve been at it.

Hi Lobsters, I’m Kyle (not that kyle).

I started programming in middle school when my friends and I needed a website to host our home-made movies. Armed with MySpace HTML skills, I learned just enough PHP to get a website up and running on a shared hosting provider. Thankfully, YouTube launched a few years later and the original site is no more.

During my time at Berkeley from 2007-2011, I majored in computer science and taught UCBUGG, a student-run computer animation course. Each semester we’d teach ten groups how to create their first 3D animation in Maya.

After graduation, I worked at Twilio for two years. In May, I quit to found StackMachine. In my spare time I maintain Journey to the Center of Hawkthorne, an open source video game based on Community.

What is your work/computing environment like?

As a solo-founder, I’m currently working from home. I hack on a 13" MacBook Air with a second display. I’m also never far from my trusty Sennheiser HD-280 headphones.

What software are you most often using?

You’ll usually find me in a Terminal session or a MacVim buffer.

My browser of choice is the beta channel of Firefox. I tried using Aurora, the nightly build of Firefox, but it was too unstable. I’d suggest everyone give Firefox another chance if you haven’t tried it out recently. It’s gotten much better in the last year.

I use Adium for chat, SizeUp for window management, 1Password for my secrets, and Parallels for running a Windows VM.

Outside of programming, my most used piece of software is Photoshop. Whether I need to crop an image or design web assets, Photoshop is amazing. I started using it back in middle school to create silly pictures for friends, but it’s turned into one of the most valuable skills I have in my tool belt.

What’s an interesting project you’ve been working on recently?

The majority of my time is spent working on StackMachine, adding support for more engines and improving the build pipeline so that more games can integrate with the service.

On the side, kb and I are working on Battle of Bits, a daily tournament for turn-based board game AIs. Bots are just servers responding to Webhooks, so they can be written in any language that speaks HTTP. We have Connect 4 almost working. It’s open source and written in Go.

What is something new you’ve used or integrated into your work that has made a positive impact?

Sentry. It’s a fantastic service for tracking exceptions and errors in your application. I use it for all my projects. Coming from Nagios, Sentry is a breath of fresh air (Note that Sentry is for application errors, not server monitoring). The code is open source, so you can run your own instance if you’d rather not pay for the monthly service.

You mentioned you taught an aimation class at university. Can you talk a little about that? What were some of the challenges? Do you have any tips for people who might be trying to start teaching other people?

Teaching UCBUGG is a huge challenge. We have a single semester to take beginners through the entire process of making a short animation[1]. The majority of our students have never done any animation or film making.

Preach Simplicity. Before story pitches, we go over all the difficulties in making a short and how many of them can be avoided by choosing a simple story idea (without realistic human characters). Many people come into the class with the idea they are going to make a Pixar-quality short. Creating shorts is like creating games: the first 10 going to be terrible.

Assign Mentors. UCBUGG has eight to ten facilitators per class. We assign each group a facilitator for the semester. This way teams don’t get overwhelmed or fall behind.

Set Checkpoints. Every one to two weeks, we have a final project checkpoint. These checkpoints ensure that teams get started early and don’t have to crunch in the last week of class.

Be Available. When teaching a difficult subject, make yourself available to students as often as possible. Each facilitator has office hours every week, so teams can always get help. During these sessions, don’t criticize! Many students tie their ego directly to their work, so be kind and considerate.

To learn more about UCBUGG, check out ucbugg.com and the UCBUGG final project channel on YouTube.

[1] The process we follow is story pitch, story boarding, character modeling, character rigging, skinning, animating, lighting and final editing.

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    Thanks for bringing these back, Kyles.

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      It was largely an effort by @conroy (and I believe @kb had a hand in it as well) - I can’t take the credit for this. The good news is we have at least one queued for next week, and we’re going to try to renew this as a weekly thing.

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      Awesome idea guys.

      On the subject of switching to Firefox, how does firebug compare to dev tools? I’ve gotten into a pretty nice workflow lately but I would rather switch and support Mozilla.

      Also, just checked out https://stackmachine.com. Not sure if it’s intended or not, but the video autoplays while still hidden on Safari 7.

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        I don’t use Firebug anymore, as Firefox ships with it’s own dev tools. The tools are fantastic and only getting better. I personally think they are better than Chrome’s.

        Also, sorry about the autoplay video. That is most certainly not supposed to happen. Working on a fix for that now.

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          Nice, wasn’t even aware of that.

          Site seems to be fixed now, everything looks great and really simple, hope it takes off! What’s it all built with by the way?

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            The site is Python and Django. The StackMachine SDK for Love is written in Lua. Database is Postgres.

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        Just found out about stackmachine from this. It looks awesome! I’m probably more excited than most because I’m working on an indie game using love2d, so this fits right up my alley as something I’d probably want to use as a distribution.

        Do you have any docs about how to prepare binary elements for distribution? (my game requires a few compiled shared libraries: I’ve got a few .so files for linux and .dll for windows). I can see there being issues between whether you’re providing 32 or 64bit versions.

        Also, no linux download? Or is that in the works?

        (Just tried a signup, and after submission I’m led to a 404 page? But it appears my account was created just fine, and I’ve made my way to my dashboard now?)