Chris Barless, Web Developer

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Self-Taught PHP & Javascript Ninja
Web Developer, Pilot Interactive

Chris left university to teach himself programming and now builds cutting-edge interactive web applications!

Everything clicked career-wise for Chris when he discovered Pilot Interactive, a digital design and development agency. Before, he had attempted two different university programs but felt lost and unfulfilled.

“I was bouncing around from crappy job to crappy job doing construction, waiting tables, bartending, and I kind of was resigned to it.” When he realized he loved tech, he took a year to teach himself the ins and outs of programming. “When I started at Pilot I said ‘this is it!’” Chris says there’s nothing more rewarding than when you find your passion and make it your life!

Chris’s CareerMash

Chris works on Pilot’s small development team. He turns user interfaces, designed by illustrators, into fully functional apps, websites and complex systems. “Programming to me is the purest extension of math and logic together. It’s really just instructions.”

As a web developer at Pilot, Chris programs intricate codes to get computers to do the behind the scenes stuff that allow designs to do nifty things. He especially likes doing complex stuff. “If you can dream it, you can do it. The Internet has made a lot of billionaires out of dreamers.”

A day in the life

Because he is a semi-freelancer, Chris can work whenever he wants but he chooses to work a lot because its fun. “Sometimes we’re here until 1 a.m. and it doesn’t feel like it because the stuff we get to do is awesome.” He works on artist portfolio websites, databases, websites and apps.

Most recently, Samsung asked Pilot if they could build a system to stream live video of a concert on its new tablet, the Galaxy Tab 10.1. “We said, we’ve never done that before but we can. So we started learning how the tablet works and how we could do what they needed.”

Samsung wanted to live stream an Arkells concert to thousands of viewers through Galaxy TV. The app also had to be interactive to let viewers suggest content and ask questions. Originally Pilot was given three months but it was reduced to three weeks.
“It was a lot of coffee and little sleep but we pulled it off and they broadcasted the concert with this new tablet.”

The app was also recently used to live stream a performance by the Sheepdogs from downtown Toronto’s Yonge and Dundas Square. This time, it was used for Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus smartphone.

Why this job rocks

There’s a freedom in programming that comes from constantly having to learn new technology and challenge yourself. “There’s never going to be a point where I’m good at my job and I’ve beat the game. No matter how good you get, there’s always going to be someone better than you and you have to close that gap. You get out of it exactly what you put into it. And, if you have a great idea, no one can take it away from you. It’s yours to do what you want.”

Roadmap

  • Chris studied geology for a year at the University of Toronto because “it sounded interesting. It was but I wasn’t very passionate about it.” He switched to Ryerson to study radio and television arts. He knew he was closer to his desired career path but he wasn’t there yet.
  • Chris decided to change it up. He taught himself programming while working a variety of jobs he hated. In December 2010, his hard work paid off when he joined the Pilot team as a web developer.

Speed Bumps

As a teenager, Chris had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. He was into science and technology in high school. He’d also built some websites for friends so he decided to give it a shot. He didn’t have much computer experience but he made a decision to fully commit to his new craft.

“If I had spent the past year in my boxers watching cartoons I’d have nothing to show for it. But since I went home at night to learn more and more, I’ve had exponential growth. It’s unlimited and there’s no ceiling.”

Tips for success

  • Follow the law – Moore’s law says technology increases at an exponential rate because new technologies make older technologies easier. You have to adapt very fast, push the envelope and never stop learning.
  • Maximize your spare time – “If you have some free time on weekends, are you going to play video games? Or, are you going to be like me and my friends and tear the games apart to see how they work?”
  • Learn Python – There are a lot of programming languages out there but Chris recommends Python because it’s free, easy to learn and used around the world.
  • Make it happen – “Ignore your friends if they make fun of you for being nerdy. Commit yourself and never be afraid to take a chance on an idea.”