Senior Frontend Developer, Richie Clark, started his development career by promising great things, and he continues to deliver to this day. Hear more about his path from Play It Again Sports to Gun.io and why the logistics of the pork market are more complicated than you think.
Hey Faith. One second.
I know, it’s a new platform. I feel like everybody’s—every time they join they’re like, I gotta get all my settings right.
Well, I was like, yeah, it’ll be on Zoom probably, so I’ll have my back white. I won’t need to worry about what’s behind me.
Yeah. Well what is behind you?
This is a carpet pool. You ever heard of carpet pool?
No. But is it like…What’s that thing where you push…?
It’s similar to shuffleboard. Yeah. It’s with carpet, or it’s with pool balls. So you set ’em up, use the white ball and roll it down and throw. It’s an old camp game.
That’s fun. This is your basement?
It is, yes.
Very fun. I wish I had room for carpet pool and other games. Instead, I have a—this is my dining room, and I have a bathroom vanity right next to me. <Laugh>.
<Laugh> Yeah. I’ll say my wife wasn’t too pumped when I built it, ’cause it is massive, and we—at times I’m like, I wish I just wouldn’t have done it.
Yeah. Well it looks nice as a background for a podcast. So—
Yeah, it’s a piece of wood—it’ll work.
I’m actually excited—I mean, it’s fun to have these conversations with everybody, but I feel like I don’t know anything about where you were before coming to Gun, so I’m really stoked about that. But I guess let’s start with like—just introduce yourself, Richie.
Yeah. So I’m Richie Clark. I’ve been a developer at Gun now for two years. Came to the platform probably three or four years ago, and used Gun to land a job. And then after that, came on full-time officially. I was contract full-time for about a year and a half, and a couple months ago came on full-time W2 technically.
Love that W2. Makes taxes so easier.
Gotta love it. So much better. Yes.
Well that’s also inter— we should talk about that too. And you’re based in Minnesota?
Minnesota, yep. Based in the Twin Cities area.
Cool. Is it snowing yet?
We had snow. It’s been warm now, and we’re not gonna be back to snow tomorrow, so.
Nice. Every new city I go to, I ask—I’m like, Oh, is this a twin city? You know, like most cities, airports are like, it’s such and such and such and such. Like it’s all kinda together. (Richie: Mhm) Ok. But Minnesota is the real twin city.
Yep. Minneapolis St. Paul is the real Twin Cities.
Got it. Ok. And St. Paul is also Minnesota.
Yeah. So Minneapolis and then St. Paul, they basically joined now. So you cross over. But St. Paul’s the capital of Minnesota. Minneapolis is the bigger city, I believe, population wise—and so they’re twin cities.
It’s a really good trivia question. I never— if someone said, What’s the capital of Minnesota? I would’ve said Minneapolis.
Everyone would. Or St. Paul.
And ok, so technically you—I think the job post that you responded to for Gun was for like a UX developer, right?
Yeah, it was the same post Regis did. Which by the way, you should have just done another episode with Regis. You gotta give people what they want.
It like broke YouTube. I don’t know, but everyone loves Regis.
I know. I’m telling you, you should’ve just done a take two with Regis. Yeah. I applied for—yeah, I think it was UX. It was basically a heavy-leaning front end developer that knew View. And I had been working with View for—well, since it’s creation. I went to a talk in Twin Cities with the founder of View and really was like, this guy’s so smart. Yeah. So basically it started implementing View when I could in projects since then.
It’s always fun to hear people have been working with something since it was created. Because I feel like you’re the ones who read job posts that are like, Must have 20 years of experience with View and you’re like, that’s baloney.
I’m like, oh, it didn’t exist 20 years ago. It’s pretty funny. Yeah.
And now, obviously you do a lot more than UX development. What does like a typical day in the life of Richie Clark look like?
I’ve done a lot of tagging with Grey, kind of getting the whole, you know, product realm and kind of having some back and forth with him and trying to move the product forward. Mainly on the front end. ‘Cause now, you know, Regis has hit that middle ground. Steve was brought in, does a lot of the back end and Wade does a lot of the backend. So I’ve mostly just stayed right in the front end. When I first came on, it was like we had some bootstrap that needed to be pulled out ‘cause it wasn’t quite implemented right. And then the next wave was like, we re-skinned the site from that blue-gray to this kind of black tone. And then it did Hunter, which is our kind of internal—
Like search process
Process. Yeah, yeah. Search for talent and companies and candidates and all that jazz. And now just kind of yeah. Continuing to tweak the product as we go.
Yeah. You’re really like, I would say straddling product and development. Like you have a lot of user facing conversations, and in your world, users are the internal team at Gun—is mostly what you’re thinking about.
Mainly. I mean, that’s kind of been where I’ve had my bread and butter over my career is—the best projects I’ve done have been for internal teams or people that I directly interact with to try and make their lives better as day to day. ‘Cause you know, most jobs are some kind of customer service, customer relations, and so in order to make those kind of conversations easier, better, make people not have to deal with so much additional stress, hopefully from the app is kind of where I enjoy and see the most reward back. So that’s kind of when I do a lot of work, it’s generally trying to do staff tools or something like that.
That’s a good segue. As I mentioned, I have no idea where you were before this. So like, walk me through your career. Has it always been kinda this path, or were you like Wade, and a professional water skier before this?
Was not a professional water skier. Yeah, I was not.
That’s a bummer. That would be like a fascinating data story. How did we land the two water skiers?
Two. Two water skiers? Yeah. I have a cabin—my mom’s originally from Canada, so she had a cabin up in Canada. So I have water skied, but not in any realm of professional (Faith: bummer.) I went to college for— well it was technically called a music ministry degree, which basically meant it was half religion, half music.
Did you go to Belmont?
I did not. I went to Northwestern in Northwest Iowa, small school. So I graduated with that in 2010, which basically, there was like no jobs in 2010 for anything. And what I always say was, I had just gotten married, and my wife was gonna school up here, so it also limited kinda the scope of where I could apply for things. And I applied for like, everything. And I remember applying for a senior living home to wash dishes. And I like didn’t even get a call back. Like they were like, no. And I was like, Oh no, if I cannot even wash dishes, what in the world am gonna do? And so I was just applying to everything. I had a computer science minor and had done a couple computery things, I would say. And so I was applying and applied to a company called Tree Fort, who at the time was doing—had a web application for what they called Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, MYS.
And it’s like this youth sports building, like these tournaments and registrations and brackets, and it was kind of this custom system they had built, and they were looking for someone to work with them. And I love sports. I have a coaching certificate degree too. And so it was kind of a fit there. And so I emailed the guy and he was like, Oh, I think you’re a great fit. Come on in. And I got there and it was like, he just kept—I just remember him being like, Can you show me anything else that you’ve done? Like anything like, I don’t care what it is, just show me something that you’ve done. And I had like one small little website that I had done at the time, and it was basically—he finally gave me—he was like, Ok, let’s do this. I’ll hire you in every four weeks. We’ll meet, and I’ll either give you a raise, or I’ll fire you. And I was like, Awesome, let’s do that. ‘Cause sometimes you just need someone to believe in you and an opportunity to do something. So I was like, I love it, let’s do it. So I did, I came in, worked on Minnesota Youth Athletic Services and then they also did the Winmark brands. So Once Upon a Child, Play it Again Sports, Music Around, Style Encore. So they did their corporate websites, and all their franchisee websites. And so—and then we were just like a normal dev shop, too. So we had a bunch of just kind of side— he had like a bunch of golf courses that he had done and some random development places. And so I kind of worked through that. And so that first year, then in the spring one of the other, it was basically three—it was a small company, it was like six of us, and one of the other devs had another project that he was working on.
And so they were like, Hey, you have to build this new version of— it was Once Upon a Child, I think at the time. And I was like, Oh, ok. I’m like four months into this, like I still am just, you know, drinking from a fire hydrant. So I got to do that, which then like jump started having a lot of responsibility and learning a lot and kind of growing. So I was at that company for eight years with them, and about halfway—well probably a couple years in, he started a secondary company called Screen Feed, which I transitioned to fully. And that was doing digital—
Safe to say, at your four-week meetings, you hadn’t been fired yet.
I hadn’t been fired yet. Luckily, yes, I was able to stick around. And so he started Screen Feed, which was digital signage content. And I did a lot of UI work for them. And a lot of the front end, a lot of animations, every—like if you walk into a bank, and you see a TV screen, and it’s like, could be news, it could be a ticker on the bottom, it could be a video plane, like any of that could be powered by Screen Feed. And so Screen Feed’s very large still, and isn’t like the most random places. I was driving on the Ohio Turnpike—or I think or Indiana Turnpike—and stopped at a random rest station. And there was—I was like, Oh, that’s Screen Feed! Or you go to an airport and you’re like, Oh, that’s Screen Feed.
And I did pretty much every product release that they did for probably three or four years doing the front end kind of graphicy—we used to do flash—back in the day—files, ‘cause digital signage boxes are so old, and then generate images off of graphics or off of data and HTML files. And then we also did video. So I did kind of all that front end work. And then kind of my claim to fame there was, I built a system called Content Cloud, where we were producing like a minute, 30 second—we call them News Bites. And it was this one story that we pulled in content from. And so they were doing it in After Effects and we brought it into the browser and kind of connected all with our partners with Getty and Reuters.
And they would search for their images, search for the video, crop it or cut the video into certain segments, rearrange it, pick the template, do a voiceover, upload it in, and then just click the button to generate, and then it would go on the back and it would generate all of this and upload it. So like that’s kind of where the staff tools—like I talked about before—was a big thing, because like that was the first time where it was like they went from doing three a day to six and a half a day. And so like their lives were significantly better. Just ‘cause they didn’t have to spend so much time on that.
It seems when you’re recounting story, you went from zero to a hundred real fast just in terms of like ability to build this stuff. Like how many years in were you when you developed Contact Cloud?
I think it was probably five. I think we tried at four, and there was a couple things that we couldn’t quite do yet. And so then it was five, but I give a lot of credit to where we worked was just the responsibility and the ownership and opportunities of being able to, you know— like you say, four years in kind of being able to do some of those things or even do a, you know, a major brand website, you know, six months into development, you know, with people that are watching and seeing, but still putting the onus on you is is pretty remarkable and definitely, you know, set me on a trajectory way different than had I been in a fortune 50 company where I was just another kind of dev trying to do small little items or, you know, whatnot.
Yeah, like finding that initial role that allowed you to be a little bit more of like a T-shaped dev, like focus on—learn a whole bunch of stuff. I’m curious about that too. Like you went from having done some computerey things—which in the show notes we should talk about what those are—because I have done computerey things, but I certainly could not be a junior dev. But you went from that to, you know, 1, 2, 3 years in, you know, being a real junior developer. And so I’m curious about like how do you think you were able to develop professionally in that world? Like was it mostly through mentorship? Were you doing a lot of stuff kinda on your own time to learn? What did that look like?
It was a lot of just learning on my own at the beginning, because I—so they were a .net shop, and at the time, .net was—there was classic ASP, there was .net web forms, and then they had just released.net MBC and of course the MIS application was in classic ASP, a bunch of the normal sites that we did was in web forms. And then the new ones we were building were in MBC. So not only had I not done any of it, but I had to learn the three different kind of syntax and ways to do it. And so it was, I just remember like these, you know, those old school, you know, O’Neilly books or O’Reilly books or any, you know, like 500 pages of like flipping through and sitting there at my desk just like, Ok, you know, <laugh>, going through it. And so I, I think the easiest part of development is when you have practical tasks to do, right? And so it was like, Hey, go change this or go change that and you know, it becomes less theoretical and more practical.
That’s why everyone our generation knew HTML was because that’s how you change your MySpace.
No one knew that we were learning HTML. We were just like, we want this song to play by Dashboard Confessional when you get to this part of my MySpace page.
Right. And so you know, when you have practical things, you don’t need to know every last thing about everything. And so it makes the world a lot smaller. And I think that’s kind of almost, you know, when you think like project managers and, like Grey, thinking of the scope of the entire app, it’s that ability to practically, then funnel it into a small little task that then adds up into a big scope of knowledge and or big scope of app or whatever it is. And so that’s kind of—I think those were the two things was it was just, yeah, pure—read as much as you can, learn as much as you can, look at the previous code that’s been done, and start to like navigate through how it’s working. But then also they did a good job of like, do this task, do this small task. Ok, now do this one, and then ask questions if you don’t know how to do it. And I think, you know, my problem’s always been asking questions, because the worst part about being a junior dev is asking a senior dev a dumb question and they answer in like two seconds and you’re like—they’re like, you could have just figured that out. And I’m like, yeah, I’m sorry. Should’ve just spent another 20 minutes. So it’s like, I’m like the half a day, full day person and then it’s like, okay, if I’ve done it a full day and I still can’t, then maybe I should ask. But really I didn’t take in college, I didn’t take any web classes in high school. I didn’t take a web class. I wasn’t typing, and I was finishing fast enough that I read through the HTML book, but I don’t think I ever had a proper training in web developments, you know.
So it’s all on the job doing stuff for Play it Again Sports. I went to my first Play it Again Sports this past two weekends ago, by the way, and I was completely shook by the whole operation. That’s so cool.
It’s it’s a whole new realm.
It’s so cool. My boyfriend is very into disc golf, which is just like classic white Jewish boy <laugh> activities, but I mean there’s so many discs. I think he looked at single one. Ok. So, that’s like maybe like chapter one, first five years, you develop this really cool content cloud that’s kinda like the peak so far professionally in between kinda then and now. Are there any highlights?
I dunno about highlights.
I left. Sure. Yeah. I left Screen Feed in 20—I don’t even know now. 2017. Basically my father-in-law works for a pork company and does logistics of like transporting the pigs—when are they ready to go to market and that sort of thing.
Oh, pork. I thought you said port. That’s different than port wine.
It is, yes. P O R K, bacon. So when we had family meals and whatnot, we would kind of talk about it, and they were using an old access database, and when they started going remote, it was like crashing all the time. And I was like, there’s just gotta be a better way. There has to be software somewhere that does logistics for the pork industry. And there wasn’t really, and so we talked about like what it would look like if I did something like that. And so then I went to, they have a world pork expo in Iowa.
Obviously it’s in Iowa.
People come from—obviously in Iowa. I’m from Iowa, originally too so.
It makes sense. And so I was like all right, well let’s go have a booth at this pork show and pitch a product I don’t have and see if there’s any interest in it. Right. You know, and so I did that, and there was enough— a couple people interested that I was like, all right. So I left Screen Feed to basically spend nine months building this project—six months, and then tried to pitch it and ran into some walls. A bunch of just kind of unfortunate things happened. They canceled the next world pork expo, and then covid and you know, all that sort of stuff. And so I eventually just ran outta money, and that’s when I turned to Gun and was like, Hey, I need some money. So let’s find a freelancing gig. Yeah. So I did that. I think it was about a year, year and a half that I tried to work through that starting my own company thing.
I feel like that’s such an integral part of being good at startups is doing your own thing for a little while because, you know, you can work at a startup for a decade, and you’re still not gonna feel the like urgency to get something right, and to think creatively as you do when it’s your own thing. So it’s kind of nice that you just got it out of the way sooner rather than later. And I’m sure you’ll have the customer base when the time is right <laugh> when the pork industry’s ready for it.
<Laugh> when the pork industry’s ready for it. Yeah. <Laugh>.
Well I feel now is kinda similar to 2010—I mean, timeline-wise, a little bit different. You know, we’re probably on the cusp of a major economic situation, and in 2010 we’re probably just starting to lick our wounds. But I would assume that there’s probably some folks listening who are like, that’s cool, you know, I too have done computer stuff, and maybe would be interested in a junior development role. So for those folks, you know, thinking about your experience, what advice would you have for them?
I mean the doing random projects— I’ve taken a couple design courses and their suggestion was always like, go to a website and try and recreate that website so that you can see how other people do it and mimic and then start to create your own style and have assets to show people that, Hey, I’ve done this, I did this, I did this. Everyone knows, usually some family member that needs something web-related nowadays. And so like I think they’re doing pro bono work for people. And then, you know, looking at other greats in the industry, web design wise or development wise and trying to mimic and recreate a project that they’ve done, or do your own projects, anything side related initially is I think, a great asset to come, because everyone, there’s, you know, so many boot camps now, and like everyone has a six week boot camp degree and like how do you differentiate yourself from being a bootcamp engineer, which is probably like the number one easy go-to for people and they’re like, I wanna start something. I don’t wanna go to full school or I don’t wanna, like, I’ll do a bootcamp or something. You know, like, and I think just having additional assets to show people like, I built this, I did this, or you know, learned this from this, I think is is such a great way to showcase, you know, what you can do and what you have done.
So build your portfolio first.
Basically, ‘cause everyone wants five years experience or three years experience. And so if you can show ’em that you’ve been kind of building up your skills enough to showcase like what you could do, then I think if you find the right people to contact and get through, then it’s much easier to showcase yourself and show off yourself.
It also sounds like you won a lot by choosing a first job, first couple jobs that allowed you to touch a bunch of different stuff and not pigeonholed into one kind of cog-related activity that you might be if you were a junior dev at like an Amazon or like some other large corporation.
Yeah, and to be fair, I would’ve taken anything <laugh> It was not a strategic move. I was not picky on what I would choose. Everyone can have a different journey I think to it. And I think it’s personality-wise too. Like we have our work style quiz and like, it’s really interesting even looking at work styles on the four devs that we have on our team and like I can directly see the relation of how they work or how we work based on kind of what our work style shows. And I think, you know, I’m good at a lot of things, not great at anything, and so like that’s my personality. Just like, I love to just learn and love to try new and different things. And so like landing in a job where they were like, Prove yourself was perfect for me. ‘Cause I’m like, I will learn.
Like I have no problem saying in three months I will absolutely learn anything I need to know or make sure I can figure out anything that you said in front of me. And so there might be people who are like, that is not me. Like if someone says go figure it out, I’m gonna be like, I don’t know what to do. Just, you know, panic. In those cases, finding a company that has a really good mentorship program, a company who maybe you know, someone that can pass you on. Like I think there’s a whole lot of great devs out there who teach really well and bring people alongside and train them and are letting—are willing to let them fail. If you’re not that personality going to a startup type mentality where they expect a lot of you, yeah, that’s probably not the best, and if you don’t do it, you’re gonna fall apart. It’s like, don’t do that ‘cause you’re gonna then get a negative taste of development. ‘Cause there’s a whole lot of ways to do development and we all kind of fit in different buckets and so I think, I think it is good advice to find kind of that right fit for you. And sometimes you just have to take that first gig. ‘Cause landing the first gig’s always the hardest. And then as you continue to go on, you know, once you’re past five years, eight years, your life becomes much easier and opening doors.
That’s really interesting. Like maybe the advice is take the work style assessment and go from there. <Laugh>.
I honestly the work style assessment’s really interesting. I almost just want to get like other devs to try it and like people I’ve worked with like previously to be like, I wanna see what your work style is, because I feel like you’re this way.
Yeah. I have people take it before I hire them on my team too. Like it applies to stuff beyond development.
And I’m not trying to promote—this is not a paid sponsorship.
We actually don’t get anything from anyone taking it. It’s just a cool tool, and you can take it without signing up for the platform. But you just gave me a blog idea for Abbey, which is pulling out roles that are best for people with a certain work style. Right? Like, I hadn’t thought about how—like what’s your work style?
So obviously something at a startup where you are able to touch a lot of different topic areas, it’s great for you. This has been so interesting. I’m so glad we had this conversation. I feel like I know a little bit more about where you were before and what you do every day. So that’s really helpful. If folks wanna talk to you, Richie’s at Gun.io, so come say hey.
Yep. R i c h i e!