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Jan. 9, 2019, 6 a.m.
Derek Reiff, Front-end Web Developer

Derek Reiff, Front-end Web Developer — and ultra-marathoner! — joins the show to talk about building The Omni Group’s various websites:, product pages, Inside OmniFocus, and so on.

Show Notes:

He also talks about JQuery, his favorite text editor, the beauty of Seattle, his dream of the many German Shepherds, and his current love: making pizza.

You can find Derek on Twitter @dareiff.

PS Happy New Year from The Omni Show!

Some other people, places, and things mentioned:


Brent Simmons: You're listening to The Omni Show. Get to know the people and stories behind The Omni Group's award-winning productivity apps for Mac and iOS. Music.


Brent: I'm your host, Brent Simmons. In the studio with me today is Derek Reiff, front-end web developer here at The Omni Group. Say hello, Derek.

Derek Reiff: Hello, Derek.

Brent: So, front-end web developer. I imagine most of your job is trying to make our marketing websites fit on an iPhone SE.

Derek: That's true. Yeah. It's not my first choice to develop for the iPhone SE but it's Michelle's first choice.

Brent: Okay.

Derek: So, I start with huge monitors, and Michelle makes me make sure it fits on an iPhone SE.

Brent: That actually probably is ... It's really not just the SE, but responsive design in general is ... It's your job to make that work and Michelle's job to find all the places where it broke.

Derek: Yeah, yeah. It is very important. Since I've been in this position, you notice just about every non-responsive web page. So yeah, Michelle does a great job and I would say almost all of our pages fit on an iPhone SE.

Brent: It's amazing. So, what kind of tools do you use to do that development? Do you use Safari's responsive design mode? Is that your go-to thing or are you surrounded by devices and just constantly checking things? How does that work?

Derek: Yeah, definitely not a multi-device person. Safari's responsive design mode is great, Chrome's is very good too. The 1X, 2X, 3X in Safari is pretty nice.

Brent: So what is your text editor of choice?

Derek: It used to be TextMate. TextMate for a solid probably seven years. I tried Atom, which is GitHub's...

Brent: Oh yeah, sure.

Derek: source editor.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek: It's great but it really consumes CPU cycles, so Troy, our previous front end, turned back-end, turned engineer, recommended Sublime Text quite a while ago and I finally tried that out, and that's a really nice extensible editor, especially for web development.

Brent: Is the extensibility a big part of what you like about it?

Derek: It's pretty huge, yeah.

Brent: Yeah.

Derek: Being able to, in a few seconds, search for a plugin and install something for React or React Native is pretty nice.

Brent: Oh yeah, that's cool. I've heard there's a large developer community around that. I tried it and I have more specific requirements about what I want my Mac apps to be like and it just wasn't quite there, so I'm still using BBEdit after all these years.

Derek: It's not quite there, yeah. Does BBEdit have extensibility?

Brent: Oh, it certainly does, but probably not the large collection that Sublime Text has.

Derek: Yeah, yeah. You have to write your own?

Brent: You can write your own or find some, but often in BBEdit you might be writing your own, but it's a text editor that works the way Mac text editors are supposed to work in just the normal sense. So you're writing code, you're doing our marketing websites, which is, all the product pages, Inside OmniFocus, Inside OmniGraffle, I don't even know all what else. We have more websites, I seem to learn about a new one every day, and these all yours.

Derek: Yeah, what do we have? In addition, we have support.omnigroup.

Brent: Of course.

Derek: Internally, we have Guidebook and I don't touch that often but if we needed some front-end changes that would be mine. Stenciltown.

Brent: Stenciltown.

Derek: Is that it? That might be it.

Brent: Okay. And so, you're using JavaScript, HTML, do you have a preference on the Compass versus Sass versus... or are you just writing your CSS straight up?

Derek: For the marketing site and for all of our other sites because once you start writing in Sass it's really hard to go back to plain CSS but Sass compiles to CSS and it's fast, and you can nest as much as you want. I try to stay away going too deep but yeah, HTML, CSS JavaScript. JavaScript is one of the languages I'm fairly new to, it's just not something that I've had to deal with. I'm into Python mostly, but I'm currently trying to get a little more with familiar with JavaScript by replacing older jQuery references or functions with plain vanilla JavaScript.

Brent: I've seen that that appears to almost a trend. For you and for most people is that a function of just jQuery's old or jQuery's another dependency that you might want to get rid of, or what's the reason for doing that?

Derek: I think for us it's jQuery was huge ten years ago, maybe more recent than that? And it's just one more dependency that we should be getting rid of now that we're doing some of our projects in React, we might do more of that in the future. We just started playing around Vue, we're using that in a few places. So yeah, I think it's just filling one hole that we found with another.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It just occurs to me that if you're getting rid of jQuery's dependency, and you're turning a one liner in jQuery over to 10 or 15 JavaScript lines, you might end up writing your own kind of in house jQuery because you realize you have all these functions that could be replaced by single line, and so you write your own framework that can do that single line, if that makes sense.

Derek: Yeah, there's definitely a lot of that. Unfortunately, I'm still in the beginning stages of JavaScript so, any potential frameworks that I might be writing are just pipe dreams right now. So, once I've realized what those frameworks could be, perhaps they would get fleshed out into something that actually makes sense.

Brent: There is a rule that there has to be a hot new JavaScript framework released on the web. I think it's daily now. It used to be weekly. I'm sure up to daily. So you may have to take your turn.

Derek: Yeah, yeah and there's some great frameworks out there that don't really do anything, they're just ...

Brent: Vectors for malware.

Derek: Yeah. Bitcoin mining. That's actually on the Omni Group site right now.

Brent: We're not mining Bitcoins are we?

Derek: Cut that out. [LAUGHTER]

Brent: Jeez. So what's the workflow like? Kaitlin does most of the design for the marketing sites, right? So, once we come up with a plan for something, Kaitlin does a design, gives you mockups? Flow charts? What kind of stuff do you get?

Derek: So typically we come up with what we need to do in our design meetings. Design is the umbrella for marketing and UX and all of our websites. Kaitlin will put together a Graffle document and will file a bug with the new design. I will, as much as I can, get everything ready to push to our test server, Michelle will visit the test server, find everything that I had forgotten, mostly screen sizes. She is the ...

Brent: Best. At this.

Derek: She is the best.

Brent: We interviewed her in an earlier episode, in fact. She talked quite a bit about this stuff.

Derek: She has wonderful workflows, and they find everything.

Brent: So we use a few different back-end things, you're a front-end developer but you also work with ... What do we have? ExpressionEngine, Django and WordPress powering some of our sites?

Derek: Yeah, Inside OmniGraffle runs on WordPress, which I really like. We have others here with strong opinions that say that WordPress is, I don't want to say overkill, but why use WordPress when we can create a new Django project from scratch?

Brent: Right. Sure. But then that's overkill too, I don't know.

Derek: I'm beginning to form my own strong opinions. Inside OmniGraffle runs on WordPress. I would say the vast majority of our sites run on Django, which I really do appreciate Django. Django is Python. Very mature now. Just a few, probably last month, finished converting Inside OmniFocus to Django 2 and Python 3. Still working on getting that pushed out to a real live server but it's almost there.

Brent: And you've also been doing work on OmniFocus for the Web I understand, which is pretty cool. Coming out pretty soon.

Derek: Yeah, it's very cool. I'm very much a “likes to work with deadlines” person, so the idea that I can pitch in and help. So OmniFocus for the Web, which there's been an Omni Show about, runs on React, and React is very new to me, so I'm mostly just learning but I'm able to take ten bugs that might get in the way of Greg or Chris so they don't have to think about it, so that's been fun.

Brent: I don't know if you've been watching any of the feedback about it but so far people seem to really, really like OmniFocus for the Web.

Derek: Yeah, it's really nice.

Brent: So how did you come to Omni? You've been at the company for over ten years now, I'm given to understand. How did you get here in the first place?

Derek: So I think I just hit ten years in September.

Brent: Congratulations.

Derek: Thank you. Thank you. It's flown by and it's been great. I just finished college in Indiana, really small school. A friend had asked what I was doing, and up until August of that year I thought I was going to move to Columbus, Ohio. No particular reason, just that it wasn't Indiana.

Brent: How far from Indiana? Obviously not as far as Seattle is.

Derek: Yeah, that's about two and half hours I believe.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay.

Derek: So my buddy asked what I was doing, I didn't really know. He was coming to Seattle to walk dogs, asked if I wanted to join, I said, "Yeah, why not?" Found this support job on Craigslist. It was for the first round of phone support people that we would hire.

Brent: Okay.

Derek: Drove out to Seattle, had the interview a few days later. I guess I made the right impression? Got the job, great company. Got me through two sort of not perfect years in Seattle, but once Seattle clicked, I stayed. I decided to stay.

Brent: What do you like about the city?

Derek: Seattle has some great beer.

Brent: Yeah, for sure.

Derek: We've got some great mountains.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Derek: Two hours to the West, hour to the East. Great place to run.

Brent: It's beautiful in almost every direction.

Derek: Surrounded by water. Beautiful in every direction. It's a big city that is made up of small neighborhoods. For a really long time I thought I would move to Chicago or Boston, or New York. Visiting each city made me realize that I would get eaten alive if I actually moved there. But Seattle doesn't have that, you can stay completely siloed if you want, or you can go out and talk to people.

Brent: There's stuff everywhere, every day. Right. It's a good town. I live in Ballard. I love my neighborhood. I've been there almost 20 years now and it's like its own small little place. It's really fun.

Derek: I live just East in Fremont.

Brent: Okay.

Derek: I mean, you know but maybe the listeners don't.

Brent: I know Fremont is next to Ballard. Fremont is between Ballard and the office where we are right now.

Derek: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brent: So you got a job from Craigslist here at Omni doing phone support and about three years at that, which is a pretty good long run talking to people on the phone every day for three years. And then you moved into marketing from there?

Derek: Yeah, we had an opening. I went to college for journalism and computer science. We needed some writing done and it was a pretty good fit, so I started doing some blog posts and we got into newsletters and product pages, a lot of copywriting, screen shots, I think. Five years ago I was even doing ... I forgot when Mark got here.

Brent: Five years ago.

Mark Boszko: Five years ago.

Derek: Five years ago. Pre-Mark I was even trying to do some screen casts.

Brent: Wow, nice.

Derek: I think there might have been one screen cast out there with my name on it and voice.

Brent: So doing that for a while, did you find yourself just having to do more the front-end web development, to write the page and then you actually make the page? Is that kind of how that went or?

Derek: Yeah, before Chris got here, Troy was doing most of our web work. We had a few other people over the years as well, but people get stretched thin. We launched a lot of websites in a two year period and yeah, you're right, I would write the copy and then Grayson would say, "Hey, do you think you could also actually make the page too?"

Brent: Right.

Derek: I did and I've been doing super small one-off sites for a while and really enjoyed web development, so when the opportunity came to go in full-time it was a no brainer.

Brent: In my head, I always call it the big switcharoo.

Derek: Yeah, the big switch.

Brent: Where there were four people affected all one day.

Derek: Chris took Troy's job. Troy was previously back-end.

Brent: Okay, right. Okay. Troy went to engineering, so he went from the fourth floor to the third floor. You took Chris's job as front-end web developer, and I took your job and now I'm in Troy's old office. You didn't have to move. Troy went downstairs. I don't think Chris had to move. But yeah, four people just kind of rotated positions.

Derek: The big switch.

Brent: Decisions and things like that don't usually happen quickly but it seems like this one happened in one day.

Derek: Yeah, this was a two hour max I think?

Brent: I was amazed. It was perfect for me. I didn't even have to think about it either. I was just not feeling great about writing code and feeling like, "Yeah, I can write blog posts. That's something I like."

Derek: Yeah, sort of the same for me. Just over the years.

Brent: You do one thing for a very long time, you might think of doing something different.

Derek: Indeed.

Brent: So you're a dog person.

Derek: Dog person? Yeah.

Brent: But apartment bound so you're dog free currently.

Derek: Yeah, I think that dogs just have a lot more to give than cats.

Brent: Interesting. I'm a cat person, so we're going to have to have a fight. I like dogs, dogs are nice. We could get all into this, but it would take hours.

Derek: I really ...

Brent: It's worse than tabs verses spaces.

Derek: I really enjoy encouraging people without dogs to get dogs, so any new friend that's thinking about it I make sure I offer. I can give them a week, a year of free dog sittings so, hopefully that spurs people to action.

Brent: As a dog person, do you ever imagine yourself surrounded by five dogs? Or ten dogs? Or 20 dogs? Just living somewhere and having a whole bunch of dogs?

Derek: I do think the more dogs the merrier. I think a three year plan would be a couple acres on — and I always say this right, people notice — Vashon.

Brent: Vashon.

Derek: Vashon?

Brent: I don't know.

Derek: Vashon Island with five to 20 German Shepards, adopted. Old.

Brent: Right.

Derek: Old German Shepards that just need to walk around.

Brent: All set in their ways.

Derek: Just walk around [crosstalk 00:15:51], or watch TV, yeah.

Brent: Complain about kids these days, puppies these days.

Derek: Puppies these days.

Brent: Hey you puppies, get off my lawn.

Derek: Trying to run around.

Brent: Yeah, that's a good dream. So I know you don't like to talk about the fact that you're a runner, but we're going to talk about it anyway. You don't just run marathons, you run ultramarathons. What ever made you do that?

Derek: The origin story is that my sisters and I are pretty competitive with each other, the sibling rivalry is real. My older sister Lauren has been running marathons for a lot of years. My little sister, about six years ago, started getting into them as well, so I started out because I knew that I needed to beat their marathon time.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay.

Derek: I tried. My first marathon I failed by probably an hour, but it hurt a lot and I decided I would probably do it again.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. I understand that thought process. It's miserable, I'm ready. Let's go again.

Derek: It took two days. But they are a lot of fun, it's kind of interesting to have your legs give out on you. So I kept training, the second one was better, and long story short, I think maybe the most my dad has smiled was the day that we all got to run, my sisters and I, the Boston Marathon together.

Brent: Oh, that's so awesome.

Derek: He was thrilled.

Brent: Had your dad been a runner? Or is he still a runner?

Derek: He ran in high school and junior high, I think, back in 50s when they ran in Converse ...

Brent: Oh yeah, sure.

Derek: ... shoes, back when there weren't tech shorts or tanks, or whatever.

Brent: That makes me think of: I've seen that video, the guy who broke the four minute mile, and he's not wearing anything high tech at all because it doesn't exist. So you eventually beat your sister's time in a marathon, congrats, but what made you say, "I can run two marathons in a day. I can run an ultramarathon."

Derek: Right. So the marathons are a nice challenge. I also had some friends who had done ultramarathons before and I think ultramarathons are just anything longer than a marathon.

Brent: Okay.

Derek: So a 50k was first, a 50 miler after that.

Brent: 50 miler? That's borderline two, really. Because aren't they 26 miles?

Derek: It's borderline too much. I've never enjoyed the 50 while doing it, it's just I'm surprised I did this and hope I can make it without cheating, but the benefit to running longer is that there aren't younger people in the races, so you finish higher in the results.

Brent: I see, okay.

Derek: As opposed to ...

Brent: Why aren't the younger people in the races? Because they're smarter?

Derek: They have more to live for, I think?

Brent: Sounds right. It's only the bitter and broken down — yet still fit — who like to run the ultramarathons.

Derek: You have more options when you're younger, for sure.

Brent: Yeah, right.

Derek: Three miles is way too short now.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay. So you'll end up coming in whatever position there, whereas something like the Boston Marathon, no chance?

Derek: 10th versus 200th.

Brent: Okay, that makes sense.

Derek: It's an ego thing probably.

Brent: But I don't think you would do an ultramarathon if you weren't competitive?

Derek: It's true. Some people do it for the sights, but I do it for a combination.

Brent: Right. For all this running, I imagine your diet is a carefully monitored... What do you live on? Kale?

Derek: Yeah, great segue Brent. My longest days usually led to me sitting on my couch browsing coupons on Dominos or Pizza Hut because ...

Brent: They have that cheese stuffed crust.

Derek: ... they just sounded the best.

Brent: Yeah, right.

Derek: Ordering 40 to 50 bucks worth of pizza, eating until you pass out, waking up four hours later, wondering what you'd just done. Which led to my currently biggest hobby, which is pizza.

Brent: Pizza?

Derek: Making pizza.

Brent: How'd that come to be?

Derek: One of those days when I had woken up next to three pizza boxes ...

Brent: This sounds so rock bottom.

Derek: I mean, this was rock bottom. I decided that I should save $50 and eat better pizza by making my own. The first 30 pizzas came out terribly but something definitely was ignited that led to this huge hobby where I guess I'm trying to perfect pizza? Well, my pizza.

Brent: Had you been inspired by Gus Mueller?

Derek: A little bit, yeah. Gus actually came to our office to make pizza six, seven years ago, at our old office, and they were wonderful. But he also has a pizza blog that has a lot of really good information for people who are just trying to figure out how to make dough and store dough and where you get the good flour. So yeah, Gus, huge inspiration. He definitely got me onto the oven train. I've got two ovens now, probably overkill. Definitely pricey. But it's fun, it's a lot of fun. I throw a lot of pizza parties now so I'm not eating all the pizza myself.

Brent: How many pizzas do you make in a year, probably?

Derek: I think, this year, if I can get the oven going again, because it's been pretty wet recently, I might hit 250.

Brent: Nice. Not all eaten by yourself, but pizza parties and things.

Derek: Not all, yeah.

Brent: That's cool. Any plans to go pro or semi-pro with this stuff?

Derek: That's the goal, for sure.

Brent: Yeah?

Derek: I would like in 2019 to sell pizza, a pizza, at least a* pizza.

Brent: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I'll buy one.

Derek: At a farmers market here in Seattle, maybe the Ballard, maybe the Fremont.

Brent: You got a name for your business?

Derek: Yeah, a friend who was talking to someone else about the best pizza in Seattle mentioned that “my friend Derek's was the best pizza.”

Brent: So that's your place, My Friend Derek's.

Derek: So that's the name.

Brent: Nice.

Derek: I haven't bought that domain name yet but I do have

Brent: By the time this airs in January, you will have bought that domain name.

Derek: Absolutely. Yeah. For sure. And if you need a My Friend Derek's pizza shirt, just go to

Brent:, nice. Well thanks, Derek, how can people find you on the web?

Derek: I don't Tweet as much as I used to 12 years ago...

Brent: Back in the golden era, yeah.

Derek: ...but,

Brent: Dareiff, I'll put it in the show notes. You can click on it folks. I'd also like to thank our intrepid producer, Mark Boszko. Say hello, Mark.

Mark Boszko: Hello, Mark.

Brent: And especially I want to thank you for listening. Thank you. Music.