06th November 2019

On changing careers and work-life balance with Nat, our Development Lead.

by kota


Changing careers and balancing work and family life are two tricky topics. Meet Nat – our Development Lead who can give some insight into both!

Nat is an invaluable member of the crew, heading up the Development Team since 2018 and bringing websites to life on a daily basis. He started his career in design but quickly realised he’d rather have a career in programming. He has over ten years of experience building bespoke WordPress websites, along with a range of front-end technologies. Outside of work, Nat is a dad to two young daughters, Ruby (2.5 years) and Eliza (1 year). With the little time left after taking care of the small people, Nat enjoys travelling, 35mm film photography, Formula 1, MMA and keeping up-to-date on current affairs.

How did you realise you’d rather pursue a career in programming?

In 2009 I was working at an agency that was firmly rooted in print design at the time and I saw a lot of our competitors were branching out and offering more a full-service approach in print and digital.

We had a strong client base but our clients were spending their money elsewhere for digital work. I started working more on digital design work and we started getting a steady stream of digital projects from there. We were still outsourcing our web builds though – the costs and lack of consistency with the quality of the builds were frustrating.

Initially, I started reading up on web development so I could understand the issues our partners were having when building our designs and so I could provide better feedback to them. Eventually, I felt like I had learnt enough to start putting some small projects together. I took a bit of a risk and asked my directors if I could build something for a client and thankfully, they were on board and things went smoothly from there. I was totally hooked from the beginning; I felt like there was so much to learn but that’s the thing I relished the most. The ratio of design to dev work slowly shifted and eventually, I was working full-time as a developer.

Do you have any tips for those who’d like to get into web development?

There’s a big misconception amongst non-developers (past self-included) that coding required a computer science degree or a university-level understanding of maths. However, the most valuable trait for a career in programming is good problem-solving. Development can be very expressive; there are usually many, many ways to solve a given problem and getting creative is often the best way to break down a challenge that seems insurmountable at first sight. I found that development scratches a very similar creative itch that I had as a designer.

It’s very easy to get disheartened by reading a lot of dev news on Twitter or web dev blogs. There are so many new technologies trying to break through every day and even more strong opinions on what is the right framework or tech stack, but never enough time to try them all. I think everyone is quite territorial over their particular tech stack but don’t feel left out if your journey is leading you down a different route than what, on a very surface level, seems popular. It’s really important to be aware of what’s going on in the development world and I’d certainly recommend keeping up-to-date with Twitter and some of the better blogs but think of it as research, not gospel. Different tools are good for different jobs, so figure out what’s best for your needs (industry, company size, particular problems etc.) and go from there.

Following on from that, try to follow a good mix of people. I’m more interested in React than Vue but I still follow a lot of dedicated Vue developers; they may use a different set of tools but they also have invaluable insight into development in general or a great perspective on a topic.

What makes a good website?

I think the key is a careful balance of performance and style. We’re big advocates of web animation here at Kota but we always have to be conscious of how a website performs across browsers/devices and also what the realistic attention span of a user is. Animation is often the keystone of a website that feels like the user experience has been nailed. Small micro-animations for interactions help bring a flat interface to life and big show-stopper animations can leave a lasting impression. Often, these become part of a brand’s design language.

Equally important is that the underlying tech is performant. We usually build a project without animation to start with so we know that the foundations are solid, then layer on our animations so we can keep an eye on performance.

What was your favourite project ever and why?

Nearly always the latest one! It’s great to see some new techniques out in the wild or seeing something that was a challenge realised.

I really enjoyed working on Meta. It was one of our first Gatsby JS projects and I’m really fond of the balance of minimalism, animation and the accent colour we added to the colour palette. Meta were over the moon with the designs and just as excited when the site launched. That kind of energy is contagious and makes it feel all the more rewarding.

How do you manage to keep a healthy balance between work and family life?

It’s been an absolute blessing that Kota’s hours are so reasonable. London hours are often long and there’s usually an expectation that people will stay late regularly. It’s been refreshing joining a company that puts just as much emphasis on keeping a solid out of work life as work itself. I get a full days worth of hours at home with my kids compared with my last agency’s hours.

We also all work from home on Wednesday, the idea being that we can get “life things” done on a day that isn’t our weekend or evenings – appointments (and there’s a lot of those with kids!), the bank… a haircut. The added benefit is a less disrupted remainder of the week. I’m a firm believer that allowing working from home or remote working is a strong signal of the company’s implicit trust in its employees. If you don’t trust your employees, then there’s something wrong with the company’s working practices. We definitely all trust and can rely on each other here at Kota, and being a small agency, that is priceless.

Interested in working with us? Call the KOTA studio on +44(0)20 3951 0562.

We are a Creative Digital Agency based in Clerkenwell London, specialising in Creative Web Design, Web Development, Branding and Digital Marketing. We are also WordPress Content Management System experts.