5 Questions with Slack’s Rodney Urquhart

Left: Rodney Urquhart — Right: Eric Elliott
This series provides a glimpse into the lives of other developers working in the industry. What do we have in common? What can we learn from the journey of others?

1) How did you get into tech?

I’ve always been interested in how things work. Even at a young age I’d take apart my toys and try to rewire them to see what would happen. It wasn’t until I was 21 that I decided I would try and get a job working with computers.

The first job in tech I had was working for Geek Squad at Best Buy. I worked fixing and selling people computers. While working at Best Buy I fixed a computer of a Comcast supervisor who encouraged me to apply for a job working as tech support. I worked tech support at Comcast for few years and that’s how I discovered the role of an automation engineer. I bought a few books on programming, found mentors and taught myself how to code in 2011.

2) Is there an “ah-ha” moment that made you see a technical challenge from a different perspective?

When I first started learning to build webapps it was difficult for me to teach myself all of the concepts. What I’ve found that helped me learn the most over the years was following architectural patterns such as MVC. By following patterns I learned how to build sample projects first and then as I became more familiar with it I dug deeper to understand why it worked a certain way. Rails is one of the best ways to build web applications quickly. It’s also a great framework to learn with.

3) Can you describe the importance of software testing?

Software Testing validates your assumptions so your customers don’t have to. It saves you time and money in the long run by identifying issues that were missed during the planning process.

Let’s face it! No one builds software with the intentions of it not working. Yet with almost anything that’s built there are always unforeseen circumstances and changing requirements. Testing (when done right) empowers you to move forward quickly and ship confidently.

4) What is the biggest challenge you face in your day-to-day coding?

Code Switching! :D No not cultural code switching, I’m referring to switching between programming languages. As an engineer focused on tooling and infrastructure my day is often split between writing or reviewing code written in Python, PHP, or Javascript.

Switching between these languages doesn’t present a problem when I’m simply looking to find mistakes or improve the overall quality. The challenge I have is the missed opportunity to learn and practice critical thinking. Questioning if a PR is the best, most efficient and maintainable way this code can be written. Finding the time to do this at a fast paced startup is really tough.

5) What are your professional goals going forward?

At Slack my role is centered around increasing productivity and improving our developer experience. So far in 2018 my focus and mission will be centered around building tools that facilitate and optimize peer-to-peer feedback. I’ll also continue to mentor colleagues and provide technical leadership within our tooling and infrastructure teams.

Rodney Urquhart is a husband, father, gamer, & engineer at Slack.

Eric Elliott is the author of “Programming JavaScript Applications” (O’Reilly), and cofounder of DevAnywhere.io. He has contributed to software experiences for Adobe Systems, Zumba Fitness, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, BBC, and top recording artists including Usher, Frank Ocean, Metallica, and many more.

He works anywhere he wants with the most beautiful woman in the world.