Thinkful Mentor Profile: Louis Lazaris

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Location: Toronto, Canada

Current Job: Freelance web developer, Author for Smashing Magazine, Blogs on Impressive Webs, Curator of Web Tools Weekly

Interests Outside of Programming: Reading, watching baseball (130 days until the new season!), guitar, and sleight-of-hand card tricks.

Why did you want to become a mentor at Thinkful?

I love teaching. I enjoy getting in another person’s head and trying to figure out what they’re thinking, and responding accordingly. That’s why I also enjoy writing. So when I saw the opening for a mentor, I thought it fit well with what I love to do and what I was already doing — blogging at Impressive Webs, maintaining a weekly newsletter, etc.

What’s your secret weapon as a programmer?

Two words: Solve problems.

In other words, I don’t pay more than ordinary attention to so-called “best practices” which sometimes are based on theories and principles that have no real benefit. So I try to just solve the problem at hand. Yes, there are many “best practices” that I personally advocate, and follow, but solving problems should always trump best practices. Pragmatism over theory always wins, especially when doing client work.

What inspired you to learn to code? When did you learn?

In my mid-twenties, the only real skill I had was dealing blackjack and playing professional Texas Hold ‘em poker, which I did for a living for about 2-3 years – and I wasn’t even that good at it! This was in the 90s before poker got famous. Around 1998, due to a new found path in life, I decided being in a gambling environment wasn’t a good choice. So, long story short, because of the technology/internet boom that was happening at that time, I decided to take some computer courses, which eventually led to taking a web development course. And, I guess it just snowballed. :)

I know you spend a lot of time blogging, writing for Smashing Magazine, and writing books. How do you think this influences your work as a developer?

I always remember a quote by the famous late rock guitarist Randy Rhoads. He basically said that when you teach it makes you better at the thing you’re teaching. That’s one of the reasons he enjoyed teaching guitar. I think that applies very well to web development. That’s why I wrote an article called “Publish What You Learn" on Smashing Magazine, the title of which is actually borrowed from a tweet by Paul Irish.

What’s your favorite book? Favorite movie?

Book: The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, because it’s the only translation of the Bible that is honest and stays as true to the original as possible.

Movie: Probably Searching for Bobby Fischer, because I like competition and games, although I’m a pretty awful chess player.

When left for a weekend without a computer, what do you do to fill the time?

Wonder where my computer is? But seriously, definitely reading. And if it’s not the Bible or Bible-related literature, it’s usually something on advanced JavaScript or some aspect of web development that I feel I’m lacking in. In this industry, you have to stay relevant. But the good thing is, I enjoy the extra research, so it’s not a burden but an enjoyable hobby.

What’s your favorite website? Tell us about the design.

I don’t necessarily have a "favorite” website, but like any good front-end developer, I visit Chris Coyier’s CSS-Tricks almost daily. There’s just too much good stuff on that website and anyone who doesn’t follow it will be left behind. But as far as nice design, I would say one of my recent favorites is Alex Cican’s blog. The design is so simple and clean and it does exactly what he needs it to do. I wouldn’t recommend that type of design for many websites, but for his purposes and his readers’ purposes, it works perfectly. So again, this goes along with the same thing I said about programming: Solve problems which every good design should do.