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Lex the Music Head
IVAN STEGIC: Hello, you're listening to a TEN7 Audiocast. We're here today for a team member interview with Lex Funk, also known as Alexis Vasquez, and he is a developer at TEN7. I am Ivan Stegic, founder and president of TEN7. Lex, hello.
ALEXIS VASQUEZ (LEX): Hello! Hi.
IVAN: How are you today?
LEX: I'm good.
IVAN: Alright! It's beginning of September 2017. We're about 10 and a half years into TEN7. And you started with us two offices ago.
LEX: Well, yeah!
IVAN: Do you remember when you started?
LEX: I started with you three offices ago, actually.
IVAN: Three offices?
LEX: We had three offices in the first, maybe, 7 months of me being around I think.
IVAN: You know, you're right! There was that intermediate office at the Northrup King Building that I forgot about. So you started in 2011? No?
LEX: Yeah? 10? I think my final semester was spring semester of 2011. So, that's when I basically... you guys hired me the week the semester started.
IVAN: That's right. And I recall you sitting in my office back when we had two offices in the shared co-space and bringing a DVD with your computer that had a flash presentation on it.
LEX: Yes! It was a requirement by the MCTC Curriculum back then.
IVAN: And for those people listening, MCTC is Minneapolis Community Technical College.
LEX: That's it! Yeah.
IVAN: Okay, I think I recall visiting a student, it was like an expo of all the student work.
LEX: Right! So at the end of the final semester of that program, print web and I think that year they were working with the video production program as well. They put on a like a show, showcase of all your work that you've done over the time, and you try to get people to hire you.
IVAN: It worked!
LEX: Well, no. I mean you hired me before I... so the other requirement for the program was to go interview at three places and I went to... so William Fendler, I started the program at MCTC with who's basically self-taught himself and dropped out. He ended up working with you. And that's so I was still friends with him and so we, he kinda hooked us up. The rest is history.
IVAN: The rest is history.
LEX: I guess, it's still on going.
IVAN: It's still on going!
LEX: The day.. so yeah, you mentioned the flash DVD and I was like, oh! You can keep that. You're like: Oh! I don't want it. And so I took it. Then I was like: "I don't know how that interview went." Well actually I do know how it went because at the end, you told me like: "You know I really like your composure, and I think we should work together." And I'm like: "Okay! You know." I was like: "Cool! I had to go and get to class." But an hour before that, I had been. I stayed the night at my brother's who lived just right down the street from there. So I don't want to be late. And so I was getting ready, I was gonna shower. So I hit the bathroom. I used the restroom, or whatever you use the toilet- flush it and the handle fell off. And I get in the shower, and I grabbed my towel from the top of the toilet, dragging in glass dish of potpourri. And it breaks everywhere. So I had to clean this up and fix the toilet, get ready, head to this interview, and then, you know, I think I got all out of my system because you liked my composure but I seriously don't think my composure was on point that day.
IVAN: I think it was! I thought you're very calm and collected, and I'd like your attitude. I thought that was the best and most of all, I think I like how curious you were. I didn't think I'm allowed to say I like how you're funny you were because that doesn't count. I liked that too. I think I could say that. That was a great interview. I remember you leaving and thinking to myself, "Boy! I hope that he ends up working for us!" Because I think we can. I think he knows William and I think that they can work together well. I think we've got a lot to learn. It was very exciting for me as well. Do you remember what you worked on when you started? I remember you started kind of part-time because you were still at school.
LEX: Right! I think you had me working on, I think it was mostly just learning Drupal. So one of the first things was I think a project that had already existed, client needed like a brand new view. And you're like: "Just learn views!". So I'm like: "Learn views? I don't know what that is." So then I started clicking around and William helped out, started showing me around, how that work, and then I don't know. I mean, that's how basically how I learned Drupal. I hadn't really had any Drupal experience before that.
IVAN: And that didn’t matter. That did not matter. Your skills and your curiosity was the most important thing to me. So then you started kind of doing views and I remember we ramp up your time as it allowed. And you were doing some front-end development work. Right?
LEX: Yeah, mostly theming. Not great theming if we could go back and look at our code from back then, I probably wasn't doing an excellent job. But the work was getting done on time.
IVAN: And it was Drupal 5.
LEX: It was 6 actually. I didn't actually work on Drupal 5 at all. It was Drupal 6.
IVAN: Was it really?
LEX: Yeah! It was all Drupal 6.
IVAN: Oh! I thought it was Drupal 5. So your initial interest was in design, and then front-end, and then theming. And it's been, you know, six years at the least that you've been with TEN7. How was your job changed? I mean, you've obviously evolved in skill. I would say you're our senior developer. You're responsible for a large number of hours every month with our clients, particularly one of them. It certainly changed. How was it changed?
LEX: Well, when I first started, I didn't know a whole lot but that didn't really matter. I just learned a lot faster and quicker. So yeah, I was mostly a front-end developer to start. And just working on theming. The part I liked about it was the PHP part of theming. I didn't necessarily care for this CSS part. I still kinda don't. It's still little... It's too... At first I liked it because I was like: " This is what coding is!" You know and then I had more and more curious about how things work and not how they looked. And so that was kind of the driving force behind trying to learn how to build modules and going from there, trying to get. You know, a client has this really unique functionality that they want. And I was like, how would I make that work? And that's kind of the thing I like to work on. And so, those were the problems I get to solve now. And don't have to worry too much about how it looks.
IVAN: Do you miss that?
LEX: Um, no, I don't. I actually have been working with front-end now, again. I kinda just doing both right now for this one client. And I get discouraged fast because my CSS skills aren't like top of the line but with Jason and Jill, they're to help with code reviewing. I don't like right away learn when we started working on this particular project. I asked Jill to recode review something for me she's just, "What are you doing? Don't do that! That's not how you do it. It's not 2008 anymore. It's CSS 3 now. I don't know if you know". She's like, "It's called Flexbox, you know it?"
IVAN: We don't use tables anymore.
LEX: I wasn't using tables but might as well have. You float this stuff, you float this stuff. It was fun. I've Flexbox Froggied my way into loving Flexbox.
IVAN: So your job has changed a lot and it sounds what you like what you're describing is you went from front-end and being curious about how things work more to back-end. I would describe you as a full stack developer because you have all of those skills. You just end up spending your time in the back end because that's what you like doing and that's the work we have and so there's a nice synergy there. Can you speak to how our tools have changed? I remember when you started, we were still using Subversion, and our deployments were really manual and we had one repo for everything. Have things changed, Lex?
LEX: Yeah! So when I got hired, I didn't know about Git, what do they call that? Version Control? I'm still learning my vocabulary. I have a glossary.
IVAN: Where is that thing?
LEX: It's just this.
IVAN: For those of you listening, he was pulling up a Post-It note.
LEX: It was a blank Post-It. So, the... as far as version control, I was like, "I don't know what this is. I don't know." I mean back when we were at school, even they were like, "Oh! This is how you get stuff to a server, you log in right?" And you use FTP, it was even SFTP really at that time. It you just drag the files over there. It's easy. But then, I learned when I started, I didn't know a command line, anything. And so I got to get binary installed. I mean that's pretty easy, the documentation is great. You can do that on your own. I did all that before my first day and you guys were kind of showing me how it works. That's how GitTower was kind of out. So we started just using that so it was just GitTower’s user interface we get. So we were working that but yeah, we had, TEN7 at that time had one GitHub account and a large repository for all the clients. It's tough to admit but, I was told it was a financial issue. I don't know what it really was the issue. So we decided, well GitHub can get expensive right?
IVAN: And at that time, their pricing model is very different that it is now and was more expensive. So it didn't make sense for us. But I mean, we're a small shop then and we evolved. What happened then?
LEX: Well, when Les got hired Les Lim, he just like, "What are you doing?". Like he basically set up our main infrastructure. We started working with a hosting company so we didn't have to pay monthly fees to GitHub but we just had some shared space. We could keep all of our repositories together, but you know, each separate. That's kinda how we evolve from there. When Les got hired, he evolved us really quick and got us into some very important best practices, I would say.
IVAN: And we have some sort of automated deployment at that stage as well. It was nowhere near Ansible or any of the automation we have now.
LEX: That was probably 2011 I would say.
IVAN: Yeah, that sounds about right?
LEX: And then after that, we kind of continued to evolve so when we started, Les once again introduced us to SaaS (Software as a Service), and we started working that way with all of our theming. After that, I think we had a little bit of a dating period with BootStrap because everyone was using BootStrap but we didn't like it.
IVAN: We dropped that girlfriend!
LEX: We went back to just kind of just building a theme. You know, a custom theme for every client.
IVAN: What do we have now? You should probably know what we have now.
LEX: So now, this was all Drupal 7, right? Themings evolved in Drupal 8 so we don't really have anything. We still do custom work but we've got this current project we're talking about earlier. We're using BootStrap 4 which just got its BETA release I think last month. It's been great! I like it again. I didn't like it before but now I love it. So we use BootStrap now as far as I know.
IVAN: Well you are the person to ask. You have more knowledge that I do.
LEX: I guess I get to decide. But yeah, it's just me using BootStrap. We have two other developers using BootStrap on this project and I think they would agree that it might be the way to go right now for us but yeah. As far as deploying code, that has also evolved since 2011 when Tess showed up. She basically, once again, tore apart our infrastructure and fixed it. And now, it works great.
IVAN: It hums along, doesn't it? She's done a wonderful job.
LEX: Yes, she has!
IVAN: It's kind of you push, and it deploy, and you really don't have to worry about too much. I think yeah, you're right! She's done a great job.
LEX: The other area where we, well I guess where the whole sort of development side, web design side has evolved is Photoshop is no longer the main thing people use. Like we use to get a Photoshop document and then there is "make this look like this and make it work”. I think TEN7 got into trouble a lot because their tagline is to be “Pixel Perfect”. People were printing off web pages and showing us that they weren't pixel-perfect.
IVAN: Alright! I'm gonna stop you right there because my next question was going to be, "What's the best thing we've ever done?" but I'm gonna switch that and ask you, "What's the worst thing that we've ever done at TEN7?" and just maybe that printing out web pages is just going to jug your memory 'cause it certainly jogged mine.
LEX: Looks like the worst thing...
IVAN: What's the worst thing that maybe we had to do?
LEX: Oh, yeah! That.. okay. There's this one project.. There has been a few paper-printing projects.
IVAN: Haha! How is there a few? I can recall one, c'mon!
LEX: There was a few. I don't wanna name names. But there is a few were, they were just maybe, some of them were better than others. Like they would, you know, show us on paper and we would say, "Well, maybe change this, change that, whatever," which was easier to do. Then we go back to Photoshop and change it. That was a pretty normal workflow. But this other project, what they're looking for was kind of something that you would see back in the Flash days, I would say. They wanted some animation, they wanted cut outs. I think it was a law firm.
IVAN: It was a law firm!
LEX: And they wanted, you know, photos of all the lawyers and they kind of want this parallax effect where, you know, you'd scroll in and it had these wonderful photos. They're great photos, they're beautiful photos because, I mean, that's nice blur going on. It looked cool, and it could have been cool but there are like. Alright, so then can we have this animation go here? So like when you click on the left shoulder, can this pop up? When you click on their watch, is there something else? I'm like, really? Well then, yeah. So at that point, we got to the end of this project, and they were were literally laying out the website with pieces. It's kinda like a South Park episode of how they use to do it when it was all paper. Like they had cut outs to all these lawyers like "This is how we want them aligned" and like we won't be able to do this at this budget.
IVAN: Yeah. I recall that. I think that was the worst thing. I'm glad that we were able to pull the plug and that and say "Sorry we can't finish this."
LEX: Right. I mean we still were able to deliver a photo and a bio, like a normal webpage.
IVAN: I wonder if we could actually dig that code up somewhere.
LEX: I don't have it. We always joked about uh having like if you type in the Konami code or something, the cut-outs would like talk in sort of a Monty Python sort of show for you.
IVAN: I recall that.
LEX: Like we would be willing to do that but not do all the animation they did want so.
IVAN: I recall days like that and I think we've evolved as a company. I think I'm going back to my original question I was gonna ask which was, what's the proudest thing that you've done since you've been at TEN7? And it might've been something you did yourself a long time ago or it might've been something you've done last week. It doesn't even have to be code related. What do you think?
LEX: Well, proudest for me. It is code related and it's not like the company even exists anymore. It's a project we did and it's a project I pretty much took the lead on first for the back-end development for a specific module that was needed. It helped having you there as a mentor because it was maps related, and you've done a lot of work with maps like Google maps but we weren't using Google maps for this.
IVAN: I think you can say the name. I don't think that's...
LEX: Of.. The project?
LEX: It was "Bike Everywhere".
IVAN: "Bike Everywhere", that's right.
LEX: So, I think they didn't have a huge budget. They got their own mapping data actually. They went out and got it themselves. And I can't remember what kind of map system we were using.
IVAN: Arc GIS
LEX: Oh right. So, that's what we were using and uh you know I was in charge of using these pot points. So, what the app would do is that it would map out all these bike trails or bike friendly routes. So, it would draw it on a map and so we worked with a company - I think they were in Salt Lake city. They provided the mapping software. So we were working with them, and I was doing the back-end part of Drupal to get it all to kind of talk. That was the first time that I built a module for a client and it worked! So, that was a proud moment and it launched and everyone was excited, but then Google maps started to get more evolved and all the routes were on there. You know they were even in Star Tribune after they launched. So, they did an article on the company and, you know I thought that it was cool like "Hey, I worked on this" you know. But then they uhm they shut-down maybe a few months after.
IVAN: Unfortunately, the timing for them was unfortunate to what Google maps was doing because they did have curated routes that were incredible. It's just that the timing was bad.
LEX: Yeah, I think Apple maps came out too after that. They weren't doing bike paths yet but I wasn't really working when it launched but that's kind of like a mapping push at that time - kinda weird.
IVAN: That's true. That was a great project. I enjoyed working on that project too back when I was still writing code a little more than I tend to write now which is zero, really. Right now, you're at home as am I, and we're a distributed company. We were a traditional office- based company for the longest time as you've pointed out - you've with us with 3 offices of those. It's been half a year now that we've been distributed. How have you enjoyed the transition? I mean just for so that everyone's aware, you were one of those people who were like "I wanna do this full time" while we were testing it once or twice a week.
LEX: Right. I found myself being able to work. That was always the big fear of everyone was like - would I be able to stay focused at home and be able to work on my projects and not do laundry or something?
IVAN: I don't think that laundry's ever a problem. Who wants to do that?
LEX: It kind of solves itself cuz you don't have to do laundry cuz you don't have to look presentable.
IVAN: You don't have to wear clothes.
LEX: But, yeah. I've been enjoying it. I think it works out. We've established a few different lines of communication - Slack has helped out tremendously, even with clients. We have some clients that we use Slack with and I mean it's very seamless. We have video chat. We use Google hangouts or I mean the Slack phone call thing isn't very good but I'm sure it'll get better. We use Zoom, like we're Zooming right now. Yeah, so anytime you need to talk to somebody like on the phone or face to face, I mean everyone's accessible still and comfortable in their own environment I would say.
IVAN: Is there anything you miss about the office? Whether it's the corner, or seeing people go in and out of the bathroom outside in the hallway
LEX: I don't. I don't miss that office one bit. Honestly, I don't miss the neighborhood. The neighborhood's changed completely since we moved in. It was underdeveloped but we got in and we got out at the right time I feel like. I don't miss driving there everyday. I don't miss driving in the winter. There's nothing about the office experience that I don't get other than me being able to verbally “Lex-bomb” people and to verbally have a casual conversation cuz now I have to do it on Slack or call somebody, and we don't ever sit on the phone and code at the same time, but maybe we should start.
IVAN: That's actually not a bad idea. We should maybe have like an open Zoom room that we just log into and you leave the video on and it's on while you're working. Maybe not.
LEX: We could try it.
IVAN: Could you define what a "Lex-bomb" is?
LEX: So, my DISC profile, I don't know if you've gone over this in a previous podcast, no?
LEX: Do you wanna explain what that is?
IVAN: As part of the evolution of the people and the company at TEN7, we had some growing pains - communicating with each other and making things amazing. So, we did some work to figure out what our culture was actually centered around with a mission and values and so on. We did some wonderful work on Employee Strategies here in Minneapolis and we came up with that mission and vision and values. But part of that was doing this DISC profile. So, it's essentially an analysis - every person that works at TEN7 fills out a questionnaire that's administered by Employee Strategies and you kinda end up having a dot that is located on a circle. There are four quadrants on the circle and each quadrant has its own properties and the dot ends up being somewhere, and there's a profile of like the distribution around that dot. So, we all know what we are - the benefit of that is that it quantifies us in a certain way using a valid theory, and it allows us to talk about how we interact with each other which I think is the important part here.
IVAN: Where are you on the DISC?
LEX: I'm a solid D, which means, I don't know know exactly - dominant I believe is the word they used.
IVAN: Some of the characteristics are?
LEX: I get bored easily. So, I get bored easily. Whatever. And when I get bored, I just decide to post random thing in Slack or basically it's trolling. I'm trolling people. I used to be able to do it in person and so it seemed like it's less than I'm trolling people but now it's like...
IVAN: It's obvious.
LEX: Yeah it's obvious.
IVAN: Because there's emojis as well that come with those, right?
LEX: Sometimes.I don't know. I don't have any "Lex bomb" examples but...
IVAN: Most of them are political in nature and controversial in nature and usually they're complete opposites of what you think, and so it's nice dropping that bomb and seeing how people will react. Some people will take it seriously and then realize they've been had which is I think amusing to see.
LEX: Yeah. I usually uh any of the religious stuff out there for you. There's, I don't know. Depends. Coding principles. I get Les going maybe a little bit. Jason a.k.a. Beef, we can get him going on pretty much anything. It's fun but it's definitely - usually it's a Friday afternoon thing. It happens, but uh...
IVAN: That's why Friday afternoons my ears are usually perked because I'm watching for things in Slack that I know I shouldn't react to.
IVAN: So, at the beginning of our Audiocast I've referred to you as "LexFunk" and I didn't say DJ Lex Funk but maybe I should've.
LEX: It's either or.
IVAN: Either or. You're a music head. You're an audiophile. You love the sound and you like to make beats, and recently you took a sabbatical. What do you like to do? Do you want to talk about what you like to do outside of work? You know, the music business and what you’re doing for fun right now?
LEX: Right. So, the music you hear at the beginning of this Audiocast - I produced that.
IVAN: They're awesome, by the way.
LEX: It's the same music every time, so... It's how you start paying for it. So, yeah. I like to produce music - electronic music, hip hop music. The hip hop music I like to sample old records, I have a bunch of old records laying around. I use Abletune Live, and turntables and samplers and synthesizers, and I just like to make noise and sometimes it sounds good and sometimes it doesn't.
IVAN: You gotta iterate on that stuff. I've heard things you've shared and I've always enjoyed them. Perhaps you could pull a little more break beat into them.
LEX: Yes, I know. I know you're a drum and bass head from the past. Yeah, I don't have a lot of drum and bass going on.
IVAN: You know I have a bunch of CDs. I actually have some records that are drum and bass up here in the attic. If you ever want to sample them, I'd be happy to loan them to you if you'd like.
LEX: Yeah, I'd definitely check those out.
IVAN: Alright. After we get off of this, I'm gonna look in the bin and see what I can pull out.
LEX: So, yeah. What I like to do though maybe is a remix of something or song or sound I like. I mean, whatever. Sometimes I have an idea while I go for a walk and I was like maybe I wanna do this or hear an old song or something like an old jazz song - I'll be like oh I wanna sample that. Like wanna loop it and make something new out of it.
IVAN: And you were able to do some of that while you were in sabbatical, right?
LEX: Yes.I was able to. I haven't released any of it. We're going on for almost a year ago now and I haven't released any of it.
IVAN: Well, good stuff like wine takes time, right? So...
LEX: The thing about most of it is I haven't really, I've listened to it and I liked it but it all has a sort of central theme and I don't know. It was a weird time. It was during the election and it was a high sort of a tense time in the world at the time. I would say that the music is a little bit dreary. I will describe it as dreary. It's laid back but it's just something that I don't know.
IVAN: It's not a lounge session. It's more of a somber session.
LEX: It is a little bit. That being said, the track that we use for the podcast intro - that one was sort of a half hour just kinda messing around with different sounds then just kinda.. I came up... I only ended up with the loop that you hear but that's basically it.
IVAN: I love it. I didn't realize that it was original content. I thought "Oh! Lex made this." and you're talking about it now and what I'm thinking "Oh, yeah he made this. He created this," which is cool. So, now it's even better for me. I have my last question - is there something you're excited about that you're going to be doing or that we're embarking on as a company over the next 3 months, six months.
LEX: Well, I guess as far as the company goes I think we have a couple of new projects coming up that sound pretty interesting that I might want to get my hands into a little bit. There's always something going on in the current project I'm on, so they're doing big changes as well so that's.
IVAN: Big theme changes.
LEX: Yeah, design changes. re-design changes and that's been fun. So yeah, that's kind of the main thing. I'm trying to plan a vacation - a real vacation for maybe, spring? I don't know when or where and I'm not really sure what I wanna do. I think one cool thing would be to see like an IndyCar race or a formula one race somewhere, I think that'd be kinda fun to see live and hear live and feel it. I think that'd be a lot of fun. But yeah, I don't know. But that's kinda the thing, exciting thing that I'm planning right now.
IVAN: I'm excited for you too. I had the opportunity to go to a formula one race, but I wasn't able to make it while I was overseas and that's still something that I would love to do as well. I think I told you this - growing up I wanted to be a race car driver but then realized that that was pretty risky especially with the crash and the speed and things. I focused more on becoming an engineer for Ferrari or you know McLaren. But here we are making websites.
LEX: Right. Well, basically they're like race cars under the hood. People don't get to see that though.
IVAN: Thank you very much Lexfunk for joining me. That brings us to the end of this podcast. Thank you for sharing your time with me today. Please visit TEN7.com, and keep an eye out for future Audiocasts and podcasts.