Scotland JS

Edinburgh, 2018

Interview with Robin Mehner

Robin Mehner


@rmehner
Surviving JavaScript

Hi Robin. Let’s start from general question. Who are you, what you are about, what are your hobbies and such?

This is a lot to say. I am Robin, from Berlin, Germany. I lived in Berlin for most of my life. I am a freelance web developer and also run a company that sells bottled cocktails. This is also my hobby. For living I mostly write JavaScript these days, but also doing Ruby and Go. I used to run a lot of events, namely Reject.JS, which was a conference right before JS Conf EU; also NodeCopter, which was about flying robots on JavaScript. And my hobbies are cats probably :-) I have two cats at home.

Oh, really? I am also big fan of cats. What are you going to talk about at the conference?

I had few ideas in mind about what I might talk about. I gave a talk at FullFrontal last year that was named “JavaScript that doesn’t hurt your feelings”, which was a very technical talk. But this time I’m going to talk about actual feelings and not code. But still related to the JavaScript community. This is my main idea right now. I cannot be more specific on the problem because I’m still kind of wrapping up the talk and finding right angles. But in general it’s about JavaScript, semicolons and feelings.

Interesting. Does it all come from your experience?

Right. Last year I worked on a project for a company that builds products for Africa to fight ebola there and other big diseases. And I learned a lot from them, and they are also a team where I met a lot of different, really great, people. I’ve seen a team growing into really excellent team, but I also saw some parts' fail. I’ll talk about what I’ve learned.

As you said before, you had a few ideas for your talk. If not this one, what you would talk about?

I used to ran event called NodeCopter about flying robots. I did more with that, we used NodeCopter as a tool to teach kids how to program and get them excited for programming. To see children learning to code something physical like flying robot is super nice. Looking for new ways of teaching things. Breaking out of this thought that you have to be a super nerd to be a programmer, that’s also one of the directions I’m going into. Basically looking at the JavaScript right now, what we can do with it, what is possible outside of the browser, thinking in art and robots. Let’s call it JavaScript in unusual places.

How long does it take to code your first robot? From the idea to actually make it do something.

I had been doing the robot stuff before NodeCopter already, so I worked with Arduino and that is quite straightforward, because there is a good community around it. Especially the NodeBots event, they are doing a lot of stuff in that direction and it’s quite really accessible. NodeCopter is using a ready-made robot which you can buy from Amazon. A friend of mine,Felix Geisendörfer, wrote a library for it, so I just started hacking with that as well. An then we had an event. So, from getting the drone unboxed to its first programmed flight, it took maybe a day.

Nowadays it’s very fast, because the library is there, you just have to include that in your code and then you are ready to go. I mean, this was about three years ago, oh no, four years ago. So, a lot of things have happened to it, and it should be way easier these days.

The events organising part of you is also very interesting. You said that you used to… don’t you do it any more?

I still do it but not full conferences any more. The conference which I ran was Reject.JS, we did this together with the team. It was a community conference, similar to ScotlandJS. Cheapish tickets, full day of JavaScript and getting people together. I also was a part of the organizing team for CSSconf EU and JS Conf EU, but majority of work there was done by the other people. I just was there helping them. Also, NodeCopter was the other event. And I still run meetups in Berlin, for example BerlinJS, which is a JavaScript event that we have every month. It’s run by Michelle, Tiffany and me. I still run community events but I will take a break in organizing conferences.

Yeah, it must take a lot of time.

It does! It’s fun, it’s also super rewarding, especially getting people together. But it’s a lot of work.

What was your motivation in the community work and organising?

Mostly getting people together. I want to see more people involved, I want to get away from the picture I described previously. Like, you don’t have to be a nerd kid for programming. You could be a fashion designer with ideas. Bringing all these great ideas together, especially in the JavaScript world, which combines frontend and backend and so much more, like robots. Then you just combine those people and see what they are coming up with. There is certain magic when you get people together and they just start discussing, then, after a while someone creates a project which was inspired by that discussion. It’s just exchanging knowledge and getting to know each other. I’ve seen multiple projects and even friendships starting out from that. Just by meeting people.

Have you even met someone special at conferences?

Yes, definitely. Actually, many people. Last year at Reject.JS we had, for example, Mariko Kosaka. She has a knitting machine which is scripted in JavaScript. This was totally mind-blowing. She knitted me a scarf with JavaScript handled machine and that was amazing. Also, I liked music performance by Jocelyn Ho. That was live music made with JavaScript, and totally interactive with the whole audience. We also had Myles Borins taking about what empathy is, how we should be empathic and what we can do about it. And this was just last year, there has been so much more and many people have inspired me. I could go on but this will last five years or something. If someone is really living it, passionate about any topic and they are really burning for something, this is always mind-blowing. Even though sometimes the topic is not that interesting from the beginning, but if it’s presented by someone very motivated, it’s always gets me.

Yeah, I agree. And ScotlandJS, I’ve been there last year. Have you visited?

Peter was at Reject.JS 2013, that’s how we met. Since then we always have been in contact. This year he asked me to give a talk about these kind of things. I always wanted to go to ScotlandJS but there was not time for it. And now it’s good combination.

A friend of mine, Jan Monschke was there last year giving a talk. He is also a part of Reject.JS organising team, and he was totally impressed by ScotlandJS in Edinburgh. So I have to be there. I’m really looking forward to it.

What do you hope to learn at the conference, do you expect anything?

To be honest, I don’t. Because I usually don’t have any expectations for a conference. I just go there, and I try to be as open as possible and I try to see as much talks as possible and meet with as many people as possible. Because I think for myself, it doesn’t have to be true for everyone, but for me, once I have expectations, it’s easier to get disappointed. I try to go to the conferences having open mind, just look at things and be inspired. I’ve already seen the talks published at the ScotlandJS website and I’m really looking forward to it. Also, some friends will be also speaking there, that’s cool.

They are going to have JavaScript conference. But the day before, there will be CSS conference. Are more JavaScript person, or involved in CSS as well?

Yes, definitely. I mean, like I said before I also was helping out at CSSconf EU. I’m involved with CSS conferences and the CSS community as well but not as much as with JavaScript.

I like when all the frontend people are getting together, because I think we are all doing stuff on the web. It shouldn't be separate things. I think about the idea of merging these communities, but on the other hand I get that people want to have more CSS conferences. CSS grew a lot last year and so did JavaScript. Even in 3 days of conference it’s not possible to cover all the topics anyway. I also like that CSS community is visible in Scotland.

Maybe you can name some technologies which grab your attention? Sometimes people just bump into a new buzz word, get interested, and maybe this will happen while reading your interview.

First thing comes to mind is the ecosystem which React brings, and the data flow patterns around it. Also Rx.js and Observables. Angular for example is taking a lot of inspiration from them and will include it in their new version. The ideas appeared in one framework can be later in another one, and that’s great. I don’t like to see this “my framework is the best and blah blah blah” but I love to see people working together, in the end everyone wins.

Ok, I’m run out of questions. What to talk about? Maybe your hobby, cats? (*shows her cat Kuzya.)

Yeah, we can talk about cats. I actually have a cat which looks kinda like him. She is here. I have two, this is red one, and another one is grey-ish. These are them:

Wow! These photos must make an awesome interview. Nothing attracts people more than cat pictures.

Maybe this a new talk idea, to talk about JavaScript and cats. Actually a friend of mine wrote a website called “JavaScript for cats” http://jsforcats.com/. The idea is to teach newbies about JavaScript. An he is cat fanatic, he loves cats, so he wrote a guide for cats who program JavaScript.

Actually in 2014 I was speaking at Distill and I actually built something for my cats. They cat get food only after they finish an excesses. Unfortunately my cats have a little bit too much weight. So, I encourage them to do some exercises.

Interesting idea. Many would love to hear such talk.

Yeah. And also another thing, I like to code to improve people’s lives. Not for just making money but having impact into real life. As I said before I used to work for Africa to improve African health system, and that was really exciting because you make an impact there. It was not about making a lot of money, or selling the advertisement, or selling contact data or user data. It was about saving people’s lives. That was mind-blowing to be able to do such things with JavaScript. Well, I’m not saying that building a robot for cats is going to save any life, but it’s still improving. Cats’ lives though.

Varya Stepanova

Interview by Varya Stepanova