Alumni Spotlight on Tom Conroy and Joe Pietruch

In this IGM spotlight we’re highlighting Tom Conroy (New Media Interactive Development ‘14) and Joe Pietruch (New Media Design ’08, Game Design & Development ’10, and former IGM instructor) from Forbes Media, LLC.

Current Job Title:

Tom: I'm a front-end web developer for the Design/UX team at Forbes Media, a sub section of the larger Product Team.

Joe: I am a Senior Front-End Developer, Mobile Focused for Forbes Media, LLC.


What’s your current job like?

Tom: As part of the Product team, our goal is to improve the ways in which Forbes gets its editorial content in front of users. That's sort of the higher-level goal -- the things we work on are the product, and we want to make it better every day. 

Specifically, as a front-end developer, my day is spent converting the visual designs crafted by our designers into a functioning web site with CSS, HTML and JavaScript. Front end developers exist at a cool intersection of traditional computer science (in that we're primarily solving technical problems), and design (in that we place a priority on crafting fun, clean and beautiful experiences for our users). It's a unique spot to be in, in that everyone -- the product manager, the designers, the backend developers -- interact with us in some way on every project.

At Forbes in particular, I feel we're given a high level of autonomy to experiment and try new things. It's great feeling like you have real input on the direction any project or initiative may travel. 

Joe: I’m part of the Design/UX team, which is made up of designers and front-end developers. We work on ideas for new parts of I take mocks from the designers and requirements from the product managers and turn them into beautiful fully-functional web pages. When I’m not writing code, you might find me reviewing others’ code, planning more code, mentoring younger employees, stuck in a meeting, or playing board games over lunch.


What skills do you use on a day to day basis?

Tom: There's the technical skills that come into play -- We use a lot of fancy tools and libraries to help us but it mostly all boils down to HTML, CSS and JavaScript -- but on top of that, being a front end developer calls for some important soft skills and the ability to communicate across disciplines. Since we're at the intersection of design and code, it's our responsibility to both understand the technical limits of a system, the intended feel of a design or user interaction, and the practical limits of a time-constrained project. So being able to juggle all those priorities is pretty important, and a frequently needed skill!

Joe: On a daily basis I work with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The work boils down to fetching data by way of some API calls, transforming it into a workable format, and displaying it to the screen. This becomes interesting because we need to account for differences in browser feature support, screen sizes, and performance while also keeping everything as small and as fast as possible. Some tools we work with include: ES6 with JSX and the React Redux framework, Git for version control, Slack for communication, node/npm for modules and serving, Webpack for build processes, and Docker for deployment packaging.


What’s your most memorable moment from your time in IGM?

Tom: It's hard to pick a single favorite, but one moment that stands out to me is the New Media Team Project course.  Prior to this course, you predominantly work either solo or with other people in your major, tackling course projects - which is great, but also a bit like working in a silo. NMTP was one of the first opportunities to work cross-discipline, with students in our sibling New Media majors (Design, Marketing) across campus, and create something unique and cool. Plus, it's just a lot of fun!

Joe: I spent 10 years at RIT from Fall 2004 to Spring 2014 (as a New Media Design undergrad student, Game Design & Development grad student, and a Lecturer for IGM). Asking me to pick one moment as most memorable really isn’t fair, so I’ll chose one at random. The stand-out moment for randomness occurred the day Mighty Taco opened down the street from campus, with both lines (standing and drive-thru) wrapping well around the building. A student posted to Facebook about having gotten some tacos. I offered to buy one of his excess tacos and covertly snuck into the classroom he was in, paid for and received said taco, and snuck out – all the while trying to stifle my laughter at the absurdity of the situation. It was a delicious taco.


What helped prepare you the most for your current position?

Tom: Not to sound like a broken record, but the New Media Team Project I mentioned above. Of course the other technical course work helps a ton in that it teaches you to think like a developer, however figuring out how to apply your knowledge to recreate a designer’s vision is very different to hacking on things all by yourself. It requires coordination, communication, patience and discipline to work as a unit and meet deadlines, and that's exactly the kind of climate you'll find yourself in the "working world", which is why I think courses like this are so hugely important!

Joe: RIT provided me with a solid foundation of web concepts and skills. Without that scaffolding, I would not have survived my first week on the job. Here’s a list of the things I touched and/or read about during just my first week at Forbes: Node + npm, Bower, Yeoman, Grunt, AngularJS, Jasmine, Karma, CodeKit, Jira, Phabricator, GitHub, Mantis, Basecamp, Tower, PhantomJS, Jenkins, Arcanist, Optimizely, Varnish, Sass/Compass, Testacular, Webstorm, Sublime, Protractor, Charles. Of that list, I had prior experience with perhaps 9 items, and it is likely half of them did not exist when I was a student. Still, I was able to pick them up and run with them because of the groundwork learned at RIT.


What’s a piece of advice you’d give to current IGM students?

Tom: Apply what you know, and just start building things! It's easy to feel overwhelmed in the development world -- there's constantly a million new things to learn, and tomorrow there will be a million more. But RIT provides you with an excellent foundation to think critically and approach problems in solvable chunks. Just apply that mindset to any idea you have (a pet project, an app idea, a tool to help you get work done, a funny website -- anything!) and you'll be far better off than your peers. And who knows, maybe one of those ideas will grow into something a bit bigger than just a pet project? You won't know until you try.

Joe: Build things. Ideas are great, but a thing that exists, that you can show people, that you can have them interact with, is much greater than even the best idea. Plus, the learning that happens as a result of applying what you learn in the classroom to the problems you encounter and solve on a side project is different than what you’ll get reading a book or watching a video or listening to a lecture.