April 30, 2015

Interview with Dan Fellini, NTEN’s Web Developer

Dan Fellini is our newest team member. As NTEN’s Web Developer, Dan will be diving straight into the deep end during our website redesign process; he will also be focused on the planning, development, configuration, integration, and testing of new and existing web-based systems. Learn about Dan in the following interview!

Dan with dog and bike1. Describe yourself in three words.
Passionate, curious, well-rounded.

2. How did you first become involved with the NTEN Community?
I’ve been aware of NTEN for many years, as I began nonprofit work here in Portland back in 2006. Not too long ago, I started a consultancy, and because I adore nonprofits, I wanted to become more ingrained in the community and use my company to serve them. As chance would have it, one of my first clients was NTEN, building out a small microsite. I was hooked immediately.

3. What are some of the lessons you learned from your work at One Economy?
One Economy, which was a nonprofit that promoted digital inclusion among low-income populations, taught me a ton about two things: how important technology is in giving people a leg up in this economy and furthering an organization’s mission; and how a group of diverse, passionate, smart people can change the world in small but significant ways. On a lower level, one of the most important lessons I learned as a technologist is the importance of systems and project management. We grew rapidly as an organization, and our systems needed to grow along with it, or there would have been chaos.

Maybe the most important lesson of all, on a professional level, was learning to say goodbye to something we loved and wind down an organization gracefully when it was time to do so. I think most of us went through the five stages of grief.

4. What are some tips you have for designing or maintaining a website?
Hmm. I don’t really know. I’ve never done that before.

Kidding.

It may sound obvious, but for young organizations or inexperienced tech teams, the first inclination is to just start building. I’ve been guilty of that. Most of us have. For developers, the fun is in the code, not necessarily in the planning.

But I think it’s critical to approach even the smallest sites as a project, and that means project management. It means discovery. It means meeting with stakeholders and really, truly understanding what the intent of the site is, who it is for, and what the payoff will be once the site is built. It also means learning that things aren’t always set in stone, so it’s important to accept change throughout the process.

In the end, most of us come to love project management and embrace it as part of our jobs.

As far as maintaining a site… Go back to what I said earlier. A lot of it has to do with the initial planning. Just about every client I’ve ever worked with has said, “We need a blog!” And so we build them a blog, and launch the site. Six months later, there’s no new content, just three old, stale blog posts.

The planning process really needs to account for future capacity, as well as typical human behavior. We lose interest in things we thought were cool in the beginning. Then everything gets stale. And that includes more than just content. Site features get old; they start degrading as code updates are applied; and then it’s just chaos. An end result of unmaintained features could be devastating security holes that could put your business or organization at risk.

5. Describe a lucky escape you remember having.
So. Long story short, I spent the first part of my adult life with a profound fear of flying. I had a rough landing at Logan Airport in Boston my senior year of college, flying home from a semester abroad, and that was it. I didn’t fly again for about 12 years.

Fast forward to about 2005. I was working at Public Interactive in Boston, where we built tech for public broadcasting. There was a conference in Seattle that I really wanted to go to, since many of my colleagues were going, but I didn’t fly, so I had to decline.

Our CEO sensed how much I wanted to go, so she made a deal with me. She bought us first class tickets, sat next to me, held my hand, and made fun of me just enough to ease my fear a bit.

I cried like a baby when we took off, not because I was afraid, but because Boston looked so beautiful from the sky as we flew toward the sunset.

That one flight was my lucky escape from fear and toward a new life. Within months, my wife and I packed up and moved to Portland. Because I fly now.

6. How did you get into programming?
My entry into programming is a bit odd. I was terrible, awful, just horrible at math when I was a kid. I’ve always loved tech (I ran a BBS on a Commodore 64 and two floppy drives when I was 14) but when I was young, it never even occurred to me that I could understand code.

In 2000 I took a job as a network admin at Public Interactive. Within weeks, I was doing systems administration, which I knew nothing about. This rapid learning in a fast-paced startup environment got me thinking that I could actually learn code.

I was lucky that our web team was not only top notch, but also willing to mentor. Specifically, I had one mentor named Steve who believed in me, and introduced me to Java. Within a few months, he was throwing small projects at me, and over time I became more capable. I continued to grow, even though my job titles would change in different ways over the years.

The one most valuable lesson I learned, and that I try to impart on others, is to lose the fear. I was terrified of math in school, and that’s why I was terrible at it. Looking back, I wish I could have lost that fear, because I think I would have loved Algebra.

I feared code. But once that wall broke down, it became part of my life.

7. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I consider public speaking a superpower which I do not possess. I very much envy people who can stand in front of large crowds and talk about the things they love. I’d rather write it than speak it.

8. Who’s Harold, and how did you meet him?
Harold is my half black lab, half pure awesome dog buddy. My wife and I moved to Portland with our greyhound, Duke, but he left us too soon. There was a hole in our lives, so we decided to check out the Oregon Humane Society. There were so many dogs there that we wanted to take home, but only one of them was perfect. That was Harold, whom we renamed in honor of Harold & Maude (my favorite movie), and oddly, Harold & Kumar. The day Duke died, we needed a break from the sadness, and one of the Harold & Kumar movies was playing at the Kennedy School. It was the perfect amount of silliness to take our minds off Duke for a few hours.

His email address is dan@nten.org. Feel free and encouraged to drop him a note of welcome!

Steph Routh
Steph is Content Manager at NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network. She has spent over a decade in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on organizational development, communications, fundraising, and program planning. Steph served as the first Executive Director of Oregon Walks for five years prior to joining NTEN. She is passionate about removing barriers to opportunities and finding equity at the many intersections of social justice work. And she feels lucky every day she is at NTEN, with a Community that does exactly that. Outside the NTEN office, Steph is the Mayor of Hopscotch Town, a consulting and small publishing firm that inspires and celebrates fun, lovable places for everyone. Steph is married to her bicycle and an aunt of two.
Tags: NTEN staff