Growing the JS Community: An Interview with Mark Dalgleish

Shaumik Daityari

Mark Dalgleish is the lead organizer of MelbJS, a meetup for Melbourne based JavaScript developers every month. He is also one of the most active open source JavaScript developers. Mark talks to Shaumik about his love of JavaScript and how he got involved with MelbJS.

SitePoint(Shaumik): How did you enter the world of web development?

Mark: I got my first taste of web development when I bought a book called “Creative Web Design” in 1999, using it to teach myself HTML on a computer without an internet connection. I was then lucky enough to land a job doing in-house web design work while still in high school, which allowed me to work as a front-end developer before the job title even existed.

SitePoint: Your open source report card says you are among the top 8% most active JavaScript users. What fascinates you about this language?

Mark: My love of JavaScript is actually driven by my love of browsers. I had dabbled with programming when I was much younger, but it was Netscape and HTML that really caught my imagination. There’s still something magical about being able to ship a bundle of HTML, CSS and JavaScript to users on demand, without requiring them to install anything.

SitePoint: Why do you think the JavaScript ‘this’ keyword is so misunderstood?

Mark: I think that a lot of developers are simply missing a solid mental model of how context is resolved in JavaScript. Without this foundation, it’s easy to get the impression that its value is pointlessly pulled out from under you, particularly if you’re passing methods around as callbacks.

SitePoint: People new to JavaScript are often tempted to use ‘this’ (For instance, while closing a jQuery dialog box). What advice do you have for such programmers?

Mark: Usage of ‘this’ inside event handlers is fairly straightforward for beginners. However, if you’re trying to implement object-oriented patterns in JavaScript, I would strongly recommend first understanding how the value of ‘this’ is resolved.

SitePoint: Although node.js is gaining popularity, it still hasn’t released its first stable version yet. Do you think it can take over PHP, Python or Ruby in backend development in the near future?

Mark: Probably not, but I think we’re seeing a move away from monolithic backends towards more specialised services. With this kind of architecture, we’re likely to see much more diversity in technology choices, opening the door to a greater percentage of projects using Node somewhere in their stack.

SitePoint: If you could go back in time and change one thing about JavaScript when it was developed, what would you change?

Mark: Between global objects, AMD, CommonJS and now ES6 modules, our front-end ecosystem is so fragmented when it comes to creating modular code. I wish there could have been a module system and official package manager from day one, like we have with Node. I think we would all be be much further ahead if this had been the case.

SitePoint: What is the future of JavaScript? Do you think some language can take over JavaScript some day?

Mark: The immediate future of JavaScript is in ES6, which is going to leave us with a language that can potentially look completely different, depending on your usage. For another language to become more popular, it would need to treat JavaScript as a compilation target. We’re seeing a lot of innovation in this space with languages like CoffeeScript, TypeScript and ClojureScript.

SitePoint: Which project of yours are you most proud of?

Mark: I’m actually most proud of my work with MelbJS. I’ve been running it for a couple of years now and I’ve relished the opportunity to help build a strong JavaScript community in Melbourne. Our online communities can be so full of snark and negativity sometimes, but MelbJS continues to be a positive environment where we can create new friendships and help each other hone our craft.

SitePoint: How did you become the lead organiser of MelbJS?

Mark: I caught wind of MelbJS on Twitter a few years ago when Anette Bergo was running it at the Thoughtworks offices. MelbJS very quickly outgrew the small space we had available, so we moved to the Aconex offices nearby. I started working as a UI engineer at Aconex so I naturally became much more involved in the meetup. Anette had to hand over the reigns, so I stepped up as the lead organiser, making sure that we have an awesome lineup each month. I created a new website, helped streamline our registration process, and started promoting the event more on Twitter, all of which played at least some part in helping MelbJS really grow in popularity over the months and years that followed.

SitePoint: How does one become a part of the MelbJS community?

Mark: Just show up and say hi! MelbJS is a very welcoming community, and I’m always pushing for new speakers to come forward. Since our meetup has grown so much, a lot of new faces come and go, so it’s a really good idea to hang around afterwards and talk to the speakers and organisers. If you’re working on something cool, it would be great to have you share it with everyone.

SitePoint: What kind of activities constitute the MelbJS meetups? What are your plans for the future?

Mark: Our current format is made up of four presentations around 20 minutes each, with a break in the middle for pizza and drinks. For three years running now we’ve teamed up with Web Directions Code so we can get some international speakers involved and run a speaker Q&A panel, which always proves to be one of our biggest events each year. Our standard format has been running pretty smoothly for a while now, but there has been some talk about ways in which we can improve things. We might be rolling out some new ideas soon, but to see what they are, you’ll have to come along!

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