Devrims #TechTalk 050: Margarita Cabrera Discuss How To Be A Great Web Developer

Rimsha Victor Gill

Devrims #TechTalk 050: Margarita Cabrera Discuss How To Be A Great Web Developer

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Margarita Cabrera isn’t your average code-slinging developer. She was the co-lead of WordPress’s newest default theme: Twenty Twenty Four.

Needless to say, she’s got the skills to pay the bills – CSS, HTML, JavaScript, you name it.

But what truly gets her fired up are projects that make a real difference for users. Think of her as the developer with a heart of gold (and a killer command of Git aliases).

Her agency background honed her adaptability. Currently working at Automattic, Margarita is working on her leadership. For our “golden jubilee” of interview, we couldn’t have anyone better than Margarita.

Devrims: Hey Margarita, thanks for being here today. Thinking back to when you were beginning your career, what motivated you to focus your skills specifically on web development? Were there any pivotal early experiences that captured your interest?

Margarita: The web has always been my main focus. WordPress and web development were a hobby for me that I decided to pursue formally at the start. I’ve always been passionate about it, and it was my focus when I looked for training on the subject. It all began around 2007 when I opened a personal blog. It started as a free site on Blogger, but in just a few months, I migrated to self-hosted WordPress with my own domain. Tweaking my theme piqued my interest, and I was lucky enough to have engineer friends who guided me at the start, enough for me to decide that I wanted to pursue a career in web development professionally.

Devrims: You have over 11 years of web development experience. What do you consider your biggest areas of expertise, and how have you developed such deep knowledge over your career?

Margarita: I am most comfortable working in areas that are as close as possible to the end user. I am in love with CSS, and I’m constantly interested in learning more about it and deepening my knowledge. Having said that, I’m used to a lot of context-switching, and being flexible in general is very important for me. Before I joined Automattic, I worked for agencies, so I became quickly accustomed to adapting to whatever technologies or frameworks our clients demanded from us. I think that adaptability has served me well over time.

Devrims: As a JavaScript specialist, what exciting developments in the language are you most enthused about lately? How do you stay on top of new best practices?

Margarita: I’m not usually too on top of the new trends, but they reach me organically through my peers, so I pick them up when I see they could be relevant to my work.

Devrims: Managing competence across HTML, CSS, Sass, PHP, jQuery, Vue, MySQL, usability, and more is impressive. What’s your strategy for self-directed learning across this diverse skill set?

Margarita: As I mentioned before, that comes from my background of working with agencies, and it came with time and experience. Depending on the needs of the clients I worked with, we would work with the tools they required from us or the ones that fit the project better. 

Devrims: What web development projects have been most meaningful for honing your technical abilities over the years? Can you walk me through some technical challenges you overcame on one favorite project?

Margarita: My favorite projects are not the ones that have been most technically challenging. That may speak to the kind of developer that I am or my personal preferences, but I don’t always prefer working on the most complex features for the sake of the challenge rather than the impact they may have on users, and those don’t always go hand-in-hand. 

I think the key elements that have shaped who I am as a developer have been time and people. The teams I’ve worked with have done much more for my skills as a developer than any training or project could have ever done.

Devrims: In addition to hard technical skills, what other capabilities are most important for senior developers? How do you demonstrate strengths like user-centric design, testing rigor, leadership, etc?

Margarita: I think that depends on the developer and what they want to do with their career. For me, leadership has been on my mind a lot lately. Working as co-lead of the new default theme for WordPress: Twenty Twenty-Four has been pretty eye-opening. Working alongside over 100 contributors from all walks of life and different areas of expertise for quite a short period has been an amazing learning experience. I think if you work on open source, learning about leadership, community, and communication is pretty much vital.

Devrims: As an experienced professional, what career development goals are you focused on now? What steps are you taking to get there?

Margarita: As I mentioned before, leadership is on my mind a lot, but I quite like where I am at the moment career-wise, so I’m looking to improve my current skills to be able to add more to the WordPress project and move a little outside of my comfort zone when working on Gutenberg features.

Devrims: What habits, tools, or techniques help you manage your projects and time effectively as a high-performing senior engineer?

Margarita: A good friend once told me that it wasn’t the tools or how fast he was at typing that was a bottleneck for productivity. Most of the time, the blocker is someone’s brain, and how one approaches a problem is what slows you down. I pick and leave tools and techniques as I find them while they serve me, but I don’t have many that I swear by. I can’t live without my aliases for Git commands, and lately, Obsidian has been invaluable for note-taking and helping “build my second brain.” (The “second brain” is something I’m recently trying. I’m a forgetful person, so I will definitely adapt the concept to help me with that.)

Devrims: What tips do you have for talented junior/mid-level developers who want to advance their skills and careers to a senior level someday? What should they focus on?

Margarita: Never stop learning. This is a golden rule in this industry, wherever you want to work, it will always be relevant, no matter how senior you are or how stable your role is. Learn how to be good at communicating your ideas and intentions. This is even more crucial if you work in open source. Both your code and your pull requests and reviews should be easy to understand by your current audience and the future one, always keep that in mind.

Devrims: Our readers would love to have a look at your work desk.

Devrims: Who would you like us to interview next and why?

Margarita: I got three names:

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