Speaker Spotlight: Greg Tatum

When you think of major Internet browsers, two brands usually come to mind: Google and Mozilla. Nowhere Developers is lucky enough to have representation from both heavy hitters at our first annual conference!


Introducing...Featured Speaker: Greg Tatum, Browser Software Engineer at Mozilla!


Bio: Although typically thought of as opposites, there is an odd space between the technical and the creative. With a non-technical degree in contemporary sculpture, and a zeal for picking up programming and math skills, Greg Tatum loves exploring this middle ground. He has been writing visualizations and creative coding experiments for many years. These visualizations range from aquarium interactive exhibits on schooling behavior, to real-time WebGL visualizations that will make your laptop's fan spin very, very loudly. He's a big believer in open source software and has contributed creative coding documentation to three.js, MDN, and his own YouTube channel.


For paid work, he is a Browser Software Engineer for Mozilla, working on DevTools that help make Firefox and the open web faster. He enjoys finding areas where art and design ideas can help break down complicated technical details into data visualizations, or powerful and intuitive user interfaces.


As a featured speaker, Greg will be your guide to bringing technical and creative together to create something awesome.


Topic: Sculpting and Drawing with Algorithms using WebGL


Breakdown: This talk uses WebGL to demonstrate how to think about working with geometry, topology, and math to create interesting 3d forms. The examples are core parts of how I’ve built many of WebGL visualizations. The content of this talk is aimed at a wide variety of technical levels, as there is both a discussion of the technical process, as well interactive real-time graphics generated through the process.


We asked Greg a few questions to get to know him better.  


 What kinds of projects do you work on at Mozilla?

I work on performance tools to help make Firefox run faster and smoother. Lately I’ve been working on perf.html, a profiler for Firefox. The profiler intertwines C++, Rust, and JavaScript call stacks along with custom marker information to help surface what the browser is doing under the hood. This work has been primarily to help Mozilla’s engineers with the new Firefox Quantum release, which is super snappy and awesome (I’m a little biased.) It’s all open source so feel free to come along and watch, or contribute a patch.


What’s the last book you read?

“The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud” by Tom Drury and Tom Clavin. I like biographies because they provide a nice narrative to learn about different times in history.


You mentioned you’re into creative coding. What exactly is creative coding?

It’s the process of taking code, and making some kind of art or visualization with it. My background is in art, and I really like being able to combine the creative and programming process. It’s also nice going from code that is supposed to be correct, to code that sometimes the bugs work nicer than the original intent. My latest work has been titled “Sessions” and has been an attempt to be somewhat prolific and release lots of different work without getting bogged down in correctness.


Can you comment on the current state of WebGL and its adoption?

WebGL at this point has really good adoption across browsers, and WebGL 2 support has been chugging along pretty nicely. I think the biggest industry adopter that most people will know is Google Maps. My favorite part about it is the way that it takes code that would be extremely difficult to run cross-platform, and lets you write it and send text files on the fly to someones computer to run a visualization. Right now there are lots of folks experimenting with WebVR. Mozilla has the A-Frame project which makes VR as easy as writing HTML markup.


What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

My favorite part about meals is the ambiance and experience. There’s nothing like spaghetti and a bottle of wine shared out on a patio on a beautiful spring or fall day.


Can you talk about some of your favorite JavaScript features (current or upcoming)?

I think what keeps me with JavaScript is the radically different styles and flexibility that you can write in. Lately my favorite style of coding has been functional immutable programming. I feel like I can write really expressive stateless code that is predictive, and easy to understand. I also really love the Flow type system. It really helps my team write safe, reliable, and well documented code. The explosion of compiler tools and static linting has really changed the face of JavaScript.


What was the first concert you ever attended?

My childhood friend was a huge Gravity Kills fan. (I even built a fan website for fun.) We drove out to one of their shows in St Louis. We showed up probably 10 hours before the concert started, and waited for the band to show up. I was annoyed and bored at first, but we ended up having a blast when the band showed up and we helped them set up for the show at the venue. We hung out with them until the show started.


Come learn more about Sculpting and Drawing with Algorithms using WebGL from Greg Tatum at the Nowhere Developers Conference*! 

*Seating is limited