A RedMonk Conversation: Sean McQuaid – from Waffle Fries to TypeScript

A RedMonk Conversation: Sean McQuaid – from Waffle Fries to TypeScript

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Join RedMonk analyst Kate Holterhoff and Sean McQuaid, Lead Software Engineer at Chick-fil-A, as they chat about the Atlanta conference scene, software engineering at Chick-fil-A, and some hot takes on the state of Frontend frameworks, micro-frontends, TypeScript, and leveraging AI code assistants.

Transcript

Kate
Hello and welcome to this Redmonk Conversation. My name is Kate Holterhoff, Senior Analyst at Redmonk and joining me today is Sean McQuade, Lead Software Engineer focused on web platforms at Chick -fil -A. Sean, thanks so much for being here.

Sean McQuaid
Thank you for having me, really excited.

Kate
Alright, so Sean and I are both local to Atlanta, making it unsurprising that we run into each other at pretty much every Atlanta conference. So I attended Sean’s super interesting TypeScript presentation at Dev Nexus.

which was just a couple months ago. And Dev Nexus is ostensibly a Java conference, but they’ve got a web dev track, so it worked out for me. And most recently we chatted at Render. So I guess let’s begin by, are you planning on attending any other Atlanta events this year that I need to add to my calendar?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, yeah. So I’m probably going to go to Connect Tech. That’s another one run by Vincent and Pratik. So I’m definitely going to go to that. I applied to speak. I don’t know if I am yet or not, but we’ll see. Yeah. So yeah.

Kate
Very good.

Kate
We’ll see. Okay, well good luck to you. Yeah, I know KubeCon in 2025 will be in Atlanta. And then, yes, and then I heard about Supercomputing is gonna be here in the fall. I’m not sure if I’m gonna be attending that one, but yes, Atlanta is a very good location to be if you’re part of the conference tech scene.

Sean McQuaid
real.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, render was pretty awesome too this year too.

Kate
I had an amazing time. I know I met so many folks who I had just kind of lurked on on Twitter. Yeah, I couldn’t believe the the number of folks and it just exceeded my expectations as more so than than last year even which I talk about at length. The VIP room had massage chairs last year and I’ll just never I’ll never recover from that fact.

Sean McQuaid
That’s who did you feel like what talks at render did you go to and like what were some of the notable people you kind of bumped into?

Kate
yeah. let’s see. So I went to Ashley Willis’s talk and that one blew my mind. I think what I really enjoyed about her talk this year was, that she had so many illustrations and she had created all of them for this particular talk based on locations in Atlanta. And I just, the amount of prep that would have had to go into that, I can’t even wrap my head around it. So I was, I was really impressed with that. I thought that was pretty amazing, but, but yeah, I, I, you know, the, Kelsey Hightower.

keynote I thought was phenomenal as well. So those were probably my two highlights.

Sean McQuaid
I think mine was Sean Day’s talk on remix. So like context, like I had a talk on Friday about remix later in the day and I made the mistake of going to her talk before mine. So I walked in the room and I hear it. It was probably the best talk I’ve ever heard in a conference. Like the whole room’s chuckling. She has them all laughing. They’re all super engaged. She’s killing it. And I went up to her afterwards. I’m like, man, you really know how to set me up for failure.

Kate
no.

Kate
no.

Sean McQuaid
I’m not going to find but like her talk was like next level so I really appreciate her energy so that was like a highlight for me for sure and Ken Wheeler’s talk was just kind of interesting because Ken was just kind of unhinged during it because the sound wasn’t working so he was like I mean if anyone talks to Ken for five minutes like you know he’s unapologetically Jersey like he just was dropping it like nothing else during that talk

Kate
in.

Kate
You

Kate
That is amazing. I’m so sorry I missed both of those talks. Those sounded great. Are they going to be recorded and put on YouTube? Am I able to go back in time?

Sean McQuaid
I wish, I don’t know if they were this year, to be honest. Yeah.

Kate
Okay, okay. There were a lot of cameras, a lot of filming going on, both by the attendees and the conference organizers, but I wasn’t sure what the intent was. Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
I don’t know. I’m kind of fascinated to see like in the coming weeks, like what I ended up getting. Like what silly pictures of me do they have of me speaking? All my coworkers already have a couple Slack emojis created from render where my mouth was just wide open during it. So yeah, yeah. So yeah, yeah. Anyone who’s looking to do a conference talk, definitely make sure you look good. Cause if you don’t, your coworkers are going to meme you real quick.

Kate
No! my God.

Kate
I love that so much. my God. Well, I think that’s a good segue. So, you know, we kind of jumped right into the conference thing, but let’s talk a little bit about what you do. So can you talk about maybe, you know, start with your background and then tell us what you do at Chick -fil -A beyond just snacking on waffle fries.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah.

Yeah, I’m not like the typical like software engineer track person. Like I actually was in the music industry for a long time and I taught myself how to code. And then I ended up, I was working a day job that I wasn’t really thrilled about. So during the day, like I was an academic advisor at Georgia state for music students and between like those meetings with students, which that was really tough. Cause like, I’m very empathetic and I was dealing with students who like, were like, yeah. So like I’m homeless and I’m like, well how can I help you? And there were like legal implications to like what I could do.

So like it was very soul -crushing work from like how I felt about it

So I was like teaching myself how to code during the day kind of out of necessity because I wanted a day job where I felt a lot more fulfilled and where I wasn’t needing to deal with like these very real art situations day in and day out. Like I’m just not wired to do that. So I went to coding bootcamp for a few months, quit my day gig, gave up all of my gigs on my instrument for like four months plus probably closer to six months realistically. And then I landed my gig at Chick -fil -A afterwards, which was really fortuitous. And since then I’ve done

everything from like quality engineering on the mobile app. I’ve done like back end development for like all the systems for the mobile app.

Sean McQuaid
I worked on our web ordering platform, which is used for our individual and catering orders. I built like a bunch of internal tools for operators, built my own micro front end platform. Like I’ve gotten to do a lot and actually it’s kind of funny timing. Like I’m changing roles in the next couple of weeks to a different team. So I’ve been very like customer focused on the website, but now I’m moving to the operator side. So operator and team members. So I’ll be building a lot more technology that’s focused on supporting the restaurant going forward.

Kate
That’s so exciting. I did not realize you were a bootcamp grad. I’m so interested in bootcamps. that’s great. Yeah, okay. And so do you actually go into the campus?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah. Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
I go in like once a week. That’s like my barometer is once or twice a week. What I’ve really grown to appreciate about Chick -fil -A, like they’re hybrid, but they’re like hybrid in the sense that you could be mostly remote and then when there’s something they want you in person for, come in instead of like having a hard and fast requirement, which is nice. So like if I don’t have any in -person meetings this week that require me to be on campus, I could just stay at home, which is nice.

Kate
that is, yeah, no, when I heard that employers were moving back to the office, I was like, this is never gonna fly for one and also just why, you know, there’s just no reason. So I’m really glad that they’re, you know, respecting that at Chick -fil -A. And so for folks who are not from Atlanta and who haven’t visited the compound, or I’m not sure what term they used to describe it, I feel like it would behoove us to like, just take a moment to, can you set the scene? Like, where do you, talk about your office.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah. Yeah, it’s weird. So there’s two offices actually in Atlanta that people don’t know about one of them, but I’ll talk about the main one and the other one.

The main one is near the airport. So it’s, I’ll never forget when I was interviewing there, I drove up and I’m like in college park, which is not like the most like hip area in Atlanta. Like it’s a little sketch depending on where you go. And I’m driving up, I’m like, what the heck am I doing here? Like, is this like going to be like some scam or something? And I pull up and like, lo and behold Chick -fil -A has like this giant campus basically throughout like near the airport. It’s like a five to 10 minute drive from the airport tops. It’s beautiful. Like we have like all these buildings, all this like very intentional.

landscaping scenery. We have multiple open concept office spaces across the street from the really nice foresty area. It’s insane. We have our own cafeteria, which has a bunch of Chick -fil -A products in addition to other food that we have there. We have catering sometimes from Fox Bros, which is a popular barbecue spot in Atlanta. Little Ray, which that’s a new favorite Mexican spot for me recently. So they do a bunch of awesome stuff for us. It’s beautiful.

Kate
I had no idea. I did not know that they did some catering. But yeah, I mean, all these lunches are free, right? I mean, this is, and you could like bring a guest. Amazing. I am sorely tempted. And you didn’t mention there’s a car museum in there, right?

Sean McQuaid
Yep, yep, so whenever you want to come, you can let me know.

Sean McQuaid
There is, it’s like a light one. So it’s kind of interesting. Sure, Cathy, when he passed away, he had like all of these vintage cars. But, and I could be wrong in the story, but my understanding is when he passed, I think none of the cars were specified in his will to his kids intentionally, because he wanted all the proceeds to go to charity. So all of his kids went to auction and like,

put vids on him like the OG Batmobile that he has like all this crazy stuff. So like, yeah, you go to the main lobby of Picolet like there’s like six vintage cars and there’s a bunch more that Truett had that got sold at auction for charity also.

Kate
my God. Yeah, that’s, that’s incredible. Okay. So yeah. So, you know, ping pong tables, they got nothing on the tech scene at Chick -fil -A, you know, Batmobile, what?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, we have ping pong tables. I will say that. It is kind of weird.

Kate
Okay.

Sean McQuaid
It’s a weird office space in some ways. So like the normal office area, we have this place called the deck, which is like the IT deck back in the day. And basically like before it got renovated heavily, it was like a dark hole underneath the parking deck. Like that was like the typical developer cave where people would work. And that’s where like the ping pong tables are, but they’ve done a lot of renovation recently and it’s become a lot more open, nice, like welcoming. And we have an open office space across the street called Lincoln 300 or Hatch, which is like our innovation space, which has like all these

open concept like standing desks there’s like a video game area that no one ever uses because we’re too busy yeah it’s kind of funny how that plays out but yeah Chick -fil -A is definitely an interesting space to work and we have another office at Ponce City Market actually that not a lot of people know about so do you know yeah do you know where the Kroger is like across from Ponce like the old Merck Kroger we have a floor of that there yeah

Kate
I am among them. I did not know that. Wow.

Yes, yeah, yeah.

Wow! that’s really cool!

Sean McQuaid
We share it with like Slalom and like a couple other companies, but yeah, we have a full floor there. That’s actually mainly where I work out of if I go in for the most part.

Kate
How funny, yeah, I know Slalom, because I attended a Google Next event there on the roof. They had Bloody Marys on the roof. I was like, is this heaven? Yeah, it was pretty cool. It was, I had no idea. Okay, well this is news to me. The only I know of an innovation center on Georgia Tech’s campus from when I was teaching there, did they still have that?

Sean McQuaid
It’s a nice roof too. It’s a really nice roof.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, we I think we still do. I could be wrong. We might have wouldn’t surprise me if after COVID we got rid of it.

Kate
Okay.

yeah.

Sean McQuaid
not surprised me in the slightest given what I know. I know we saw a pipeline of Georgia Tech students that come through, but I don’t know if it’s the same innovation center. They just call Hatcher innovation space because it’s like this giant open concept area. And I think they needed a fancy word to describe it, the people when they came to visit. It’s pretty cool. We have them.

Kate
Okay.

Sean McQuaid
Like, you know when you see like the space landing like those NASA like almost looks like a NASA themed trailer? Like we have one of those and it’s it’s really weird. Like it is a very out space.

Kate
Huh.

man. Yeah, that’s wild. Yeah, it’s so funny because, you know, I guess most folks think of Chick -fil -A as being a conservative company that, you know, focused on chicken. You know, it’s a, I mean, what a rival would be like Zaxby’s, but there is a whole sort of tech scene surrounding Chick -fil -A, which, you know, you wouldn’t expect. I mean, I think that the fact that many folks who, you know, focus on ops know about Chick -fil -A would be that there’s a Kubernetes, what cluster I guess, in every store.

I mean, can you talk about that at all? I mean, I’m afraid I have the story wrong. Okay.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, that’s all public anyway. It has to do with like our IOT pod. So they support like our restaurant internet of things pod. Like they have this like Uber 90s cluster in the restaurant that plugs into a bunch of technology we have. Like one of them is like, I think the example in the article is like, aha, our automated holding assistant plugs into this cluster in some way. It’s, I don’t have a ton of details on it. Frankly, that that is getting into my role soon to like learn more about that problem.

But it is intriguing like I found out about Chick -fil -A because of that article that was put out actually about like kubernetes with that and I was like What the heck is going on here? Like I didn’t even know why They were doing it and getting here. Yeah, there’s like a huge index on like technology and like focus there I think what I’ve really grown to appreciate is like I Feel like we’re very much on the bleeding edge of like a lot of things that I wouldn’t have expected from like a quick service brand

Like we have a lot of investment going on into technology, particularly in like the customer and restaurant technology space. Like we have a considerable amount of resources and times and money spent improving like both the customer experience and our operators experience managing their business.

Kate
Hmm, okay. Well, I guess I’ll have to have you come back on and tell us more of the details there. But yeah, I mean, that’s… Yeah. Okay. Well, then let’s talk about what you are focused on or have been historically at least. So what do you… So you kind of, I guess what, characterized as a sort of list of what you have worked on in the past.

But my research focuses on the front end. I’m certainly interested in this space here. So I’m interested in how it’s shifting, evolving in terms of a career trajectory for developers and also a technology staff. So the fact that you’re moving away from it interests me.

Sean McQuaid
No, I’m still in front actually. I’m still fully, I’m web focused on restaurant technology. That’s the interesting thing. That’s never going to change. I’m always going to be in the front end space if I can help it. I can do both, but I’d rather be front end. In terms of what I’ve been focused on, so like I’m more of like a web architect. So like I get brought into projects to help improve like

Kate
Okay, okay.

Kate
Okay.

Kate
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
the architecture of their project, problems they’re having, like a big one that I recently had was like, our web ordering platform was on JavaScript for like four years, like pure JavaScript. And I got them on TypeScript over the course of like three months. And it was like a huge code base. So I had to do, that talk you saw was greatly born out of me working on that code base for like three months straight and going, I gotta like think of systems to handle this. Cause if I don’t, I’m gonna blow my brains out. Like it was really tedious work. So I’ve been really focused

like web front end on our customer portfolio, which all of our customer portfolio entails like apps that face the user primarily. And within that we have like tools that we have for operators. It’s kind of a weird mix. Like there are tools that the customer team maintains that operators use, but they’re focused on like configuring digital ordering in some way, shape or form. The way I’m moving is more focused on like the operator running their business, but

Kate
Hmm.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, I’ve been primarily like React engineer JavaScript starting out then moved to TypeScript pretty shortly into that. Cause I saw the benefits of like, I like types. Like I’m a huge fan of that sort of thing. And yes, you can get away with murder still with TypeScript compared to other languages, but still it’s better than just like going raw with JavaScript, which has been nice.

And yeah, so I’ve done a lot of different architecture efforts like micro front end setups at Chick -fil -A for a couple of projects, which has been interesting. Done everything from like server side rendering to client side rendering, weighing those trade -offs, helping teams.

Again, like holistically looking at their architecture and like what the problems they have are and how I could help solve them. So I typically like, I do some light feature work, but it’s usually to inform my architecture decisions. Like I can make a lot of assumptions about a developer’s experience, but I’m not really going to know what that experience is unless like I do it. Because if I feel like something sucks, like how am I going to tell someone, Hey, you should do this pattern or like, Hey, we should be caching data in this way. But here’s like the reason why it sucks. Like I can’t, I can’t just hand some.

to someone without having some empathy for what they’re going to do. So a lot of my focus is like on architecture and developer experience, making it like as seamless for people to ship as possible, really.

Kate
Hmm. Okay. So does that mean that you’re putting up like guardrails so that the other developers on your team aren’t doing something that isn’t kind of like part of the, you know, the company wide plan? Is that like a big part of, okay.

Sean McQuaid
Kind of. Yeah.

I’m usually like reviewing code a lot to like help with that. But some of it’s also like, I have to POC something out and give them patterns to follow. And like, they have to go and implement it after I’ve done the initial work. So like example on that web ordering project, like they were using Redux, but like 2015 Redux patterns without using Redux toolkit or like some more modern stuff that would actually make their lives easier. So I had to spend months again, like after doing the TypeScript stuff, I immediately went into doing Redux toolkit.

for them and had to move every single massive reducer they had. So one of their reducers was over 900 lines of code just for that, which is crazy.

And I had to basically move them to like a more modern tool to get them like off of these bad patterns. And so now they’re shipping more effectively when they work with Redux, which they weren’t before. And the next thing I had to focus on was like data fetching, cause they were doing old school, like manual data fetching with Redux and storing it indefinitely in Redux instead of thinking about smart caching it. So I’ve been, before I was like getting ready to move on to this new team, I’d been helping them get.

set up with like Redux toolkit query to help with their data fetching to be a lot more streamlined and effective and use smart caching and all of that sort of thing. So a lot of it’s like focused on helping with toolings that way they are equipped to ship better because you kind of know this being the front end ecosystem, but I feel like every year there’s like another like, crap moment of like a new thing that’s come out that like people have to be concerned with and.

Sean McQuaid
I’ve kind of been in the school of thought if someone on your team isn’t actively like thinking about those moments and like thinking about how those things play into your project, like you can really easily miss out on stuff. Like that’s like a very big reality in software. Like there are, this team was originally on Create React app and they still were up until a year ago.

And like that has been sunset for quite some time. There are a lot of teams that if you don’t, if I find in front end, it’s interesting. Like I think there’s like two categories in my mind. I hate this terminology, but it’s kind of true. Like you have pixel pushers, people that really like building features and like really love the UI element. But then you have like unicorns that are like more architects that appreciate the pixel pushing, but also like want to make sure things are built at like a scalable rate. And you need both. Like you need people that are really passionate about like the business use case for like your app.

but you also need someone that’s like looking at React server components and going, hey, that has like a compelling use case for us. And like, I need to figure out how I’m going to get us positioned to use that within the next couple of years when it hits. Like there’ve been a lot of moments I particularly feel in the past three years that have kind of warranted that role a lot more. And that’s mainly what I’ve served on a lot of the teams I’ve been on is getting them positioned to like do the next best thing for their products.

Kate
Yeah, I’m really interested in hearing about the types of front end technologies that you’re backing right now. And so of course TypeScript’s up there. It sounds like Redux. So, and you had mentioned micro front ends. And so actually to go back to Render, the folks from Zephyr Cloud actually attended Render and I have spoken with them a fair bit. And I know that they’re, you know, they’re servicing micro front ends. You know, that’s, that’s part of their…

sort of what you know the technology that they’re backing the importance of these micro front end so yeah what’s your opinion about them is that something that you think is going to be the future or was it just kind of a particular project?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, I got asked to build it for a particular project and ironically, the new project I’m moving to like mainly is mostly micro frontends. I think there’s validity to use cases like micro frontends solve organizational problems. They don’t really solve technical problems like having a technical problem and like your developer experience is bad. The best developer experience is still running one application and like just adding new smaller apps within that like via like routing, but

Kate
Okay.

Sean McQuaid
In my opinion, micro -frontends are really effective if you have like a lot of teams contributing to one project. Like the one I’m moving to, there are like five or six different pods of people. I think there is somewhat of like…

It’s kind of hard because like I hate saying like the moment you exceed five teams you need to use a micro front end or something like that. I don’t really believe that because I I believe I’m actually working on a talk right now for like a meetup about like architecting for front end projects longevity and one of those things I think about a lot is like when you have an organizational change you actually do have to like think about like what your architecture looks like and I’ve seen it go on both ends like I’ve seen my gosh we need a micro front end because like now we have five teams contributing to this one repo and then literally two months later never mind we’re gonna

merge all the teams back together so we don’t need it anymore like I’m very hesitant to index on them because I know of the maintenance costs that are associated with them I my preference if I were like building a project from scratch and I knew I had those problems particularly at Chick -fil -a like we will not staff to the degree that like a team like Netflix will right

I think the reality is I would rather go for a mono repo that has really solid code owners directories for routing and have like a platform team that maintains standards more than like necessarily getting really crazy with micro front ends because they are really hard to maintain and really hard to figure out a lot of the bigger problems you’d have outside of just using an individual like mono repo.

Like for example, global state management with like a micro front end is really hard to figure out. Like you’re talking about sharing something at runtime between a bunch of different apps and you have to figure out a way to do that. And I figured it out. Like I used a module, like a web pack externals with single spot to figure that out, but it was, it sucked. Like it was a really hard problem to solve. And I don’t know again, like now that I figured it out, yeah, like I can do that. But would I want to do that again?

Sean McQuaid
Nah, like probably not. Like I would rather use a monorepo and go, all right, like let’s use like Zuchstrand, Redux, or any tool of global state management to handle this like use case. Like let’s just call it a day.

Kate
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s interesting. And it sounds like there’s room for innovation there for folks who do want to go that route. But the pain is real. So then, yeah. What is the other parts of the stack that you’re backing right now? Where else do you see the future of front end going?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
I mean, I think the React team backing like a framework or officially is great.

Kate
I don’t know.

Sean McQuaid
I’ve been really partial to remix, which is now becoming a React router again, which I think is funny because I’ve used React router basically from when I started. And I think there’s like a huge track record there, but it’s tough because like, I think at the end of the day, like there’s so much innovation happening here. Like, I think there are three main competitors in my eyes right now for like the React ecosystem. It’s like next, which they’ve been churning out a lot of stuff, remix or react router, whatever you want to call it. And then there’s like Tanner Lindsley off in the corner, like

hacking away, indie hacking like his own framework, which I would highly trust because he has a great track record with everything else he’s put out. So like, I think it’s very tough to go wrong if you index on the framework route right now. What I would discourage people from doing is like, I don’t know, like I think there’s a lot of innovation, but again, don’t start like rolling your own like.

framework, essentially by using like Vite plus like some bespoke routing, routing and data fetching patterns, like lean into using a framework. So like I honestly, I’m bought into all of those. I’m like anything, any front end library I think is valid. Like I actually don’t mind Angular. I think Vue is great too. It’s all that I’m really excited about.

But no matter what, I think indexing on like a true framework is almost always better in my experience because if you don’t, you end up with like a bunch of spaghetti code. So that’s, that’s what I’m backing. Use a framework.

Kate
Use the framework. I like it. I like it. And how about the data question? You’ve kind of mentioned data a little bit, but I mean, it seems like everyone’s talking about islands, hydration right now, the caching problems. What’s your philosophy around data management, especially on the client side?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, I think it’s really challenging because like we are moving into a paradigm again where it’s like very focused on the server and what I didn’t love about Remix’s philosophy with it originally was like, yeah, just use a server side cache. I’m telling you now, if I told the front end engineer, hey, you need to set up a Redis cache to handle this, they’re going to look at me like I’m speaking Greek. Like no one’s going to think of doing that. So I think the reality is where I think data is going to move is I would love to see like

people using client -side caches like TanStack query, Redux Toolkit query, whatever tool you wanna use to handle that, that’s where I see it moving. With server components, it gets really intriguing though, because you have a server payload that could be…

You know, like a server component, Tanner has like kind of thrown out some like bespoke tweets about, well, you could use tan sack query to cache that also like cache the component itself, which that I’ve never thought about until I saw I’m like, I guess you could technically like there’s a way to do that. I’m sure. But it just, again, like when I heard that I was like, true. Like what are you talking about, Tanner? This is next level. So to me, like when I’m thinking about data fetching, like I’m thinking about future wise, like I think server components is definitely very composable in that.

Kate
Okay.

Sean McQuaid
But there needs to be a better story about caching I think the next team dug themselves into a hole a little bit inadvertently when they were like hey We’re gonna patch fetch and you’re gonna use our specific headers that handle caching Everyone hated that like no one enjoyed using that and now they’re moving back to going Hey, let’s use a cache function to handle it, which I think is the right that’s the right call like

When you start monkey patching, like globals, it never ends well. Like we’ve seen that a lot of times in the ecosystem. So I think overall with data, like what I’m looking at is like, I think the future is probably certain components, but I think there’s still a degree of like continuing to use the client side cache because that’s just the right thing to do. Like you don’t want to hammer the server a million times to get the same component if it never changes parameters. That’s just how, that’s just good practices and software. Don’t over -fetch data.

Kate
All right. And I’ve been very interested in code delivery lately. So, you know, the idea of compilers, the Webpack ecosystem. I think you’ve mentioned a few of these things in passing here, but, you know, what’s your feeling about the build for client -side apps? Is it, you know, are we moving toward a more simple solution? Should we be? And, you know, are we going to be compiling code forever?

Sean McQuaid
think we’ll still be compiling code, but what I’m really excited about is like the VEET ecosystem. Like I really think what I found really hard about Webpack was like their plugin ecosystem was so hard to work with.

It was, I mean, just, I remember like spending hours and hours trying to figure out code splitting stuff with it. Like there’s just so many problems inherently with web pack that makes it really challenging to work with. And it’s great. Like what it think about it, like anytime we complain about problems, like five to 10 years ago, they were, these were solutions to existing problems. Like, I think what I get excited about with feed is they’ve looked at like what web packs doing and like, they’ve already made it faster using rollup and everything. But what they’re looking at now is making their own.

Rust based compiler with roll down, which is really exciting because the next or the Vercel teams looking at making their own like webpack equivalent with turbo pack and it’s built on rust. But now V is kind of going in a similar direction. So I think even if we compile code, it’s going to be a lot faster in the next few years, which that’s like super exciting because webpack it’s still not bad. Like if anyone’s built in the Java ecosystem, I don’t even want to hear them complain about webpack. Like it’s really challenging the Java ecosystem to build and compile code.

With VEAT, it’s like my builds are maybe a minute tops and like, I think it’s very first -fold problems to be complaining about a minute of my time spent.

Kate
Yeah, yeah, that’s all of it’s using up that doesn’t seem too bad. I know, I think what’s interesting is when folks are like, no, you’re gonna save all this money on your developer’s time because the builds will be quicker and therefore they can spend that minute and a half coding. And it’s like, I don’t think that that’s how it’s gonna work. I’m not sure that that minute’s actually gonna be used for productivity, but hey, you know.

Sean McQuaid
I do think minutes and CI matter. That’s where I’m adding up. Local builds? Whatever. You’re gonna wait a minute anyway, you’re gonna scroll on your phone, that’s just the reality.

Kate
Okay.

Kate
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
like CI minutes where you’re waiting for someone to review and like, let’s say you have like a production issue and like, you need to get this build out ASAP, saving those minutes in CI matters. That’s what like, I actually have become a huge fan of like platforms as a service like Versel because it really is a lot faster with how they build and like install dependencies and everything. And like that’s developed, there’s developer productivity to that. Like front -end engineers are so CI, CDD adverse. It’s like, it’s actually insane.

to me. Like a lot of, again, pixel pushers, people that care about the architecture. Usually the pixel pushers do not want to do anything outside of building business value and feature work, like working on the UI. But the architects really care about like the developer productivity standpoint because there are savings there. So like I’m a big fan right now of Vercell, like we’re starting to use it at Chick -fil -A, which has been really exciting. And I think there’s like huge opportunities with that platform because

I don’t have to ever configure like a CI CD pipeline again, which that’s huge for me. And it’s standardized. Like a big problem you run into these big orgs is when you say, yeah, build a CI CD pipeline. I’m like, like even if you say, Hey, we’re going to use AWS. I can tell you now at Chick -fil -A alone, there are like four or five different patterns to using AWS for deploying like a static front end app. And that’s like not acceptable, like maintenance wise at a certain point, like you run into huge diminishing returns when like.

My luck is I get the call. There’s a fires real happening. It’s like, no, production’s down. Come look at this. It’s like, well, you’re using like Kubernetes to deploy this front end application. This is so inappropriate. Like I can’t even begin to untangle that, but I guess I got to work on it. Like that’s not great. Like having a standardized pipeline save time for like people like in my role, particularly that are platform engineers. And we’re so be enablers for the pixel pushers to deliver business value.

Kate
Yeah.

Kate
Right, right. I’m so glad you brought up Vercell and AWS too, because I didn’t even have a chance to ask about your cloud solution. Do you have a bunch of servers down there in that dark basement that you mentioned? What does all that look like?

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, that’s funny. We do have like, we do have some on -prems though. It’s kind of interesting. Like, yeah, we did have on -prem back in the day, but we, we mainly use AWS for a lot of stuff, but for front end recently, like there’s definitely been more of a push to use Versal because again, of these bespoke patterns that people have kind of come up with in AWS. So I think I’ve been really excited because again,

Kate
wow!

Sean McQuaid
like a lot of the problems I solved are like going away. And that’s huge. Cause like, if I solve the problem and I get to delete that problem, I don’t care if I spent the time on it. It means like, no one has to solve that again going forward. We have someone that’s responsible for handling that. Like we’re paying the money to handle that problem. That’s great. Objectively, a good thing for like front end devs to be more focused on business value.

Kate
Yeah, and I hear that across the board. Anytime that folks are able to get rid of handling the fiddly bits and allow for that to be a managed service, I think that that’s, yeah, absolutely. Writing the business logic is the part that developers should be focused on. Although you pay for it, so there’s certainly some trade -offs.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah, I think that the reason why it’s kind of makes it kind of depends on your org too, right? Like if you look at like Netflix, Metta, like all the big tech companies, they have a considerable amount of resources, staff, like people that are on like really like full time working on platforms for their developers to deliver.

Chick -fil -A, we’re a chicken company that just happens to have a huge leaning towards technology. Like I highly doubt and like I’ll, I’ll eat the wood of my desk if this happens, like we ever staff up to the extent of like Metta, Netflix, like all those companies. Like I would be shocked if we had a platforms team that was dedicated in that same way. And we do in parts of the business, like technically I’m on that, but it’s a lot more focused. Like I’m not building my own CI like.

Kate
You

Sean McQuaid
I’m not building my own like platform for developers to deploy to in replacement of Vercell, which some of these other companies might have in some cases. We’re never gonna do that. Like using a managed service makes a lot of sense when you don’t have the staff to maintain your own platform, like typically.

Kate
Yeah, yeah. Now that makes sense. I know, I love that scale has been such an important part of this conversation. I mean, whenever, well, to go back to our conversation about waiting for code to compile, I think of that XKCD comic where they show the developers playing sword fights on rolling chairs while they, you know, and yeah, they’re coding, right? They’re waiting for their code to compile and they get to screw around for a little bit. So yeah, this…

But yeah, so the idea of Chick -fil -A being this sort of behemoth in terms of like, yeah, the culture, the fact that, well, of course we’re down in Atlanta, so it’s everywhere that I go, but in terms of like a fast food chain, it’s large, but it’s small enough that using services like Versel and keeping things a little more limited makes sense in your case.

Sean McQuaid
Well, particularly at Chick -fil -A too, the way we staff, it’s like, we’re just very conservative about like full -time staff versus contractors. Like that’s a huge, like sensitive topic for us. Like we hire for the long -term very typically. So like, when you look at our staff mix, it’s like the most developers we hire that our staff are backend engineers. Like that’s the reality. Like we have more backend services than we do front end because we bought into the microservice stuff like a long time ago.

Kate
Mmm.

Sean McQuaid
So I can tell you, like, if I’m thinking about people that are purely focused on web at Chick -fil -A, if it’s, actually I’m doing the math, if it’s 10 to 15 people, that’s a lot for us. That’s like, that’s no joke. Like we have 3000 something restaurants and we have 15 staff maybe that focus full time on front end engineering for webs. Like that’s not a lot. And when you think about that, like,

Kate
Hmm.

Kate
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
we have to rely on partners a lot more. And so part of that is like, if we’re going to rely on these partners and pay this money, like it just makes sense to pay for a platform as a service that handles all the deployment magic. So I don’t get pulled into a conversation about, Hey, can you look at my CI CD pipeline and GitHub actions? Like, I don’t know why it’s broken. I literally did that this morning with the team. and the more that I can offload that to another team, the frankly that the happier I am.

Kate
Yeah.

Kate
Yeah, yeah, yeah, that makes sense. And are you, is your team using AI to handle some of these sort of redundant tasks? I mean, I was thinking of you converting to TypeScript. Did you use a code assistant to help you do that?

Sean McQuaid
I do, yeah. I use CodePilot a good amount. I’ve been a huge fan of it personally. Like it’s been pretty awesome. Like I use it mainly outside of work, honestly, because Chick -fil -A doesn’t have an enterprise license for it yet. But, but I…

Kate
Huh.

Sean McQuaid
That’s like the tool I’ve been using the most. Shatch EBT is obviously helpful. What I’ve really been trying to get into more is like when using copilot, I’ve caught on like when I’ve been watching people stream, like they’ll add comments about what they want copilot to do and it’ll just do it. I’m trying to get better at that. Like I’m trying to get way better at trying to like prompt engineer copilot into doing the task I want them to do instead of like me starting to write the code and they already expend mental energy. Like that’s been hugely helpful for me.

Kate
Yeah, yeah, I know I’m hearing that from so many developers. Do you know why Chick -fil -A hasn’t invested in that for their developer team? Is it like a privacy concern or just is it the conservative part they just haven’t done it yet?

Sean McQuaid
into the world.

I think it’s the private, there’s probably a bit of privacy concern. I know they’re working. I just think it’s like, you know, it works at big corporation. Like it just, it takes a while for things to get through. So like, I just think that’s kind of where we’re at in the process. Like I think it wouldn’t surprise me if in like the next year we had co -pilot licenses for people to use at work. But I have it on my personal computer and like, I just, when I’m hacking away at work, I’m moving at lightning speeds because of that. I think it’s like.

Kate
Okay. yeah.

Kate
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
When I think about AI, people usually talk about, yeah, like, I need to be an AI engineer. I actually don’t think that’s true to like take advantage of that. The best engineers that you’re going to run into in this like new era of AI are the ones that know how to work with it more than necessarily work on it. Like there are definitely people that need to be working on this. Like there are people with PhDs that very highly deserve and should be working on those problems. Like I…

for all intents and purposes, I’m a pixel pusher compared to them. I work on the front end, like for them, I would not be providing a lot of value if I wanted to do AI development. But…

I can sure as heck learn how to use the tools that they create to like make my development experience better. Like, man, I’m trying to blank. My friend, Will Marple, he mentioned like an AI text editor. It might be cursor .io or something like that. There’s some text editor that’s like built on VS code, but has like an AI built into it. So you could like…

copy and paste in docs, like links, documentation, it’ll ingest the docs for you and then it’ll give you recommendations based on that. I can’t remember the name of it. I think it’s cursor .io, but.

I think that’s like, again, where I see it going is like these AI tools for developers, people just need to learn how to kind of work with them. Like I’m still learning how to work with Copilot effectively. Like up until recently, I only just started prompt engineering, which again, shame on me. I should have thought of that more because I’ve been using chat GPT for stupid things all day and all of that, but not actually using it for work, which that was a miss on my part.

Kate
You

Kate (39:03.333)
Yeah. What are your thoughts on the hiring concerns? I mean, actually the bootcamp industry has been really on its head about these AI code assistants taking the role of junior developers and interns. Are you concerned or are you seeing any repercussions from AI in the hiring or labor area? OK.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
yet but what I think is AI hypothetically like from a staffing perspective AI could increase the velocity of the developer enough that you could replace the need for additional headcount but for an order like Chick -fil -A that’s great like we’re really lean so like that’s probably a good thing to do but I will say the thing that scares me about AI

particularly with junior developers out of bootcamp, I don’t want to see them over indexed on using those tools until their fundamentals are really good. Like for me, I can type in some code and like git add to complete and I can fix it up because I know what I actually want it to be. I know what it’s actually doing, but like an average developer that’s like a junior at a bootcamp, they’re just gonna go, cool, it did it for me. Call it a day. Like that’s not great. Like there needs to be some critical thinking still. I think that’s where I’m more concerned about. And honestly,

Kate
you

Sean McQuaid
I’ve seen that come up with like developers even at work sometimes where they’re clearly using an AI assistant and they’re not really checking like what it’s doing. And I’ve like caught that. That’s where I see that being expensive is people that shouldn’t be using AI are using it because they think it’s going to increase their velocity and it might, but it might increase the velocity of like crappier code in the process and they don’t even know it.

Kate
Yeah. man, sounds like you’re doing good work then if you’re keeping these things for prod. That’s, yeah, that’s scary stuff.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Like I think I’m using it a lot outside of work and I’m noticing all these gains and like

I think the people that know how to do that, that’s where they’re going to really succeed. But people that are using it as a crutch, that’s where they’re going to get bit. Unfortunately, I talk to my coworkers about this all the time. You can be an incredibly subpar developer and have a job because there’s just a huge need in technology. But the scary thing about being a subpar developer with using AI is that’s going to expose you way faster. Because when you start churning out a lot more code and you put up a huge PR, they’re

I would raise my eyebrows and go, I know that person who put that up on their own. Let me look at their code and lo and behold, you can end up with a bunch of hot garbage that AI spat out for you. Because GitHub Copilot, the way it works is it looks at, I think it works at your 20 most recent files that you’ve done to build patterns around it. So if you’re building patterns and crappy code, you’re going to get crappy code. Of course you are. That’s how it works.

So yeah, I don’t know if I’m seeing it on the hiring front as much, but I do think from like a productivity standpoint, I could 100 % as it improves, see it replacing additional people, which I think is good. But there’s still like a bunch of companies out there. Like if I were a bootcamp grad, I’d be looking at these companies that are just starting their digital transformation and trying to get in on that.

Kate
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
because that’s where the real money’s gonna be at in the next three to five years. I think these big tech companies, they can hire a lot of people because of the resourcing, but when I started at Chick -fil -A, the apartment’s almost twice as big as when I started.

Kate
Mm -hmm.

Sean McQuaid
from like the digital transformation side. So I got in right as we were starting that. And at some point, like companies can’t hire forever. Like there has to be a point of like, all right, we got to sit high and pretty for a little bit because we can’t afford to keep doing that, especially in this economy where inflation’s really, you know, smacking people across the face. So I think what I would encourage junior devs to do is like get their fundamentals really strong and then index on using those AI tools. Cause if you use it as a crutch, you’re gonna, you will hurt yourself.

greatly in the long run.

Kate
Sounds like some sage advice. All right. So we are about out of time, but before we go, how can folks hear more from you, Sean? What are you using in terms of social channels? And we talked a little bit about the speaking engagements that you’re planning in the future, but you had also mentioned maybe doing a meetup. So yeah, how can we hear from you? Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah.

Sean McQuaid
Yeah. So maybe this hasn’t been like announced yet to the public, but I’m speaking at the Atlanta JavaScript Meetup in September. So I’ll be speaking about architecting like front end projects for longevity. So this is like the first talk I’m doing that’s not deeply technical. It’s more conceptual. So that’ll be interesting in terms of social platforms. I’m on Twitter. I will not call it X. Like I don’t care what I’m going to do.

Kate
Fair enough.

Sean McQuaid
and also on LinkedIn, but that’s about it. I used to have a blog, but I kind of killed that off because I just didn’t have the time to maintain it. But yeah, that’s pretty much all I’m on. I’m not a huge social guy. My Twitter following is pretty pathetic to most people, honestly, and that’s okay with me. But if you want to follow me, that’s great.

Kate
Amazing. All right, well, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking with you. Again, I am Kate Holterhoff, Senior Analyst at Redmonk. If you enjoyed this conversation, please like, subscribe, and review the MonkCast on your podcast platform of choice. And if you’re watching us on YouTube, please like, subscribe, and engage with us in the comments.

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