Mon Jul 29 2019 16:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

A Modern Letter of Rec

Today is a very important day for me personally as my very dear friend and colleague, Henry Desroches aka xdesro launched his new site. Look for yourself, but IMHO it is pure gorgeous thoughtfulness and so distinctly Henry.

Through The Diff and providing a Strong Opinions, Loosely Held™ for said portfolio site, I've gotten to know and to adore the rare spirit that Henry really is, not only as a creative developer but as a human being.

Henry possesses all the skills that we should want in a creative developer, but often overlook as an industry (to our own detriment) for many reasons; all of which I write and speak about prolifically.

Here are a few rare and undervalued characteristics that Henry sports in spades:

🦄 Henry is a true unicorn.

Henry is like the Golden Gate Bridge of design and development. By definition, he's a unicorn: a coder who designs.

I am so wildly impressed with the breadth of his talent—he's a strong strategiser, writer, designer, coder, photographer, 3D artist, and shitposter.

Henry relies very little on stock or borrowed content to fill his personal site, as so many developers and designers do. Instead, he's taken the time to conceive each piece of content to fit the unique goth, fashion, vaporware aesthetic that embodies him and only him.

The ability to generate the content infrastructure is a relatively expected skill from a creative developer. Henry extends beyond that to generating thoughtful pieces of content to place within that infrastructure. A very valuable skill, and not one often expected from a self-proclaimed developer. He wears many hats well.

🐡 Henry's got more spine than jellyfish and got more guts than 11-year-old kids.

Henry's unicorny-ness extends beyond the classic dichotomy of designer-developer into more important realms: Henry cares deeply about the influence he has a creator on his the people who use his work.

In a world of move-fast-and-break-things, Henry challenges the status quo by moving intentionally and considering the impact of his decisions; strategic, design, and development. As a result, he isn't ship-posting exclusionary copy atop bloated frameworks for unethical companies with abusive practices. Instead, he's crafting thoughtful stacks that serve the client's needs and wants, that considers the impact on the end-user (from performance, to accessibility, to language), and doing so with a very keen and deft sense for design. You'll never hear Henry say, "That wasn't my job to worry about that."

Our industry is at a stage where the very fine-tuned skill of comprehensive and holistic understanding is necessary for every hire, but sadly, it's not an easy skill to find. It takes a lot of thoughtful self-work that happens outside of office parameters to cultivate meaningfully.

Henry immerses himself in understanding the broader world beyond tech with regards to race, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, ability, ethnicity, religion and more. Most white male developers—the majority lot of developers—do not give a damn about any of these topics. The Devil may care attitude materialises in the mutually assured destruction of our users' privacy, safety, and security (plaintext passwords, anyone?).

Case in point: Henry crafted a dynamic site for a sex-worker and has a very delicately written addendum about not using the term Not Safe for Work (NSFW). He also calls out, rightfully, the industry's exclusion to sexwork on many popular platforms. As a result, he had to get clever about how to build the tech stack. Welcome to the intersection of ethics and development. Henry's taken a seat, have you?

💬 Henry takes feedback like a pro.

As someone who has given and received a lot of feedback in my career, both as a designer and a director, as a client and a provider, I highly value mature and thoughtful processing of feedback. I am a very thorough (read: annoying) and wide feedback provider (I'll ask broad strategic questions and question your serial commas at once).

Juvenile creators will often become defensive or overenthusiastically tactical when they receive feedback, particularly when they don't understand it.

Henry does neither. He is both receptive and critical of the feedback he receives. If he doesn't understand something fully, he'll ask clarifying questions and research until he does. If feedback is contrary to a core tenet of his work, he'll question it thoughtfully and respectfully.

Case in Point: For a written edit I gave to Henry about "omitting empty words (such as these, they, etc) from the beginning of sentences, he asked me why that made an stylistic improvement. What is the theory behind that? Instead of mindlessly implementing or fruitlessly arguing, he wanted to grasp the broader concept at play here so that he could assess its validity, then write it better to begin with next time.

🗣 Henry communicates clearly, thoughtfully, and joyfully.

Relying mostly on asynchronous communications means that you don't necessarily have the luxury of relying on awkward body language or passive-aggressive sighs when things don't make sense (though, that is what '/me sighing intensifies' is for).

In concepting, logistics, and troubleshooting for our stream, The Diff, Henry always made sure that we were considering the values behind our work as individuals and a team, that we expressedly asked and granted consent before key milestones, and that we talked through any uncertainties along the way.

It meant that things took longer, of course, an antithesis to move fast and break things, but it also meant that I felt safe. Not many things scare me, but livestreaming and coding definitely did/do. Henry made sure to create the safest environment for me, mitigating my specific fears with actionable solutions and active listening. (Because sometimes, my friends, solving the problem isn't what I need, but listening to and processing why the problem exists.)

His efforts to create a safer environment meant a better space for vulnerability, which meant a space where we could express silly, fun, and creative ideas without worry.

When companies look for culture fits, this is what they're looking for: A place where everyone has the psychological safety to have a good time (and feed capitalism's hungry hungry hippos). But what they often forget is that for many of us, feeling that kind of safety is rare, almost impossible, but we are still expected to provide the same levels of unadulterated joy as our most privileged cohorts.

Most vulnerably of all, Henry has trusted me when I have felt unsafe or undervalued. He held space for and believed my lived experiences, then asked permission to use his privilege to address the systemic injustices as it made sense.

The skill that I articulated above is probably the most beneficial stack that Henry brings to the table (and that's not to demean his incredible animation, design, and development chops, which are prolific).

But I emphasise it because Henry will bring a sort of compassion that is highly rare in this industry (and even world), which will in turn heighten the compassion of your team and your products. Because his enthusiasm and deeply humanistic way of communicating make everyone around him want to do better, and to be better.

I'm grateful that we get to work together in any capacity at all, and even more grateful for our friendship.

If you only take one thing away from this, it's that you should absolutely at least follow him and his work.

If you're a good-enough-for-him company and you're hiring, then you should write him the best, most thoughtful offer for a creative developer role where he can flex his full range of capabilities and continue to grow into uncharted ones. I know that if I were (or ever become) the hiring manager for a company, Henry would be my very first hire if he would have it.

Hold the colophon.

CONGRATUFUCKINGLATIONS, Henry. I'm supremely proud of the intense amount of the thought, time, and energy you've poured into your little space on the cyberspaces. The result is a beautiful and thoughtful body of work that can only capture and present a small fraction of the intergalactically stellar human that you are. Grateful to have you in my orbit, JIF.™