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Tejas Kumar: Being a Frontend Lead Means Encouraging My Team to Do Incredible Work

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We talked to Tejas Kumar, a Frontend Lead at Contiamo, an author of add-gitignore and restful-react

Tejas Kumar started his web development career at the age of 15. He later immigrated to Germany from Qatar for work and stayed there ever since. In this interview, he shares his inspiring story of a lifelong struggle with his own health, self-image, and the impostor syndrome. He also talks about his favorite tech stack, OSS projects he maintains, and the importance of the community. Tejas gives a talk and teaches a workshop at React Day Berlin, Dec 5-6, 2019.

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Hello Tejas, and welcome to the interview with React Day Berlin! Please, share your story.

I grew up as a sick child. I wasn’t allowed to do things that required much physical movement like walking up/down stairs or carrying a backpack to school. Because of this, the only thing I really could do was play on my computer. Eventually, my brother showed me some programming code and the idea of creating something from nothing with text really spoke to me. From there, I started writing code. I was 8 years old at the time.

Were you born in Germany or did you relocate from somewhere else?

I grew up in Qatar. My family somehow miraculously moved there when I was a child. It turned out that that was where the medicine required to sustain my life was freely available (it costs around 10k euros per week in other countries, including my country of birth). Eventually, I relocated to Germany for work.

It was a big culture shock coming from the conservative Islamic culture of Qatar to Germany. Moreover, according to a local survey, 1 in 3 Berliners have no one they would call a “friend” – only colleagues. Moving here was extremely lonely and difficult, though I managed to find a great community at Saddleback Berlin – many of whom are now my friends.

Can you, please, at least briefly, describe your previous work experience culminating in your current position at Contiamo?

I started my “career” relatively early – being a Junior Web Developer for the University of Qatar at age 15. From there, I would go on to develop the website for my high school at the age of 17, and finally land a job at an amazing creative agency in Qatar shortly thereafter. I was part of the digital team.

Eventually, after learning a lot from the incredible team at Grow, I moved to Germany primarily for better healthcare prospects, but also to work at a startup called McMakler, where I was the front-end team lead. There, I learned a lot from other engineers — specifically Adrian Huminiuc and Sai Satchitanand. I eventually left to join Contiamo in the same position but for greater technical challenges.

What’s your current area of expertise?

My current area of expertise is learning and communicating. I am not as strong technically as I am with soft skills.

What’s your favorite technology stack and why?

My favorite technology stack is: React, TypeScript and GraphQL in a serverless architecture with an intelligent ORM, kind of along the lines of Hasura because these technologies provide significant safety guarantees while maintaining a sense of “connectedness” to the everyday developers by being fairly straightforward and declarative. React, in particular, does not try to do too much, but does one thing and does it well.

What does it mean to be a Frontend Lead?

To be a Frontend Lead at Contiamo, or to be a Lead anywhere, means to be a servant. It means to empower my team and encourage them to do incredible work. It is significantly less technical than I previously thought and involves having a deep, authentic interest in my team and genuinely caring for their souls. This is something I try to do as best I can every day. The technical stuff comes after.

Do you maintain any OSS projects?

I do maintain some OSS projects of my own (add-gitignore et al) that are relatively small and don’t require a lot of upkeep. For work, I maintain primarily contiamo/restful-react and contiamo/operational-ui. I do not keep count of all my contributions because I do it for the fun.

Describe a few projects you’re most proud of…

A lot of the projects that I’ve worked on make me happy. I think add-gitignore is one of these. It’s a simple project that automates and simplifies something developers repeat on every single greenfield project – ever. This one helps out by making the process interactive and fun.

Another project that I love is restful-react. I wrote it because we wanted to standardize our data fetching across products at my work. Let’s give credit to the author here:

Eventually, my incredible coworker and friend Fabien Bernard ended up adding a type-declaration generator that reads OpenAPI/Swagger definitions and outputs ready-to-use type-safe React components! This is something I’m quite proud of that I’ll be talking about at React Day Berlin.

What talks have you given in recent years?

In recent years, I have talked about community, JavaScript, and Design Systems. So far, I think one of my favorite talks was the one at React Finland. It was a lot of fun, it delivered technical ideas that I know people are already using, and it was a small, family-style conference. It was all around a great time.

Why do you think it’s important to participate and organize conferences within the communities?

I think it’s important to participate and organize such conferences in order to bring people together, mix ideas, and generate a sense of community and belonging. After all, we are all better together.

Do you have someone within the community who inspires you?

I especially admire Quincy Larson and @hackSultan for making code accessible to as many people as possible.

Also, there are people in the community I genuinely consider my brothers and sisters — watching them work and serve the community always inspires me. To name a few, @cassidoo, @mweststrate, @left_pad, and @gabe_g2i are people I look to for real inspiration.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

I’ve often neglected my physical health in favor of work, and the results were that I felt like a failure and got fatter – I hated what I saw in the mirror on many levels. I think maintaining a healthy work-life balance is pretty important for keeping myself in the right headspace and being mindful of why and for Whom I do the things I do, without getting sidetracked.

Have you struggled with something like an ‘impostor syndrome’ and if so, how did you overcome it?

I have definitely struggled with impostor syndrome, and I still do because I have no formal education in computer science. I have not yet overcome it, but what helps is realizing I have stuff to contribute in my own way that may add value.

Do you have any hobbies? What are they?

I love the great outdoors. Sports, swimming, mountain climbing, bicycling -- all of it makes me happy. I am also a musician! I play the guitar and sing. Most recently, I’m a new husband. My number one hobby is my wife.

Are you excited about the upcoming conference in Berlin? What are you going to talk about and what are your expectations from the event?

I am excited! I’m going to be talking about our OpenAPI/Swagger code generator! My expectations are AT LEAST 20,000 INTERNET POINTS. Just kidding. I have no expectations; I am simply looking forward to having a good time!

Reserve a spot at React Day Berlin

The interview was prepared with the assistance of Marina Vorontsova, a copywriter from Soshace is a hiring platform for web developers: hire a developer or apply for a remote job.

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