Matt Fiocca

Who are you and what do you do?

I am a 37 year old husband to Lisa and father to 3 beautiful kids: Amelia (8), Grayson (7) and Scarlett (5).

I’ve always fancied myself a digital craftsman, I guess. I’ve dabbled in everything from visual effects for film and animation to website, application, and game design/development. I am usually the guy that wants to create not only the artwork for a game, but also write the code, record the sounds effects, and build the render farm to materialize the 3d assets.

Where are you from?

I was born in Chicago, but moved to the south Chicago burbs when I was young. I spent most of my childhood in Manhattan, IL, where I learned the core basics of getting into any and all sorts of trouble. Think early 80’s goonies. That was pretty much my life growing up.

I moved around in the same burbs until I was about 22 years old, which is when I found myself moving to Valparaiso, IN. I used to frequent a christian music festival down in Bushnell, IL every year (Cornerstone), and I had developed some close friendships with some folks that were also regular attenders at the fest each year. They were all from Valpo, and I eventually decided to make the jump across state lines to do life more regularly with them.

How did you get started?

In 2000, a friend’s dad, who owned an architecture firm offered me a deal: “If you learn Autocad, i’ll give you a job kid”. I was 19 and getting ready for art school up in the big city at Columbia College. He lent me a computer and a copy of Autocad to learn on my own … and … learn I did. So it was then that I landed my first real job.

I started off doing CAD related work; implementing changes on construction documents and blueprints, but then also started doing the company’s 3d rendering and visualizations of commercial properties that were being developed. Eventually the company wanted a web presence, and so I started learning on my own what it took get a website developed and pushed online.

I ended up dropping out of school to work there full-time, but for a multitude of reasons, after about 5 years, I decided to look for a job closer to Valpo. I held a variety of web development positions in multiple larger establishments before deciding to scratch a self-employment itch that had been growing over those years. I started Snapdragon Studios, LLC in 2013 and have been riding this coaster ever since.

Do you have a side hustle or hobbies?

My non-professional interests would definitely be my faith, and music. I’ve been playing guitar and doing sound related things for various churches and worship functions for a little over a decade or so. I’m currently involved with a group of musicians, called The Living Room, that host worship gatherings at churches of varying denominations. We like to create atmospheres of living-room-like musical worship, that shares our faith in Jesus Christ.

I also enjoy wood working from time to time; making furniture or hobbling things together with my hands. I also enjoy just about anything that takes place outside, away from the computer. I feel it’s essential to make fresh air an important part of your life.

What was one of your biggest mistakes and what did you learn from it?

I can honestly say that I do not have many regrets, but when I quit working for that architecture firm in 2004, I didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms and would probably take a mulligan on that one. While the pressure at the firm was a legitimate cause for wanting to move on, by the time I had left, I had grown so relationally distant from co-workers and in-house mentors, that it seems my departure was a total surprise to many and caused some ruckus in the company.

I guess the takeaway from that experience is to always make sure that you are connecting with those around you. You are always a part of a community whether you desire to be or not, and that community can actually be helpful to you, even in times of awkward transition.

What are the top tools you need to do your job?

Being that a lot of what I do falls inside of tech, there are multitudes of tools, and often multiple options for the same kind of tool that cover a pretty large task spectrum. There are too many to list here, but I would say that the top 5 tools in my day to day are:

An IDE: (integrated development environment). An IDE is a piece of software that allows you to build other pieces of software, usually by writing code. I use different IDEs depending on the type of project i’m building. For example, I use Apple’s Xcode for building native iOS/MacOS/WatchOS apps, Google’s Android Studio for building native Android Apps, Microsoft’s Visual Studio Community for building native Windows Apps, and Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code for just about everything else.

Computer Environments. When you create software that is meant to run on someone else’s computer (or a remote server), you need a way to test your software on computers that are similar to the computers that you plan to run your software on in the real world. I am currently using Docker to create little computers (called containers) that allow me to build super temporary virtual machines that run on my local workstation for testing (or on a remote server for production use).

Graphics editors. I use various tools here as well. Sketch is great for creating vector based interface designs and wireframes. I’m still a huge Adobe power user; I use After Effects and Premiere for animation and video things, InDesign for document things. Photoshop and Illustrator for imagery things. I’ve been known to use Blender for 3d things

Communications. Slack, it’s wonderful. We use slack for topical conversation, direct messaging, and we have also integrated our various computer systems out in the wilderness to send us alerts and alarms over slack when something needs attention. As time progresses, I seem to be migrating more and more of my communications over to slack.

Repositories: when you have a lot of project files to create, revise, and maintain, having a source control platform is essential. I like using a source control system called git, that lets you check changes in and out of a remote system. It doubles as remote backup while simultaneously tracking the changes that you and your colleagues are making to the files. I’m partial to a service called bitbucket at the time of this writing. It’s free, and private, with paid upgrades.

Who or what inspires you and why?

I would say that i’m greatly inspired by individuals like Elon Musk and Hans Zimmer. It might be a little cliché to hear that someone in tech looks up to Elon, but what really draws me to him is watching a man who has repeatedly built tech giant after tech giant, and just keeps going after it despite setbacks and naysayers. He is also really good at team building, which is a quality I really admire and want to get better at myself.

The same holds true for Hans Zimmer. The man is a not just a master in his craft, but has also managed to do really well at building teams of people around him to achieve great works.

What do you love about Northwest Indiana?

I love that its close enough to Chicago to get my city fixes met, yet still carries some of the niceties that you might find in rural areas of the country. As a former illinois resident, I also enjoy an improved tax culture on the Indiana side of things.

What resources are you finding to educate yourself?

As a member of the tech community that never actually went to college for computer science, I rely heavily on google. I mainly use google in two different ways:

When there is something I know I want to do, but am not quite sure what tools I need to accomplish the task, I will start showering google with keyword requests until I find what i’m looking for. These types of inquiries usually yield results on sites like medium.com, stackoverflow.com, hackernoon,com, becominghuman.ai and a few others. Once I start finding reputable sources, I will most likely just revisit those sites directly, and have even become a contributor on some.

I will periodically search for things that I need to be searching for. That may sound strange, but because tech is a rapidly evolving, it’s important to stay fresh and do your best to seeking out new trends on your own. For example, throwing “frontend technologies in 2018” into google will yield a pretty relevant array of articles worth exploring. Not everything you read on the net is to be taken as 100% gold standard, but i use results like these in aggregate form to get a good read on what’s out there, and what I feel is worth learning at any given point.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your industry?

Learn to learn, on your own, and put the things that you learn into practice as often as you can. As mentioned above, things change a lot and often. The core of the industry that I am in is not about mastering any one particular language set or platform, but mastering the ability to learn new things quickly and being able to apply those learnings before things change again.

Over time, learning new tools and platforms becomes more of a background task, while the things that start consuming your day revolve around the actual purpose and business logic of the products that you are making. It’s actually becoming more essential that you have experience with variety, so that you know what tools and platforms are better suited for the task at hand. There is no such thing as one-size-fits all here.

But most importantly, as soon as you have a dream, goal, vision, whatever, just get out there and put your first boot to the ground. It’s better to make mistakes as your stepping it out than to not be taking steps at all.

What’s next for you?

This is the most interesting question for me currently as I am smack in the middle of an important decision to make.

Where can we find you?

I admit I am really behind on keeping a good social media presence, as most of my work is B2B right now. But here you go:

Site: www.snapdragon.is

Facebook: www.facebook.com/sdstudio

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/mattfiocca/

Facebook: facebook.com/matt.fiocca

Twitter: @mfiocca

Stack: stackoverflow.com/users/2436902/matt-fiocca