Master of multimedia and web applications, and noted Dreamweaver
week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Zak
Ruvalcaba, a noted expert in multimedia products, and web
applications; author of Que’s 10 Minute Guide to Dreamweaver 4 and
co-author of SAMS’ Macromedia Dreamweaver MX Unleashed.
founder and president of Module Media, a media development and
training firm. Zak has been developing web applications since 1995.
He served as creative director for EPIC Solutions until 1998. His
web expertise was evident in his position as Web Development Manager
for SkyDesk Inc. where he developed web applications for Gateway,
HP, Toshiba, IBM, Intuit, Peachtree, Dell, Convad Communications,
and Microsoft. As a software engineer for ADCS and Wireless
Knowledge, Zak has developed .NET solutions for Mellon Financial,
Goldman Saks, TV Guide, Healthbanks, The Gartner Group and Commerce
we appreciate the time you are taking out of your schedule to do
this interview. Thank you.
have an impressive history in web development. Can you detail your
path into computing, web development and multimedia products?
Well, I’m still fairly young so my history in computers doesn’t span
all that far back. We’ve always had at least one computer in the
house (Commodore 64, Atari 800) but I didn’t really start using
computers for graphic design until I got my 386 in the early 90’s.
From there I began using programs like Photoshop and Illustrator,
and back then, Aldus PageMaker to do flyers and business cards for
local stores in my area. In 1994, when I was 19, I got my first
opportunity to work for a record company doing CD’s, albums,
promotional items, etc. I guess it went from there. My neighbor, who
was retired CIA, ran his own bulletin board (BBS) and would let me
come over a lot and observe how it was run. Shortly after that, I
got into HTML and the Web. AOL was getting big and I thought that
the Web was the perfect medium for self expression. I would stay up
all night sometimes not even sleeping just learning HTML,
researching online what others were doing, and in general just being
part of the online community. Back then, being online was such an
exciting phenomena…people who were online truly appreciated how
awesome it really was. Everything went from there….I went, studied
Criminal Justice in college but was always on the computer. My
senior year of college, I went to a job fair and was recruited by a
company called EPIC Solutions to work as a multimedia developer.
EPIC Solutions was a company here in San Diego that made software
for prisons, police departments, and juvenile corrections
facilities. My computer background coupled with my criminal justice
degree helped me land that position. I was really lucky in a sense
that I really didn’t know what I wanted to do up until the point
when I went to that job fair and saw EPIC’s booth. From there,
everything sort of skyrocketed. I think anyone, including myself,
will tell you that working through the mid to late nineties made a
huge impact on people’s careers in computers. Anyone could get a job
back then. So as people moved from company to company, they gained a
ton of experience. Those who were lucky enough to survive the .COM
crash really gained a lot of experience and are the ones who are
thriving in the market today.
have a lot of experience as a web developer. Please share the many
lessons you have learned and a few interesting stories—both humorous
and thought provoking.
have one humorous story that has a slight moral. Back when I worked
at a company called SkyDesk (1997), I was at a car dealership with
the VP of Marketing and Sales. We were both browsing around looking
at cars schmoozing with the car salesman when a guy walked up and
asked the salesman, were we talking to about one of the cars in the
dealership. Well, the man was dressed in some old 70’s style
corduroy shorts, yellow polo shirt, and Birkenstocks. Not really the
type of guy you’d expect at the type of dealership we were at.
Believe me, I wasn’t dressed any better. Anyway, to make a long
story short, the salesman completely brushed off the guy and
basically responded to his question, with a snobby attitude by
saying that the model of car he was asking about wasn’t in and that
he didn’t expect that the dealership would ever get that model in
anyway. Our salesman proceeded to walk away. Anyway, the man I was
with knew the disheveled guy, turned to him and said, you don’t want
that model anyway…this other one (pointing to a different car) is
much faster, stylish, and comfortable. The man said thanks and left.
It turns out the man was Michael Dell. I always tell that story
because it has a great moral and speaks to how the .COM era really
changed people’s lives. In the 80’s and early 90’s, you didn’t see
people come out of college and immediately have an impact on
corporate America. The .COM era really made people money. High
school graduates were making $80,000 a year and driving convertible
Saabs. I bought a new BMW about 3 years ago, went in with shorts,
sandals, and a T-shirt and was treated like royalty. That definitely
wouldn’t have been the case 10 years ago.
Describe your top two favorite projects?
one point I did work for a company called Wireless Knowledge,
because Wireless Knowledge was a Qualcomm/Microsoft joint venture, I
had an opportunity to work on some high profile projects. I got a
chance to build applications for large companies like Mellon
Financial, Goldman Saks, etc. for phones and Pocket PC’s. I would
have to say that era in my life was the most exciting. I was
building apps for phones and PDA’s like 1999/2000 before wireless
communication really took off. Working with small-form factor
devices is interesting too because you don’t have to worry about
phones are fairly cut and dry, you know what you got, and you
develop accordingly. I got a chance to work on the wireless TV Guide
site and the Zagat Survey site. Those two projects I would have to
say were my favorites. It’s too bad that the company couldn’t stick
around, we were so innovative, probably too much so for the company
to survive…I think the public and enterprise wasn’t ready for what
we had to offer yet. We also developed the mobile information server
snap-in for Microsoft.NET server. Of course, you’ll never know that
it wasn’t developed by Microsoft but we had a hand in it.
you provide five useful pointers from your books?
Well, I don’t have 5 pointers but I can provide some guidance in
terms of Web development with Dreamweaver. First, I would say that
document management is important. There’s nothing worse than doing
consulting work, going into a company, and just not being able to
find anything. I always teach my students that before you learn how
to design web sites, you should learn how to name, store, and manage
your files. Also, when using Dreamweaver, the site management window
is useful. All sites should be defined and maintained through the
site management window. This helps maintain link integrity, file
caching, helps in global find and replace, etc. The last thing is
that no one knows everything…even the best developers need help from
time to time. The good developers aren’t those that know how to do
everything, it’s those that know how to find what they need.
Obtaining good search skills is just as important as knowing a
software application like Dreamweaver or Flash.
are the major steps and challenges in writing books? What tips can
you provide to aspiring authors?
Being an author is not easy, and to that point, not easy to get
into. The best advice I can give is start by being a member of the
community, chats, newsgroups, boards, etc.; from there see about
getting into technical editing. Publishers will always jump at the
chance to send a technical person free books or manuscripts to
review. Once you’re established and you’ve developed a reputation
with a publisher, ask about writing chapters on a multi-author
project. From there everything will fall into place. But the road is
not easy…again I’ve been really lucky in that respect. I’ve always
been the type of person that calls the same person 5 times in one
day just to bug them and pick their brains. Finally, Que gave me the
opportunity just to get me off of their backs and here I am today.
Writing is tough though. A lot of work and sometimes the payoff
isn’t worth it. I have a lot of respect for authors like Joseph
Lowery who have written a number of books in the field. The process
is so intense and time consuming that you really have to block a lot
do you do what you do?
Simple. I’m in Web development because it’s fun. I get to be
creative, challenged, and get paid at the same time. Also, I like to
push myself as far as I can. That’s why I teach, write, and work
professionally. I’m the type of person who doesn’t feel like I’m
satisfied unless I’m doing 5 things at once.
Please share your views on the Open Source movement?
I’ll pass on that question. I’m an ASP.NET guy and usually stick
with Microsoft products. I don’t dislike the open source movement
but as a guy who’s been building enterprise applications for years
now, I would tend to stay away from open source products. Although I
would have to add, that I think the open source movement is good for
the future of our industry. Having one company, technology, or
language dominate the market would put an end to a lot of jobs and
would stifle growth in our field.
the available software packages, why do you focus heavily on
Macromedia Dreamweaver? What are the compelling reasons?
Dreamweaver is just a great product for easily creating Web sites
and even applications. They have a superior WYSIWYG interface that
is unmatched. I do a lot of programming in Visual Studio.NET but
most of my HTML is usually done in Dreamweaver. I’ve been using
Dreamweaver since version 1 and I’ve always found that it’s been
ahead of the curve.
into the future and predict the winners and losers in web
development. How would you support your predictions?
winners are going to be those that are innovative. Guys like Eric
Jordan from 2Advanced for instance keep pushing the envelope and are
making developers really step it up. The guys that are progressive
and innovative will be the winners. People or companies that refuse
to adapt will be the losers.
do you stay competitive and what pointers would you pass onto other
try to continuously research new products and technologies to stay
ahead. The Web Services movement has been one that I’ve been
researching and developing with for a while. It’s hard to stay
competitive in this field because you find that half of your time is
spent researching new technologies. Again, I was lucky enough to
work for Wireless Knowledge where again we were a Microsoft/Qualcomm
joint venture. As such, we got to work with .NET and BREW when they
were in beta. So I was fortunate enough to learn ASP.NET before it
was even introduced to the public.
you see major changes on the horizon; new “killer apps”; winners and
think the Web Service movement is going to revolutionize the way
people build apps for the Internet. Web Services have the next
potential for developers and companies to make money on the Internet
and most importantly capitalize on all platforms and server models.
The next “killer apps” will be those that require the least human
interaction…apps that communicate and rely on other apps…that’s the
business model behind Web Services and the model that I think will
revolutionize communication between people and their applications
regardless of platform or device.
What would be your recommended top 10 references for casual and
depends on what you’re doing. ASP developers might find asp101.com,
4guysfromrolla.com, or asp.net useful. Flash developers will find
Flashkit.com and Ultrashock useful, etc. For a generic resource I
would try the company that is releasing my next book: Sitepoint.com.
They really have their act together…they’re releasing some great
books and consistently publish amazing articles on all aspects of
are the top ten specific challenges facing professionals in your
I don’t know if there are ten that I can think of but I do know of a
few. Living in California you have a lot of kids graduating from
science oriented schools in UCSD, SDSU, etc. The problem is that
there aren’t enough jobs to go around. The industry is so saturated
with people who have taken 1 year of training from specialty
training schools in strip malls that people right out of college are
getting the same jobs that 5 year experienced people are getting but
at lower pay. Not to mention that tech and bio-tech hot beds like
San Diego are seeing housing prices in the millions. How can someone
right out of college, with a new job, be able to afford something
like that? Also, there are lots of start ups and companies where
people don’t necessarily have the opportunity to stay for a long
period of time. You find that people who are 25/26 have already
worked for like 3 companies. It’s sad, you see a lot of fiends come
those who are newly entering your field, do you have any suggestions
to save them time?
a four year degree in a related field first; Computer Science,
Cognitive Science, Mechanical Engineering, etc. This field is so
saturated that companies are again looking for professionals who
have relevant degrees not just people who went and got a
certification from a certification provider in a strip mall
you were doing this interview, what three-to-five questions would
you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?
think I would like to interview Eric Jordan from 2Advanced. That guy
does some amazing work for the Web. I think his work is progressive
and is definitely setting the bar in Web development. I would
probably ask him the same questions you’re asking me. It fascinates
me to talk to people in my field because I get to find out how they
got started and compare their experiences with mine.
you have any additional free-ranging comments you would like to
Thanks for the interview. I would like to remind your readers about
my new book tentatively titled “Building Database Driven Web Sites
with ASP.NET” on Sitepoint press. Also, come out and see me at
Macromedia MAX in Salt Lake. I’m presenting “Building Web Services
with Dreamweaver”. Lastly, be sure to pick up the Dreamweaver MX
Unleashed book from Sams Publishing and get to work building the
next great Web site.
you were to do it all over again, would you do things differently?
think the cliché answer is no. But I would. I would do a few things
differently. I would have taken more math in college and maybe aimed
for a computer science degree rather than a criminal justice degree.
I definitely would have tried to capitalize on the .COM boom. People
were made millionaires in that time and I wasn’t one of them. In
those respects, I would have done some things differently but from a
development standpoint…I’m doing just fine.
thank you again for coming in to do this interview and sharing your
in-depth knowledge and experiences with us.