JSDayIE 2019: Get To Know Your Speaker – Kathleen McMahon

1:50 pm – Kathleen McMahon: Accessibility-flavored React Components: Make Your Design System Delicious!

Kathleen McMahon works at O’Reilly Media as a Senior Frontend Engineer and Design System Tech Lead. Her deep industry experience as both a designer and developer fuels her passion for making apps beautifully accessible. In her spare time, she is the Creative Director for the CXsisters network, and the best lanterne rouge cyclocrosser you’ll ever meet.

1. How did you first become interested in Software Engineering?

Would you believe it was AutoCAD? It’s true! As I was pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering, I discovered that I was much more fascinated in my AutoCAD coursework than I was in topics such as Material Science.

2. When did you know that it was your passion and that you wanted to peruse it as a career?

I knew I wanted to pursue Software Engineering as a career when I decided to try out a double Math/Physics major, and realised that it was taking me further away from my love of software that allows you to create (and still use math).

One year later, I had created a custom major at my university and was pursuing a Multimedia Development degree, before there was an official curriculum available. Multimedia Development is what we called Frontend Engineering at the time.

3. What is your top-tip for excelling as a developer?

Always be learning. This field is constantly changing, and if you keep a growth mindset, you can adapt quickly and pivot to use new technologies as they become available.

4. What is one of the hardest technical challenges you’ve ever encountered and how did you overcome it?

Good question! Well, one of the most recent technical challenges I’ve encountered was converting our design system documentation app hosted in a separate repo to a more streamlined documentation set up in the same repo as our design system. This effort was instrumental to make it more straightforward for our users to contribute to our design system.

It was more than simply migrating documentation over into a repo, we had to retool the entire process from a very brittle process that leveraged react-docgen to use GatsbyJS, using their theming feature (while it was still in its experimental phase), GraphQL for data queries and adjusting Webpack configs.

I was new to GatsbyJS and GraphQL *and* fairly new to working in-depth with Webpack at the time, so the learning curve was steep! How did I overcome it? Extreme persistence. The result was worth it, definitely.

5. Why is accessibility such a passion for you?

Accessibility is a passion for me because the web is accessible by default, and we are not doing our best to include our users. If we focus on making our apps accessible, we improve the experience for all our users, not just anyone with a disability whether it be permanent, temporary, or situational.

6. What is the one thing developers can do now to improve accessibility?

There’s more than just one, however, one I can say is a good first step is to use semantic HTML to get the built-in accessibility benefit it provides. Also, use automated tools to audit your apps and catch the low-hanging fruit issues to solve right away.

7. What can people expect from your talk at JSDayIE 2019?

Along with some (hopefully humorous!) gifs, some actionable takeaways on how to create flexible and accessible components using techniques that can work in React, and also can transfer to other frameworks.

8. If anyone wants to do their own research before JSDayIE, what is a good resource for information?

Other than the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, two good places to get started with learning about accessibility are WebAIM and The A11y Project.

9. What’s next for Kathleen McMahon?

After JSDayIE, I’ll be speaking at React JS Day in Verona on October 4th, the React Edinburgh Meetup on October 10th, and Codemotion Milan on October 24th. Hope to see you there!

There is still time to book your JSDayIE 2019 in Dublin. Get yours here.

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