How I Develop New Skills

The mid-2010s have led to an age of enlightenment for me. I left the web agency I had helped found, started freelancing on the side, and have been employed by two different companies as a full-time front-end engineer. In all of these positions, I’ve experienced what is now becoming an apparent skill curve.

The curve is not good.

The curve shows how my desire to acquire skills ramps up during times of change (i.e. getting a new job) and declines into a sad plateau of comfort (i.e. happily employed for more than a year).Keep Reading

Lessons Learned From My Time Running a Web Agency

I have never written extensively (or really at all) about my time as a web agency owner. Partly because I’ve never been a boaster, partly because it wasn’t all fun and glory—but mostly because it’s in my past and something I’ve been moving on from.

I make it sound great, don’t I?

There were phenomenal aspects to running a web design shop. I miss the days of being in complete control of projects, from the client kick-off meetings to designing and developing websites to managing meaningful relationships with small, local businesses. Those are the awesome parts of running a web agency. You help others grow their businesses and organizations, and you can see the direct impact your work has on your local area.

However, behind all that devotion is a business. And a business can be a nasty beast, waiting to claw at your heels. As a sort-of long-procrastinated post-mortem, I wanted to highlight some of my key takeaways from running that business.Keep Reading

How I Turned My Life-Draining Commute into Quality Time

I was talking to my wife last night about a lunch she had earlier that day. She told me something her lunch companion had said. Something that made me sit up with shock strewn across me face.

Her lunch companion had said he enjoyed commuting.

As I slid back down on the sofa, I realized myself that commuting—gasp—isn’t really that terrible. Yet we all complain about it. Studies are constantly churned out that show the negative impact our car culture has on health, happiness, the environment, and productivity.

Given I live in Northern Virginia, my commute probably meets all of those negative marks. But my commute is necessary for my livelihood, and it’s something I’ve learned to accept—and it’s an opportunity I’ve undertaken to improve myself.Keep Reading

Goals for 2018

I like the idea of having a fresh set of goals for the new year. It’s like a reset, a clear starting block from which I can jump back into the race. With some goals already in mind for 2018, I thought it’d be effective from an accountability standpoint to share some of them on this blog.Keep Reading

The Imposter Syndrome Must End

The “imposter syndrome” is one of those industry terms we’ve all probably encountered—that over-sensationalized claim that people feel a degree of falseness within their jobs; the idea that we’re just winging it, unqualified, waiting until we’re discovered as fakes.

I first discovered the imposter syndrome early in my career. It was an eye-opening experience. I exclaimed to myself, “that’s me!” I felt validated that my internal sense of incompetence was normal. I could continue down my path, discarding any negative thoughts as just another bout of that pesky, self-loathing imposter syndrome.

The imposter syndrome served as my safe haven for a long time. It was my excuse, my reasoning, my blanket I could hide under when my mind was venturing into negative zones.Keep Reading

Switching to Puma-dev from Pow for a macOS Rails Environment

Last week, I posted my notes on dropping MAMP in favor of a native environment for my local web development setup. Since I run Rails apps on my local machine, I covered the process for making Apache and pow work side by side.

Well, of course things change. And pretty fast.

That change is the removal of pow and the installation of Puma-dev, a more recent and better maintained Rack server for Rails. Puma-dev even self-describes as, “the emotional successor to pow.” Who am I to argue with that?

Below are my field notes on making the switch. All in all, it was a painless process. The biggest advantage to Puma-dev I’ve noticed so far is its SSL support, getting around the annoying Chrome .dev https issue.Keep Reading

Dropping MAMP for a Better Web Development Environment on macOS

I have been a MAMP user for a long, long time—ever since I started developing with WordPress back when it was really just a blogging platform. MAMP is a breeze. It’s easy to setup new test sites, and the behind-the-scenes configuration of Apache, MySQL, and PHP made life simple.

I realized I had a problem when my MAMP Pro software started to become severely incompatible with my projects. Rather than shell out for a new license, I decided it was a good time to re-evaluate my local development setup.Keep Reading

Getting Started with Front-end 508 Compliance

In my current role as a front-end engineer, Section 508 has become a driving force in some of my work. Since my company does business with the U.S. government, we’re required to meet a level of accessibility that ensures users with visual disabilities can interact with our web properties.

Most, if not all, developers and designers dread Section 508 compliance. Oftentimes, it means combing through our interfaces using unfamiliar tools to make sure people we’re not even sure exist can use our software.

This is a cynical mindset, of course—because those users do exist and they have real disabilities that developers and designers must take into consideration. Can you imagine if buildings were not required to support wheelchair-bound patrons or if crosswalk signals did not incorporate auditory features?

The web is not dissimilar to the physical world. Websites must operate in a fashion where people of any ability can achieve critical tasks. For me, this meant ensuring users could access online verification tied to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ new services portal.

In implementing and improving the 508 compliance of our technology, I learned a few good lessons, which I share below.Keep Reading

How Front-end Developers Can Make a Bigger Organizational Impact

I have been a front-end developer my entire career. Beginning as an owner of a small web agency, I moved on to join other companies, where I was often the only front-end guy. These were and are great gigs. I’ve contributed to product interfaces, team frameworks, and marketing campaigns.

In being the “only guy” to do front-end, I’ve realized it’s not so great after all. I’ve experienced the Mulder syndrome at times (which isn’t an actual syndrome, but a nerdy reference to The X-Files, where the eccentric protagonist Fox Mulder is exiled to the FBI basement). In other words, I sometimes have felt people don’t care about or respect front-end. It’s a department they realize is necessary, but it’s also a department they don’t want to see.

I think we all know front-end is a valuable role—just as back-end is essential, as well as design, project management, quality assurance, devops, and so on.

But I’ve always been left with that sense that I’m not a real coder, I’m not a real designer, and my job responsibilities fall somewhere between “code this email” and “make this button look pretty.”

How can we make front-end development’s importance more accepted?

It’s not easy. But with a bit of proactive effort on your part, you can turn the front-end department into a valuable resource that has a direct impact on your organization’s goals.Keep Reading

Developing with an Evidence-based Mindset

In my senior year of college, I enrolled in a course on evidence-based management. With only five other students in my class, the course proved to be quite the immersive experience into the scientific model. We focused theoretical business decision-making on creating hypotheses, observing our environment, gathering data, and refining our initial guesswork.

At the time, I wasn’t sure what to think of the class. Evidence and business seemed like two very distinct disciplines; one very scientific and formulaic, and the other entrenched in creativity and agility.

The idea clicked with me after I left school. Operating from an evidence mindset is not strictly for science geeks—evidence is critical to every aspect of life, from our personal goals to our job performance.

Evidence-based front-end development (quite a mouthful) has played a huge role in my career. Performing my engineering tasks with a logical thought process that encourages best practices and optimized results has allowed me to execute more precisely at greater speeds.

Below I walk through some of my takeaways from adhering to an evidence-based approach to front-end development.Keep Reading