Walk before you run or lessons learned on the path to the front-end

Here is a recap of my lessons learned in my path to the Front-end up to now.

(I’m still in a tiny village in France, I had coffee and cookies and I’m pretty happy overall, except for my hair.)

  • I insist, too much screen time won’t get you there sooner, modulate.
  • The most difficult thing to do is: deciding what you want to learn first
  • The most damaging thought: client work and money in the beginning stages.
    We all want to make a living doing what we like, but this was one of my biggest blunders.
    I read on multiple occasions that the best way to take risks is by saying yes to things you don’t know how to do, this way you’ll just have to learn. It all depends on your tolerance to stress. Mine isn’t good. I’m too hard on myself and I have GAD so taking on a first client when I didn’t know the first thing about WordPress nearly gave me a breakdown! That being said, my client was really patient and became a friend so maybe this lesson is to be applied on a case-by-case basis.
  • The worst habit: reading and watching tutorials non-stop.
    Watch a couple, then read the Docs.
  • I say that again: read the Docs.
    I’ve wasted hours watching outdated tutorials. I get so frustrated when I realize that even though it hasn’t been that long since the tutorial was posted, in internet time, even a month is long. My last experience was Jekyll, hardly any new tutorials because It’s not widely used. When you find a tutorial refer to the docs often and example repositories with recent commits.
  • Use Git, use includes, make it a puzzle, one piece is easier to examine than the whole thing
    Oh dear, tackling a page is what us beginners do. So when after hours of laborious coding you mess up and one line of code ruins the layout you want to die and abandon everything, but if you have puzzle pieces (includes) you can fiddle with your nav bar as much as you like and not get lost in the spaghetti.
    And learn Git. It’s the equivalent of popping bubble wrap.
  • Use Twitter as a search engine. Don’t follow every developer in the world, you’ll end up in the rabbit hole but most of all you’ll get seriously overwhelmed at how much you think you have to learn. Some people only Tweet links and think it makes them part of “the industry”. Use it as a search engine instead. When learning Jekyll I searched the most updated tutorials. Google will give you the “most relevant” but Twitter will give you the most recent. When following a tutorial you want it to be recent.

I’m happy to say that my Jekyll site is up and running here. It’s still a tinkering playground and I have not decided on what it’s for.

For the moment I just write in it but lifting it up the ground and as they love to say: shipping it, gave me a huge satisfaction.

Also, thanks to the podcast Working Out for the last nudge in episode 10, Why are you not shipping?

Jekyll: I don’t know what I did

So I set out to build my first Jekyll website. I followed a tutorial that was waiting in my to-do list since December.

Everything was working fine until I got to the part of viewing my page on http://localhost:4000

Nothing happened.

A tutorial has an expiration date and once you hit the first bump, you should always refer to official documentation and pick it up from there, otherwise it will be hours down the drain.

So, I used this tutorial to start, it’s outdated to a certain extent but it’s still valuable. Especially when it comes to making your gh-pages branch your default branch.
I also found this Guide to Using Github Pages, although it is only a guide to create the repo and build a simple HTML site.

Then I had Jekyll’s site for reference and  Using Jekyll for pages in Github

The main problems I ran into were:

  • I installed Jekyll as per the first tutorial BUT if you’re using Github Pages you must install it as per the Github Pages instructions.
  • Since I had installed Jekyll on my own, it generated a feed.xml file, which conflicted with the build on my gh-pages branch. I had to delete it. Note: I need to investigate how to create it again if I want to use my site as a blog.
  • If you push changes to Github and your site does not display, check your settings on Github. You will see a message there if there is a problem and it will refer you to troubleshooting documentation.
  • Jekyll opens a local server to view your website locally. All tutorials say it’s localhost:4000, but this was not happening. Sometimes you need to kill the server. Instructions are in the Jekyll documentation.Finally I could view my site locally in a very strange local address: http://0.0.0.0:4000/

It’s fun though. It ignited my obsession again.

I will be building this slowly without any real plan. For the time being I only have an unstyled page about How to Become an Artist.

Why Jekyll?

I’ve seen some lovely pages made with it, plus it’s super fast.

Two examples:

Insurance by Jack
Working Out podcast

Have you tried any static site generators?

Retiring from the web, is it possible?

My workspace in France

My workspace in France

Writing is for communicating but for me it’s been mostly for organizing my hummingbird thoughts.

Blogging is the platform of choice for my self-exploration since 2001 and every single time I’ve tried to use it for anything else, I’ve failed.

Just to mention some examples:

  • I tried creating a writing workshop type of blog where I wrote prompts and invited people to use them. In my dreams I would create an online writing course. Blogging towards this goal felt icky, I could not blog naturally because there was an intention to sell something.
  • Next, I created this blog to chronicle my front-end coding learning process but it became a preachy, crowd-pleasing, I-want-to-be-liked type of blog. It felt unnatural.
  • I created a curated blog for my favorite books and films. It became commonplace.
  • I created yet another blog for the timeless books and films that nobody has ever heard of. I liked this one. It attracted a good number of people but I gave it less time so it got old fast.
  • I have a private blog on wordpress.com where I write under the coolest pseudonym my most controversial thoughts.
  • I have my scrapbook-journal-language-mash-up-blog.
  • I have an illustration & watercloring blog.

On the other hand, like many people, I’ve been influenced by what seems to be the “El Dorado” of internet and the many “businesses” that can potentially be created. I’ve been on the hamster wheel despite being a person with good critical thinking skills  (or so I thought!)

My internet experience as a project, content and website manager is what pays my bills, but after 20 years on the web, which is an awfully long time, I wondered:

Can anyone ever “retire” from the web?

I’m in France

Do I spend less time on the computer?
Yes. I watch a video or two, I wait for the occasional newsletter that interests me. The less I roam online, the more I pay attention to the important things that find me.

I am living in a tiny village, you can walk the entire place in about 15 minutes. There is one shop that opens a few hours in the morning and an hour and half in the evening. It sells the basic necessities:
Baguettes
Cheese
Wine
Old bio potatoes
Old bio tomatoes
Jeans (!)

On the other edge of town there is a wine COOP which is open 7 days a week. Go figure.

No coffee shops, no restaurants, rarely any people on the street.
Behind the house vineyards stretch above the mountains.

I’m not reading either. My parents came to visit and my head is not in the mode to read the novel I’ve saved for a special uninterrupted stretch of time.

We take road trips to small towns and villages, we go grocery shopping. My husband cooks delicious meals. I drink more wine that usual and I have become a cheese addict.

I can’t sleep well though. I listen to podcasts.

I’m not coding or writing either.

I’m painting and drawing most of the time.

This “extraction” from spending up to 10 hours a day on the computer, plus smart phone time to basically two or three has created so much space in my life.

I’m able to process what I read a lot better. I pick one article, transfer it to Instapaper and read it slowly, the useful things stay with me longer.
I am saving “less stuff for later”, but I’m not enforcing this, it’s just happening: less time online, less overload, less FOMO, less need to accumulate.

I couldn’t do this if I were home. Home is where routine breeds and things need to get done. Also, I need to pay bills, I need to work. But in the past year and a half I’ve had three large periods of “disconnection” that are making me reevaluate everything.

We spent three weeks in Gaspesie. We camped some nights, and others we stayed in B&B’s, overall, it was walking, reading and writing.

In March we went to Mexico for 5 weeks, although I attempted to build a few websites for clients, several projects fell through and I was able to spend crazy amount of time with my family after two years of not seeing them.

France will be my longest period of disconnection. We will go home in September and basically I’m working remotely for my current employer for limited hours (I’m forever in debt with them for the chance).

So what is the result?

I am more and more reluctant to making the internet my full-time job.

But what to do?

It’s not that I don’t like the internet, or coding, or building websites. It’s more like a general disappointment with the direction the internet is taking me (us humans, I dare say).

Let’s take front-end development . I spent a year updating my coding skills and at the end of the year, just in time as I was leaving for France I took inventory of what I had done:

I took two courses with WCC and a few courses with Treehouse and even Lynda.com
I learned to prototype with Bootstrap and Foundation
I learned how to customize a WordPress child theme.
I learned to build a basic WordPress theme.
I built four WP websites
I learned Git

And in the process I learned a lot about the business of web design, UX, UI, speed, accessibility, frameworks, design and typography, style patters, etc.

In one year, I saw so many tools come to life, so many courses, so many amazing feats…

Yet deep down I knew that I was getting tired and overwhelmed. I find extremely hard to follow the practices of online business. It feels unreal, it feels fake.

And the time in front of the screen, to me, is not real either. This thought is not new but do we realize that if the lights go out, nothing that we “created” online really exists?

We could be the best at coding, the most impressive digital illustrator, the best programmer but if the lights go out, none of it exists. All the hours spent making pretty things in Photoshop, all the lovely digital photographs, the podcasts, none of it exists.

While in the cool galleries of the Louvre, paintings and sculptures made by men and women made centuries ago endure and will continue to do so.

The Startup culture + the American way

The podcasts that I listened to over the course of the year were incredibly educational but lately I’m phasing out of some of them.

There are two podcasts that I want to mention: Happy Monday and more recently Working Out.

The day I stopped listening to Happy Monday was the day the host started saying what he had done the previous week:
He was busy, he had launched his book, he had founded a new company, he was speaking at so and so conference, he was mentoring someone, he had written articles and a couple of other things…

You know what?

Good for him, but I’m pretty fed up with this culture of overachievement.

Working Out however, takes the old road of “how to do what you love” but in a down to earth kind of way. I enjoy it so much, plus I love that Scottish accent. They talk about the things we already know, like having to work hard, doing the difficult stuff, not focusing solely on the results, putting in the hours but also, they are honest about how they are doing.

Do you have a point? You might be asking…

Yes I promise I do…

The Europeans seem to take things a little less intensely.

The French close everything on Sunday. Not even the supermarkets are open (well, in larger cities they are). Businesses close from 12:30 to 14:30 for lunch hour.
They take a full month’s vacation in August (as do the Spanish), they end their day with l’apperitif before dinner and if they feel like having a coffee they sit at their terraces. I have yet to see a coffee shop with people banging at their computers ignoring the outside world. The French sit facing the street for optimal people watching.

If I want to take things less intensely I might have to accept the fact that I will make less money.

For example,
I won’t make an overnight killing with an e-book because to do that I would have to write a good enough (and I say good enough from the perspective of a bookseller who has professional book publishers in the highest regard) book in three months.
Or I won’t build an app either because those two things require:
Preparing for a launch, building an email list, tweeting like mad, facebooking and pinteresting and optimizing my website and blogging through it all.

The amount of screen time I would have to invest would be tremendous, and for what?

I might make 37,000 dollars almost overnight, of which maybe I will already have spent in salary for myself and general livelihood. And before I account for it and enjoy the fruits of my labor I would have to start the process again, or move into the most difficult aspects of my endeavor: technical support, updates for the e-book, a new version, etc.

I do not mean to undermine the work of programmers, entrepreneurs and designers of this world. This isn’t my point.

I’m writing from the perspective of someone who has spent 20 years in front of a screen. I might not have built a successful app or business but not for lack of curiosity or even drive. I have tech skills, more than many women my age and I’ve used them constantly in every job, every task, every activity, but I find that my values seem to crash with the values of online business and the web as it is today.

I find that it’s time to stop trying to follow all these “how-to’s” once and for all.

Maybe I’m a dinosaur because I always feel inadequate, like I’ve accomplished little and on the other hand, people and companies who have accomplished great things online, seem to be taking dubious roads.

Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan was the saddest paradox, Amazon’s disloyal pricing wars are killing my oldest passion, and the “new economy” of the “sharing economy” is making people work twice as much for half a decent income.

Not to mention the spying.

or the delusion of some..

The point

I am internet-fatigued. And it’s become as clear as water after a year of taking the path to the front-end.

What I’ve learned is not wasted, I might still find a part-time job in tech but the key word is part-time.

I’m aware that I might be searching for a holy grail. Part-time is not compatible with keeping up. It’s more compatible with helping others keep up.

I need to make my work more tangible, more real, I want to produce things that can be seen and touched by the candlelight or told instead of forwarded or shared with the touch of a finger or a click. I craved a slower pace and I got it by coming to France.

I don’t need to change the world

I’m afraid that when I go back to Montreal, I will fall back into the rat race, that I will let the overachieving “how-to’s” will be back to haunt me and I will keep trying to be something deep down I don’t want to..

The overly ambitious will continue to flock to tech scenes all over the world, those who will be most successful will be the ones willing to work 24h or more if necessary to “disrupt”. I don’t want to watch them do it. I’m tired of the seven word bios.

The Tech for me.

Lately, tech-wise, I have stopped pursuing the WordPress route, I’ve stopped reading and following the blogs of industry leaders, I’ve stopped following “Women in Tech” groups.
I’ve basically limiting myself to these resources:

For web development:
Git
Jeckyll
CSS3
Html5
Foundation
Gulp

Podcasts:
The Web Ahead (only podcast from an industry leader I like)
Working Out
Unfinished Bz

If you speak French I highly recommend:

Partir avec Marie-Piere Planchon. She interviews interesting people who do not work on the web to any extent, she once interviewed a young woman who bought a female donkey and she set out to make skin care products with donkey milk.

Twitter accounts:
Developers:

@sarasoueidan
@rachelandrew
@seriouspony
@elisbethrobson

Other important accounts you should take a look at:
@susie_c
@evgenymorozov

I will cheer the people who make tech useful and I will run in the other direction when they don’t. This basically means that in my phone I only have a handful of apps. I rarely download any free apps. I’m not sure I will buy another iPhone ever again. This one will have to do until it croaks. I do love its camera though.

So the point is, retiring from the web means:

  1. Finding the tech you’re comfortable with. Trim what is not needed. Stay away from the “American way”, it’s doing them in. Break free from the herd-mentality, including groups created with double standards. Read a variety of things, not only what lands on your lap.
  2. Finding and alternative occupation that pays the bills. I’m searching hard, I’m trying to round my skills into a translatable non-full-time screen job which is crazy difficult because I don’t have many offline skills. Starting from zero at this point is not an alternative. I’ve started from zero many times before.

I joked with my parents when they visited us, if I won the lottery I would pay myself a full year in France and study bread-making with a maître boulanger. I’ve also considered getting an Essentrics certification or becoming a dog groomer.

I’m cautious though, each of these things will cost money and require a lot of time to master. Will the rewards be worth it?

Do you think it’s possible to retire from the web?

I might have the answer in the following months.

Links:

My digital scrapbook: Fantástica
My art blog
My photos from France and other places I’ve visited and lived in.

 

Sabbatical, France and life offline

My first contact with the internet happened in 1994. I have worked on the web in many ways for twenty years.

That’s a lot, I think.

Recently I saw this tweet by Kathy Sierra


This tweet fell from the sky at exactly the right moment. I was just about to give up with this whole business of learning web development because I got stuck with Sass.

I remember I stopped coding when CSS came along. I was too busy managing the content for a corporate site to bother with learning something that seemed too elaborate. Why bother with style sheets at all? (Yup, me in 1999). I deeply regret that because if I had bothered, right now Sass would be much more straightforward.

But I’m an expert at self-analysis and I dug a little deeper to find out why I had lagged with my learning.

I started my path on April 30, 2013 and worked super hard at it. As I got to the Neatly Polished course, I started slowing down because I don’t like WordPress. It’s unfortunate but I just do not like it. I wanted to learn because it seems it has the highest demand. It’s just my personal preference. In terms of development I am exploring non-theme based platforms but I want to be able to at least navigate through it if it  is required of me.

But what surprised me the most is that I realized that I am very tired of the internet overall. I have this weird talent (documented in my journals) to feel when something is about to change, when the trend is slowing down and where things are starting to shift.  Remember the first dotcom meltdown?

It feels a bit like that. I hope I’m wrong but all these threats to Net Neutrality, the Heartbleed bug, the constant aqui-hiring, the uncontrollable display of emotion in public over serious topics, how difficult it is to simply share instead of hitting a pay wall in the next two clicks, it’s just really sad.

I’m not sure if I will pursue this path. I know enough to work for a small agency, perhaps, and I know what it’s like to work with developers as a client. This is my edge. Few people have seen and worked from both sides of the coin. So yes, as Kathy Sierra says, coding at 40 equals twenty years of experience.

France

In a week and a half we’ll be travelling to France and we will be spending three months in a tiny village. While we are there I won’t work 9 hours in front of a computer. I will be doing other stuff, involving mostly writing and watercoloring. I will probably devote a couple of hours a day to build that famous website with my Perch license before they release Perch 3 (or something and I have to buy an upgrade!) I have a super-secret side project. This site was built with Perch, it gives me a much clearer idea of what I can do with it.

Reading Kathy Sierra’s tweet and her blog made me hopeful that there is a way to combine tech with something completely non-techy. I really do not want to spend my life in front of a screen but when I do I want quality time. For this, France might be a wonderful experiment/experience.

I really want to know if you feel the winds changing online? If you’re in tech have you ever thought of doing something non-techy? What would it be?