A Decade of Development: 2010 to 2019
December 31, 2019
A couple of weeks ago, I read Dan Davies reflections upon the last decade of 2010 to 2019. His post got me reflecting on my own experiences over the past ten years. I quickly jotted down bullet points of over-arching themes that described my journey so that I could write this post. These are the things that shaped my life and career over the last ten years.
Major Life Transition – Leaving Organization after 16 years
A month into the new decade, I experienced a major life transition as I left the only job I had known in my professional life. My wife and I worked for 16 years with Campus Crusade for Christ. For 10 of those 16 years, I had worked as a Webmaster/designer/developer. I was self-taught and worked pretty independently during my time there.
It was a bit terrifying to leave something so familiar and venture into the unknown. When I joined Campus Crusade after graduating from college, I thought that I would spend my entire adult life with them. But God had other plans and was leading us in new directions. As God led us, there came a point when we realized that we needed to leave Campus Crusade before we had a new job to jump to. I had been searching for a job and interviewed with a lot of different people but nothing had come together yet. We were able to secure a two-month severance thanks to our donors and with that, we took the leap into the unknown and unsettling place of being between jobs.
I was able to secure a freelance job during my first week and then continued to follow leads looking to secure my next position. I ended freelancing for a firm out of St. Petersburg, Florida for a couple of months. Then I did a 3-month trial with a small firm in Orlando that ended up not working out. But I gained some skills and experience at that job that led me to a new opportunity just a few weeks later at Bonnier Corporation. It is a fast-paced production environment filled with variety and challenges that sharpened my skills exponentially and prepared me for the opportunities ahead.
Responsive Web Design
I heard Ethan Marcotte discuss this new concept of responsive web design on The Big Web Show with Jeffrey Zeldman. As I listened, I was convinced that this was the future of building websites. I was excited but also a bit uneasy as most people are when presented new ideas and new ways of thinking about something that you are so used to doing a certain way.
It would be another couple of years before I started experimenting with these principles. At the time, I was working at a publishing company mostly writing CSS to build fixed-width designs for different magazines. Most responsive sites were personal projects but that was starting to change.
I jumped in feet first when I went to work for Aaron Gustafson with Easy Designs in 2013. My first project was to retrofit a college registrar’s site to be responsive. I learned a lot in my time with Aaron as we discussed and experimented with different approaches. And then I continued to learn by practice as I built more and more sites as a freelancer.
Today, responsive design is just how I build sites. It has become part of my practice and I naturally start thinking about how a design will change as it adjusts to different screen sizes. There are still a lot of challenges beyond the basic principles that I continue to wrestle with and experiment with each new project.
From Designer to Front-End Developer
Another journey that I took over the last decade was from considering myself as a designer to a front-end developer. Front-end developer was not a thing I was aware of in 2010. As I mentioned, I began my Web career as part of a large Christian ministry. And when I started getting involved in the larger Web community, most of the people I followed were designers who also knew how to code. I designed sites and then I would build them. I had HTML and CSS skills along with some basic PHP skills that were dangerous enough to help me achieve what I wanted on the sites I was building in WordPress.
When I left Campus Crusade in 2010 and started looking for a job, I found that most places were looking either for a designer or a developer. Most of the jobs I was pursuing were in design. But I also had a lot of people trying to push me in the development direction. One of my first jobs was supposed to give me the chance to both design and develop but it ended up being all development which is one of the reasons I decided to leave when my 3-month trial ended. But even as I accepted a job working a “themer” for Bonnier, I was continuing to explore design positions and still had a desire to design.
But as I continued to build out designs at Bonnier, I discovered that the building part of the process is what I enjoyed most. I recognized there were still a lot of creative opportunities as I collaborated with the designers to help make their creative vision happen. I found that there was still a lot of joy in building out a design even when it was not my own creative vision. And in some ways, I enjoyed the process even more because I was focused only on the part that I enjoyed most.
It was around the end of 2011/beginning of 2012 that I really began to embrace the role of front-end developer. I am not really sure when I first started seeing that term used. I did some research and it seems like it became more mainstream between the end of 2010 and 2012. I changed the focus of my job search and began to explore front-end developer opportunities.
One of the first ones I pursued was working with Cameron Moll on Authentic Jobs. I had long admired Cameron’s work and had the pleasure of eating lunch with him at a conference in 2007. I actually made it pretty far into the process but the job was offered to someone else. One of the reasons I did not get the job was I was lacking in some of the skills Cameron was looking for. That experience helped me to identify the skills I needed to work on so I would be ready to take advantage of future opportunities. And that eventually led to me joining Easy Designs at the beginning of 2013.
Several times during that period, I had the idea to write a blog post. I wanted to share some of my frustrations of wanting to design but not having anyone give me the opportunity. And the internal struggle I was having between designer and developer. I even thought of a name for the post, Am I a Man, or Am I a Muppet? (based on a song from The Muppet Movie 2011). There are about 3 times during that process I thought about writing the post. I really wish I had taken the time and written my thoughts in each of those stages so I could have that part of my history.
Relocation from Orlando to Chattanooga, TN
My second major life transition of the decade came in 2013 when I relocated my family to Chattanooga, Tennessee to work with Easy Designs. I was not prepared for how hard a transition that would be after living in one place for over 12 years and uprooted from the place all 3 of my kids were born. My wife and I had moved around a lot right after we were first married so I had been used to transitioning to new places. But I found out that I did not have the same flexibility as I did when I was younger. And I realized that the previous relocation had a lot of built-in relationships that the one in 2013 did not have.
We also had some very challenging situations in our life in Chattanooga. I was let go from the job that I moved up here for nine months after we moved. We were part of an ugly season of a local church and decided we needed to leave. And my son developed some health issues about a year after we moved that still perplex us today. It took me several years before I really got comfortable with Chattanooga and embraced it as my home.
My journey into freelancing never was something that was part of a plan. It was always more of a mode of survival. As I mentioned before, I freelanced for several months after I left Campus Crusade as a survival tactic. I always saw that as a short-term solution to provide for my family until I could secure a more secure full-time position.
In 2014, my journey with Easy Designs came to an abrupt end. I began to explore local opportunities but nothing was working out. About a month in, I saw a posting on Authentic Jobs for a freelance position that was remote. Again, I saw this as a stop-gap measure, it was not a course that I planned to continue on. dboy Creative contacted me the same day and within the week, I started working on projects with them. This was a very unique opportunity in that they had a steady flow of work so I continued working with them over the next year and a half. I continued to explore other full-time opportunities but none of those worked out and I was happy to continue working with dboy.
There was a freedom that I really enjoyed about the arrangement especially in light of some disappointments I had experienced in my previous job. And I found that I really liked being able to work remotely. dboy had a really good remote culture baked in. I learned to use Slack, Asana and other tools to feel more connected and collaborate.
At the end of 2015, the main source of work for dboy dried up. They had been a preferred vendor for Career Builder and the sites we built were bespoke career sites for different companies like Einstein Bagel, Western Union, and Sleepy’s Mattresses. But Career Builder built their own CMS and decided to take that business in-house.
I struggled through the next two years. I was able to pick up some jobs through one of the other developers I had worked with at dboy. And then through Authentic Job, Twitter and some networking relationships, I was able to pick up different jobs and work with a lot of different people. But it was always a struggle. And none of those relationships stuck. And to be honest, I really did not enjoy the business end of freelancing or the feast or famine aspect.
In the summer of 2017, I answered a posting on Authentic Jobs that led to a contracting relationship with a young company named LGND. They had a steady stream of work and I was able to build a great relationship with them with each successful project. At the end of last year, I approached them about joining their team full-time and that is where I find myself today.
One of the things that I wanted to hold onto from my freelancing experience was being able to work remotely. I got my first taste of it during my first six months working at Easy Designs. I worked from Orlando while we got our house ready to sell and found a new home in Chattanooga.
I really enjoyed the experience overall even though I was really looking forward to being part of the Easy Designs office. And I found myself missing it once I moved to Chattanooga. Because of my teammates’ travel schedule (workshops and conferences), there were a lot of days I worked on my own in the Easy office.
I have really enjoyed getting to spend more time with my family and being able to interact with them throughout the day as I work from home. And I have been blessed to work with several companies that were very remote-friendly. It is a lifestyle that fits me and I am not sure if I could ever see myself working in a traditional office again.
When I started the decade, I was using jQuery plugins in projects but had never learned to script on my own. It was one of the skills that I started pushing myself to learn after my experience interviewing with Cameron Moll. I knew enough to be dangerous while working with Easy Designs but it was not until I was working through a course on Codecademy that things really began to come together for me. I gained a lot of confidence to be able to write scripts to solve the different problems I began to encounter in my freelance work.
I am really excited about the tools we now have available to us for CSS Layout. They are a regular part of my workflow that I continue to learn new ways to use in solving complex layouts. I took time at the end of 2016 to learn about CSS Grid Layout and incorporated it into a project using feature queries before it hit the browsers at the beginning of 2017. I am also excited about other tools like CSS Shapes and clip-path that allow us to solve creative layouts with much more ease than in the past. It is a fun time to build websites and I look forward to continuing to push new boundaries and come up with more creative solutions and layouts.
Books That Have Shaped My Work in the past 10 years
- HTML5 for Designers – got me up and running to work with HTML5
- Hardboiled Web Design – Inspiring book, both for HTML and CSS. I opted to buy the PDF version because, with shipping, the printed copy was over $75. Five Simple Steps finally set up a US distributor and I got my hands on a copy in 2015 at a much more reasonable cost. Little did I know that Smashing Magazine was printing a Five Year Edition later that year. But I was glad to have the original as well as the 5th Anniversary edition.
- Responsive Web Design
- Adaptive Web Design – the book that introduced me to Aaron Gustafson, who I later worked for.
- Code Simplicity
- The Sketchnote Handbook – not a development book but another creative outlet that became important to my life this decade.
- The Mobile Web Handbook
- Responsible Responsive Design
- Real-Life Responsive Web Design
- Practical SVG
- Get Ready for CSS Grid Layout and The New CSS Layout – I am so indebted to Rachel Andrew for all she has contributed to my understanding of the new CSS layout tools
- Art Direction for the Web
- Web designer – n. – my thoughts about what the term meant to me in 2009
- Adventures in Responsive Websites (Lessons from the Workshop) – thoughts I put together after my first experiences in building responsive layouts
- A Dangerous Business – some thoughts I shared about the courage to travel new roads. Written at the beginning of 2013 right before I started with Easy Designs. But I also share a bit about my experience transitioning from Campus Crusade for Christ in 2010
- Responsive Web Design: Five years later – reflections from 2015 on my journey with responsive design
- CSS Grid: First Steps – I am really glad that I wrote up these thoughts on my initial experiences with using CSS Grid Layout.
- My History with the Web and Making Websites – a timeline of projects, events, books and other things that have shaped my life as a builder of digital experiences
- Projects I have worked on (not comprehensive but close) – several years ago I started this so I could remember the things that I had built. Seems like the shelf life of sites is much shorter today so it is nice to have a record. It is also a great reference when I need to look back at how I solved problems on previous projects. I just need to visual reminder to help me find what I am looking for.