Blogging and me

January 26, 2024

People and Blogs is an ongoing series by Manuel Moreale where he asks people to talk about themselves and their blogs. I just started reading the series a couple of months ago. I thought it would be fun to share a little bit about myself by using his interview questions.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Jeff. I am a front-end developer currently living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. What started as a hobby and creative outlet led to a career change 25 years ago and I have been making websites ever since.

I started by both designing and developing the websites I worked on. I moved my focus to just front-end development at the end of 2010.

I have worked across a spectrum of teams including an international non-profit, one of the largest consumer publishing groups in the world, several boutique agencies, and as an independent contractor. Consistent in all these experiences is my desire to create beautiful products that help tell a client’s story and move the audience to action.

I had a life-changing experience as a freshman in college when I began following Christ. My Christian faith shapes all that I do.

What’s the story behind your blog?

I had read about blogging around 2002 and experimented a bit with a form of blogging on one of the sites I worked on. I would keep a running list of things I was learning each month or talk about new resources or functionality that I had added to the site.

I started blogging on the Blogger platform in February 2005. I moved those posts over to this domain, in April when I set up a WordPress site.

I have always enjoyed learning. And I equally enjoy connecting others with helpful resources. If you knew me in person, I would probably tell you something that I learned in one of the many books that I am reading.

I was sharing with one of my colleagues about something I was learning in the area of web development and he encouraged me to blog about it. So I started this blog to share help­ful resources, soft­ware, and other websites that I have ben­e­fited from in my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life. I also cre­ated the site to be a “sand­box” so that I could play around with dif­fer­ent design and devel­op­ment ideas.

Though my blog is primarily focused on front-end development, I also write about personal things and other interests. To be honest, I consider myself the primary audience. I hope others get value from what I write but I realize that I am the primary person who benefits from my writing and that has freed me up to write more posts and not worry about whether they are polished enough.

Five years ago, I started writing weeknotes. This breathed new life into my blog and each year I have written more and more content.

What does your creative process look like when it comes to blogging?

My creative process varies greatly. A lot of posts come from ideas that I have in the shower or while I am out driving. A lot of posts will kick around in my head for a few hours, a few days, and some for a few years.

A majority of my posts are ones that I just sit down and start getting the ideas out of my head. Some of them go from idea to reality fairly quickly, especially these days when writing has become more of a habit. I wrote a lot of quick posts in the early days of the blog. But then I think I began to worry about how my writing was coming across or if it was polished enough.

Perfection is always the enemy of actually finishing the work and publishing it. I think a lot of that is just a fear and an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability in sharing my thoughts. I have gained more confidence in the past five years as I have made writing more of a habit and I shifted my focus to see myself as the primary audience.

There are times when I will start a post in Evernote instead of in WordPress. There are also posts that I will begin to gather links and other related ideas in Evernote as I spend a longer time allowing the idea to come to fruition.

I have found that ideas are coming easier these days as I have approached writing as a habit. Writing weeknotes has helped. And last December, I set the challenge for myself to post something every day. One of the payoffs of that experience is that I am constantly thinking of ideas to write about because I am more intentional.

Do you have an ideal creative environment? Also, do you believe the physical space influences your creativity?

I am not sure if I have an ideal creative environment. I am someone who gets so focused on my work that I can pretty much work anywhere. I can work in my home office which is quiet but I can also write on the couch in our living room with the TV on and many members of my family in the room and having conversations.

I do love my office. I love the green color on the walls. I love the collection of artwork and other decorations that are very personal to me. So I do like working in my own space. But I have found that I can work just about anywhere. I have written posts in hotel rooms, in our living room, in the middle of a busy office, in peace, and in the middle of a lot of noise and distraction.

I think a physical space can influence your creativity and I do prefer to work in my home office. But the space should not limit your creativity either.

A question for the techie readers: can you run us through your tech stack?

I run my blog through WordPress. I am very happy with it as a solution. I use WordPress in most of my development work so it is good to use it for the site as well. It has allowed me to test new things in WordPress before I incorporate them into my work. I switched over to the Gutenberg editor last year and it has given me a first-hand experience of what it can do and where it is limited.

I host the site through DreamHost on a shared hosting plan. I have debated going with more robust solutions like Flywheel or WP Engine but DreamHost has met my needs and it has kept the cost of my hosting low.

I update the site files through SFTP. I am on a LAMP stack and still primarily use PHP for my templating. I might use more React in the future as I have recently started building my own custom WordPress blocks in my project work.

Given your experience, if you were to start a blog today, would you do anything differently?

Good question. Not sure how to answer that. If I was starting it today, I might go with a hosted solution over doing it myself. But I also like being able to do it myself. I don’t do as much server setup as I once did so having to manage the site helps to keep my skills fresh in that area.

The reality is you always learn from experience. So it is hard to say I would do this differently because it might be better. But then I wouldn’t have learned what I have or gained the experience that I have if I had done it differently. I am glad that I started using WordPress for this site. I was able to get familiar with it as a hobby which eventually led to more opportunities professionally because I knew WordPress. And I am still using it today in my day job.

Financial question since the web is obsessed with money: how much does it cost to run your blog? Is it just a cost or does it generate some revenue? And what’s your position on people monetizing personal blogs?

I have never really thought too much about the cost. I kind of considered it part of the price I pay to be in this industry. I need a website to show my work and prove that I know what I am doing. Since I started at the end of the ’90s and early 2000s, I adopted the mindset of sharing things freely. So I have never been motivated to try to monetize my blog. As I mentioned earlier, I like sharing resources with people. It is part of who I am so to share things freely is being true to myself.

That said, I pay about $14 a month for hosting through Dreamhost. I pay about $15 a year for the domain name. I also own a variant of my name for people who might misspell my name. My last name is pronounced “bridge-forth” but there is no “e” in the bridge. So I own as well as the correct spelling of my name. So add another $15 a year for that domain. So all total, it costs me about $200 a year to run this site. And it cost me all the time and effort that I put into it.

Time for some recommendations: any blog you think is worth checking out?

Here are some of the ones I like

  • Jeremy Keith – Jeremy has consistently put out content since before I started following him back in 2006. I enjoy his commentary on the Web industry and the practice of development. And I also enjoy his more personal stories as well.
  • Dave Rupert – Dave has a lot of good insights about a lot of different things though it is mainly focused on making websites. But I also like that he shares a lot of personal stuff. He is one of the people who inspired me to start doing weeknotes and to expand it beyond just what I did in my work that week.
  • Tim Challies – Tim is a Christian writer and is writing from that perspective. I like his daily A La Carte posts where he links to other Christian writers or articles of interest as well as keeping me up-to-date with Kindle deals from mostly Christian writers. I also enjoy his articles and book reviews.
  • Michelle Barker – I have enjoyed Michelle’s development-focused blog. I think she does a great job of teaching and gives a lot of great examples. I was inspired to post every day in December after reading about her experiences of doing it during November. I appreciate that she has been wrestling with the purpose and the focus of her blog in the future and sharing that process in her writing.
  • Jim Nielsen – I just recently started reading Jim’s writings. I enjoy his short thoughts about the practice of web development. I also like that he writes about other areas of his life as well. Several of his posts have inspired posts I have made.
  • Chris Coyier – I have known Chris or known about Chris for at least 15 years now. I benefitted greatly from his writing on CSS Tricks. I am glad that he is posting on his site. Or that I finally started following that site because I used to just read CSS Tricks. I enjoy his mixture of commentary on the practice of web development, sharing thoughts from other people and adding commentary about that, or just sharing about trips he has taken or other things from his personal and family life. His podcast, Shop Talk Show, has also inspired many of my writings. Chris is a great example of someone excited about what he learns and is just as excited to pass it along.
  • Jen Simmons – I miss reading Jen’s writing, listening to her podcasts, or watching her videos. I know that she has struggled with long COVID and does not have the energy she once did to devote to writing or other forms of sharing. I appreciate her great contribution to my developer education.
  • Rachel Andrew – I have benefitted greatly from Rachel’s writing over the years. I don’t feel like I am seeing as much content as I once did. But I have enjoyed reading some of her recent posts and getting reacquainted with her again.

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