Plans for the rest of 2011

This post was written 10 years ago.
Thu, 19 May 2011

For various reasons the start of this year was not that easy for me, and something I wanted to become a tradition already got left behind: To write down what I had done each year, and make plans for the new one. After postponing it a lot, I have decided now is a good time for plans, as I am between projects, and I start to see a little more clearly where I might be going.

2010 + five months of 2011: How did it go?

2010 was a good year overall. New possibilities opened up, I met inspiring people and learned a lot. And it became really clear that web development was what I wanted to continue doing.

As for web projects, I mainly worked for the Centre for Deaf Studies at Bristol University, and in September 2010 I started working on a directory of Bristol and Bath therapists, commissioned by a group of local therapists. They were for my standards quite big projects, and given my restricted working times, I am happy with what I managed to do.

It was a great experience for me doing the therapists' directory. I was solely responsible for all the development of the site - including the design. There are some specific features to this directory that make it quite complex. Where previously SilverStripe had been a CMS for me, this time I made heavy use of its underlying application framework. My programming skills have improved a lot! (There were a few moments of despair, too.)

Find-a-therapist, this is now live after a 'soft launch'


First version of 'MyFriendCentral' - originally it was required to fit onto a netbook, vertically. Something I whish I had challenged more..

I almost forgot that I did another thing, a site for a German Saturday school in Croydon, similar to the one I did for Bristol, based on TYPO3, using a YAML-template. That was interesting as well, as it turned out the site was to reside on a server that somebody ran privately. I had to access it remotely and do all kinds of command line stuff, which I actually started to enjoy after a while. I would really like to learn how to administer a server, and I have toyed with the idea to get a bytemark server running symbyosis, but it is just the one thing too much. There are other things that I need to learn first.

Apart from creating websites, one nice thing I did was taking part in an SVG (scalable vector graphics) course run by the W3C. I have to admit that I have not used SVG since, but I think I will at least try it out. The course was quite challenging, there was a lot of ground covered in just 5 weeks. It took a lot of time to do the coursework as well. But there is something about these courses (I did the mobile course the year before) that I totally relish. They somehow lift me up, and it is just nice to be given some structure in your learning for once, and not have to do it all yourself. One nice effect of this course was that my final coursework that I built using the unofficial Google wheather API, was mentioned on the w3c blog, alongside with that of Sylvia Egger whom I admire. It was also rewarding in itself having been able to build this little 'app'.

The conference I didn't blog about

As a consequence of the w3c mobile course I did in 2009, I learned that its tutor, Phil Archer, was going to be in Bristol as a speaker at a one day free workshop about the "mobile web". It was an event organised by DevSCI, targeted at developers in Higher Education, but other developers were welcome to come along, so I did. I wrote a blog entry about it, and there are some video recordings including one where two lovely female freelancers give their expert opinion. This event was great. It was great hearing people talk who worked each day with the mobile web and were building projects for it. And I really got a good impression of the different aspects of mobile web development that I could use as starting points in case I wanted to do something similar.

Following on from that I was alerted to another DevCSI event, Linked Data hackdays. So I attended that as well, and it, too, was extremely interesting. I learned things beyond Linked Data as well. We used the commandline quite a bit. We installed a Triple Server, and we learned about the different notations that Triples could be expressed in. And much more.


Dev8D in London

And then there was this one: Dev8D. The developer happy days. Hugh? Look at the logo, it is meant to be an emoticon, a happy face. I only learned that at the very end of the conference. This two-day conference took place in London, in the ULU building. And it blew me away. Again, from the contents there was so much I enjoyed hearing about. There were "Ask the experts" sessions about the topics I had heard at the workshops, the mobile web, linked data and open data. There were also a lot of familiar faces from those workshops. Then I sat in a long introduction to Python and tried out writing some scripts. This was followed by an introduction to the Molly framework (which itself is based on Django). On the next day there was a hands-on session where you got to look at the framework in detail. Unfortunately I could not install the required Virtual Machine on my netbook (who uses a netbook for developing!), but I did follow along nevertheless. One thing I didn't do and the significance of which I discovered only gradually, is give one of the challenges a try, sit at "basecamp" on a round table with the laptop in front of me, and.. hack. Program, build something. Just like that. I would not have been able to, even if I had wanted.


Flip-Flop circuit obtained at Dev8D from Chris Gutteridge - brought this home and the children loved playing with it

It was only when I had left the conference that I suddenly got this uneasy feeling. Why had I been there, why had I been allowed to be there? These were all proper developers. Some of them not even web developers. They had studied this at university, unlike me. And a lot of them were, as I had just previously seen Margaret Atwood describe it, "so sharp their brains poke through their skulls like the pins in the Scarecrow of The Wizard of Oz". What on earth was I doing there? But then I kept telling myself: I had been welcome there, and those developers were very happy to share their knowledge. (I had even over lunch been let in on some 'political' issue at one of the universities, which I will keep quiet about though). There had been some other people there who did not work in HE (and with whom I had some nice conversations). I could just enjoy being in their presence, without necessarily having their expertise. And then this: It would be my challenge to come back to this conference and tackle one of the programming challenges. Maybe not in one year. In two? In any case I really want to learn some more programming, and it would be nice to go back there. It was just a shame there were no other 'commercial' developers there, as it was open to everyone. I think they would enjoy it, too.

A conference that I did blog about, if only briefly: DConstruct. That also blew me away, the quality of the speakers, the originality of their talks and their thoughts. It was like somehow you suddenly felt why you had this urge to do all this. Why web development? As if somebody was suddenly giving you a reason, and gave you some kind of belief system to go with it. I will also always remember the trip back to Bristol where among a lot of other interesting stuff I learned that the Paddington bear comes from Peru.

Then I also went to a few Bathcamps, and also a very enjoyable 'Tweetup'. Until writing it all down, I had not been aware how many things I had actually attended!

Next stop - mobile apps?

I really need to finish this post off. It is unbelievable how much time I have spent on it. And it has been more about what I've done than actual plans. But it has been quite therapeutic, and it will be great to have this record in years to come. A record of the year 2010 and a half.

So, finally, here are my goals for the remaining 7 months of this year:

There is one general thing I have decided. After the big (for my standards) project for the therapists, I would like to have some time to learn some new things, and also build many small personal sites where I try out the things that I have learned. There is also the portal website for bilingual families that I mentioned in the post last year. I am not sure if I will manage to do it, but it would be nice if I could. 

I could be accused of enjoying it too much, to just do this as some kind of self-indulgence, more like a hobby. But I don't really believe this to be true. A lot of people are passionate about the web, and there is nothing wrong with it. I also expect to occasionally do things I don't like, I still want to earn at least some money and then I can't always decide what to do.

But now the concrete skills that I would like to learn:

  • Learn more advanced programming (design patterns, architecture, testing)
  • Learn to work with APIs and data sets
  • HTML5/CSS3
  • Javascript/Ajax
  • Mobile apps

There is such a hype around mobile and responsive web design at the moment that it almost puts me off. And yet I feel strongly that that is the direction to go in for me. But I could also say, it is part of the direction. What I really want to learn is to build applications. I have really developed a love for programming. This might turn out a tragic love, because it can be a world full of pain. Still, it is a great feeling to be able to just build some new functionality. But I will only be able to tell what it will be like when I start doing it.

One thing not to forget is that I carry a massive responsibility as a mother. And as I have recently realised, as the children get older, they will actually need me more, not less. So all of this is really about finding a way of doing web development in a meaningful, but somehow... contained way. To be clear, of course fathers carry that same resonsibility, but the actual practical side of it still mostly falls to the mother. And in my case, I am fine with that, I am grateful that my husband goes to work everyday and earns enough money for us to live on. That is also a massive responsibilty. And I love being with the children, too, I wouldn't want to send them off to after-school club everyday - at the moment they go to none, which admittedly puts quite a strain on my work-days.

The many brilliant web developers here in Bristol, the underscorers, I think I just can't use them as my role models. I can admire them, but I should maybe not try to become like them, because I can't. (Apart from my being a mother, there is also the age question. How would I ever catch up with them, I started so late.) An interesting question here for me is the quality of my work, and especially what degree of complexity I can achieve. I have come to love programming, but I probably do it at a sort of 'embryonic' level. Still, I just have this feeling that I could get quite far with it. I mean the generic concepts of programming that are not tied to a specific language, I already know quite a bit about that, and I have grasped the concepts of object-oriented programming. I think it should be possible to slowly slowly get to more complex levels. I have been programming things I never thought I would be able to, maybe it could continue that way?

What I have often thought - and everytime I manage to think that way, it actually makes me feel good - is to see it all like a game, a challenge. I will just learn, and produce as much as I can, at a level as advanced as I can. And if I can produce something really good along the way, all the better. And if I managed to become good enough to even start earning some serious money with it, that would be fantastic.

I had some general goals, too, and one was to clarify my professional situation, which I think I have done. A second one was being more 'grown-up', which I would define now as: Move from analyzing and worrying too much, to just focus on the work I am doing, doing it the best way I can, be approachable and responsive to people and see how I can best be of help to them. In web development, but should apply to other areas as well! While I have moved a bit towards this goal, there is still much room for improvement. And finally there was this: Write more! I did write a few blog posts, and I think they weren't too bad. But I would like this here to be the start of something more regular. I just love to write, and it really is worth it!


  • Excellent blog post Katja! You write very openly and honestly, it's lovely to hear your inner thoughts.

    I'm really into learning more about those 5 things you mentioned, maybe not so much the mobile apps, but definitely design patterns, APIs and datasets, yum yum :D

    You said, "I have been programming things I never thought I would be able to, maybe it could continue that way?". I reckon that's true!

    Posted by tom, 20/05/2011 6:44pm (5 months ago)

  • Thanks very much, Tom! That's very encouraging!

    Posted by Katja, 20/05/2011 7:02pm (5 months ago)


This post was written 10 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: webdev / dev8d / uni /

Plans for 2010

This post was written 11 years ago.
Fri, 08 Jan 2010

There is still snow in the streets and it is freezing cold. Yet after two days of closure, school is on again (starting at 10 instead of 9) and my girl has gone, somewhat grudgingly, her brother is off to nursery and their father off to work. Quiet, uninterrupted time, the time to be productive!!

How best to use it? Sometimes a certain anxiety comes with that question. How much will I be able to tick off this time, how much can I manage to squeeze in, is this really the best thing to do right now (GTD is beckoning)? I'm sure I am not the only one who feels like that! Yet today, once everybody had left I decided to write this post, and I was sure it was the thing to do. I might feel a bit stressed once I have finished it, but I wanted to write it all week. It means something to me, because it is about making (professional) plans and targets for the year, and committing to it "in public" - although hardly anybody will read this post ;) (which, at this stage, I don't actually mind).

So, let's get cracking. First, some general considerations. I almost wanted to call this post "The end of the baby years", and this has a double meaning to me. My little boy is to start school in September. So, this year, I definitely want to clarify my professional situation. On a most basic level I can phrase the question like this: "Will my main source of income be from web development?" And I don't only want to answer this question, but start earning some money.

Secondly, I want to grow up! This might sound curious and I struggle to explain it. In the widest sense, it has to do with being too self-focused. - This is partially through no fault of my own (but also nobody else's fault! Just the circumstances). I won't write more, it is too personal and also would take too long at this point. In any case, I never want to lose the ability to play, that is for sure!! I realize more and more that it is a big leap to go from voluntary work to - continuous - professional work, and the biggest leap is in my mind! Otherwise it didn't need to be, and I think people are ready to accept me as a professional, probably more ready then myself. I think I am professional in the way I look at making websites. Knowledgewise, I am pretty up to scratch with how to create websites in a professional way. I follow web standards, and I follow relevant podcasts and blogs with the latest news on how to best do things. It is clear that I don't manage to implement all of it. That is just normal. But to my liking, I turn to little of what I hear and read to practical use. So, this is a second area to change something (and of course linked to the first). There was one post I read, called "The one thing you need to do to become a top designer", and the answer was: Practice, practice, practice. Yes, I think that is very true! (not only for designers) And I want to live by it.

A third general thing is, I want to write and document more. This post is personal by it's very nature, but in future posts I would like to become less personal and hopefully manage to write things of use to other people. This could in some cases be personal things as well, but hopefully also some just technical. And then there's the "one resolution to rule them all" : Get better organized. I just read the first chapter of the above-mentioned GTD again, and find it is so true what Allen writes, and it is comforting to see that it is a common phenomenon. I tried to implement his system before, and to start with, it seemed to work well. I just had problems with the "weekly review" and ironically did not find the time and quiet to do this regularly. Also, at some point I had this thought "What do you want with these manager methods, this is overkill to organize your mummy/aspiring web developer life" - which, of course, is just b*ll****. It applies to everyone. What I do think is that I need to modifiy the methods. I will give it a go again. So, here to the (a little more) concrete plans:

Projects (of which not all definite yet):

  • Do one personal project, where I use new techniques or use already known ones in a better way. So far I am thinking of this: Create a portal for bi- or multilingual families with German as one of their languages. Use PHP for overall navigation, user login, and accessing member information (probably just email). Try YUI (reset, fonts and grids) for the layout. Add some unobtrusive jQuery. And - optimise for mobile. But the content! Well, I will, at least initially, supply some. I have left the Saturday school committee, so I guess I can devote a little time. Part of the content will be from already existing sites. For example I can access the database of the Spielgruppe and pull a random cake recipe (Real cake, not the framework) to the homepage. Who needs APIs?
  • Make little changes to last paid-for website
  • Work on a Uni web site
  • Website for a company in Germany
  • Two websites for and artist and and illustrator (not at all clear when!)

 

Work at an agency! (if only a short time)

 

Learning:

  • Learn PHP more in depth, use a framework
  • experiment with APIs
  • Create aesthetically pleasing websites, OR if not aesthetically pleasing it has to be deliberate -> I want to at least be able to create aesthetically pleasing websites; they might look the same as lots of other websites, but then if you open a book, it looks like other books; it's about facilitiating that peoople can take in the content and move around confidently

 

Community:

  • Go to at least one conference and one networking meeting (like Media Tuesday. Scary!). Also continue to go to Silverstripe Meet-Ups that have a talk, and maybe go to one Web Standard Meet-Up in London.
  • Perhaps set up Web Standards Meetup in Bristol!! Not very likely, this is a bonus target if I have managed to feel integrated into the "community" and feel a professional! 

So, this post might get amended a bit over the next few days, and I could write so much more - but that might become blog posts of their own. Anyway, now I have put down some of the things I would like to achieve over the next year. It might all turn out vastly different, who knows.

This post was written 11 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: webdev / gtd /

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work - and Twitter

This post was written 12 years ago.
Wed, 27 May 2009

Alright. This will be a round-up of a talk I heard last week(!), plus my own thoughts on the topic. I have very little time to write.. The talk was called "The pleasures and sorrows of work", by Alain de Botton who has written a book of the same title. This event was part of the "Festival of Ideas" in Bristol.

The topic is close to my heart, as it must be for many people, but I was also interested in seeing AdB as a speaker. He turned out to be a very good one. He went straight "in medias res" and gave what I suppose was a summary of his book with extensive explanations of his thoughts. It was also very entertaining. He talked about people with various professions he had come across during his research. In one case this was everyone who had handled a fish on its way form the Indian Ocean to - Bristol.

Then there was a careers counsellor, people at an accountancy firm, people marketing a biscuit (did I get this right?)... He also talked about his work as a writer which I found particularly interesting. What also stuck with me, were thoughts about the nature of work. One thing was his view that the main criterium to see a job as fulfilling is that it makes a positive difference in people's lives. The more I think about it, I think this is really true - for most people. AdB observed that the sense of making somebody's life a little better was often lost these days. For example, if you are a worker on a production line, making biscuits, you are not involved in selling the biscuits and seeing the satisfaction people get from it. (By the way there was a really funny reply to a question at the end - the question was staged I suppose - about what biscuits people in the South West were inclined to eat. AdB confessed to being a huge fan of fig rolls)

Also very notable was his account of seeing the careers counsellor being called in to conduct a session with workers that were being made redundant. AdB stated that he was initially very "suspicious" of this approach, it seemed forcefully optimistic in an American way, which he thought was often rousing suspicions with British people. However, he found it extremely moving when he saw people taking part in this session. It involved them being asked to stand up and talk about their childhood dreams. AdB recalled what a huge impression it could make when a burly 45-year-old man stood up and started talking about what he had wanted to become as a child. The approach the careers counsellor generally took was, first of all, giving people a piece of paper and making them write down everything they liked. This would bring to light what people's real interests were. It would very often turn out that a very little thing had made them veer off course. A throw-away remark by somebody, the wish of their father, some discouraging experience.

Interestingly, according to AdB, the notion that a job should bring fulfillment and also the idea that a job - kind of - defines who you are, is relatively young. AdB jokingly fixed the turning point to "middle of the 18th century". Before that, apparently people didn't expect to get any joy out of work. At this point I was thinking how starkly this contrasts with Tom Hodgkinson's view who in his book "How to be free" often cites the middle ages as providing a much better work environment, where people knew where there place was, didn't work too long hours, and often sang while they were doing their work. Maybe the two authors were talking of different things. In any case I cannot speak for or against either of them, as I don't know about that long gone-by past.

There would be so much more that one could mention about this talk. I'm sure it has been done somewhere on the web (I haven't looked) but more so certainly in his book. Which makes me think I should probably buy it. He has marketed it well to me ;) Shall I really speak about my own experience now? - Why not: I had a completely analogue childhood. The only times first signs of the dawning digital age showed up were when my father brought home funny coloured cards with lots of rectangle-shaped holes in them. (what are these called in English? - in German it's simply "Lochkarten" [punch cards of course!]) . So I couldn't possibly dream of becoming a web person. But as soon as I had discovered the principle of how to create websites, I was hooked. Without actually realising how much so. For a long time something has been missing - the belief and the will to go through with something you really like, I think, and the ability to take the necessary steps. I had mentioned to friends - and once even to a boss - that what I would really like to do is create websites. But it never occurred to me that I could actually try to make that my profession. I still sometimes have doubts about it. The worst thing is to compare yourself with other people, especially looking at other people's stylish websites. As Tim van Damme (the maker of http://madebyelephant.com) once wrote: Don't look at CSS galleries (although I think he certainly shouldn't have a problem with that).

But as mentioned before, I HAVE to re-design this my own website - or have several themes that can be selected, Jeremy Keith style. Keep on dreaming, baby ;) . Anyway, I do think I have found/will soon find a way to apply my skills in a meaningful and money-earning way, and I am quite glad about that. I think I love web design - because it is all about communication. Communication was not always easy for me as a child - mostly for external reasons - but something always important to me - it makes me see beauty in other areas of life. Since seriously learning about web design, I learn more and more about design principles and I have started to look at why things appear beautiful . I can only recommend to everyone doing it. - Because I like the marriage of creativity with the technical, logical. As a child I loved things like "Einstein's riddle" (different coloured houses, different nationalities, whose pet is the fish?) - more reasons I have not time to list.

I actually wanted to write about my Twitter experience as well. But that would be too much now, and is off topic. Just one thing, Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) actually started following me after I had tweeted about him. But I think that's an app that just follows everyone who mentioned his name on Twitter. Still, looks quite nice to read "Alain de Botton" is now following you on Twitter! ;)

This post was written 12 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: books / work / webdev / twitter /