Learning HTML, CSS and SVG, and Facing Fears, with Joni Trythall

Learning SVG with Joni Trythall

In this episode of the Versioning Show, David and Tim are joined by Joni Trythall, a web designer, author, teacher and conference co-founder. They discuss learning HTML, CSS and SVG in non-traditional ways, the value of sharing code, teaching and writing about what you’re learning, doing stuff you’re uncomfortable with, not taking yourself too seriously, and blending web technology with adorable things.

Show Notes

Conversation Highlights

I want people in tech to be better people. Nicer to each other. I’m not a huge fan of the egos and lack of humility that sort of plague the space. So many of us will learn a thing and then declare to everyone that they need to also know that thing right away to continue calling themselves a designer, or a programmer, or a developer. And it’s just sort of bullshit. I mean, there’s sharing knowledge and being part of a community. And then there’s taking advantage of someone’s insecurities to promote your own work or your own tweet, so it’s sort of all in the name of marketing, really.


We just take ourselves way too seriously in general. We make websites. And somewhere along the lines we developed, like, a god complex in the process. I’ve seen the damage that it does, being in communities with a lot of beginners.


I also notice when women share their projects, for example, there’s always this disclaimer. So they get really excited, and their like I made this thing! And then there’s all these disclaimers, like But it’s not that great. It doesn’t work in Safari. And then it just kinda goes on, and on, and on. Why? Why does that happen? And I think it’s part of this intimidation that this industry has. And it makes people feel bad about themselves.


When I started out, I was never interested in web design in the traditional sense — like boxes on the screen.


There are definitely people who are like This is really silly. What are you gonna do with this? You can’t have a job based on CSS crabs. But they’re actually wrong, because I had people email me, like Oh I saw your CSS crab on CodePen. By the way, I have this project, like what do you think about it? So it definitely did lead to opportunities.


of course my thought is like What if I’m wrong? You know, everyone is afraid to be wrong. And then you learn that you, as a student, make the best teacher. As I was learning things I could speak directly to what was especially tricky about something, and that really resonated with people. So I learned that I had to get over my fear of being wrong, and it does happen, and it’s not that bad. So that was a big moment for me to realize.


I think it’s not really fair to present working on the web in a more traditional sense. Because, especially now that I work with kids, they never say they want to be a web designer and create websites, but when you show them animations, that is very exciting. I just let them know there’s only a few foundational pieces you need to learn, and you can do this as well.


My first reaction was, No, I’m not gonna do that, because that sounds terrifying. And I always had these moments of like Well, who am I to do that? Who am I to teach people about SVG? And I realized that when something makes me uncomfortable, I have to say yes. And a lot of opportunities in my career have come from that mindset — like doing this podcast!


a lot of the things I write are sort of born out of frustration. With SVG I was just so upset. I desperately wanted to learn this stuff and I couldn’t find any resources that were for complete, absolute beginners. There’s always an assumption of base knowledge with so many resources, and I think going into it without that assumption is huge, and can really impact a lot of people.

Joni Trythall on the Versioning Show

Transcript

Tim:

Hey what’s up everybody, this is Tim Evko …

David:

… and this is M. David Green …

Tim:

… and you’re listening to episode number 22 of the Versioning podcast.

David:

This is a place where we get together to discuss the industry of the web from development to design, with some of the people making it happen today, and planning where it’s headed in the next version.

Tim:

So today we are talking with Joni Trythall, who is a web designer, author, conference co-founder, and so many other things — including, as I see on Twitter, quite excellent gluten-free baker.

So we’re gonna talk about most of those things, if not all of them. Let’s go ahead and get this version started.


Joni, thank you so much for joining us today. How are you doing?

Joni:

I am fantastic. Thank you for inviting me. I’m very excited.

David:

I’m really excited about talking about the gluten-free baking and other things. But to start with, since this is the Versioning Show, we usually like to ask our guests a philosophical question to get things started. And our philosophical question for you today is: In your current career, what version are you, and why?

Joni:

So, I actually knew you were gonna ask this question. So I’m excited that I prepared. The best thing I could come up with honestly was that, my career, and life in general, are like a perpetual beta version. So, I’m trying to figure things out, but constantly finding flaws, and changing features based on user feedback. Yeah, that was my response that I came up with. And I even planned on acting surprised, and then off the cuff just coming up with that. But I’m just gonna be straightforward and admit that I planned that answer.

David:

That is perfectly fair, and I think this speaks to something Tim and I were discussing before the show. Tim, you’re right, maybe we need to come up with a new question. People are starting to figure us out.

Joni:

I really like it! I really like it, so I wouldn’t lose it just because I cheated.

David:

No, that’s fair. So it sounds like you’ve got basically a design-driven life?

Joni:

Yeah, I guess so. I’ve only been in tech as a designer for a few years — I guess about four years now. So my formal education and my background are in non-profit grant writing. So that’s what I did for several years before I made the change in my late 20s.

So yeah, I got started — I actually quit grant writing when I had my son, who’s almost five. And I stayed home. And I got very bored, quickly. Babies are very boring. I tell anyone willing to listen! I had always been fairly creative, so I started writing and illustrating children’s books. I had to teach myself Illustrator, which led to me wanting to get those graphics on the web, so I sort of fell face first into HTML, CSS, SVG, and writing about all my adventures and mishaps along the way. That’s sort of how I fell into my first job, years ago.

Tim:

So, when you were starting this process of getting into the web — HTML, CSS, SVG — were there parts that you loved about this process? Like how things may have been easy or difficult to learn? Were the parts that you didn’t like? How do you feel about entering into the industry from a beginner’s perspective?

Joni [3:26]:

I want people in tech to be better people. Nicer to each other. I’m not a huge fan of the egos and lack of humility that sort of plague the space. So many of us will learn a thing and then declare to everyone that they need to also know that thing right away to continue calling themselves a designer, or a programmer, or a developer. And it’s just sort of bullshit. I mean, there’s sharing knowledge and being part of a community. And then there’s taking advantage of someone’s insecurities to promote your own work or your own tweet, so it’s sort of all in the name of marketing, really.

We just take ourselves way too seriously in general. We make websites. And somewhere along the lines we developed, like, a god complex in the process. I’ve seen the damage that it does, being in communities with a lot of beginners. I see the impact that that has on them. Things like speaking at conferences. Everyone is always so curious and wondering why there’s not a lot of newbies — like first time speakers — at conferences. It’s because they’re incredibly intimidated. It’s a lot of the same people who’ve been at it for decades, and when you’re just getting started you get the impression that Oh I also have to have over 10 years of experience to speak at a conference. But that’s just not the case at all. I think it’s important to let people know that and to give them a platform to share their stories and teach other people. I started Ela Conf for a lot of reasons, and that’s definitely one of them.

I also notice when women share their projects, for example, there’s always this disclaimer. So they get really excited, and their like I made this thing! And then there’s all these disclaimers, like But it’s not that great. It doesn’t work in Safari. And then it just kinda goes on, and on, and on. Why? Why does that happen? And I think it’s part of this intimidation that this industry has. And it makes people feel bad about themselves.

David:

I’m curious, how did that lead you to your work on Ela Conf? And actually, for our listeners who might not be familiar with it, could you tell us a little bit about that?

Joni:

Ela Conf is a conference for women. And it’s all about empowering more women to be leaders in tech. So it’s founded by women, and we have women volunteers, women speakers, and women attendees. And it takes place once a year in Philadelphia.

I got really lucky in that I discovered things like CodePen, right away. So I was instantly exposed to this really amazing creative community that sort of embraced you and was very beginner friendly. When I started out, I was never interested in web design in the traditional sense — like boxes on the screen. That never interested me. What I was doing is, I was really interested in creating illustrations, like characters with CSS. And so I would do that in public on CodePen. I sort of tricked myself into learning about positioning, because you have to know a lot about positioning to create a CSS crab.

There are definitely people who are like This is really silly. What are you gonna do with this? You can’t have a job based on CSS crabs. But they’re actually wrong, because I had people email me, like Oh I saw your CSS crab on CodePen. By the way, I have this project, like what do you think about it? So it definitely did lead to opportunities.

I really liked the community I was exposed to initially, but it is very intimidating. I got my first job through writing. I was just sort of writing about everything on my blog as I learned it, and that’s a really intimidating first step. Because of course my thought is like What if I’m wrong? You know, everyone is afraid to be wrong. And then you learn that you, as a student, make the best teacher. As I was learning things I could speak directly to what was especially tricky about something, and that really resonated with people. So I learned that I had to get over my fear of being wrong, and it does happen, and it’s not that bad. So that was a big moment for me to realize.

I really loved everything about it. The artistic aspect I think is something that was lost on me initially, but then once I realized the potential there, it was very exciting and very motivating.

David [8:24]:

One of the things that strikes me right away when I hear that story is you seem to have a tendency to want to learn out loud, and learn by being public and sharing information.

Joni:

Yeah! I had mentioned I’d gone to school for a long time. I have a masters degree, and I couldn’t go back to school. I didn’t have a flexible schedule anymore because I had a baby. And I simply couldn’t afford it. I mean I still have student loan debt. And it was just amazing to me, coming from that background of a more traditional education, and now I’m in this space where I can learn anything I want to learn, as quickly as I want to learn it, for free. That was just so incredible to me. It still is incredible to me. And I really wanted to give back to that. Give back to the community that taught me so much.

So that was always really important to me. And then also, on like a more selfish level, it helped me remember the information. When I had to break it down and explain it to a potential newcomer, it helps me retain the information better as well. So it’s mutually beneficial.

David:

It’s interesting that you chose to go with a tool such as CSS, and go with something so non-traditional as a way of learning it. It’s not the approach that I think a lot of people would take. Most people do think of CSS as the boxes and the positioning. I’m curious how you came to it like that?

Joni:

I think it’s because of how I started with graphics, illustrations, and needing to get those on the web, so SVG. It is backwards, and then I learned SVG before I even learned about CSS and HTML. I just learned those things because I had to to do everything I needed to do with my SVGs, which I was especially passionate about. I think it’s just about embracing what you’re interested in and working with that. I think it’s not really fair to present working on the web in a more traditional sense. Because, especially now that I work with kids, they never say they want to be a web designer and create websites, but when you show them animations, that is very exciting. I just let them know there’s only a few foundational pieces you need to learn, and you can do this as well.

So that’s just really what motivated me. It is silly, and people said it was silly. But it’s how I learned.

David:

I don’t think that silly’s necessarily a bad thing. That’s one of the ways that we do stimulate our educational minds and keep ourselves interested in what we’re thinking about. So I’m curious if you’re seeing anything about the way kids are learning to approach design and development these days from such a very early age?

Joni:

It varies so much on the school and the program. I’ve taught classes for, like, robotics programs. And the students are very comfortable with their computers, and they all have MacBooks. And then I’ve taught web design classes for local middle schools. And it’s clear that the students have trouble navigating a keyboard, so I really have to alter the workshop a lot. I can’t make a lot of assumptions about any background knowledge. There’s a lot of changes I have to make for every workshop. Every group is so different.

Tim:

I still have some trouble navigating a keyboard too, so. [Laughter] For those students, don’t worry.

But regarding teaching, let’s say any of our listeners want to get started with that. You seem to have a lot of experience teaching in several different mediums. How did you get started? How did you find places to teach for and work on curriculums and things like that?

Joni [12:00]:

I actually got started — I had given a presentation at a Girl Develop It holiday party about an SVG book that I wrote. It was one of the first talks I ever gave, and I was incredibly nervous, and I almost quit a dozen times. But I ended up absolutely loving it. It was so amazing, and that organization has actually been really important in my career. But one of the chapter leads from Girl Develop It, Philadelphia, after the party, approached me about teaching a class on SVG. My first reaction was, No, I’m not gonna do that, because that sounds terrifying. And I always had these moments of like Well, who am I to do that? Who am I to teach people about SVG? And I realized that when something makes me uncomfortable, I have to say yes. And a lot of opportunities in my career have come from that mindset — like doing this podcast! [Laughter]

David:

I noticed that you tweeted right before this podcast that you had been asked to do another podcast, even though you swore you’d never do one again, and yet you were going ahead with it!

Joni:

I always tell people, like, Do stuff you’re uncomfortable with! You’ll find your passion, which mine is teaching! In that spirit I said yes. But, yeah, podcasts for me tend to be kind of awkward.

But anyway, getting back to teaching. I said yes, and I did it, and it was completely terrifying. But luckily the curriculum sort of wrote itself, because I had written a book about it. And it was just absolutely incredible. I remember that day perfectly, and it was just this amazing high. Part of it, too, is just the GDI community is so wonderful.

From there, I started writing more, and writing more series. And then I had Tuts+ reach out to me about a children’s series, which I was really excited about. So it’s Tuts+ Town, which I eventually turned into a free workshop that I do for local schools.

David:

So one of the things it makes me think about is you went ahead and you published that with Tuts+, but then you also turned it into something separate for yourself. So you were repurposing the same information for a different audience.

Joni:

Right. One of the things I love about tech is there’s so much important work to be done here. And coming from non-profits, now that I’m in tech, I get paid more, which is fantastic. It lets me do things like conduct workshops for free on occasion. And I just saw a need there. I had nothing of the sort. So, it’s important to me to be able to expose kids to web design and development at an earlier age.

Tim:

Your artistic style is … I don’t know if I can come up with a general word to describe it. It’s like none other I’ve seen before. You take these sort of childlike illustrations and turn them into animated SVGs, and it’s just fun to look at. Where do you get that inspiration from?

Joni:

I read a lot of children’s books. I have a five year old, so I find a lot of inspiration in the colors and their use of basic soft shapes. I’ve always been partial to adorable things. Before I actually was illustrating, I painted. So I have lots of really, very silly paintings. I don’t have any anymore. I took them down. Now that I’m over 30 it felt inappropriate. They’re in the basement, they’re very colorful and adorable. I’ve always had some sort of outlet for adorable creatures, and the web is just my current medium for those.

David:

Speaking as somebody who’s well over 30, I think you’re going to want those back soon.

Joni:

I’m glad I didn’t throw them away.

David:

Absolutely. It’s actually very nice to hear about the ability to blend web technology and adorable.

Joni [16:00]:

Yeah! It has a place, and I think we can take ourselves too seriously a lot of the time.

David:

Well with the style that you bring to what you do, I can understand why you were attracted to SVG. I’m curious what other technologies have really caught your interest?

Joni:

I guess I’ve been sort of like a generalist my entire career, and I sort of never see that changing. And I get asked a lot like, What do you want to focus on? What do you wish you focused on from the beginning? And I don’t ever have an answer for that. Because I don’t know how you’d figure out what you want to do unless you try everything. I’m just sort of stuck in that try everything mode. So right now I’m very much more on the front end side of things. And I find myself becoming less and less interested in the actually technology, and more interested in how to better my communication skills, for example. I feel that that serves me better as a designer than learning any single technology to the point where I would consider myself an expert, or whatever that would mean.

David:

There’s no question communication’s a big part of career development in any field, and I think in technology in particular. People find it more challenging because people are so used to working one-on-one with the computer, rather than across.

Joni:

Right, exactly. And it’s especially difficult on remote teams, which I’ve actually only ever worked remotely while in tech.

David:

So how have you dealt with that kind of challenge?

Joni:

It’s very hard. I’m good at it now, but I wasn’t for years. I was really bad at it. When I got started, I was living in a really secluded area. I was in South Dakota. And so, working in an office just wasn’t an option. And I needed the flexibility — I mean I absolutely cherish the flexibility. So I spent a lot of time initially getting up and sorting my sock drawer in the middle of the day, because I just had to do it. And that is just not sustainable at all. So yeah, it’s just about having designated office hours. That’s really been huge for me, having my own space. I used to work in the living room or the dining room, and that doesn’t work at all — for me, anyway.

And then constant communication with your team. I’ve been on teams that are not fans of video calls, and I found that to be very isolating. It’s really easy to lose sight of the fact that you work with human beings when you’re just, like, typing at people in Slack all day. And then video calls of course help remind you of that, remind you that you need to be nice to each other. So there’s just little things like that that I learned about myself. We’re doing video right now and I really appreciate that. It’s so much easier to converse and relate.

David:

That’s right. For the listeners who don’t know, we always record these podcasts with video to create a sense of intimacy with the guest, even though we don’t usually share the videos.

Tim:

Yes, both David and I have faces, but you might not have known that. We do. We’re real people.

Joni:

They’re nice faces.

Tim:

Oh thank you.

David:

A face for podcasting.

Joni:

And it’s important for reading facial expressions! If I’m on a regular call and I say something super weird and everyone’s thinking about how weird it is, I can’t see on their face that they think it’s super weird, so I’ll just keep going on and on.

David:

I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the shocked and horrified expressions coming across our faces throughout this whole podcast.

Joni:

Exactly. [Laughs]

David:

The other things that you’re doing, you’re putting together all of these training materials in addition to the actually work you’re doing with design. You’re putting out all of these training materials, and I’m interested in what kind of feedback you’re getting for the materials you’re putting out there?

Joni [19:46]:

I’ve always written about my journey because that’s what I was really comfortable with. Because as a grant writer, working in the non-profit space, that’s what I did every day. I wrote stories. It’s what I was comfortable doing, it’s sort of how I best expressed myself.

Initially, on my blog, I just wrote for myself, really. Sort of documenting my journey. I didn’t think anyone was reading, and they weren’t. I had analytics. I know no one was reading. And that was totally fine, because that’s not why I was doing it. But eventually, people did start reading, and eventually I got invited to write for places like DesignModo and SitePoint, and that was a big step for me in my career.

There are always people who are going to have negative things to say about anything you put out there. You’re very vulnerable to put yourself out there in front of so many people. But overwhelmingly the responses are great. And people will constantly say, you know, especially about the SVG book. You know, something like a book, about how much it helped them and how they really appreciated a resource that was beginner friendly. I don’t know if I should admit this, but a lot of the things I write are sort of born out of frustration. With SVG I was just so upset. I desperately wanted to learn this stuff and I couldn’t find any resources that were for complete, absolute beginners. There’s always an assumption of base knowledge with so many resources, and I think going into it without that assumption is huge, and can really impact a lot of people.

Tim:

I specifically remember angrily tweeting you questions about SVG and you answering them immediately. So if I haven’t thanked you before for that, thank you again.

Joni:

Oh, you’re welcome!

David:

It’s terrific to put that stuff out there. And in particular, people forget there’s always somebody out there who knows a little less than you do about the thing that you’re learning. And no matter how basic the thing you want to teach is, there’s somebody out there who wants to learn it at that level and the way that you communicate is a very important part of it. And coming from a background as a writer, I think you’ve got a strong background for doing that sort of thing.

Joni:

Yeah. It’s important to remember if something is hard for you, it’s going to be hard for a lot of other people. So if you figure it out, a lot of people are going to appreciate you explaining it.

I made one resource when I was learning Flexbox. It’s like a cheat sheet. And I almost didn’t publish it, because I sort of made it for myself, because it was really hard for me to wrap my mind around this stuff. I showed it to a few people and they were like This is really weird. So I’m like, Yeah I guess it is kind of weird, but I was referencing it so often it just didn’t feel right to keep it to myself. Even if a couple people find it useful, then why not put it out there? What’s the harm? That’s sort of my motivation for open-sourcing the book that I wrote, it’s sort of in that same mindset. It just didn’t seem right for me to have just struggled learning this stuff, and creating a resource because I couldn’t find one, and then making that resource not super accessible. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do, so I open-sourced that and made that available for free.

Tim:

You’ve done a lot of really interesting and exciting things in your career. Is there anything specifically that you were looking at next? Any sort of exciting, cool, fun plans?

Joni:

This year I have a couple new workshops I would like to create. Also we have Ela Conf. We actually take a break after Ela Conf. So that was in November. And we take a break, we give ourselves a few months to not think about it all, so I’m breaking the rule right now, thinking about it. So we’re going to have to have a meeting about that soon, talk about Ela Conf 2017. I learned that planning a one day event — one and a half day event — takes 365 days. We’d have to start planning that soon. Those are the things I have slated for this year.

David [24:12]:

That’s very cool. I’m sure that our listeners are gonna want to find out how to find you online, how do get in touch. How can people find you?

Joni:

I spend too much time on Twitter, so that’s @jonitrythall. And my blog is JoniBologna.com.

David:

Very cool. And it’s Joni Trythall, T-R-Y-T-H-A-L-L, right?

Joni:

That’s correct, yes.

David:

Fantastic. Well thank you so much for joining us on the Versioning Show.

Joni:

Thank you!


Tim:

So first off, if you have not seen any of Joni’s artwork, definitely go and check that out. You will have a great time. I think adorable is just the way to describe it in general.

David:

And I like that Joni was comfortable really going there and talking about her experiences coming into the community as a beginner. So many people ignore that beginner experience and how important it is to be welcomed into the community, and to find a place where you feel comfortable with what you’re doing. What she was doing was so outside the box, literally — outside the positioning of CSS boxes — and yet it spoke specifically to her and her own background, and her interests. And she just went with it and did something that she felt comfortable with, and put it out there. I love to hear stories about people who do things like that.

Tim:

Yeah, it’s interesting, because although her case isn’t completely unique to the experiences we’ve heard. I mean she’s someone who went and got a master’s degree in I guess you would call it non-technical writing. Writing documents for non-profits. What did she say they were? Story grants? I’m not really familiar with the industry in itself, but basically nothing related to tech, really. Not at all. And you know, going so far into that career field and then transitioning from there, which I can imagine has to be a terrifying prospect. But she did it, she made it work, and she is excellent at it. It’s really great to know that it’s possible for people to do.

David:

And at any stage in their careers, too. It’s not something that’s easy or comfortable to do when you are young and single and don’t have children. And to do it when you’ve already gotten a career, and you’ve already had experience, and you’ve already built up certain expectations for your lifestyle, and then you also have added responsibilities in your life. To be able to stop that whole career path and just say I’m starting in a new direction and I am going to do it by making adorable cartoon characters in SVG. I mean, you gotta give her credit for that.

Tim:

Broke all the rules, and succeeded.

David:

Absolutely. As I mentioned to her, and as I keep on seeing, some of the people who impress me the most are the ones like Joni, who choose to learn by going out and sharing their information, and by going out and going to the community. And becoming a part of the community and putting things out there, instead of just sitting, and reading, and listening, and taking from the community, and then hiding it away in their little corner somewhere until they’ve figured that they’ve become the expert — at which point they can simply close their coffins and go away.

Tim:

And it’s interesting because, reflecting on the past year, being that right now as we’re recording this, it’s the beginning of 2017. I started to write a lot in the beginning of 2016, and then I sort of tapered a little bit from there. And I’ve started to realize a little bit in my case that I really need to schedule the writing and the sharing of knowledge, which I think I’ve realized I have the responsibility to share the knowledge that I have, because I’ve learned in the same way that so many others have. You know, via free information off of the internet without paying a cent for it. So I’ve started to realize that I really should make it a priority to write and share information, but it doesn’t naturally come just out of the blue, like Oh here’s a perfect idea to write something, let me just go do that now because I have the free time for it.

I need to be a lot more structured because, well, I got a new job. Work is very busy, I have deadlines. I have to come home and make dinner and do this podcast, and do all these different things. But I think I’ve started to realize at this stage in my career, number one, I have the responsibility to share that information. And number two, I need to really be scheduled and timely about it.

David [28:18]:

It’s interesting, the way that Joni was talking about it. She was talking for example about her Flexbox piece, and how it was just something she was answering somebody’s question, and she realized that she put together something that she could share and that other people could benefit from. And then that seemed to lead her down the path of I should open source my book, because I want people to learn from the things that I’ve learned, and I want to share that information out there.

It’s interesting because, as you say, it’s not something that comes naturally to us. We have to make time in our careers to do that sharing. And yet, it’s so beneficial to put something out there. I was thinking back, again — as you said, this being the beginning of 2017 for us — I was thinking back to my career. 2014 was when I decided I was going to start publishing articles. And then 2015 I was going to write something. And then 2016 was my year to podcast. Getting on these regular schedules, as you say, is really an important part of it. And the podcasting has been great for me, because it’s gotten me on a regular schedule of putting information out in front of people. And I’m actually starting to think about what 2017 is going to mean in that regard.

Tim:

Yeah, there’s a lot to think about. And by the way, if you are interested in writing, you can do that for SitePoint. You can contact them, and now that I’ve mentioned it it’s going to magically appear in our show notes. You can contact them with ideas that you might have, and they will get back to you. SitePoint is a wonderful organization to publish for. It is how I got started in writing. Go and do that if you’re interested.

David:

And if your particular expertise is not something that SitePoint wants to focus on, there are other places to put your information out there. And you can blog. And you can put your information out through your own seminars and workshops. Or just talk, put something out there for people to learn who are interested in the subjects you are interested in, even if what you’re interested in is making animation through CSS by creating adorable little creatures. There’s an audience out there.

Tim:

As a matter of fact, I’ve learned that most organizations do not care if you cold email them with a request to just write for their website or blog, or what have you. Most of them respond either a yes or no, and thanks for the inquiry. And that’s that. And most of the time you’ll get a new place where you can send some of your writings, and maybe even get compensated for it. So don’t be timid in that regard. If you have something to write, just broadcast it and see who’s interested.

David:

Yeah, that’s actually one of the wonderful things about the web. Those people do not have a limitation in terms of the amount of information that they can publish, because their databases are huge, the internet is unlimited. It won’t get stuck in the tubes. It’s gonna go out there to people. Although, as a professional writer, it’s important to get paid what you’re worth for the work that you’re doing. When you’re starting out, there is value to getting your information in front of people, and starting to get that kind of feedback.

Tim:

So another thing that Joni touched on was something she wasn’t super crazy about in the industry, which I very much agree with, and I think number one on her list was a lack of humility. I mean, you and I David are two of the most humble people, right, so we definitely don’t suffer from this problem. [Chuckles]

David:

I think you and I are the two most humble people on this podcast.

Tim:

That’s very true.

David:

Right now.

Tim:

We should get some sort of plaque or badge for that, or both, honestly. But that being said, we’ve actually spoken a lot about humility and how it plays into being a better developer and a better person in general. I believe when we spoke about what it is that makes a good software developer, or engineer, or person who works in tech in general, I think at least humility was number one on my list.

David:

It’s easy to forget the importance of that, because it doesn’t affect you; it affects the people around you. And one of the things that we forget when we’re working in tech is that nothing really happens that’s isolated to one individual. Even the most solo programmer out there who’s stamping out code and publishing things under their own name, that person is still building on the development that came before, and building on earlier projects, and elevating the code that came before to a new level with an new perspective. Nobody really works in that isolated bubble. Everybody really is working together.

Tim [32:16]:

And I would definitely like to see and come to the whole You’re not a real developer if you don’t do X, Y, or Z. OK, I’m gonna raise my hand here, I don’t know what a real developer is. Let’s start there. I get paid to put stuff onto the internet. If that is what a web developer is, then I guess I am one. But there are a number of way to do that. You can copy and paste stuff. You can write your own stuff. You can use frameworks and libraries. You can build an entire application without knowing what the bind function does, or what recursion is, or how exactly a closure works. You can, and people do build entire applications without knowing those things. It helps to know those things, but to say someone is not a real developer if they don’t know something that someone else might consider a fundamental I think is a little elitist.

David:

Well I’ve heard people say that you’re not a real developer if you use languages that don’t type-define their variables. I’ve heard people say you’re not a real developer if you use Ruby. I’ve heard people say you’re not a real developer if you don’t get paid for what you’re doing. And personally, there was a time when I got paid for developing code. Right now, I don’t believe I’ve been paid for code that I’ve written for at least 2 years. That’s not saying that I won’t be again, but am I not a real developer?

Tim:

There you go. So I think both of us are simultaneously not a real developer and a real developer at the same time. It’s a quantum paradox.

David:

Schrodinger’s developer.

Tim:

There you go. But at the end of the day, Joni is 100% right, again. That is just a thing that doesn’t make sense. The industry is too vast and there is too much going on to split hairs over what makes a real developer or not. Don’t do that, don’t be that person.

David:

Don’t let the intimidation about whether or not you’re a real developer stop you from doing the things that Joni is doing, which includes publishing articles, publishing conference talks, going and speaking at events, teaching classes, sharing the information that you have. You know what you know. There’s somebody out there who can benefit from it. Go share that information. It is, as Joni said, it’s your responsibility.

Tim:

And to reiterate all of this, what we’re doing here, this podcast, our work outside of it in general, it’s all about just putting the stuff onto the web that we want to see. Nothing more, nothing less. In my spare time I’m building a dumb game right now. It’s sort of Battleship and it’s terrible. But that’s it! I mean I want to see this thing on the web. When I’m on the train it works offline so I can just fool around with this dumb thing that I’m wasting internet bytes with. That’s it! I just want to get this thing there, on the web, and that’s what web development is.

David:

Yup, it’s about putting the things out there. I think I’ve mentioned before, I did that little project to take old books and switch the genders of all the main characters over the Christmas holidays. I released a free audiobook on the Transconcieve Project, of the entire reading of A Christmas Carol, Transconcieved. I just wanted to put it out there. I wanted it to be there and available for people who wanted to hear what it would sound like if this book by Charles Dickens had been written in a way that the characters had switched genders. What would that mean to the characters and what would that mean to your interpretation of it? I just wanted it out there and I wanted to put it out there.

Tim:

I kind of want to read some of that, now that you’ve described it. It sounds very interesting.

David:

Well, you can listen to the audiobook if you like, or download the PDF.

Okay that was very self promoting. [Laughs]

Tim:

I think we’ve got an episode.


Thank you so much for listening everybody. We always enjoy getting to talk technology with all of you.

David:

We would also like to thank SitePoint.com, and our producers, Adam Roberts and Ophelie Lechat, with production help from Ralph Mason. Please feel free to send us your comments on Twitter — @versioningshow — and give us a rating on iTunes to let us know how we’re doing.

Tim:

We’ll see you next time, and we hope you enjoyed this version.

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