Episode 172 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Kevin Dees (@kevindees) interviews Jason Beaird (@JasonGraphix) of Zaarly and disusses the likes of SASSLess, jQuery and many other parts of the front end development world.
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Kevin: I am here with Jason Beaird, and we are going to be talking about basically work/life balance. Now, if you don’t know who Jason is, he’s authored a book for SitePoint called “The Principles of Beautiful Web Design”, correct?
Kevin: He’s also a new father.
Jason: Well, to start that off, I’m still trying to figure out the whole work/life balance thing. So, I’m no expert, but I’m learning as I go.
Kevin: Right. Well, that’s the best time to ask though, because you’re actually starting to think about these things and maybe research ways to do that, right?
Kevin: So, it’ll be nice to have this interview with you now, and then in the future maybe have you come back and say, “Hey, these are the things I learned along the way.”
Jason: Sounds good.
Kevin: So, to kick things off, Jason, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jason: My name is Jason, and as you said, most people know me from the book “The Principles of Beautiful Web Design”. I’ve been doing web design for a long time, back to the GeoCities days when I was in high school, and bulletin board systems, and discovering the web through the early, early days when everything was table- based.
I’ve just enjoyed the changes and the evolution of the web. It’s what I do for fun and it’s what I do professionally, currently a User Experience Designer at MailChimp in Atlanta, Georgia. As Kevin was saying, we’re going to talk about work/life balance.
My wife and I just had our first baby. She’s four and a half months old. Her name is Adelyn and she’s pretty much changed my entire life. So, it’s always fun to talk about her.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s good. Tell me a little bit about the history of your expertise and the development of your career. Did you attend college, that kind of thing?
Jason: I knew by the time I graduated high school that the web was what I wanted to do, but I thought I wanted to design websites. But at the same time I had planned to go to school for computer science, because I thought that’s what you do if you want to build websites.
I ended up changing my major at orientation, before even getting in to any of the computer science classes, to art/graphic design. Because they told me at orientation at University of Central Florida that if I wanted to design websites then I had to go to graphic design. I’m always curious, if I had gone the computer science route, where it would have taken me. But the art/graphic design route treated me pretty well.
There are a lot of things that are hard to learn about art without taking traditional art classes, learning how to draw, learning how to paint, framing pictures, making pottery, learning about art history. That kind of guided my sense of design for the web, and without that I don’t know that I would have been a very interesting person to be talking to about web design, if I had gone the computer science route.
But at the same time I feel like designers need to know development as well. I’ve always been one of these people that are in the middle, designer, developer. So, I’m always trying to learn as much as I can about development. As much as I look back to my design training, I kind of wish I had more formal programming training a lot of times too, because you really need that on the web now.
But I got my first job right out of college doing web design for an Internet hosting provider doing web design in the table based era. I eventually started doing design with divs, like web standards based designs, went from my job to a job where I was working from home for a really tiny agency, a two person agency, working remote for a few years.
Then, eventually moved to a job where I was working at a company called Cyberwoven in Columbia, South Carolina as a web designer, where I worked for several years there doing client-based web design for a whole different range of different clients. Then, from there I moved on to MailChimp, where I’ve been for the last two years working on the MailChimp applications.
Kevin: So, it didn’t take you a few days to do this, right? You’ve accomplished all these things over several years.
Jason: Yeah, it’s definitely been sort of an additive career. Everything I’ve learned is sort of built on top of the next thing I ended up doing.
Kevin: Right. You met your wife in college, then?
Jason: Actually, I met her in high school. We were friends in high school, but didn’t start dating until my first year of college, actually, when I was coming back to my hometown. We’d hang out a lot more than we did when I was in high school, and then we started dating during my first year of college.
Kevin: Very cool. What role did that play in in your career choice?
Jason: It definitely didn’t affect my career choice. I’d been interested in web design and that was sort of the direction I was going. It may have effected decisions that I made along the way, because we’ve been married now since I got my first job out of college. We got married during the summer and then my first job out of college came the very next summer.
So, basically the decisions that we’ve made about where to move and what jobs to take and things like that have been made together. I’ve been married nine years as of Thursday.
Kevin: Wow, congratulations.
Jason: So, I always kind of thought that in order to be good at web design, to do cool work at web design, the pinnacle of my career would be to eventually pack up and move to the Valley and work for a Yahoo, or a Google, or a Twitter, or a Facebook. To move out to the Valley and to work for one of these huge companies, and along the way my wife and I made decisions together.
So, we decided to move to South Carolina for her to go to grad school for her to get her PhD, and put off the idea of moving to California. Overtime I kind of realized that I kind of like the Southeast.
Jason: My wife and I are both from Florida, and we’ve seen a lot of things happen in the Southeast, Converge become a pretty big conference and other conferences coming to Atlanta and South Carolina, and Florida. There’s a really nice community growing down here.
Kevin: Yeah, I’d agree with that completely. You’re used to the South by Southwest’s that kind of are the connection point between the coasts. Then, most everything happens, San Francisco, Los Angeles, all that stuff, all the really big events, and it’s nice to see part of that web community starting to build up along the East Coast like you’re saying with Converge. I believe the Event Apart events are kind of all over the place, which is nice.
Jason: It’s nice seeing not just the Southeast, but people taking ownership of their own cities and their own regions, not feeling like they have to move to the West Coast. Not to knock on the west coast people, because I know a lot of people out there, and a lot of really talented folks working for a lot of really big, talented companies. But it’s not for everybody.
Jason: Over time I kind of decided that it wasn’t for me, that I like it down here in the southeast.
Kevin: That’s very cool. So, I think that’s a really great example of how, in your relationship, you’ve worked things out to where it’s a good relationship, right? I think at the end of the day, relationships are probably the most important thing for us. You can say your career’s important to you, but at the end of the day it’s the people that spend your life with that make up the moments and the memories.
So, what has been your experience in balancing those two things, career and family, web and family? What has been the decision making process maybe for you in choosing a specific path? Or is it something else completely that you do? Is it whimsical? I mean, who knows?
Jason: There are a lot of things that go into that decision, just with the amount of time that I spent outside of work messing with new technologies and experimenting on my blog and stuff. As a young married person, my wife had to adjust to us living together and me spending so much time in front of the computer, because I was always trying to learn something new in the wee hours.
Trying to decide how to balance the amount of time that I spent with her with the amount of time I spent playing on the web, playing, whatever you call it, learning, experimenting, trying to learn new skills. Then, the way that as a web designer is the way we look at conferences. It’s something fun that we like to go to to meet up with other people that do what we do.
Whereas, in other fields, like my wife is in chemical engineering, conferences aren’t viewed as a fun thing, they’re viewed as a mandatory thing that you have to go and do and present your work, and to just add a notch onto your resume, that you presented at some conference. Whereas as web designers we want to go to South by Southwest, we want to go meet up with other people at the nearest web design meet-up and BarCamps and things like that.
It’s been kind of hard to find a balance. It’s something that you just kind of have to work out with your partner to figure out how much time that they’re comfortable with you spending time on your own things, and if they have things to spend their own time on, too.
That all changed when we had a child. The whole balance got shifted. A lot of times my wife and I would spend evenings working separately on our computers, very happy, and still making time for each other and doing things together as well. But, that balance all shifted when we had a baby.
Kevin: Right. What has that experience been like for you guys? It’s only been three, four months now, right?
Jason: I think the biggest change in that experience has been all the time that you would spend doing sort of extracurricular activities is spent now taking care of and raising and feeding and trying to get a baby to sleep. It’s a huge commitment, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world. But it’s definitely taken away a lot of the time that I would have spent learning new skills and playing around with new technologies and experimenting with design. But it’s been fun, too.
Kevin: Right. So, I don’t want to step back too far, but with you and your wife and your career choices being different, how do you go about bringing those things into balance? Now with a child, how is that going to change? What are some of the things that you guys are thinking about in that respect?
Jason: Well, I mean career-wise, one big thing is what jobs do you take? What steps do you make toward your career? When you are married to somebody who is in grad school, which my wife was for pretty much the last five years up until I started at MailChimp, it’s kind of hard to make a decision to, say, go out on your own and be freelance.
Because you want a job where you have some security, where you have health insurance and all those kinds of things. Good benefits like that, that you don’t have two income earners where you can easily just jump into something that’s a little more risky. So, maybe I would’ve gone freelance if she was just a regular working partner, but made the decision instead to go be employed full-time instead. So, there are those kind of decisions that affect your career.
Then, like I was saying before, the ideals about moving somewhere else and taking another job when the other person that you’re connected with is connected to the area. Like my wife was in school at South Carolina. We couldn’t move for five years until she was finished with that program.
Kevin: Right. So, now that Adelyn is in the equation, what does that mean to you going forward?
Jason: It definitely means choosing how to spend your free time wisely. One of the things that I did during the period where we were just a young, carefree, married couple was write a book. One of the things my wife did during that period that was an equally huge time commitment was to get her PhD, and going through the dissertation writing process. At the beginning the pre-qualifying exams for the PhD program required a lot of her time.
It’d be kind of hard to write a book now. It’d be kind of hard for her to work on a PhD, because we can’t just rely on the other person to keep things going around the house and keep the bills going when we have these huge commitment things that we’re focusing on. Because now we have this other family member that demands our attention much more than our cat ever did.
You definitely have to be careful about how you decide to spend your time, what kind of events you decide to go to. Am I putting all the pressure on her if I’m trying to go to web design events and meet up with people, locally even? Then, going to conferences, it’s a much bigger deal because I’m leaving her with the baby alone.
Kevin: Right. In fact on your blog, I’d like to mention, you wrote a post here recently called “Baby Time” and basically used an app to track all the different things that you were doing, changing diapers, feeding, all that. What made you want to do that? If you go to the blog post and you look at it, it’s actually kind of scary.
Jason: Yeah, that was during that bleak, dark period in the first couple months of Adelyn’s life, where she really did demand every bit of attention and time, and really did prevent you from sleeping normal hours, when I wrote that post.
Kevin: All right, so what inspired you to track all that?
Jason: It was my wife’s idea more than it was mine. I’m more of kind of a carefree, “figure it out as we go along” kind of person. My wife’s more of a data, technology-driven person. She really wanted to look for the patterns and make sure that we were taking care of the baby.
So, she got this app, it’s called Baby Connect. But I mentioned it in the blog post too that the interface for it is really horrible. It’s hard as a designer to look at the interface. But it does a really cool job of tracking all sorts of things about the baby. You can track when they sleep, when they eat, when they have bowel movements, and you can just enter all the information from your doctor’s appointments and other things. It gives you a pretty good idea of what’s going on with your baby’s health.
So, one of the things they told us when we were in the hospital was to track when they go to the bathroom and when they eat, to kind of look for patterns of are they eating right? So, I think that our desire to track every single one of those events was kind of new parent naivety at first.
Jason: I mean it’s good to kind of have an idea of when they last ate, when they went to the bathroom. But we thought, “Oh, we’re just going to do this until she’s one year old.” That lasted about a month, a month and a half of tracking everything and it just got to be too cumbersome to write down every single time she ate or went to the bathroom.
But it provided some really interesting data and a neat looking graph to go back and look at what the first few weeks of her life were like, and how little time we had. When you look at that chart and realize that each of those events took time, it took changing and feeding her.
Kevin: So, part of that graph makes you wonder, if you go and look at this thing. Basically, it’s like every 30 minutes just about it looks like you’re doing something. What are some of the things that you’re doing now to try to keep up with what’s going on after you’ve had the child?
Jason: Well, one of the things I’ve been able to do – and it’s nice here in Atlanta because we have J Cornelius runs the Atlanta Web Design Group here, which is a really great group. They get together usually twice a month, sometime in the middle of the month usually for a social event, or they’ll meet up at a bar or restaurant and just hang out. Then, usually at the end of the month, they usually have a speaker. So, last month we had Kyle Steed and this month we have Daniel Mall coming up.
So, it’s really a fun group to be involved with. If I could invest my time in no other place locally with keeping up with what’s going on with web design here in Atlanta, then that’s where I would put my time at.
So, it’s been fun being a part of that group and the other activities and stuff that happen with the group. There was a tech event that was sort of also promoted among that group at SweetWater Brewing. TechCrunch came down and had basically a party at SweetWater Brewing, where you could meet up with other web designers and tech nerds.
Kevin: That’s very cool. So, when you go off to do something like that, and I know you’re still figuring everything out, what about the other end of that? What about your wife? Are there things that she gets to do to get out of the house? How do you go about that you kind of thing, is there sort of, “You get this week. I get next week.”? Or is it something that you kind of just say, “Hey, I’d like to do this. Is this okay?” What is that process like, in that you’re still maintaining a healthy relationship?
Jason: Well, I definitely try to let her know way in advance. That’s the best way to go, is to let her know that, “Hey, there’s this thing I want to go to. Would it be okay if I do this?” Up until the last few weeks she hasn’t been able to do the same thing, because the baby’s breastfeeding. It’s hard to get a time when she can get away unless we make bottles…
Jason: …and store the milk, and stuff like that, which we do, and I usually give her a bottle in the evenings. But it’s harder for her to get away than it is for me to get away, just because of the physical attachment. But this last week she went to a meeting for the chemical engineering society here in Atlanta. So, she’s trying to start to do the same thing.
It’s definitely not balanced, because I typically get out at least twice a month to events and things, and she’s only got out to one recently. But ideally, when things get a little more balanced, she would have an equal amount of time to get out and do stuff that she’s interested in as well.
Kevin: Right. So, from your whole experience in all of this since you got married, even before that when you were dating, to now as a new father, what would you say would be the piece of advice that you would give to people?
Jason: Well, relationship-wise, for Amy and I at least, the best advice I can give is to put the relationship first, above all else. If I didn’t do that then I wouldn’t have made the right decisions as far as trying to keep her happy, and thinking about what she would think of me being gone all the time, doing web stuff, having things take up every bit of my time.
Thinking about my wife and wanting to spend time with her and thinking about our time together, and trying to provide her with time to do things and pursue her interests. Basically, putting each other first has helped us succeed in our own careers and maintain a relationship. Which a lot of times if you get so focused on succeeding in your job and in your career, it’s easy to lose focus in the relationship and will let that fall by the wayside while you move up the corporate ladder, so to speak.
Kevin: Right. You said that you are putting each other first. Could you explain maybe some of the ways that you’re doing that?
Jason: Well, mainly communication. I’m bad at communicating in general, with her or with anybody. I tend to over-commit myself and forget responsibilities sometimes, and she’s a great planner. Before we started dating, we were friends in high school.
I remember the semester before I left for college, I had bought a physical – nobody remembers these anymore – but a physical handheld zip-up day planner. I had never used one of those things before in high school. I didn’t write down when I had tests and when I had events and when I had wrestling matches or anything like that. I just kind of winged it. I kind of went by remembering all the things that I had to do.
But I remembered when she was in high school that we were friends and she had a day planner. She used it religiously. She had everything, from every exam that she had coming up, every activity. Every time she wanted to get together with friends. She would write it in her day planner.
I remember I actually borrowed her day planner during my senior year of high school, just to kind of look through it and see what she had in it and how she used it. I borrowed it for one class period and took some notes and tried to start using a day planner. To this day I still can’t use a day planner. The Google Calendar is as far as I get to planning out my day and my time, trying to make sure everything’s in there so I know what I’m supposed to be doing next.
She still uses Google Calendar and other tracking stuff to great effect. So, as far as planning time and balancing time, and putting each other first, for me that means going outside my comfort zone and actually trying to plan and be ahead of the game as far as what things are coming up next, to try to be more organized.
For her sometimes, putting me first sometimes means dealing with my last minute decision making at attempts to get us to go to parties and events with friends and things like that. I’m more of the more spur of the moment person who will do anything at the drop of the hat, and she’s more the planner, the person who looks at the three and five-year plan.
Kevin: So, you’re one of the guys who brings the dog home without letting anybody know, and she’s more of the one who has gone out and planned the whole process of, “If we get the dog then we’ve got to get the food. We’ve got to get the doghouse,” kind of thing?
Jason: Exactly, pretty much. That describes us pretty well.
Kevin: So, basically what I’m taking away from this is that you’re saying, figure out what the other person’s habits and needs are and lean towards those to put them first, right?
Jason: Not just habits and needs. Look for what the person’s strengths and weaknesses are, and look for ways that you can both be stronger by relying on that person’s strengths.
Kevin: Right. Then, I have one last question for you, which is how do you support each other in your pursuit of career, right? What are some of the ways that you guys do – not just like, “Oh, it’s okay to go to this event,” or “I’ll let you go spend a little bit of time on the computer.” But what are some of the ways that you guys support each other in the pursuit of your personal desires and wants?
Jason: I think just trying to understand what that person is excited about, and what their aspirations are and not diminishing those things. It’d be easy for Amy to look at me going to web design events and say something like, “Are you just going to hang with a bunch of web nerds and leave me alone, or are you going to spend time with me?” It’d be easy for me to have said that, “Are you sure you want to go through the difficulty of getting a PhD? It’s really hard. Why are you doing this?”
Instead we kind of look at what we’re excited about and we kind of get behind each other’s excitement and support that. That has been the reason why I was able to write a book, why she was able to finish a PhD, and why we’ve been able to survive parenting so far.
Kevin: Right. I think those are really, really encouraging words that you’ve shared. I’m not married myself and I don’t have any kids or anything like that. So, this is really good advice, and I’m digesting it as I listen to you explain this stuff. So, I think what you’ve said is really solid and really good. I think that putting the other person first is definitely a great principle to practice, though probably not as easy as you’re making it out.
Jason: Definitely all those things apply to any relationship, friendships, relationships with family. All relationships can benefit from putting people first. But when you’re in a situation where you live with the person full-time and you’re attached, it’s a lot more important. Otherwise things fall apart pretty quick.
Kevin: Right. I think it’s safe to say then that when it’s a work/life balance, perhaps it’s not even really the objective. It’s more of the relationship and how do I maintain that over my career period, because if you’re trying to balance the two, then maybe your objectives are off.
Jason: Definitely. We’ve even had that conversation now as it applies to being parents. It’s easy sometimes for parents to focus on putting the child first, and that’s important. You want to make sure that your baby stays healthy, that you’re doing everything you can for them, but for us we’ve decided to put our relationship first.
Because if we stay together and we keep communicating with each other and don’t let things fall apart, then the baby’s better off, rather than focusing on just making the baby happy and healthy and forgetting about us.
Kevin: Well, I think you will be a great father, and I think you’ve probably been a great one so far. Are there any other comments that you want to share with the listeners, and where can people find you?
Jason: No, I think that’s about it. As far as work/life balance goes, that’s sort of my focus is to keep putting our relationship first, and to continue pursuing career and skills and constantly learning as well.
You can follow me on Twitter, especially if you want to find out things about how our work/life balance is going. Lately our work/life balance has been shifting now to our house. We’re about to start on a huge addition project on our house, and we’re going to blog the whole thing.
Kevin: Oh, wow.
Jason: It’ll be mildly interesting. But you can follow that at contemporation.com, or Contemporary Renovation. It’s a goofy domain name that we picked out, but we’re about to get started on that project in the next month or so. Otherwise you can follow me on Twitter at @JasonGraphix, and on my website at Jasongraphix.com.
Kevin: Excellent. Well, Jason, thank you so much for coming on. I think this has been really enlightening, at least for me, and hopefully for our listeners as well. I think, again, you’re going to be a great dad, and I wish you the best.
Jason: Thanks for the opportunity to be on the show.
Kevin: Absolutely, no problem.
And thanks for listening to the SitePoint Podcast. If you have any questions or thoughts about today’s show please feel free to get in touch. You can find SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom, that’s sitepoint d-o-t-c-o-m. You can find me on Twitter @kevindees, and if you’d like to leave comments about today’s show check out the podcast at sitepoint.com/podcast, you can subscribe to the show there as well. This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad, and I’m Kevin Dees, bye for now.
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