Back in the Web

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Back in the Web

Up until recently, for a very long time, I’d kind of lost my mojo with web development.

Five years ago I was regularly reading the blogs of all the industry names, and hankering after the new evolution of each browser for the baby-step closer to consistent standards support it might bring. Out of my own pocket I’d buy books on PHP or CSS, as well as subscribing to publications like PHP Architect to keep me abreast of open source projects and new techniques.

Then, a couple of years back (I’m not quite sure when) I just simply lost my enthusiasm for it, gave up reading the blogs, cancelled my PHP Architect subscription, and stopped giving a toss whether I was using the latest trendy CSS hack to achieve some ridiculous positional trick dreamed up by a pillar of the web development community. Whatever passion I initially had for web development was gone.

I think I’d fallen into a kind of limbo due to dissatisfaction with what I was doing at work, and the glass wall affect of being surrounded by people with jobs I’d rather have instead. There’s nothing that makes your own profession feel stale when all the opportunities (i.e. big bonuses, exotic job offers) are landing on the laps of those in a different disciplines.

In the Games Industry it’s C++ skills you need as a programmer and, although I tried to make the switch happen, it turned out the powers that be preferred me as a Web Developer. Cant say I blame them – I’m good at that and I wasn’t much use to them as a novice C++ developer.

Hence, the C++ rug was pulled and by the turn of the year I’d been tasked with steering a web project that we were attempting to bring in house for the first time. By default I found myself back on website front-end work because the project is being built on a Java/JSP platform, of which I have no experience and lacked the luxury of time required to bring myself up to a useful standard.

Initially I was a little downcast about having to do what I consider pretty basic stuff. I’d last done front end work like this for a living six years ago, so the apparent step backward was not exactly the kind of career progression that gave me high hopes for my future employability.

Due to a change of direction by the graphic designer, the first month of the front end work was a bit of a waste of time. That and the two months of work that followed it, which is par for the course when you’re working with a designer with absolutely no clue in their head with regards to web design. Having worked in the publishing industry with print designers who thought they were web designers, it’s both frustrating and familiar territory, so it was tough to keep my spirits up when it felt like I was doing a lot of donkey work through no fault of my own.

Since I get paid at the end of the month regardless, it didn’t really matter how many times the design gets changed, I decided. I’d take the Photoshop file, slice it up, export the images, work the code and the style sheet, iron out the cross-browser issues. Rinse and repeat. Ultimately it’s good practice to go through a couple of dress rehearsals before the main event, so I just got on with it. The strange thing was, despite the frustration of having to re-do weeks of work, I started to find I was enjoying it.

It’s probably because Web Design scratches a creative itch that Web Development just cant reach. In turning a pretty Photoshop picture into a website I was solving problems using parts of my brain that I hadn’t flexed in a while, and applying some of the new skills I’d learned in the meantime. Five or six years ago I wouldn’t have touched a JavaScript framework, for example – I’d have probably dismissed the idea and tried to reinvent the wheel on principle. Not now. I had issues that needed solving and, as the sole front end developer, I was better off standing on the shoulders of giants than going it alone.

Then, whilst I waited for assets from the latest redesign, I got back to reading up on those web development blogs I’d given up on years ago – sifting my way through tutorials and reminding myself of tricks of the trade that had faded in the mists of time. Before I knew it I was ordering a book out of my own pocket and exploring ways of making the front end more challenging to do by adding functionality and usability that’s above the call of duty.

To be honest, I was almost reluctant to be going off on holiday for a week when I did, because I felt I was building a head of steam that I might lose if I fell off the wagon. But, now that I’m back, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into work tomorrow.

It was clear that my passion for web work has been rekindled when I logged in to the WordPress Admin system to update my site and saw this article linked on the dashboard; WordPress meetup in London after Future of Web Apps conference. Heck, the meetup I could take or leave, but now that I know the Future of Web Apps Expo is on, I want to go for sure. 🙂

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