January 26, 2011

Introduction

Firstly, a big welcome and many thanks for taking the time to check out my blog.

I’m a professional Web Developer working at Willoughby Stewart. I’ve been working in the industry for 16 years, starting when the Web was in its infancy and the term “Web design” meant Times New Roman or nothing! To begin with I used the Web for entrepeneurial benefit—from launching my first commercial project at the age of 14 to running a successful e-commerce business for 6 years. Web development was purely a means to an end – as it should be – but has always been a passion.

This is actually my first ‘proper’ personal site (if you don’t count the ‘Doom II’ fan site holding page I made in 1995). I’m not quite sure why that is—but as an entrepreneur I’ve always invested all of my energies into those ventures, learning new skills along the way. I’ve never really felt the need to express my personal views to the Web development community, nor have I felt confident enough to teach others as I’ve almost existed inside my own ‘bubble’. Now that I’ve been working as a Developer for a few years I feel that perspective has changed and I can offer something genuinely unique and helpful.

I hope to offer a considered view of the industry in this blog. While development – whether it’s programming, version control, or design, and everything else – is certainly art, my motivator has always been to ask myself “what do I need to learn to achieve X, Y and Z?”

I can give you two personal examples of this philosophy. When I was 16, I wanted to emulate the success of Amazon and other, now defunct retailers, so I looked into how to set up an online shop. My research showed that the off-the-shelf solutions of the time were not fit for purpose, so I learned how to build one myself.

I had no programming experience or training. I’d had some minor exposure to open source Perl scripts from a previous site (the online presence of a national magazine), so I started hacking one of the free open source cart scripts, little changes here and there, and then more fundamental ones. All the while I was wishing “if only I could do this”—and the more I dug through forums and HotBot search, the more it seemed PHP 3 was the answer to these problems. So I rewrote my shopping cart in PHP. About a dozen rewrites and a couple of years later I naturally ended up with something akin to a MVC design pattern. I also learned a hell of a lot about what it takes to set up a retail business online, which I’m now using for the benefit of my clients.

Where do I want to be in 5 years? I love Web development, but how can I satisfy my entrepreneurial urges? The answer is to make myself the most valuable asset I can be, by expanding my skills and hopefully stepping up the career ladder, and hopefully I’ll be in a great position when the next big idea arrives. What skills are most in demand? I’ve decided to build on my Ruby and Rails skills and see if I can transfer my experience to iOS development. But at the same time I need to keep my front-end design skills relevant, and that means HTML 5, jQuery and CSS 3.

This blog will be a mixture of technical articles on the subject of Web development, commentary on the industry, and hopefully some advice to other Developers hoping to start their careers. I hope that sounds good to you.

Also, a note on the design; this is the one area that’s held me back for so long. I’m a massive perfectionist. So I’m starting off simple on purpose, because it’s the content that really matters.