Old dog, learning new tricks

“There is no need to sharpen my pencils anymore. My pencils are sharp enough.”
— Ze Frank

Before we get things started here, you should really watch this video. Even if you’ve seen it before, watch it again. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

As someone roughly the same age as Ze there (give or take 18 months), one thing I’ve noticed over the years is how the older you get the quicker the years go by, and time has a way of slipping away from you, especially when you’re not paying attention. This point was brought home most recently when, in cleaning up my web hosting from old long-abandoned projects and old cruft, I realized that it’s been over a decade since I registered a domain name and took my first steps into blogging.

Back in the day, I covered fascinating topics like “hello world,” “sorry it’s been so long since my last post,” and “hi again, this time I’m really going to stick with it,” interspersed with posts on web design tools (Macromedia, anyone?), usability, accessibility, and the very latest in XHTML and this newfangled technique of building page layouts with CSS. I eventually racked up a few hundred posts, but by mid-2007 I was mostly posting links of interest without even adding any commentary and even that trailed off completely by early 2008.

Not Now I'm Busy
Photo by Russ Morris

What happened? Things came up. Being a dad to my awesome, now-7-year-old daughter,  got (and stayed) busy at work, social media came on strong making blogging seem less of a “thing,” a bunch of different reasons. But being completely honest, it was just that I had reached a point in my web design/development career where I thought I knew all the basics like the back of my hand, had all the core skills that I needed to do my job, and just got into a rut. Not out of laziness, mind you, but more out of busyness–sort of a combination of “I already know everything I absolutely have to in order to do my job” and “I’m so busy that I don’t have time to learn or do anything new that I don’t absolutely have to.” The result, I sort of stopped moving forward.

Fast forward to late 2012… One of the things I love about working in higher-ed is that we get 2 weeks off around the holidays at the end of each year. Not like the “you’re on vacation but work is moving forward and by the way, I hope you like coming back to 500 unread emails” kind of time off, but rather the glorious “your entire organization is shut down for two weeks so everything is on-hold” time off. It’s a great time to recharge your batteries, reflect on the past year, and make plans for the next. Most of all it gives me time to answer, or at least think about, the question “what am I doing with my life?”

The answer: “way the hell too much.” I’d gone way, way, way, too far down the road towards becoming a jack-of-all-trades (good) but a master-of-none (bad), knowing a little about a lot, good enough at many things but not great at anything. It was really bothering me that I’ve been building and working on web sites for over a decade, but still had a nagging feeling that I hadn’t really mastered anything in that time.  It was time to get back to basics:  html, css, javascript, and hit them hard, learn everything I could about the triumvirate of our craft.

Bruce Lee, on learning to push past your limits

Nine months later, after countless hours of Codeacademy, 30 days to learn jQuery, edX (Harvard’s CS50x), YouTube videos featuring Douglas Crockford, reading MDN, building funny little demos on CodePen, listening to the Shoptalk show, and more, so much more, I realized that (1) getting from this middle ground of moderate competence to expert level isn’t something that you do, it’s more of an ongoing continual process; (2) just as I learn so much from others, I also needed to share what I was learning  with others, to help people following the same path, however I can, and (3) it was time to participate in this larger conversation that “the industry” is constantly having  as it moves forward into the future.   There was a recent episode of the Shoptalk show, I don’t remember which, where  Chris Coyier talked about living in a house with a group of roommates, and there being one guy who doesn’t really interact with the other housemates, just comes home and goes straight into his room and closes the door.  And I knew that I was that guy.

So here we are, at a beginning. I plan to share what I’ve learned, what I’m still learning, and hopefully help others in the same boat, people who maybe have been building the web for years, but still are struggling to get beyond “okay” to really good, and even to great. Here we go!

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