If you ask any of my family or friends what it is that I do for a living, you will most likely get, at worst, a blank look, or, at best, maybe “web designer?”, “computer programmer?”, or maybe just “something to do with computers?”. It doesn’t help that my linked in profile has me claiming to be doing at least three different jobs at a time, and that I seemed to be involved with a number of different companies. I think possibly even those that work with me aren’t entirely sure what it is that I do most of the time! I thought i’d clarify what i’m up to at the moment, and how things have evolved over the last few years.
I am a freelance web developer
Primarily I make my living as a freelance web developer. This means that I spend most of my time building websites. By “building” a website I mean taking it from an idea to a finished website – planning, designing, templating, coding and uploading to a web server so that it is live on the internet. As well as web “sites”, I build web “applications”. These are computer programs that people interact with through a web browser. A web browser is the computer program that you use to look at websites e.g. internet explorer (the blue E), firefox (the fox wrapped around the world) or maybe safari (the compass). As well as looking at websites on the internet, you may be using a web browser to use web applications in your workplace.
But am I a designer?
I occasionally design websites, but it isn’t my specialism. If budget allows I prefer to hire a really good designer to come up with the design concepts. I know lots of good designers. I take their design concepts and run with it to put all the technical stuff in place to take it from an idea to an actual website. When I work for a design agency, I am hired always for my technical skills, never for my design skills – let’s face facts, I think there’s a reason for that! Most of the work on my “portfolio” wasn’t designed by me – I usually just did the technical bits.
Do I do any computer programming that isn’t related to web sites or web applications?
Increasingly more. I seem to be doing more and more data crunching these days, involving writing scripts that move files around on servers and extracting data from different places and putting things in databases. I would call that programming. Most of this type of programming is actually using skills I learned while building web sites and web applications, but some of the things i’ve built aren’t web sites or web applications at all.
So am I actually freelance, or do I work for a company?
By freelance, I mean that I work for myself, but companies and organisations employ me on a freelance basis. Therefore sometimes I may appear to be working for several companies at once. Sometimes I work directly for my own clients, other times transparently as an additional resource for a design or digital media agency. Either way, I invoice for the work I do on either a fixed price or a “time and materials” basis, and this is how I make a living.
In May 2010 I sat on the watershed balcony with fellow freelancers Dan Fairs and Dan Hilton and talked about teaming up to be able to take on and pitch for projects bigger than we could handle as individual freelancers. We came up with the name Foundry, and shortly after collaborated on a successful project together. We all still work as freelancers, but hope to spend more time working together under the Foundry banner in 2011 and beyond. The challenge is moving the focus from looking after our own interests and incomes to working together, and to do that we need a big project that would keep us all too busy to take on other freelance work.
Will I fix your computer?
No I flippin’ wont! Have you tried switching it off and on again?
Netsight have been so busy recently that we haven’t updated our portfolio for a while, but I wanted to mention this site, as it gave us an excuse to experiment with some nice visual features such as scriptaculous effects, flash galleries etc. The site has a plone back end for Content Management, but the front end was built from the ground up, so is a nice example of a “non-ploney” plone-based site. It helps that Architen had some excellent photography to use on the site – all maintained by themselves via plone including image resizing and cropping for the portfolio pages.
For more details on the project see the write-up here
I am really pleased to say that the Plone Skinning presentation last night was a success! About 30 local web designers/developers and people interested in using Plone turned up – a much higher attendance than my previous “Plone Demo” talk. I used the Plone S5 product to create a simple set of slides with a few bullet points to keep me from jumping around too much, but it was mostly a hands on presentation demonstrating a bit of basic customisation via the ZMI, then the process for creating a filesystem based skin.
I ran plone locally and used dreamweaver (in code view with large fonts) to do ZPT editing to keep things familiar for those designers who may be scared by the idea of terminals and Emacs!
I also tried to dispell the “all plone sites look the same” myth by taking a random design I had knocked up as a static html page and inserting the minimum possible ZPT markup to make it function as a front end plone main template rendering the body content and portlets (with none of the plone CSS).
The Q&A was really good – it ranged from basic questions about templating to “can plone do….?” type questions. I think I managed to field them all fairly well – i’ll have to wait to see the video (coming soon) to listen back for any clangers I may have made. I was disappointed however that all the free beer had gone by the end of the Q&A – a conspiracy maybe? “psstt… keep Rick talking while we drink all the beer – ask him if there is a cow-milking module available…”.
I tried out a friends pocket pc (or is it windows mobile now?) smartphone recently – a cool little device with a slide out QWERTY keyboard (I think it was a variation of this htc device). It also had wifi support so I thought I would try to blog from it. However, he hadn’t got opera installed and the wordpress gui completely failed to work in pocket internet explorer. I’m sure there is a solution to this, but I was disappointed that the wordpress online admin didn’t gracefully degrade.
i’ve just set up an account with watchthatpage.com in attempt to find an easier way to keep track of sites that have not yet joined the RSS revolution. There are plenty of sites still out there that do not provide an RSS feed for their news pages and blogs. As Robert Scoble pointed out a while back – 98% of people don’t use RSS, but that means 2% of users do – which is a hell of a lot of traffic, reading the web via an RSS aggregator rather than actually visiting the site. It seems backwards not to have an RSS feed for frequently (or infrequently) updated news/blog content. I’ve used this analogy before, but i’ll use it again – expecting people to visit your web site just to see if anything has changed is a bit like standing on someones doorstep and not knocking or ringing the bell, but hoping that someone will come and open the door occasionally just to see if anyone is a standing there.
I don’t actually use my RSS aggregator (bloglines.com – an online service, so I can keep track of news and blogs from any web device, including my mobile phone) to read all the sites I visit – some sites (scobelizer, register etc) are updated so frequently that I know thay will have updated since I last looked, so I just have them bookmarked (via foxylicious firefox extension – my bookmarks are maintained from my del.icio.us tags), otherwise my aggregator gets full of unread content and this reduces the value of it, as I tend to skim read and dismiss stuff.
The first site i’ve had to fix for Internet Explorer 7 is our very own www.netsightmcc.co.uk (Netsight Metropolitan Colocation Centre – the website for our Bristol datacentre). It appeared that in IE7 RC1, none of the content of anything other than the homepage was visible. We were only alerted to this by a potential customer phoning up for more information, which the site seemed to be lacking.
The reason for this appeared to be an even more aggressive version of the so-called peekaboo bug found in IE6, although this site works fine in IE6. By applying a (hack) of a 1% height to a div that contained the missing content, it now appears to be working OK in IE7 RC1. I haven’t filtered this hack out into an IE7 specific stylesheet yet, but will if I spot any undesired side effects. Maybe there’s a better way of fixing this? Time will tell, or maybe a stranger will.
You can download this here, run an installer and have Internet Explorer 7 Release Candidate 1 running alongside, and without overwriting, IE6. very handy indeed, if you need to start testing in IE7 (which i’ve been trying very hard not to do!).
Another abbreviation(?)/buzzword that i’ve been hearing for months but I have only just understood what it is. From All in the Head (Drew Mclellan’s blog):-