ideas & ramblings

You should have a personal web site

Hello! This is my personal web site. It’s not much, but it’s mine. After nearly a decade of just barely existing, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in 2019 trying to breathe new life into it. At this point, I think just about everyone–but especially folks in the software engineering universe–should have a personal web site of their own. Let me tell you why.

Identity

A few months back, I walked into an interview with a candidate at work and introduced myself. The candidate was pleasant enough, and one of the first things they said to me was that they like to look people up before an interview to try to get to know them a bit. “You were a complete ghost online.”, they said.1

I’ve been active on the internet since the mid 90s, and I’ve probably cumulatively written hundreds of thousands of words on here in one way or another. I blogged nearly every day through the first half of the 2000s, and I was a noisy contributor on Twitter back when it was a fun, quirky distraction. Since about 2012, though, real life and relatively intense day jobs as a software engineer had taken away the interest in continuing to work on web stuff in my free time. Eventually, I eventually grew tired of the big internet sites, deleting my LinkedIn account (too many emails, dangit), abandoning Reddit, shutting down my Twitter presence, and deleting my Facebook content. All that was left of me online was a dusty corner of the web, forgotten2.

I didn’t say anything to the candidate, but I was a little unsettled by this revelation. Over the holiday break at the end of 2018, I decided to do something about it. I vowed to revive my personal web site and publish at least one substantial post per month, focusing on a topic that was always sure to keep my interest: vintage video game history.

Practice

So far, I’ve made my goal. I’ve got four 2,000+ word articles up that I’m quite proud of, and each one was easier to put together than the one before. Writing is a lot easier if you practice, and having an audience–even if it’s mostly imagined–is a pretty good motivator to keep at it. I’m also fortunate to have a patient wife who happens to be taking a course in copyediting right now, which means my writing practice can become her editing practice. It’s been a pretty great bit of synergy.

I’m by no means an expert on, well, anything, but I can crank out a post that I’m proud of pretty quickly. I like to write things out in a few big chunks, let them sit for a while, and do a few clean up passes before calling it a day and pushing it out. This isn’t just helping me become a better writer: I’m getting better at reading and editing other people’s writing as well, which definitely comes in handy at a large software company with technical proposals flying by all the time.

Learning

Of course, there’s more to a web site than filling it with content. In my day job, I have the good fortune of spending my time deep in the guts of a large client-side JavaScript application. I’m far removed from designing user interfaces and writing CSS, and this is definitely a benefit to our customers. However, just because I don’t want to work with HTML and CSS on a daily basis doesn’t mean I want my skills to completely atrophy. This web site is just complex enough to give me a playground: I think it looks relatively nice, and it’s been a good opportunity to remind myself how CSS works. I’ve made some nice layouts for articles that I’m pretty pleased with3, and I’m slowly chipping away at the terrible HTML & CSS I threw together here in 2012. A few of the things I’ve learned about (or reminded myself about) so far:

The list goes on and on. Some of this overlaps with the stuff I deal with professionally, and some of it doesn’t. But when I touch an internal tool like this at work, I have to make sure I’m building something rock solid: hundreds of other people will use whatever it is tens of thousands of times, and even a bug that happens 1% of the time would be unacceptably high. Here? Whatever works. It’s freeing.

Go for it

In conclusion: go for it. The best thing about the web circa 2019 is how huge it is. You’re not going to embarass yourself: just dig in and start building something. By the time anyone notices–if they ever do–you’ll probably be pretty pleased with what you’ve got.

Footnotes

  1. This is pretty common, at least in my experience–plenty of people have told me that they looked me up before their interview. It’s actually a pretty nice signal that people are invested enough in the process to do some prep ahead of time. ↩︎

  2. Here’s a link to a copy of this web site from last fall, prior to my efforts. Same basic layout, but a lot less polished. ↩︎

  3. I’m particularly proud of my article on lock-on cartridges. ↩︎

  4. This originally said <sidebar> rather than <nav>, because that’s what I was using in my markup. Turns out I was using a fictious element by accident; many thanks to Petar Petrovic for pointing that out. ↩︎

  5. My usage of both sed and bash was in service of trying to get better at using these fundamental tools. Usually, I reach for Ruby whenever I’m doing anything non-trivial in the terminal–it’s my favourite language for shell scripting and command line tools. ↩︎