Learning Curve

With a new job comes a new learning curve. This one is pretty steep.

By Friday night I was exhausted. I slept in until 9:30 Saturday. And not because I’d been staying up late.

Steep learning curves are hard. It’s a long slog. You feel like you don’t know anything because, by definition, you don’t — yet. And feeling in the dark is never easy.

But then again, I wanted this. I signed up for this because it was going to demand that I learn things I wouldn’t otherwise even have the opportunity to know existed. I knew it was going to be a challenge. (I think the guys that hired me, Syed and Thomas, knew it would be a challenge, too.)

So it’s all good. Even though the steepest learning curves I’ve been on have been the hardest, they’ve been the ones that have paid off the most. And curiously enough, that’s been the case even when the particulars of any given project haven’t turned out the way I’d expected or hoped.

New Job

This is my story of how website development started out as a hobby, and starting next week it’s my full-time job.

I first started dabbling in websites in 1999. It started out as a hobby. There was this thing called FrontPage that came with Microsoft Office. “Oh, a website builder.”

I taught myself what all those funny codes meant and how to use them and graduated from FrontPage to Adobe’s Dreamweaver.

Then I discovered PHP. That changed the whole game. Dynamic templates. Ooohhh. And then, more than that, you can actually program stuff with it.

Then, in 2009, I discovered WordPress. I’d seen WordPress back in 2003, but it didn’t impress me much. It was in its infancy. By 2009, it had come a long way. Not just dynamic templates, content management, user management, database integration, all without having to reinvent the wheel each time you started something. (There was also Joomla. And Drupal. And a couple others I don’t remember any more. And neither does anyone else.)

So I built my first WordPress website in 2009. Then I built several more. Then friends started asking if I could help them build a site. So I did.

It had gone from a hobby to a small moonlighting business. Then in 2011, I “retired” from my first career as a pastor. For a year I was a blogger and moonlighted as an odd-jobs website troubleshooter. In 2012, I started working for my sister-in-law to do website stuff for her design business, Digital Canvas. We did it all: sites patched together in Dreamweaver, Drupal, Magento, PrestaShop, OpenCart, WordPress. But mostly WordPress.

In 2014, I realized I needed to get to the next level. I went to events where WordPress people met (Word Camps — my family called it “geek camp”). I started following the blogs of the people who had big names in WordPress world — seeing how they did things.

All the while, I had this Digital Canvas work and my own freelance clients to practice with.

Last year, I stumbled across Tonya Mork. (It was a post on Tom McFarlain’s blog.) She was starting the WordPress Developers Club as a school for WordPress developers who wanted to learn industry standard quality code from real software engineers. One thing led to another. I became an apprentice in the program, which then became a wider project at knowthecode.io.

It has been some of the most intense and beneficial training ever. Really. If you want to know code in a WordPress context, get with Tonya.

Last week I saw a note on Twitter from Syed Balkhi. I’d met him briefly at a Word Camp in Providence, RI in 2014. He’d seemed like a nice guy. Now he was looking to hire a WordPress developer for his company. I emailed him and said, basically, “Hey, we met in a hallway at the University of Rhode Island a couple years ago, and I think I might be the person you need.” I talked with his business partner. They gave me a code challenge to see if I had some skills, and then last week, offered me the job.

I took it.

So today is my first day as a “regularly employed” person since I “retired” back in 2011.

The new gig is full-time work. Over the summer I’ll be winding down the freelance business, finishing a couple projects that are in mid-stream. I’ll still do some consulting and troubleshooting occasionally for friends. And blogging. And the dad thing.

And that’s the story of how I went from website hobbyist to full-time software development.

Pajama Sequel

The kid heard of this place in town where the poutine was supposed to be the best poutine ever. Could we go, he wanted to know.

Of course. If there’s great poutine to be had, you have to go. So we went.

He ordered the poutine. It came with no cheese curds. Which is probably what made it the best in the kid’s estimation, but strictly speaking disqualifies it as being poutine. If we were in Quebec, serving such a thing and calling it poutine would probably be illegal.

I got the nachos, which were also some of the worst nachos ever.

When the check came, I sent it back with my debit card — the card I use for pretty much everything. The waiter came back and said it had been declined.

“Really?” I said.

“I tried running it twice,” he said.

Fortunately, I had a back-up card and that one worked.

When I got home I logged into the online banking website to see if somehow all the money I thought I had in the account had disappeared. It was still there. That was a relief, but also a puzzle.

Later that day, I stopped by the package store to get a celebratory bottle of pinot grigio for Brooke’s return home from a three day business trip. Again the card was declined. This time I asked the guy behind the counter, “Does it say, specifically, ‘declined’? Or did the machine just not read it?” He looked again and said, “Says, ‘declined'”.

When I got home again, I called the bank’s 24/7 toll-free customer service number. But it was a Saturday, and nobody was there. (Someone needs to tell the bankers what 24/7 means. Or, they need to have a disclaimer something to the effect of “Just as Banker’s business hours means 11am — 2 pm, “Banker’s 24/7 lines mean, 11am — 2pm, Monday — Friday.”) They did have a voicemail recorder, so I left a message.

On Monday, I got a call from the bank. She couldn’t tell me why my card was being declined and said I should go to the closest bank branch in person. I did.

It turns out that when I ordered my summer pajamas, their security system had flagged the purchase as a fraudulent transaction and put a hold on the card.

This confirms my suspicion that very few men wear pajamas any more. I’m guessing there is a conspiracy about it. It’s certain to have something to do with Duck Dynasty, the Illuminati, the Masons, the UN and the World Bank. Walmart doesn’t carry them. The online selection is terrible. And when you do find some and place an order, your bank flags it as fraudulent — “because, really, who wears men’s pajamas?”

“But I really wanted the pajamas,” I told Debbie at the customer service desk.

“Ok,” she said. “We’ve released the lock on your card. But we’re also going to issue you a new card with a security chip in it.” She smiled.

I felt like I was being profiled. “This man wears men’s pajamas. He’s one of those people. He is a security risk. Put a chip on his card.” I’ve probably also been added to the TSA’s “no fly” list. (The pajamas, after all, did not have zippers.)

I say, instead of persecuting people for wearing men’s pajamas, they should be more concerned with the proper regulation of what’s allowed to be sold on the open market as “poutine”.

Something to Say

Liturgical dance may or may not be a familiar term to you. It’s dance as a part of a worship service. (Gasp!)

A year ago Easter I witnessed a dance, professionally choreographed, meticulously rehearsed, and well performed. Never mind it was church. The piece made a powerful statement, had emotional impact and was beautiful to behold. In short, it was well done and worthwhile.

More recently I witnessed a dance, sincerely presented but unrehearsed, uninspired and devoid of lasting value or impact. Never mind it was church. It was poorly done and sitting through it was a waste of time.

Two years ago I had the chance to see the New York City Ballet perform at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Before that, the last dance performance I’d been at was a presentation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by a traveling troupe of amateurs. The travelers were sincere, but nothing about the performance was memorable. Two years later, I still remember the impression of the NYC Ballet’s scene from Swan Lake.

I’m not a dance critic. I can’t tell you how the NYC Ballet’s performance stacked up against all the other professional performances that season. I’m pretty sure that side by side, the NYC Ballet’s performance was far superior to the Easter performance in church. But I can tell you that both had a point and an integrity that the other two lacked.

So it goes, not just with dance, but in any art. Sincerity is not a substitute for quality or practice, and especially not for having something worthwhile to say.

Not even in church. Especially in church.

Summer Pajamas

I love summer. Here in the north country summer is short and sweet. Last year I think it happened on a Wednesday. Maybe on a couple Wednesdays.

There were a couple days in late May when it reached the low 90s and stayed in the 80s through the night. Since then it’s been back down into the 60s by day and 40s by night, so summer may be over. We’ll see.

Now that summer makes an appearance here for a day or two out of every couple weeks, it got me thinking about summer pajamas.

I used to have these, but since our last move they’ve gone missing. Last time I was at Walmart (because here in Potsdam Walmart has run any other place you might look out of business) I circled the men’s clothes area several times before concluding that they don’t carry men’s pajamas.

When I got home I started looking for them online, only to find that even in cyberspace the selection of men’s summer pajamas is pretty sparse.

This makes me think that very few men are wearing pajamas these days. And what’s with that?

I ended up on the Land’s End website where you can buy men’s summer pajamas as separates. Each item is over $30. So you end up with a $68 pajama set. It adds up fast. This wasn’t what I was expecting to spend on pajamas when I started out at Walmart. I was thinking maybe 18 bucks.

So I have summer pajamas coming in the mail. And, if I’m lucky, they’ll get here before summer in the north country is over. Even if they don’t that’s ok. I’m sure they’re going to be so comfortable that I’m going to turn the thermostat up to 88 at night so I can wear them year round.