A New Learning Opportunity

For the last decade (or more truthfully and scarily decade and a half) I’ve been working at what I’d call ‘front end design’. I made things work and made them look good with a minimal amount of effort or thinking required about what happened behind the scenes. I dabbled in programming – I learnt Lingo (remember Director?) and then watched it die as Flash took over and I never really picked it up again.

I’m not afraid of the code view – I’m quite happy to write some HTML or CSS by hand. I’m also fine discussing programming because I understand how code works, what it can do and the intricacies of writing it. Just don’t get me to actually do it.

That attitude has worked for some time. Life has been going along fine in the front end, but I think that it’s coming to an end. I need to up-skill and overcome my fear of the backend. I can feel a chasm opening up between what I know and what I need to know. At the moment I’d say I’m straddling the chasm and have a foot on both sides. If I don’t do something now it’s going to get uncomfortable.

Why is this happening? I’d suggest that while hardware has been getting smarter software in general has been getting dumber. New versions seem to come out every other week (or everyday if your Acrobat Reader) with new features added and in general things run faster. At the same time there seems to be little improvement in workflows. It’s a chore to move files and data from one program to another, move content from one ecosystem to another. It’s a constant task to transition, translate and transcribe. I seem to spend more time doing this kind of crap at the ‘front end’ and less on the creative, fun challenging bits.

This week I’ve been playing in InDesign again (which I’ve missed) but working from content from InCopy. The structured markup from InCopy has meant more time being spent on design and less fixing issues with content and working across a range of applications. It’s taken some time to get my head around it but I have a taste for it. The other big reason is the next round of work on the mLearn project — finally being able to spend some time on TADPOLE (find out more here). I won’t be the one building and coding the system but I want to be in there poking around and seeing whats what.

So here’s my proposal-

  • I want to learn how to use GitHub.
  • I want to learn to use GitHub for the web specifically. Setting up, running and maintaining sites.
  • I want to deploy a server (I’m looking at Digital Ocean) and get my head around what’s required and get acquainted with a range of new technologies (node.js and a range of others)
  • I want to automate some of my work and complement my ‘front end’ toolset with some logic. I want to be able to push and pull content around services with the minimal amount of effort.
  • I am happy to go into the command line — but I refuse to live there. So I want to adopt new tools that give me the GUI I crave and require just to placate my aesthetically focussed brain.

Here’s my issues:

  • I have to find time. Work can be a little oppressive sometimes but also I’m a Dad and there is someone who I would rather be spending my time with. That said she’s in bed by 8pm so there’s plenty of time if I’m motivated.
  • I need to switch off. I don’t want to be technology’s bitch — if anything I want to switch that relationship and have technology start to actually work harder for me. So the thought of spending more time at the computer isn’t as appealing as it might sound.
  • I want to do this socially. This might sound bad — but I don’t want to do this on my own. I want and need someone to talk to. Most of the time I’m fine as a self-directed learner, but for this I want some hand holding. Mainly because I’m nervous and I am going out of my comfort zone. Doing this virtually might be a happy compromise but I want to spend some time working together, face to face or as close as I can get.

So that’s the plan… I’m open to suggestions or possible collaboration but I feel I’ve got to do this!


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