Getting Back to the Basics

First things first: I’m writing this in the polarizing new Gutenberg editor that shipped with WordPress 5.0. My site, as little as I update it, is extremely barebones – no metaboxes, no shortcodes, no real extended WordPress functionality to speak of. As such, I knew I could reliably update it without issue, the dangers of updating without first backing up my database be damned. Since I’ve been doing primarily back-end development work for nearly the past two years, I admittedly haven’t had a lot of cause to pay much attention to the state of where Gutenberg was until it actually shipped. It’s finally here, though, and I’ll gladly admit: in just typing this initial paragraph, I’m already enjoying it immensely more than the old TinyMCE editor. 

I never really got into blogging. And though I don’t think this new editor experience is going to change that, one thing that is immediately evident to me with this new WordPress experience is that it’s possible that I might start to do it more. The old experience, clunky as it was even with this minimalist install, felt like a chore. The window was small, even in “distraction-free” mode, and as a result, I could never get the words out even when I felt like writing them. Gutenberg, with all of its flaws, does at least seem to give me some space, to try and get out of my way so I can have fewer distractions between whatever it is I want to say and actually saying it. Kudos to the WordPress Core team for seeing the project through despite the challenges and legitimate accessibility issues. I hope future releases will come more quickly and iteratively address the concerns people have about it, so that over time we can move forward with further enhancing the CMS overall. There are some really big projects underway, and I’m especially excited about the work that’s being done to finally get the minimum version bumped, hopefully to what will eventually be a currently-supported version of PHP.

A Holiday Break

This coming weekend marks the beginning of the first substantial amount of time off I’ve taken since Memorial Day week: 11 consecutive, uninterrupted days of relaxation, spending time with friends and family, exploring personal projects, playing (and designing) board games, and otherwise recharging my batteries after what has felt like a particularly challenging year for me. 

I switched over to full-time backend development upon switching employers in March last year, and in many ways it’s been super rewarding. I’ve learned how to write unit tests in PHP which, in turn, has completely changed my approach to writing object-oriented code. I’ve dug in with Docker, improved my command of the terminal (see what I did there?), and have advocated for the adoption of modern coding practices. More and more, I’m using Composer in my day-to-day work, and this year I gave a presentation about it at WordCamp Minneapolis-St. Paul. Some folks even gave me very nice feedback about it.

I got to do a bit of work-related travel late last year and early this year. I took some vacation time in July to attend a first-year PHP conference in Detroit, where I bonded with great folks in the PHP community that I like and respect a lot. In some ways, I’ve paid it forward, too, having great conversations with folks at and outside of work about my philosophy and approach to writing software for the web, and hopefully giving back as much as I’ve been given. I need to do more  – there’s always more to do – but having the opportunity to bond with others in my community was kind of one of the reasons I got into this thing to begin with. I love talking shop and taking the information I’ve learned and applying it to the next project. In some ways, though, it hasn’t panned out exactly as I’ve hoped.

A Knowledge Gap

I didn’t notice it right away, but ever so often, a problem arises with the presentation of a site that I’m working on. It seems that no matter how much you try to isolate yourself onto one side of the system, in an agency setting, you always get pulled back into the front-end. 

I actually like front-end technologies quite a bit. Back when I did full-stack development in my previous roles, I prided myself on writing clean, semantic markup, making my stylesheets as extensible and reusable as possible, and learning the ins-and-outs of the latest JavaScript techniques. Well, to the best of my ability, at least. I loved the UX aspect of front-end: learning to make elements accessible, making interactions delightful, and making my components reusable. I didn’t care for cross-browser testing and the million media queries required to harmonize a broad collection of components at various viewports.

Still, a lot of those skills are required of me to this day. And, I’m finding out more and more, since I don’t do them on a daily basis, that my knowledge about how to do them well is slipping. I need to dedicate some time during my break and in the new year to catch up. 

I guess that’s a long, roundabout way of saying that I’m glad Gutenberg is finally here. I’m glad I have a vacation coming up, where I’ll have a chance to apply everything I’ve learned about unit testing and behavioral testing and continuous integration and apply it to my personal projects, but also revisit the front-end aspects I don’t get to spend as much time with. 

Into 2019

This next year is going to involve a lot of growth and adaption. I need to learn to set aside time to more regularly exercise the skills I have so I don’t lose them. I need to learn how to adapt to the changes the WordPress project is throwing our way, so that I can continue to be in a position to serve my clients well. I need to keep finding ways to learn from my colleagues and friends in the community, as well as step up to share with others all that I have learned. And, most importantly, I need to continue to grow and adapt and change and learn as much as I can about software development in general: learning new frameworks, new techniques, and even new languages, so that I continue to feel the spark of excitement about this field that I had when I was brand new to the industry.

Four more days. Or, if I change my perspective just a little – tomorrow. It all starts tomorrow.