Categories
Created

The Web is a Flat Circle

Twenty-something years ago, around my junior year of high school, I applied for an Independent Study project. The proposal: build a website for my school district.

That project was old enough that it predated archive.org, so I can’t even pull a screenshot out of the archives.  But a few times a week, I trudged along in assembling a website for the three schools in the district.

This was, strangely, not new work for me at the time: I was already holding a part-time job for the one web design firm in my tiny town. So roughing out a site structure, scanning photos via a SCSI flatbed scanner, hand-writing the HTML code and picking the right hex colors was a relatively familiar feeling.

The site launched at tburg.k12.ny.us, which was a particularly weird domain, even then. (In a weird bit of internet trivia, the hosting was provided by John R. Levine of “Internet for Dummies” fame, who not only lived in my town but later became the mayor.)

It wasn’t a particularly great site or deep site – you get what you pay for having an angsty teenager design your theoretically professional website – but it felt good to build an internet presence for the place I spent most of my time.


Today, after 13 months of work, 639 tickets, and more meetings than I can genuinely remember, we pulled the trigger on the relaunch of weill.cornell.edu.

Nothing about it is what would qualify as a marvel of modern web engineering. There’s no blockchain, no bespoke node.js content management system, no deep social integration at the cost of your personal data. It’s just a nice website that tells some important stories about a medical school. (I’m big on storytelling this year.)

I’m grateful to have had a great team working with me every day to pull this off, even when I’m spitballing new ideas late in the project.

I’m grateful to have management above me who trusted my vision and my approach, even when what I’m explaining is confusing and foreign.

And I’m grateful that I got the chance to leave my imprint, however temporal a website may be, on an institution like WCM.

Categories
Explained

KYS

A decade ago, I inexplicably got invited to present at Apple Store SoHo. For an hour, I tried my best to regale Apple Store customers with game demos, a few jokes, and my best sales pitches. It was my first real-world post-college “presentation”.

It was pretty bad, from what I can recall.

These days, I can’t seem to stop talking. I’ve given two work-related talks in the last month. I’ve appeared on four podcasts in the last week. I actually like speaking in public.

What’s the difference between now and then? Knowing.

It’s knowing what you’re talking about, and trusting in that knowledge. It’s easy to fill yourself with doubt when speaking publicly, and worry that you might make a fool of yourself. Truth is, so long as you can speak naturally, you won’t.

It’s knowing your audience. Who’s listening, and what are they expecting? What do they want to get out of it? Figure that out, and focus on it.

It’s knowing your tools. Some expertise in PowerPoint or Keynote goes a long way, sure. But know what your laptop does when you plug it into a projector. Know if the venue even has a projector. (Sometimes it doesn’t.)

It’s knowing how to tell a story. Maybe there’s a hook, maybe there’s a twist, maybe there’s a moral or punch line. Your job is to get your audience to that payoff in an interesting way.

It’s knowing when to talk, and when to let things breathe. Silence feels uncomfortable, especially in front of a crowd. Giving your ideas space lets them develop and sink in. Avoid talking just to fill the silence. Avoid stating the obvious.

It’s knowing how to improvise. Network connections go down, so figure out what you’d do without the live demo. Questions come out of left field, so be game for anything. Figure out how to deal with curveballs.

And here’s the curveball in my advice: presenting isn’t any different from the rest of your life. All these skills? You need them just as much when you’re not waving your arms at slide decks.

Don’t treat it as a separate activity. You’re always presenting. You probably just didn’t know it.

Categories
Endured

Some Thoughts On DrupalCon Portland

It was somewhat funny to attend my first DrupalCon this week, given my personal trajectory of CMS systems over the years. For those that haven’t been with me since the very beginning: after cobbling together my own rudimentary CMS in 2000, I switched to Drupal for a good 18 months. An attempt to upgrade to the bleeding edge around 2003 nuked all my data, and in a fit of rage I switched to MovableType. A later fit of rage would take me from MT to WordPress. At the office, we’re embarking on a big transition to Drupal – so this as a training event made sense, even if I’m over a decade removed from my personal experience with it.

My conferencing experience has generally been in one of two buckets: Apple (I’ve attended 5 WWDC events over my time at WCMC) and OReilly (Web 2.0 and the retrospectively hilarious ETech Conference). But an open-source conference was something new, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect – although my personal stereotypes and biases towards any given nerd software bubble started to come together.

A few scattered thoughts:

The Drupal community, happily, is more diverse than I expected. Women were well represented – not a majority, but a constant presence. There was a wide range of ages and nationalities. There were thankfully few neckbeards or fedora hats.

As someone who is far removed from his engineering days, I was thankful that the tracks are broad and diverse. Standouts were Relly Annett-Baker on content strategy, the NBC Universal team on “internal open source”, and all three of the keynotes – which strikes me as a rare thing to have three keynote speakers that all knock it out of the park. There are direct lessons that I’m taking away that will make a difference to our community as we move forward with Drupal.

There is, however, an odd tension in the community around Acquia, a consulting/hosting/development company that seems to be partnered and competing with every other vendor at the show. We spoke at length with Acquia during our planning for Drupal at WCMC, and it’s interesting to see the dance from vendors who both have to compete in their space and sometimes rely on them for business. “Mafia-esqe” is how one person described it to me.

While I really enjoyed the content of DrupalCon, the venue (the Oregon Convention Center) was ill equipped for a modern conference. Flaky wifi, bad cell coverage, and a complete lack of power outlets meant I spent an larger amount of time swearing and worrying about power management than I should have.

One technology shout-out: GroupMe is a life saver when you’re traveling with a team to a conference. We had a total of 7 people from my office at the conference, and for coordinating meals / session seating / late night outings, it was perfect. We already use it in the office for some level of emergency coordination, but as a non-emergency tool it was beautiful. Highly recommended.

The conference was in Portland, giving me cause to visit Stumptown for the fourth time in under two years. Removed from my usual downtown hotel, being stuck near the convention center gave me more cause to explore by bus and MAX, and I finally ticked off most everything that was left on my Portland todo list. Visits were finally made to Pok Pok (that drinking vinegar! those wings!) and Screen Door (that fried chicken! that cake!), to Bunk Sandwiches (that cubano!) and Voodoo Donuts (that Portland Cream!). Salt and Straw (that ice cream!) ended up getting my business twice. As I joked on Twitter yesterday – Portland is why I’m fat. (Bring on THE WEEK OF SALAD AND WORKOUTS(tm).)

Having now done Portland to excess, I’ve put together a [Foursquare list](https://foursquare.com/remy/list/dans-portland) of all the places I’ve been and loved. It’s surprisingly complete: hotels, coffee shops, upscale restaurants, quick eats, bars, and green spaces all made it in. (It is actually be longer than my similarly themed NYC list.)