All posts by bogeywebdesign

Doesn’t anyone just need a UI Developer anymore?

So in light of the fact that I maybe be unemployed soon due to circumstances beyond my control I’ve started to reacquaint myself with the job market and the jobs that I might be qualified for.  It’s been an interesting experience to say the least.  Unfortunately, there seems to be two prevailing job types:

  • Marketing position – involves either designing e-mail campaigns include HTML e-mails, which are not fun at all, or some sort of SEO / social networking skills to drive traffic to the site.
  • Jack of all trades – involves 7+ years experience in design (Adobe Suite), front end (XHTML & CSS), middleware (PHP, Java, Ruby, etc) and MySql.  Basically able to design web applications from the ground up.

So, I don’t know.  Maybe I’m looking with the wrong terms or in the wrong places?  Doesn’t anyone just need a good UI developer nowadays?  I mean I have excellent XHTML and CSS skills.  I can design for cross browser compatibility.  I can quickly turn design flats / mocks / comps into UI code.  I’m learning quickly when it comes to design skills (Adobe Suite) and I have a Commercial Arts background – granted it was in high school but I studied art and drew art by hand for 4 years.  I’m willing and eager to take on the design part of the UI – something I haven’t been able to do in my previous positions.  I have some Javascript – including Prototype and jQuery – skills and would be interested in eager to take on more with regards to the UI aspect of these (effects, etc) although not really the parts that go more into middleware (form handling, etc).  I have some middleware capabilities as they pertain to the UI – logic checks, loops, role checks, variable insertion, etc in Ruby, ColdFusion and PHP – as well as experience building on the WordPress framework in PHP.  I have experience in SEO including crafting with web standards and internal linking strategy to maximize organic SEO as well as instructing a user base on social networking strategies to grow inbound links.  Finally, I have experience working with and educating a large user base as well as identifying usability issues for that user base in future design features.

So, being a realist, I have to assume the deficiency is with me.  However, I’ve worked for two separate professional organizations and both needed someone that was only a subset of what I’m looking to take on.  So is there no middle ground?  Can you only do the icing or the whole cake?  I hope not.

The main issue lies in that to be a good UI developer you have to focus on the changing field.  New browsers are released every year and updates are made.  You have to be aware of what bugs exist in major browsers – especially Microsoft ones – and understand quickly how to fix the rendering issues in those.  You also have it identify web trends (web 2.0 design, AJAX integration, etc) and include them in beautiful and usable designs. By broadening focus too much – to middleware or backend development – you lose the ability to do that.  I realize you don’t want to be too specialized but I feel crafting a beautiful design, coding it with web standards and cross browser capability in mind, and inserting any jQuery effects that add to it is a pretty big slice of the pie, so to speak.

Also, design and UI work is more artistic versus middleware / backend which is much more logical and analytical.  So it’s very difficult to be of those two minds.  I just feel expanding the focus to that is going to dilute the whole output.  Finally, it really is of no interest to me to design controllers or write queries so I feel my output would not be as useful or good as something I’m passionate about like the front end.

So I don’t know what the answer is.  But I’m discouraged moving forward.  It does make me wish I had taken more time to grow my freelance portfolio as this would be the perfect time to make that jump and see if I could make it on that.  Unfortunately, it’s just not an option.

Advice or insight welcome.

New home

So I’ve finally got my new hosting and I’m generally happy with it. I’m still adding some tools and trying to mod some stuff in the background. I’m hoping to release a version of my theme – less personalized since the one I use is pretty modified for my taste – soon. I’m hoping to have a few more as well but the designs are just not to my liking – too plain.

In actually making a theme, instead of modifying one I found, I learned a great deal about WordPress. It’s a very interesting and powerful tool. And the WordPress codex is invaluable in getting the full power out of it.

I’ve also been playing with some other open source stuff including a wiki, forums, comicpress and buddypress.  Depending on how useful I see them being, I might bring them public on one of my domains or subdomains.  I also have 2 new domains, one of which I hope to make as destination page for all things me – which will then link to my various efforts like this blog (including my portfolio section which needs updating), my open source contributions, my social media (delicious, twitter, etc).  But until they’re ready, I don’t foresee making them public facing just yet.

As for the open source software I’m really impressed with Buddypress – and the forums that you can tie in which I actually like a lot better than SMF, which I use for familiarity.  Buddypress basically allows you to use the wordpress-mu (multi user) to create a social network.  Who needs more social networks though, right?  Well, I have a niche one that might be interesting.  Or it could be closed off to only my family/friends if they’re interested.  Either way, it’s a fun and interesting tool.

Going back to the forums thing though – if you have a more useful tool than SMF I’m listening.  I’ve tried PhpBB and was not impressed.  I forget the one that ties in with Buddypress – I only have it locally configured on one of my boxes now – but, as I said, it was interesting.

So that’s about it for now.  All that takes time so updates will be infrequent to this blog.  Although they’ll be more frequent than recently (i.e. not once every 6 months or so hopefully) but less frequent than I was when I really used this.  Granted though, my aim is to use it for meatier topics – talking about new open source projects I’ve developed (themes, plugins, etc) and web design – rather than the more mundane topics in the past.

If you want to know about the more mundane aspects of my life or what’s caught my interest (and until I tie them into my site and/or blog) feel free to check out my shared Google items, my twitter, or my delicious.  Be warned though that they are more personal than professional.  Given that I have a cynical and sarcastic nature that I tend not to show on professional endeavors you may not like, or maybe even be offended, by some of the things on there.  I apologize if so, but it’s a simple fix – don’t read them.  I don’t anticipate it to be so in most cases but in this “PC” world, you have to be careful.

My thoughts are that overall, we’re all flawed and human. The more transparent you are – within reason and privacy concerns – the more people can understand you.  Perhaps seeing my cynical side, myriad of Magic the Gathering links, or other personal aspects of my life will make you enjoy my work more.

Or perhaps you’ll think I’m a tool.  That’s the risk we run when we share.

Random Tidbit: P2 is an interesting use of WordPress.  It seems that WP is becoming a very popular platform to expand on because of it’s open source nature and large community of developers expanding it.  It’s basically – if I understand it correctly – a group blog that combines aspects of Twitter and Basecamp.

By the way – if anyone knows an open source tool like Basecamp, especially if it’s written on the WP platform, please let me know.  I’m cheap.  I know they have the free Basecamp plan but it doesn’t really meet my needs.  We use it at Helium and it’s – to be frank – amazing.  37 Signals is a bright group of people.

I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself

In case you’ve been living under a rock, you should know by now that Charlton Heston is dead.  One of my favorite feeds is from The Ferrett.  Besides having a cool name, being personal friends with one of my professional idols Eric Meyer, writing for Magic the Gathering, and being editor-in-chief of – where I spend way too much money on every pre-order release – he’s also pretty good at being eloquent, talking about how he feels, letting people into his personal life via his blog and being outspoken.  All in a good way and more so than I could ever be.

The point? He summed up Charlton Heston better than I ever could and I just wanted to give him some credit.  Maybe I can turn a few more people onto his work.  You may not like his personal blog but if you play Magic and ever do multiplayer his works on are a must read.

Random Tidbit:  In case you don’t read Smashing Magazine they did an excellent article awhile back that asked some of the top designers 6 questions about their experience in the web design industry.

Helium Marketplace

So I have been conspicuously bereft of posts for quite a while – a fact I blatantly ignored in my recent posts. Two reasons for this. One is that I desperately wanted to update my site – the user interface, more RSS feeds to the sidebar for my ma.gnolia / flickr / reddit /etc, more free templates and/or WordPress themes, and to update the actual WordPress software – 2.5 looks awesome.

I accomplished none of those – yet. Hopefully some will be checked off my list soon, but no guarantees.

The second reason was work. Don’t get me wrong – I love my job, a lot. They pay me a good salary to do something I love. I have basically full control over the UI so that I can design with web standards – something I’ve gotten progressively better at even though I’m no Meyer or Santa Maria. However, when you do something all day it’s hard to come home and relax by doing more of it – even if it’s for yourself and something you enjoy.

The product of this recent work is of course the Helium Marketplace. This is something we’ve had in beta for awhile, had been a big success, and that we wanted to launch with extended features. This is also something – along with our rating engine – that sets us apart from every other site on the web. Which I enjoy because that means my stock options might be worth more than the paper they’re written on someday.

The basic premise or buzzword associated with this sort of entity is “citizen journalism” – of which you can read a sometimes slanted view of here. This was started really by the blog surge of the past 5-10 years. Normal, everyday people could write about what they know and become a “citizen journalist” – someone who might not have formal training and is not part of the main media machine, but that still has an opinion or knowledge about a subject that may be of value to someone.

Although some blogs are huge, it’s a rarity. Some gather a good niche audience of friends, family, and people with similar interests – my friend Paul’s blog would likely qualify. Most blogs – as I have experienced first hand with mine – experience little or no traffic. So 90% or more either toil on in obscurity or fail.

Helium was originally founded to help with this. Instead of one person writing in obscurity they could come to Helium, write about what they know, and be ranked against dozens or hundreds of others who did the same. Helium would grow much, much faster than a blog, would have the resources to market itself much better, would have better SEO, and, therefore, would have a much larger traffic base. In return, Helium shares it’s ad revenue with those same writers based upon their contributions to the site. This was citizen journalism – except on a much more massive scale than seen before and with many voices instead of one – like Wikipedia.

It takes awhile to build a good knowledge base, to train your writers to think beyond the – typically short – blog post writing, and to market that resource to the web community. As we did, a new need in the writing community became apparent – freelance writing. For the most part, when a magazine or website needs an article that their normal staff cannot produce – either because of under staffing or simply using freelance writers to save on the cost of staffing – they turn to the freelance market. They use different sites and services that allow you to list what they’re looking for and in the end it becomes like a job posting. They “interview” many candidates, pick one, pay a fee, and get an article.

The issue is the freelance community is small and you pay before you see results. This was fine because it was the only method of supplying the need. However, we found a new method. We had a collection of motivated writers looking to become more legitimate and make more money. So the premise was simple. You, as a magazine editor, need an article on “Real life Gardening stories.” You can go the old route, pay $500 for a freelance and get 1 article. Of you can post that title on Helium Marketplace, dozens or hundreds of writers will write on the subject, we will rate the articles, and then for $25-100 you can have your pick of the one (or two, or three) you like most.

It’s a win-win-win situation. The magazine gets many articles to choose from instead of one at a fraction of the cost. The writer gets a – for them – hefty payment and a byline in a real media source. Helium gets a small percentage for brokering the deal and the ability to add any unpurchased articles to our knowledge base.

So far it’s taking off and there has been a lot of buzz. It’s a huge niche that needed filling, we’re the only one filling it, and we’re learning more every day. It was an awesome learning experience to help build it – even my small part in it. Most importantly the community loves it. We have community boards in which I get the privilege of interacting with the intelligent, active, fun, and (sometimes intensely) passionate “Heliumites.” It’s a learning experience for me as I’ve grown from someone who simply went on there to read what users thought, to someone who explained features and informed the community on things like social book marking and networking, and now to someone who (surprisingly for me) has become a respected voice in the community. It’s a rewarding, sobering, maturing, and sometimes downright scary feeling.

I don’t cross link too frequently. However, since this has become a cross between a “Helium History” post and a press release I might as well :). You can see my Helium articles here – most, if not all, have been dual posted on this site in the past (granted with formatting, links, and in some cases revisions). You can see my board contributions here – though you are warned some of my early ones are bad and I freely admit to making mistakes.

I look forward to working at Helium as long as they’ll let me. I definitely feel I would wear out my welcome before I would decide to leave. Besides doing something I love and getting paid for it I also get to work with some really great people (best development team, or team period, I’ve been on, ever, by far), learn a great deal about new technologies (Git, Ruby on Rails, working on a Mac…), drink beer at work (paid for by Helium == awesome), and when we need a break (work hard, play hard) break into a game of Nerf war or hackey.

And now back to my regularly scheduled insomnia.

Random Tidbit: In a truly random tidbit, my favorite pastime Magic the Gathering is releasing it’s new set Shadowmoor soon. Which means I will be spending way too much money on boxes of tiny cardboard cards and way too much time opening and then sorting said cards. Perhaps too much time placing them on Ebay as well – a painful subject I may yet expand upon in the future.


So I’ve had a couple of months to digest this one. I didn’t want to post anything until I could step back and look at the issue without confusing my thoughts. The Patriots are my home team and as such there is always a resentment when they lose. As any loyal fan I pass blame – the referees didn’t call the game fairly, we had a freak injury, the other team got away with something they shouldn’t have, etc.

In the end though, the more I think about it the more I come to the same conclusion. The Giants simply outplayed us. They wanted it more. This very thought frightens me.

The Patriots always won because they wanted it more than the other guy. They might have less talent, less speed, lack of star players – it didn’t matter. Somehow they’d pull it through at the end. My fear is that after 3 Super Bowls, after years of success, and after being labeled as the new dynasty by everyone else that they started believing their hype.

We’re used to seeing Brady with the ball, under 2 minutes on the clock, and seeing fear in the other teams eyes. They know he’s going to drive down the field. They know he’s going to pull the come back. They know that their worst nightmare is about to be realized.

The last 2 years we’ve gotten used to a different sight. Brady with the ball, under 2 minutes on the clock, and the other team stopping us.

Maybe it’s just other teams catching up. Maybe it’s parity catching up. I really hope it’s not us losing the core of our team. That hard work, blue collar, underdog philosophy that made us all proud to be Patriots fans. I’m thankful for what the Patriots have given us and for players like Bruschi. I realize we can’t win every year. But to get so close to the perfect season, to the greatest season in football history, to Mercury Morris finally shutting the hell up… and to fall short. I just don’t know.

Sadly, I find myself for the first time in a long time not wanting to watch football. Not caring about the draft. Not caring that we let possibly one of the best cornerbacks in the league go to sign an aging and (playoff) under performing wide receiver. Not looking forward to next season.

I miss that anticipation and love for the sport. I want it back. I fear it’s death on a Sunday in early February when the undefeated became perhaps the greatest disappointment in football history.

I wish I knew where we went wrong.

Random Tidbit:  Being a self-proclaimed – ok maybe publicly proclaimed – geek I found this blog post on why geeks make good lovers to be self-satisfying.  Is it true?  Find out.  Date a geek.