Finding Your Pace

We all work at different paces. Some like to try and do everything really quickly so they can relax later. Others wait until the last moment and race to get things done (they find energy and excitement in the challenge to finish). Still others prefer to keep a grueling pace throughout the entire project in order to get everything plus more done.

Although I have done all of the above – if nothing else – Oregon Trail taught me one thing: pace is everything. While some of these routes to the end result will work some of the times, the best way to do it is to go at a realistic – not too fast, not too slow pace. While there may be benefits to either extreme – the costs for both of them are often higher than expected for both you and your client.

If nothing else learned this year – I learned that you should set your pace – not the client. No one knows how much x,y,z tasks take better than you if you do them over and over. The client might be working on this project now, but you are being hired for your professional experience – experience that you have gained by doing similar tasks – and thus you should have the best idea how long/how much something will take.

Any client that needs something in an unreasonable time frame or that constantly has emergencies in off hour time periods is perhaps not the client you want/or even constant “immediate” changes (regardless of the pay). I know it sounds hard to stand up to them or even risk losing some clients, but trust me it is well worth it. Your quality of work will improve as will your mental sanity.

Early in the project – make sure to set the pace. Your client will respect you more and your family/friends will appreciate it too. Just remember – your sanity is worth a lot more then spending weekends/holidays on the phone for something that will not be as important as the time you lost with your friends/family.

Jappler Recommends: Work/Life Balance

Over the last few years I have, like most other business owners, struggled with a good work/life balance. While I do not feel like I am at an optimal balance yet – I know and I a lot closer than I once was. This can be tricky – but here are some tips that will help you achieve it.

  1. When working with clients – clearly state your business hours. I generally do this on the initial call or email as well as on my voicemail so when a client calls after midnight or tells me they are available until 11:30pm for a call (it happens) – they know I will only be available during my company’s business hours. Sure you might lose a client here or there because you are not available at 7pm on Saturday, but do you really want that type of client anyway?
  2. Actually follow your business hours. Sure there are days I work earlier/later or an occasional few hours on a Saturday, but if you want your clients to respect your availability – you cannot email/call them before/after it. Once you email them at 8pm – you open up the door for “she must be available all the time – so I will call her now (10pm)”.
  3. Keep non-work activities (online shopping, errands, etc) for after work hours. If you can put in x solid hours of work a day – you can confidently end the day at your end time without feeling guilty (for not doing enough work).
  4. Keep all work activities (email/voicemail, etc) for work hours.
  5. Realize not everything will get done in one day – no matter how long you work.
  6. Don’t feel guilty for taking a day/week off. Everyone needs some time away.
  7. Hire someone/multiple people to help out. (This was hard to do but I am glad that I have people to depend on and who can get things done when I am not around)

The tips seem like no-brainers – but they are a lot harder than you think 😉

Back to School Code Cleanup

Whether working on projects with a fast change cycle or something that has not been changed recently – it is always a good idea to step back and review your code from time to time. Generally most people put it off for when “things slow down” or do not do it because “if it works don’t fix it” mentality.

When working with something like PHP, CSS, etc – you develop the best you can at the time you develop the code. If you simply leave everything as is – you risk incompatibility/security issues, etc because nothing is constant (browsers, PHP versions, etc). While it might not seem like the best way to spend your time at first – it will definitely help you down the road and at the very least make you realize how much you have learned since you initially wrote the code.

After working with a number of open source projects (WordPress, Drupal, XOOPS, etc) – I realized while that ignoring code cleanup is not an option and am going to from now on delegate September as my code cleanup month in which I will designate 2 days a week to spend exclusively on reviewing code and looking for ways to optimize it, get rid of any depreciated functions/etc. There are projects where code reviews happen more frequently – but for those that do not have reviews built in – this will be the catch all month.

Everyone writes code they are not proud of from time to time – the difference is there are some people who just let it slide vs. others that take the extra step to fix it. Time to review the jappler.com site 😉

Quality Assurance (Pre vs. Post)

So many people want to get their sites/projects/etc out so fast they completely overlook quality assurance (QA). I have recently worked with two extremes and wanted to comment on both.

  1. Quality Assurance pre-release Any time I work on a project – I always build in time for quality assurance. Quality assurance time is specifically spent on browser issues, adding sample content, and making changes. I recently worked with a client that spent two weeks on quality assurance and added several hundred test posts for sample content in order to work out any bugs that needed to be fixed. How did the release go? Pretty darn smooth. The initial few days were not stressful nor were they all consuming due to issues that users found. The site premiered as professional and well put together.
  2. Quality Assurance post-release I have also recently worked on a project that had to be put out ASAP and when I say ASAP – I mean frantic calls at all hours of the day, crazy status checks, and a completely rushed process. The result: the project was pushed out way to soon, and there were massive changes/updates after the site was live and people were viewing it. How did the release go? It went out early, and something was “there” but so were issues…and the issues were visible for all to see. Generally – I do not generate sloppy code or anything that would cause issues on purpose – but there are things that will show up only after proper testing is done. Since the testing was done after the site was live – the issues were much more visible because users were the ones reporting them – making the site look much less put together. How did the release go? Frantic.

The moral of the story here: I know there are times when “rush jobs” are needed – just remember that with rush jobs – you will see issues post-release instead of pre-release. If that is ok with you (beta site) then that is fine, but do not expect a completely functional and “perfect” product if you do not test it (regardless of who creates it).

Like my friend D always says:

I can give you a product that is built well, built quickly, and built cheap – you pick two.

After doing some home improvement projects in the last few weeks – I can say the same is true there. All I ask of people is to realize that there is a cost with everything. My suggestion: do it right the first time and always make quality assurance a priority – or you will end up paying more later. A little QA goes a long way.

The New Beast

I do not know about you – but the last year has absolutely been insane work-wise. I have said it before and I will say it again. I feel like the people that still have jobs – are working at a super frantic rate. I decided to work late tonight to get caught up on a number of tasks so my weekend will be semi-enjoyable. I like working late because I feel like I can get ahead.

Tonight – much like other nights this year – just as I think I am going to get ahead by closing out as many unread messages as possible – more come in. While writing these two paragraphs – I got 3 new messages from clients.

I do not know what will happen. Will those of us who are still working…and working at this crazy pace burn out or will businesses start to see the burn out coming and actually start hiring again?

In this recession – I have found that it is not that there is less work to do – there are just fewer people that are doing it…and those people are doing the jobs of 2-3 people. What will happen…who knows, but for now it looks like I am just better off stopping work so I can get some relaxation in for the day.

WordPress Wednesdays: The Power of Self Publishing

Having a blog or CMS that uses something like WordPress is a great way to easily publish content and is very easy for people who have no understanding of HTML, images or design but this power comes with a double edged sword.

On one hand, anyone can quickly upload images, video, and write text…even add some floating elements (picture on the left, picture on the right) without seeing any code. While this is great for most people, when something goes wrong (unclosed HTML tag) this can wreak all kinds of havoc on a site. I often get questions like “why is my entire blog in bold” or “what happened to my sidebar – it is now under the content. I even get people who look at my portfolio and email me about “you might want to fix this site because x is all messed up”.

While self publishing is great because it gives the writer all the power – it is also problematic because…it gives all the power to the writer. With this power – comes responsibility. If you want your business or personal image to be based on what people see on your web site – please take the time to learn some basics. Images look best at x size in this spot…this is how I bold something…etc.

As a web developer – I give my clients guidelines and do a lot of defensive programming to try and eliminate anything that I can foresee as being an issue – but please remember – while systems like WordPress easily allow you to publish your content – it also easily allows you to publish sloppy content.

There is a reason why most large companies have entire departments that control what goes out to the public with complicated review systems in place. So if you want to take advantage of something like WordPress, remember that you have all the control – both good and bad. If you see a site in my portfolio that looks skewed – know that the client would not allow me to hand that over to them like that. It is like that because they have complete control over the content. 😉

Sometimes it is Just a Matter of Finding the Right Project

I have probably been busier the last four months than any other time in my life. I have not had more billable hours than usual, but I have been doing a lot of learning, debugging, learning to better debug problems, and organizing. For years I had been talking about improving my PHP and Javascript skills but as much reading/training as I did – nothing really sunk in until I found the right project to help me along and to motivate me like I wish I was years ago.

I just wanted to take some time out and thank three people in particular – Demitrious, Ken, and Brett (you know who you are!) for believing in me and being patient with me as I learned.

Demitrious showed me the way, never gave me the quick and easy answer (well maybe once or twice after driving him crazy), and always made me think about the big picture and made me get comfortable with everything uncomfortable.

Ken always knew how to do exactly what I needed – and then I learned by example, read more documentation, and made things cooler then ever before.

Brett actually never questioned if I knew how to do something – he just knew I would get it done, and done right.

Without you guys – I would probably still be relying on others instead of doing it myself. So thanks…I appreciate it!

First Step: Read

I posted a Job Listing over the weekend to try and get a few more applicants and have a few that I am going to interview this week. I am quite happy with some of the people who replied and I hope at least one of them works out. On a side note – it has been interesting to see those that actually read my listing vs. just apply. I got a number of non USA residents that applied as well as a number of people without portfolios. At least there was an easy way to separate out the “definitely nots” from the get-go.

SDAC Inc Is Hiring

I was away for a few days on a trip visiting family in Florida. While I like to travel – I really do not enjoy the hectic times planning everything (do I have everything packed? Does E have everything? Where is the dog going? Did you set everything up for the cats? Are we leaving our car in long term parking?) and the even more hectic time at the airport and on the plane with a two year old. Now that I am home, now behind on work, and exhausted…I realize I need to hire someone to help with the day to day support questions, light programming (PHP, MySQL, CSS, XHTML), and general coverage for my company.

I am looking for a responsible, local (US), WordPress savvy individual that could help take general requests as well as pitch in on bigger projects as needed. Generally – this would start at 5-10 hours a week with the potential to increase if everything worked out. If you are interested – please check out http://www.sandboxdev.com/blog/578/sdac-inc-is-hiring/.

Minimizing Interruptions

Lately I have felt like I have been doing the never fun “suicides” that I did in high school during basketball practice. Running to one spot, running back, running to the next stop, running back, etc. There have been way too many tasks at hand and instead of finishing one and moving on – I have been in a rut of moving from one task to another, then back, then on to another and back…and I blame interruptions (email, phone, IM).

For the next few days-weeks I am going to limit myself with email, phone calls, and IM while I am working. I will respond or be available, but only at times I am taking a break from work or taking time to respond to incoming communication so I can regain some focus (and get caught up without working these manic 12-14 hour days).

If you need something – email me. If you want to chat – I will most likely be online after lunch or after dinner.