Burnout, Part 1: Labor

November 20th, 2015

Disclaimer: Once upon a time I worked for a web development company that no longer exists. Several years of my life and career involved that company. This comic, and some more to come, will involve parts of my life during that time, and as a result involves the actions of others that worked there. I want to state clearly: these are not meant to be posts about them. They aren’t attacks. They’re posts about me, and defining moments that impacted my life, which just happen to involve them. Humans are complex shades of grey, a mixture of good and bad decisions. I’m not trying to paint anyone as a villain. Please bear that in mind.

CSSquirrel #109: Burnout, Part 1: Labor

The reasons that CSSquirrel ground to a halt over the years are legion. Like everything in life, it came from a recipe with many ingredients. But the comic above describes the nexus of those reasons. The intentional exploitation and the lack of a *single* word of thanks, never mind remuneration, hurt. It hurt so much that I have tried and failed to write about it over a dozen times in the past two years, each time deleting it for fear of “causing drama”, while simultaneously trying to dig the burning embers out of my gut. It became a logjam, standing in the way between the part of my mind that was motivated to make comics and write blog posts, and the rest of the world.

Labor Day weekend, 2013, was the single worst experience I’d ever had as an employee. It was worse than working in a call center. It was worse than having a hamburger thrown at me by an angry customer when working in fast food. It was worse than arriving for my shift at the grocery store that was my first job only to learn that more than half of the store’s employees, including myself, were laid off without notice.

In old tweets at the time I referred to the incident as my own personal road to Damascus, and to Angular (which I first learned in that fateful project) as my personal Ananias. I wasn’t converted to the faith of a framework, mind you. This is a conversation for another time, but I’ve always had an uncomfortable tension with Angular, which seems to me to enjoy complexity for its own sake. Instead my eyes were opened onto financial conflicts of interest between myself and my employers involving my career trajectory. I was pushed into a 90 hour week for the sake of making a client project easier to sell while making a profit. Worst yet, they were hoping to have me do that for them more often.

It was the first time that I thought “Maybe these people don’t have my best interests at heart”.

That loss of faith, that loss of innocence, was never recovered. It was also the key moment where my hair literally went overnight from a largely brown mass with a few silver rogues to something strongly entering the “salt and pepper” category. And with that was lost a large portion of the joy that I experienced as a developer. The joy that comes from staring at a screen for hours as I wrote code that made cool interactions and fascinating experiences that non-coders equated to magic.

I’ve been programming since I was twelve. That’s over two decades of coding, as either a hobby, or a job, or both. Other people play Frisbee golf or carve bears out of trees with chainsaws to relieve the stress of life. I would make a video game or build a website.

And then that sense of fun was gone. It was just a job. And I had to fight for respect in that job. For my self-worth. Every moment of coding became solely an exercise in self-improvement and proving my right to be in this career.

There was no place for a comic about a squirrel, or humorous quips about browser standards, when I was in that place. I still deeply cared about web development. I cared about my career. But I didn’t have the luxury of having fun with it anymore. I’d go through the motions. Quips on Twitter. I would open Photoshop and move around shapes. I would make a note of a development in the field and say “I really need to make a comic about that.” And nothing came of it.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It’s a stupid saying. But it does heal some. The joy of coding, the sense of fun has rejuvenated as I’ve joined new teams, had new experiences, and even been lucky enough to travel internationally for conferences related to web development. There is a renewed sense of whimsy. And I can’t think of a better balm for this oft-harsh world than whimsy.

The truth is, I miss the squirrel. The little fuzzy guy is an avatar of excited energy that represented the frenetic, irrational excitement I have about being part of this community of developers and designers. The crazy things we can do, and the esoteric disagreements we can have trying to do them, and the amazing, life-changing people I’ve met here.

And, for reasons that never fail to amaze me, there’s others out there that seem to be missing the squirrel as well.

So, clearly when put to a vote, the answer is “A world with the squirrel is better than one without one.” Who am I to argue with that?


February 16th, 2014
CSSquirrel #108: Unicorny

Unicorn has become something of a loaded term, especially when “UX” joins forces with it, creating a web design Ubermensch that rivals the Jackalopian ‘designelopers’ of yore.

For me, the UX Unicorn has been the phrase used to refer to a rare combination of coding, design, and UX skills that somehow creates a generalist whom also possesses deep knowledge in each of these fields, a sort of super expert that the rest of us can only look at with sunglasses and despair.

In short, its a myth. It’s up there with “social media expert”, “seo expert”, and “real estate salesman” on the list of job titles that seem to attract the kind of people that aren’t afraid to sell you a jar of snake piss, claim it’s actually a curative tonic devised originally by Solomon, complete with instructions to rub it into your scalp nightly to cure your psoriasis and raise your IQ by 20 points.

So we’re clear: I’m not harping on the field of UX, and legitimate practitioners of that science. I am, in fact, down with the UX, do my best to learn its ways, and have a coworker I hold in high esteem whom is entirely embedded deep in that field of research.

But when it comes to self-declared snooty “unicorns”, there’s been a high noise to signal ratio that is muddying up the airwaves.

Along with Dylan Wilbanks, who is a real life person in the UX field, I had some misgivings about the Unicorn Institute that’s been making the rounds with its Kickstarter Campaign. We took to our mighty podcast, Squirrel and Moose, to discuss the whole “UX Unicorn” mythos in full detail on not only one, but two long episodes.

We had feels. We had opinions.

Opinions I stand by.

…but, we just might have had an incorrect understanding of the Unicorn Institute’s true nature, created in part by a sparsity of details on the Unicorn Institute’s site at the time of our recording, and in part due to a lack of… well… asking those involved directly.

My high school journalism teacher would be mortified. My apologies, Ms. Bickley.

Last week, none other than Jared Spool himself contacted Dylan and I, mentioned that he’d listened to our podcasts about the topic, and asked if he could come onto our next episode to talk about the project.

After I finished dancing around and squeeing like a fanboi at a [insert applicable current Disney teen heartthrob here] concert, I of course said “YES PLEASE”.

What resulted was the longest podcast in Squoose history, where Spool corrected our misunderstandings and offered some deep, detailed information about what the Unicorn Institute, actually called the Center Centre, really is.

Short version: It’s amazing. A trade school for UX professionals that’s built in a fashion entirely different from any other institution of higher learning that I’ve seen.

I’m jealous of those entering the field in the years ahead, to have an institution like this to attend. They didn’t have them in my day.

It clocks in at over an hour, but I think everyone should take the time to listen to Jared’s discussion about the genesis of the Unicorn Institute, and the research and thought that went behind it. I learned a lot talking with him.

Imagine how much more you’d learn actually attending it.

If you like what he says, please consider taking the time to back the institute on Kickstarter. They’ve got five days left, and the hope is that they do well enough with the Kickstarter to offer scholarships for those that couldn’t normally afford an opportunity like this.

I still don’t believe in the UX Unicorn, instead seeing us all as variations of Dylan’s chimeras. But the Unicorn Institute isn’t trying to make those unicorns. They’re making something different.

And I am a big fan of that.

Standards Matter

November 30th, 2013

It’s easy to think that, in 2013, we live in an era where as web developers we can say that the war for web standards is over and won. After all, didn’t WASP finally declare their work as done back ┬áin March?

Of course, as they said, it isn’t that simple. As an advocacy group they’ve accomplished their job. But there’s always going to be a need for the community to fight for standards anew, in the face of corporate attempts at mono-browser culture or lazy developers looking to make shortcuts at the expense of accessibility and future compatibility.

As the web continues to fracture into not only multiple browsers, but a wider and wider variety of form factors and devices, from toast to televisions, from watches to phones, standards, and the advocacy of them, become even more important. We’re not just talking about making a site’s CSS look good in four browsers, or ensuring a site is usable for people with accessibility challenges. We’re talking about ensuring our sites, our clients sites, and the sites we use every day being available for use in situations we wouldn’t have needed to consider even six years ago.

Challenges like this make web standards, and events like Blue Beanie Day, relevant even in 2013. And, probably, forever. It’s a challenge that we’ll constantly face as the medium grows and evolves along with our relationship with technology.

Dylan Wilbanks and I spoke about this topic a couple weeks back on Squirrel and Moose, where we discussed in particular an area of increasing importance and debate in the web standards world: that of solutions for responsive images in HTML. The Responsive Images Community Group, chaired by the brilliant, seemingly tireless, and ever entertaining Mat Marquis. A true example of the spirit of the Internet, led by “working class” developers instead of browser manufacturers, who seek solutions to the very real problems they have in their day-to-day work on the web, the RICG is making big strides in ensuring that the HTML of tomorrow will actually meet our needs.

And to me, that’s mighty fine, and means Mat and his compatriots are bona fide Internet Heroes. If there were some sort of Blue Beanie award, I’d nominate them. Instead I suppose we could invent folk tales involving flapjacks and giant blue oxen.

Keep up the good work.


Podcast #24: Weeping Angels

April 5th, 2013

Dylan and I talked about Blink last night, as well as discussing our experiences at the Squeetup event we had that coincided with AEA’s opening night party.

Here’s Dylan’s recap of the podcast:

Kyle and Dylan talk through the implications of Google’s new Blink browser engine and what it means for the future of web standards. Also, a review of the Squeetup, a Joel Spolsky reference, and Dylan’s exhaustion causing a few too many pregnant pauses.

You can go listen to it now at 3rdaverad.io.

Squirrelcon: The First Ever Squoose Squeetup

March 29th, 2013
Squirrelcon: The First Ever Squoose Squeetup

If you’re in Seattle on April 1st, either as a local or an attendee at AEA: Seattle, then might I politely ask you to swing past Rob Roy sometime that evening to meet up with Dylan, myself, and several other web geeks? Neither of us could attend An Event Apart this year (which is bound to be an amazing if it’s anything like every other AEA has been), but we’ll be in the neighborhood, having some drinks, eats, and incredibly geeky conversations.

We’ll be there starting at 7pm. It’s right across the street from the AEA Opening Night Party, but here’s directions just in case.

Those of you on Facebook can let us know you’re coming and ask any event-related questions over here at the event’s page.