Posts Tagged ‘Comic’

Burnout, Part 1: Labor

Friday, 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?

Unicorny

Sunday, 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.

Venn diagram of my work week

Thursday, March 21st, 2013
CSSquirrel #107: Venn diagram of my work week

It’s been a hell of a week.

In addition to the Kobayashi Maru situation that has become “Donglegate“, and all the other random crap that’s existed in tech culture and the world at large this week, it’s been a pretty horrid work week for me personally as well.

Today’s comic is a pair of Venn diagrams that illustrate this. Short version: I had a week scheduled out with pure, unadulterated awesome. The kind of project that excites me and makes me enjoy and love what I do. Instead, a number of typical work emergencies piled up and I was the one trapped with a number obnoxious debug tasks that were outside of my specialty and that resulted in a very long slog of poking sticks at a website in the hopes that somehow I’d be granted wisdom.

Oh, and I had a rather unexpected case of kidney stones cause me the 2nd most excruciating pain of my life on Sunday and Monday. (The greatest pain I’ve ever experienced was an abscessed tooth. You never, ever in your life want that. Trust me.)

So this week can go shoot itself in the face.

However, life goes on. And another week is around the corner (also, hey, it’s spring now in the Northern Hemisphere!)

Gut Glut

Monday, October 8th, 2012
CSSquirrel #104: Gut Glut

Today’s guest star is Nishant Kothary, who didn’t work on the new amazing and fully responsive Microsoft.com redesign. The comic also features the consequences of the Squirrel’s misunderstanding the concept of “designing with your gut”.

(I wish it was as simple as eating pepperoni pizzas. I would be the best intuitive designer ever.)

Although Nishant did not work on the new design, he did write a great post telling the Story of the New Microsoft.com (and his own small part in that), which is a great piece that looks at what made the new design so amazing. Which it turns out, is a complex, nuanced combination of many factors, including (but not limited to), designing by the gut at times.

When even Gruber says that Microsoft’s new site looks great, you know they’ve hit the ball out of the park. It makes you wonder what kind of world we live in, where suddenly Microsoft’s design aesthetic seems to be, well, awesome. From their new logo and their new site, to the Metro UI (I know, it’s not called that anymore) of Windows 8, they’ve got it going on.

It’s a crazy world.

As great as the Microsoft.com redesign is, the reason for Nishant’s inclusion in today’s comic instead of one of the site’s designer is the meat and morale of his post: In our reality successful websites (or successful projects of any type) are rarely (if ever) in debt to a single underlying cause. Awesome techniques, rockstar designers, understanding management, these may be some of literally dozens of contributing factors. To me this is great, because it means we can learn dozens of valuable lessons by examining these success stories.

Nishant tells the story like this as well, touching on several aspects that made the Microsoft.com redesign the success that it is, then ending by contributing it all to the twenty-five people that were involved in that project.

There was a tweet by Dan Cederholm last week that touched on the topic of what goes into making good websites.

Web design is getting f’ing complex. Biggest concern is for those just starting to learn.

Which, really sums it up. There’s so many aspects to good design that it’s impossible to find a single magic bullet (as awesome as responsive design is.) I appreciate the new Microsoft.com for reminding us that our industry is about a lot more than just buzzwords.

The Savage Beatings Anti-Pattern

Monday, October 1st, 2012
CSSquirrel #102: The Savage Beatings Anti-Pattern

Just so we’re clear, in no way do I think that Jeremy Keith (one of today’s guest stars) would actually do any violence to Michael Sippey (the other guest star) or any other person in real life. I do, however, share Jeremy’s well documented rancor about the email notification anti-pattern. Which, among many other shameful companies, Twitter is notorious for its participation.

For those precious few of you who haven’t been victims of it, the anti-pattern in question is as follows:

  1. A site creates a new notification/email/spam.
  2. An option is created for their existing users to sign up for this further bloat to their in-boxes.
  3. As a “convenience”, it is set to “yes” by default.
  4. If for some reason (Heaven forfend!) you don’t like spam, you must then follow a link to their site, log INTO said site, and then un-click the offending “Yes” that’s on an item labeled something patently false like “Emails You’ll Really Want”.

This isn’t a customer service. They know it. And we know it. It’s force-feeding end users in the desperate hopes of squeezing extra profits out of our bloated corpses.

So what do we do about it?

I’m going to suggest we follow Jeremy’s advice.

Document (aka, blog) the situations when they occur, so there’s a greater awareness for new startups entering the space that this type of interaction and marketing is unwanted and hostile to users.

We probably shouldn’t threaten them with bats, but I suggest communicating directly with offenders. They may not change from one voice, or ten, or a hundred. But if enough people complain, maybe they’ll get the picture.

Also, participate in efforts to proactively communicate what web patterns suck, such as pointing people to Harry Brignull’s Dark Pattern Wiki (which doesn’t currently have this anti-pattern listed on it, but certainly should.)

Those are the best ideas I’ve got. Documentation, mockery, notification and education.

Got your own? Let me know via one of the response methods below. Or, heck, if you actually like being signed up for spam without your prior consent, please let me know. You’re likely the last of your kind and belong in a museum.