A bittersweet decision

After very careful consideration, I have decided to resign from my job at the Idaho Statesman effective September 19th.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges, triumphs, and camaraderie during the past 17 months.  For a lifelong news junkie such as myself, working for a newspaper has been a unique experience that has caused me to grow both personally and professionally.  There are a lot of genuinely dedicated people at the Statesman and what they do day in and day out is really something to behold.  I will miss working here and cannot help but feel that my work is unfinished.

I didn’t intend to leave the Statesman any time soon, but a local company began to pursue me about a month ago.  After a lot of back and forth via e-mail and a couple of interviews, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  In addition to that, this company is an excellent fit for me as far as the development team, the tools and languages they use (LAMP stack with Zend Framework), the projects in the works, and the corporate culture.  They’re also extremely profitable with very impressive year over year revenue growth.  It may seem like a strange choice to anyone not familiar with the company, but I am very excited to say that I will start work on September 22nd as a software engineer at Bodybuilding.com.

Their consistent focus on customers and investment in employees really won me over.  A prime example of the character of their employees and the unwavering commitment they have to their customers can be seen in their response to Tropical Storm Fay last week.  This is not a one-time incident, but an integral part of the culture and values of the company.  In addition to a strong customer focus, they invest heavily in their employees with excellent pay, benefits, and perks that encourage and reward a healthy lifestyle and professional growth.

I’m sure I’ll have much more to share about my experiences at Bodybuilding.com in the coming months.  In the meantime, I have a lot of projects to wrap up at the Statesman.  And I need to hit the weights pretty hard in the next three weeks to prepare myself for the new employee orientation.  I hear it involves lots of shaving, fake tanner, body oil, and a Speedo.  Nah, I’m just kidding of course.  At least I think I’m kidding…😉

Posted in Web development

One year at the Statesman

April 16th marked exactly one year since I started working at the Statesman.  It seems like just yesterday that I was observing six months.  Time flies when you’re juggling a dozen projects and multiple deadlines.  I can’t say that I’ve learned too many new things in the past six months, but I have deepened my knowledge of topics that were already in my bag of tricks.  And of course we built and/or launched some new features.

Shiny, happy features

These are just the highlights of the past six months.  Obviously we did a lot more than four things, but a lot of it was behind the scenes.  For example, I set up a new Web server and moved ten of our external sites over to it.  You didn’t notice?  Perfect.  Anyway, the high points were:

On the horizon

The next three months or so will be extremely busy with at least four sizable projects in the works as well as a dozen or so little ones.  There’s never a dull moment at the Statesman.  Sorry, I can’t say anything more about the upcoming stuff until it launches.  You’ll just have to stay tuned.

Challenging times

It’s no secret that many newspaper companies are struggling to adjust to changes affecting the industry.  Some of these changes are cyclical while others are sadly systemic.  I often joke that we share a morbid problem with tobacco companies: our customers are dying.  The obvious difference is that newspapers don’t kill people, but we still have to find new readers somehow.  A lot of very savvy people are working on these problems day and night, but the outlook still isn’t too good in the near term.

The Statesman (like many McClatchy papers) has undertaken some cost cutting measure in the past several months.  The paper is narrower now and has fewer pages to save on newsprint.  During the current hiring freeze, several people have left the newsroom and not been replaced.  Recently we’ve seen a couple involuntary layoffs.  While I’m confident that we will emerge from this in a strong position, I’m not sure what the company will look like or how many people will be left.  At least for now, I feel like my job is safe.  However, in these turbulent times I’ll close with a classic Magic 8 Ball response: “Ask again later.”

Posted in Web development

Slash and learn

One thing I’ve noticed in all of my Web jobs (four so far) is that my job title does not even begin to capture what I actually do.  I imagine this sort of thing is somewhat universal and definitely not limited to Web work, but I’ll focus on that since it’s what I know.

So what do I mean by “slash and learn”?  Let me illustrate by example.  My official job title is Web developer.  A far more accurate job title would be the following:

Web developer / database administrator / search engine optimizer / social media marketer / Linux administrator / database designer / information architect / project manager / vendor whisperer / wannabe Web designer /  JavaScript ninja-in-training / young grasshopper in a dozen other areas

See all those slashes?  Some people would recoil in horror at a list that long, but I actually enjoy the mix of responsibilities.  I love to pick up a book or tinker with a new technology to add another slash to my unofficial job title.  Slash and learn, baby!  I suppose it’s no accident that I’ve gravitated toward smaller shops where I can take on a lot of different challenges.  Constant learning is a plus in my book and so I love what I do.

There is a downside of course.  Most notably I don’t consider myself a true expert at anything that I do.  Some of this is probably due to relentless self-deprecation and being my own worst critic (aren’t we all?), but I really think there’s some truth to it.  The good thing is that whenever I reach the limits of my current knowledge of some topic, I usually know somebody who can take the baton (or at least point me in the right direction).

If I worked at a large company, I would probably end up specializing more than I like.  However, I appreciate the people who do work at those large companies because they’re usually the specialists I turn to when I get stuck.  All my friends at McClatchy Interactive certainly come to mind.

So what’s your official job title and what would be the unabridged version?

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Posted in Personal growth, Web development

Green eggs and Twitter

Following is a recap of my experience so far with Twitter.  Hat tip to Dr. Seuss…

I will not Tweet them here or there

First off, I should probably come clean and admit that I was an ardent detractor of Twitter for a long time.  Sure I read about it and poked around a bit, but my initial exposure left a sour taste in my mouth.  It seemed absolutely pointless, a complete waste of time, and I simply didn’t get it.

Try it and you may, I say

So I ignored it for months until it started coming up in online discussions of new media and how newspapers could go out and meet their potential audiences on sites like Twitter and Facebook and somehow drag them back to their newspaper websites (probably kicking and screaming).  Cha-ching!  Massive traffic guaranteed.  Well the jury is still out on that count, but the discussions did prompt me to give Twitter a fair shake.  And I must admit that I like it AND I think I get it now too.

And I will Tweet them anywhere

My impression of Twitter so far is that it’s like a virtual happy hour.  People talk about work and official stuff to some extent, but they also discuss their families, sports, the weather, and all sorts of other topics.   It’s an interesting window into someone’s life.  And as Katie pointed out, it blows chain of command away.  And that’s a great thing.  (Howard is my “Twitter buddy” too.)

Thank you, thank you Sam-I-am

My thanks to Tac for leaving “Do you Twitter?” as his Gtalk status message for weeks on end and getting me to thinking about it.  And thanks to Ryan for blogging about the relevance of Twitter to newspapers and making all of this loosely “work related” (kind of).

These days I’m following 26 people and most of them are following me back.  Many are McClatchy folks in various locations, some are Boise technophiles, and others are friends I’ve met along the way.  I also got the Idaho Statesman on Twitter a few weeks ago.

So if you’re not a “Twitter gitter”, give it another look.  Feel free to follow me while you’re at it.  Happy Twittering!

Posted in Internet

Northwest Ski Map launched

Well, we met our deadline yesterday and launched (drum roll…) the new Northwest Ski Map.  It was a fun project using an external data feed of 28 resorts from the Idaho Ski Areas Association, the Google Maps API, and the Zend Framework.  It came together rather quickly, but I think it turned out pretty well.  Now I just need to get out there and do some skiing myself.

You can definitely count on some more mapping projects in the future.  We’re just scratching the surface at this point.

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Posted in Web development

Getting a feel for the Zend Framework

My job lately has been an interesting mix of grunt work and cool new stuff.  The former is inescapable and has to be done, but I obviously enjoy the latter a bit more.  One item I’m relishing is finally getting my hands dirty with the Zend Framework.  A little background first…

The writing on the wall

I’ve been programming in PHP for more than five years and I’ve coded some rather large projects completely by hand and from scratch.  I sort of take pride in that I suppose, but I also realize it’s not a very sustainable way of working… especially in a fast-paced environment like a newspaper.  Sure, I’ve built up a library of reusable functions and classes, I have my own standard file structure and naming conventions… the whole nine yards.  But my own methods have a couple of significant drawbacks.  The first problem is that things start to get unwieldy when a project grows to about 30 or 40 different views.  This may not be a problem on most projects, but scope creep is always lurking and software has a tendency to expand over time.  The second problem is that my methods are rather ad hoc and difficult for other people to fully grasp without a lot of time spent getting up to speed.  This is probably very similar to how I feel when I inherit somebody else’s wacky code base.

A better way

So I started looking around for something that would be more scalable and that would adhere to some widely accepted architecture… probably MVC.  At the same time, I didn’t want a solution that was all-or-nothing.  On small projects I wanted the freedom to cherry pick what I needed from a framework and jettison the rest.  Obviously that disqualified most of the usual suspects like Ruby on Rails, Django, CakePHP, Symfony, etc.  I decided to give the Zend Framework a spin and see what I thought.

Cannonball!

Last week I started testing the waters and using a few classes like Zend_Config, Zend_Db, Zend_Mail, and Zend_Validate.  My original intention was to dip my toes in the water, but I ended up just going ahead and jumping in with the full MVC framework and the whole shebang.  It’s a relatively small project (for now) that is completely scoped out and technically very feasible.  The deadline is Thursday (yeah, this week).  Despite my 5+ years with PHP, I’ve never done anything with an MVC architecture so I’m reading pages and pages of documentation online and figuring it out as I go.  Fortunately the docs are good and the ideas are fairly intuitive once I get my head around them.

It’s strange to feel like a newbie again, but that’s what Web programming is all about: constant learning and adaptation.  Stop learning and the Web world will pass you by in a hurry.  Anyway I should have quite a bit more to report later this week.  Wish me luck.  If nothing else, it will be educational…

Posted in Web development

News Challenge says no, but life goes on

I actually received the “thanks, but no thanks” e-mail a couple days after my previous post, but have been too busy to mention it.  I knew my application was a longshot, so I’m not too terribly crushed by this.  And I have so much going on already that maybe this is a good thing.  Anyway, there it is.  It was worth a try at least.

Posted in Africa, Internet, Open source
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