If you take a look at my “Sites I Like” page, you’ll notice that I included, and linked to, a site created by Julie Kuehl. The reason I did this is because I think Julie has a great story. One that many of us can relate to. She’s adventurous and interesting and is connected to a community of very talented developers. So, you can imagine my eagerness to learn more about her.
A few days go, I sent Julie an email asking if she would be kind enough to answer some questions for me. I wanted to get to the bottom of what makes someone like this tick, what inspires her and what she faces on a day to day basis. After she responded that she would be happy to be interviewed, I sent her my questions. Take a look below to see why I’m so thrilled with her responses.
1. I find the “About Me” page on your website very interesting. You’re certainly involved in a wide variety of activities. What is it that led you towards the web development field and how long have you been working in it?
Something I ran across recently led me to believe that I had one of the first 2000 sites on the web. I’ve been dabbling in web development ever since, but it was never the primary focus of my work. When I walked away from my previous career, I got to ask myself “What do I WANT to do.” Programming was obvious, as it was a recurring theme. I explored a bunch of different options at first: Mac programming, iOS programming, Ruby on Rails, and WordPress (and a few other CMSes). Once I got introduced to the WordPress community, I was hooked. It was the first place I felt welcomed as a wannabe programmer.
2. I also see from your website that you operate your own web design company. What prompted you to go your own route as opposed to working with, or for, someone else?
I went full-time freelancing when my previous day job became untenable for me. I probably jumped too soon, but whatever. I went solo because I was still learning WordPress development and needed to learn the lessons that working solo would bring. I have to admit, that at this point, I’m interested in working with others because while I feel I understand the entire web design/development process now, I also know I can’t do it all.
3. Are you satisfied with your choice of getting involved with this industry? Is there anything else you would rather be doing?
Is there anything else I’d rather be doing? No. To this point WordPress development has not been all that lucrative for me. But I wouldn’t trade it for a higher salary if I had to do something else. When people ask “What do you do for a living?” I say “Build WordPress websites.” When they ask “What do you do for fun?” I say “Build WordPress websites.” (Okay I like to ride my motorcycle too.)
4. Your involvement in the WordPress community is truly something to admire. What is it that makes the folks you interact with so valuable to you?
The community keeps me sane and pushes me to better myself. Being a solopreneur, connecting with the community has been a great source for sharing business knowledge/experiences (and commiserating) and learning WordPress. Sometimes it’s hard to even know what you’re looking for when you don’t have the words for it. Hanging around the community and staying tuned in to the blogs/podcasts/etc. has often provided me a vocabulary I didn’t understand. But once I heard about a concept/plugin/service/etc. I was able to learn about it at my own pace. WordCamps are invaluable for that.
5. What areas of designing and developing with WordPress excite you the most? What do you enjoy working on or learning about and where do you naturally excel?
I’m not much of a designer. I always tell clients that I’m not good with crayons, but I kick butt with Lego. I’ve worked to improve my front-end development skills, but right now I’m focused on picking up some PHP/MySQL skills to be more of a complete developer. I do enjoy taking a designer’s idea and watching it come together during a front-end build. But I’m looking forward to building some plugins to make sites more functional for clients.
6. Many developers have particular areas they don’t care for or try their hardest to avoid. What are yours?
Multisite? For a while I avoided e-commerce sites, but soon learned that they’re not as bad as I had feared. I’m not all that interested in large corporate sites at this point either, but I never say never. (I may have recently broke this personal rule actually.) I do prefer working with smaller companies where there’s not a lot of committee work involved in website decisions.
7. I’ve spoken to, and have read about, many developers who’ve experienced peaks and valleys when learning how to code. Have you experienced something similar during your journey and if you have, how do you deal with these highs and lows?
Good gawd yes. These are horrible. When learning, there are far more lows than peaks. Peaks are fleeting when you finally solve a problem or understand a concept. A quick fist pump and you move on. Lows, however, can last for days or weeks while you’re stuck on trying to figure something out. And as much as other people want to be helpful, it’s really hard for them to jump into your project and give specific advice. You’re basically on your own. I hate to keep going back to WordCamps (no I don’t), but they’ve often been helpful to talk things through or hear others talk things through that can be applied to the situation.
And I know it’s trite and cliche and common knowledge, but I can’t remember how many times after pounding my head against a specific problem I go for a walk or a motorcycle ride or sleep on it and the solution is obvious and usually much simpler than I had been considering.
8. What industry sites and blogs do you read regularly? Would any stand out as particularly motivational or inspirational for someone who might be interested in learning about web design?
I will admit to not being able to keep up lately, but blogs I regularly read at least the headlines of include:
so many more…
And WordPress podcasts include:
My favorites are…gah! it’s hard to choose. I’ve had some great experiences with Troy Dean of WP Elevation and I’m now writing for Flywheel, so maybe those? And I’ve been on WP Watercooler, so maybe that one? But I really love the WP Elevation and the Your Website Engineer podcasts. These are good for folks learning WordPress as well as trying to run a small business.
9. Can you tell me about one of your favorite web design projects? What made it so great and why did you like it so much?
A few months back I did my first front-end build out for an agency. They provided a PSD file and gave me a week to get it done (it was for a book launch). There were at least four things in that project that I hadn’t done before, so it was a bit of a challenge. But I got it done by the deadline and I’m still rather proud of that site. The bloodshot eyes weren’t all that endearing though.
10. Do you have any projects that make you look back and shake your head? What made the experience so unpleasant?
I haven’t had any horribly unpleasant projects, but maybe that’s just because of the way I look at them. There certainly have been miscommunications, over-budget/scope creep instances, rejected ideas, slow payments, etc. But I have no expectation that things will be smooth and easy, so I’m never surprised when something goes askew. It’s just a matter of dealing with the situation and moving forward. I try to learn from every project and make improvements in what I do. Many times the issues lead back to something I could have communicated better.
11. Are there any languages or tools that you have yet to pick up on that you’d like to learn?
I’m in the middle of learning PHP/MySQL and I’d like to get solid on that before looking for something new. I think after that though, I might turn to a broader grounding in general programming concepts.
12. What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I’m not certain if I will still be freelancing in five years. I think the next stage of my professional development might be best accomplished working on a team with others. But I could also see it playing out that within five years I return to freelancing with an expanded skill set. Or not. A great team could be hard to walk away from too.
What a great interview. I think the best part of this one was the fact that I learned so much. Julie certainly is a wealth of information. If you’d like to learn more or follow Julie on Twitter, you can do so at @JulieKuehl.