Shop Class as Soulcraft

Shop Class as Soulcraft is a thought-provoking essay about the future of manual labor, work, and craftsmanship by Matthew B. Crawford in New Atlantis.

The craftsman’s habitual deference is not toward the New, but toward the distinction between the Right Way and the Wrong Way. However narrow in its application, this is a rare appearance in contemporary life…

While I heartily agree with this sentiment, in this piece Crawford seems to lump everything computer related into “information systems” as a departure from manual craftsmanship, and ignores a bit the manual craft of making software. It can be very much a manual job in the sense that you type the code into an editor and make it run. And isn’t just plug-and-play necessarily. Though some systems (cough, .NET) do encourage GUI-based software development. A true hand-coder I think is just as much a craftsperson as someone building a wooden table.

But craftsmanship must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.

My version of this is: “Does the website work?” It needs to work, especially on my phone, and load fast everywhere. My kind of heuristic.

The essay points out the permanence of certain goods: it is easier to achieve a long-lasting product with hand-made goods, probably, such as furniture or motorcycles or cars. A website is obsolete almost the moment you launch it. It probably won’t outlive you. A well-made table could live hundreds of years.

The concluding words are a great takeaway:

So what advice should one give to a young person? By all means, go to college. In fact, approach college in the spirit of craftsmanship, going deep into liberal arts and sciences. In the summers, learn a manual trade. You’re likely to be less damaged, and quite possibly better paid, as an independent tradesman than as a cubicle-dwelling tender of information systems. To heed such advice would require a certain contrarian streak, as it entails rejecting a life course mapped out by others as obligatory and inevitable.

Via Yegor M.

Speaking at ThemeConf

I’m thrilled to announce my part in ThemeConf, an exciting new conference “for developers and designers who make themes,” organized by Automattic and set in the beautiful landscape of the Lake District (Keswick, UK on September 2–4, 2015).

Recognizing the fact that I don’t make WordPress themes any more, I’m honored to attend, speak, and share a bit of a retrospective on my career in web design and development, including a few stories about how my career in WordPress themes kicked off in 2010.

On a sunny summer day in Winnipeg I sit in The Forks dining area eating delicious fish and chips, the proper way, straight from the newspaper cone. I’m here for the first ever meeting of the Automattic Theme Team.

I’ll talk about my journey of theme craftsmanship—the ups, the downs, the unexpected results. From meeting Ian Stewart for the first time on that hot and humid August day in Manitoba, to my first theme launch on WordPress.com, getting a premium theme marketplace off the ground, shepherding default themes for WordPress.org, to building a team of 30 people strong.

A journey of adventure and learning where my skills have expanded beyond what I’d expected—not just the technical path from web designer and developer to “front-end expert” and WordPress themer—but also writing, speaking, and leading.

I’ll share how in 2015 I’ve now become an apprentice again, in the field of software quality and testing. Working hard at finding tools, skills, patterns, workflow, and process in my new craft. Discovering myself, my passion, my community, and opportunities to learn.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 12.11.33


A special discount for my readers: use code lancetheme for 25% off the ThemeConf registration cost—which at only £49 for the conference and £99 with the workshop is quite a bargain!

Encourage Dissidence

From the “Kindred Spirits” pattern chapter in Apprenticeship Patterns:

Your community’s health can be measured in the way to reacts to new ideas. Does it embrace the idea after vigorous debate and experimentation? Or does it quickly reject the idea and the person who proposed it? Today’s dissident is tomorrow’s leader, and one of the most valuable services you can provide to your community is defending it against those who believe that marching in lockstep is the price of membership.

I love this challenge—it’s got me thinking a lot about how I approach new ideas, both when I bring them to my community or team and when I’m faced with new ideas from other people.

I am sometimes going with the flow in order to be liked and get along with everyone? Do I reject things out of hand because I don’t like the idea or the person? And do I question everything with a healthy dose of dissidence?