Think Like a Poet, Work Like a Bookkeeper

The most successful scientist thinks like a poet — wide-ranging, sometimes fantastical — and works like a bookkeeper.

Motivation from E.O. Wilson in The Meaning of Human Existence.

Could apply to any craft or vocation, don’t you think? The most successful scientist or artist, musician, programmer, designer, tech lead, writer, product owner, or …?

Photo from Pexels.

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 A website is obsolete almost the moment you launch it.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.

Freelancing as a Web Professional

I’ve been asked a lot recently about freelancing and how it works. My personal experience has been amazing! But the truth is that it’s not for everyone. If you are considering going solo, here is some recommended reading for you.

First, review the recently-released results of the 2008 A List Apart Survey. The responses and accompanying analysis will give you insight into what web professionals charge, what their job titles are, how many hours a week they work, and much, much more. Included are many statistics regarding freelance workers and how their habits and experiences compare with those of more traditional web workers.

On getting paid and how much to charge:

These web professionals address freelancing from both sides—moving from a traditional workplace to freelancing and also giving it up to go back to working for a company.

Since freelancing for me is about doing what you love, I’d like to include two short, inspirational pieces:

And finally, as recommended listening, listen to the panel conversation Jeffrey Zeldman moderated as this year’s SXSW Interactive conference: “From Freelance to Agency: Start Small, Stay Small”.

You Are What You Make

I’ve always done kind of weird, strange things, and that’s what I get hired to do: weird, strange things. The type of work you make is the type of work people will hire you to do.

Joshua Davis inspires me, not because he is a world-class Flash artist that creates complex, 120,000-layer files in Illustrator in five minutes1, but because he isn’t afraid to be himself. In fact he’s been extremely successful at creating art and websites that are as individual as he is.

One of my goals for 2009 is to find a balance in my work as a web designer/developer with what I find important and valuable in life. If I produce work that isn’t fulfilling, or if I feel like I’m not working towards doing stuff that matters, it isn’t because I’m doomed to serve a particular client or style—but because of the fact that what I’ve done is what people hire me for.

Maybe it’s time to make something a little bit different?

1 Read about Joshua’s work at Apple Pro Profiles: Joshua Davis.