New Website: House Minimal Techno Disco

I’ve been writing blogs long before I knew what a cascading style sheet was.  In fact, part of what led me down the path to become a web developer was the frustration of the limitations of Blogger and their templates.

I have a Top Tunes Blog hosted at Blogger.  Ugly, messy thing isn’t it?  So ugly that I became too embarrassed to load new content to it last year.

So there was only one option.  Move it to WordPress, develop my own theme and have it looking exactly how I wanted it.

Though I didn’t know how I wanted it to look.  Nor did I know how to develop with WordPress.  Those were the first two obstacles to overcome.

I started learning WordPress development in September.  By November I was quite comfortable using it.  In December I transferred my portfolio (this site) to WordPress and made my own theme.  This month was time to practice what I had learnt, and hopefully bring some new additions to my skill set.

One issue that I have when making a website for myself, is that I have to do the design myself.  I have a slight interest and curiosity in design but I am certainly not a designer.  To quote my ex-employer, “…your design skills are shit.  But we don’t need a designer”.  Sadly I do have to be my own designer.

In terms of design, I tend to think structure, colour then fonts.

I decided to lay out the videos using the whole width of the page – 6 for desktop, 2 for mobile (I might change that to 1), 3 and 4 for widths in between.

For fonts, I used Open Sans Condensed – text isn’t a major part of my blog, as it is more about listening to music, and Barrio for the titles.  Barrio was a lucky pick, it was literally at the top of Google Fonts and I decided it worked – it gave the site a sense of fun and playfulness – listening to music should be enjoyable.  For the colour scheme, I just tried ‘midnightblue’ for no other reason than testing and decided it might work.  At which point I then used white, and two others shades of blue, with a burgundy for link text.  On the single blog posts, I have a yellow background to try to contrast this with the main front page.  That might change.

In terms of behaviour, I just wanted the main page to display the video, title, and the reactions – this required separate content pages in the template folder.  This is for the 12 most recent tracks (12 divides by more numbers than 10 does).

Below I have a random tracks section, where 12 random tracks are displayed.  There is a fair-sized problem in that the importer from Blogger hasn’t correctly imported older blog posts, so the videos are missing from around 60% of the blogs.  So I might scrap the random tracks section – which would also help with loading times.  Either that or go through and manually check all 900+ blog posts…hmmmm.

I also wanted added functionality, so visitors can go to Discogs to buy the vinyl.  Which I have been adding a link manually via a custom taxonomy, though I have just realised as I write, that Discogs probably have an API, and that I could surely do that automatically searching via JSON with the title, saving me time.  In fact, maybe I could even do that with Youtube to save me replacing all the missing videos?  Wow, I do impress myself sometimes – though I’ll be more impressed once that is done!

I’ve also added custom taxonomies for genre, record label and release year, with the idea being that I will work out how to create filters, so visitors can see which tracks I rated from say “1997”.  Though I don’t know how to do that yet.

 

For now, I’m happy with my creation in terms of releasing it to the public and saying, hey look at my new blog, but there are new features I will be adding as I continue to expand my WordPress knowledge.  Definitely enjoyed this little project.

A Tale Of Two Interviews

I had two interviews last week, in quick succession – one on Monday and one on Wednesday.

The first was at a company called Ebsta, who provide software that works with Salesforce to improve productivity.  A small company of around 20-30 employees, they were looking for a front-end developer, one that they would likely train up to work on C# and .NET after 6 or so months.  Whilst I had no particular desire to learn C# or .NET over any other particular language, in fact I have not previously considered learning them, the idea of a company willing to train and expand my skills, and therefore my value to them, appeals greatly.

The second was at a company called Schawk, a major global marketing agency (check the lizard out on their website), and for a particular team of theirs that was based in the Sky office in Isleworth.  I had to complete a coding challenge for it, which took me 6 hours and I very, very nearly gave up on it – literally I was on the last straw when I finally figured it out.

Coding challenge passed, I was granted an interview last Wednesday in the impressive, but distracting Sky office.  The interview was held in the open-plan area, lots of people walking around, giant screens with flying pikachus, a massive news banner and the Sky News studio in the background.  I didn’t exactly feel relaxed.

Prior to the interview, I had looked into the role and it seemed very much a production-line kind of job, creating one banner after another.  I wanted the job, but more because I wanted a job as opposed to that particular role.  Apparently that came across in the interview – bullshitting is not a skill of mine.

One of the interviewers was very cold and matter-of-fact.  I didn’t see us clicking.  That said, I thought I answered his aptitude questions reasonably.

But the technical questions I got stuck on.  Some I answered fine, a couple I didn’t have a clue with – never used Grunt or Gulp for example.  But I should have been able to answer questions on JavaScript anonymous functions and strict mode.  My mind went blank.  I froze whilst watching the flying pikachus.

I came away knowing I would not get offered the job.  I was disappointed in myself as I know I could have performed better in the interview.  I had prepared, but not as much as I had prepared for the previous interview two days before.

The interview on Monday was much better.  This I had prepared for – the recruiter was actually very hands-on, asking me lots of questions, getting me to think about questions to ask them, giving me as much insight as possible – even dragging me down to her office to meet me.  I spent a good 4-5 hours going over interview questions, researching the company and had some bacon to help me prepare physically.

I went there confident, had a really good interview, impressed them with my answers, impressed them with the answers to the technical test – a lot of which was impossible but it was aimed at senior developers, which I am clearly not.

I went to the pub afterwards with the team, some people actually knew what minimal techno was.  We really got on well as a group – they seemed to have a family feel which is ideal.  I really could not have done any more to make a good impression, except by perhaps drinking beer, as they were a little confused as to me drinking apple juice.

Oh and they have a table football machine.  And some of them had a penchant for disco music too.

It was perfect.  Central London, 55 minutes door to door, cool people, great job, training, etc etc.  Everything I wanted.  And I thought I was a good match too.  Oh, except the fact that it was based in the Trades Union Congress building – though that could have been fun being a Tory.

I didn’t get either role.

For the job based at Sky, the main reason was that I didn’t seem interested enough in their job.  Which is true.  Had I not fallen in love with the job at Ebsta, perhaps I would have been keener.

The job at Ebsta went to someone with more experience with me.  I gather I was considered and that I gave a good interview, and they really liked me.  But someone else simply had more experience and would be able to “hit the ground running”.

Alas.  So I’ve had four interviews now.  Two jobs that I really wanted and came close to getting.  Two that I wasn’t that bothered about.

I’m nowhere near as disappointed as last time.  I managed my expectations well.  I always knew I was the underdog.  How many interviews before I give up and get a job in MacDonald’s?  Four certainly isn’t the answer.  Ten?  Twenty?  I’ve come close twice so there is plenty of reason to believe in myself.

Money and a good suntan are probably the qualifiers, but until then I shall crack on improving my portfolio, skills and employability.

The wait for my opportunity (and a monstrous rib-eye steak) goes on.

February Is React Month

Yes I know it is much closer to the end of the month than the beginning.

I’ve had lots to focus on, from job applications, a coding challenge, two interviews – not to mention spending nearly a week creating my own WordPress theme for a blog that I have completely transformed – more on that in a separate post.

Each month I am trying to focus on learning, or expanding my knowledge of one particular area of web development – the list is endless – CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Angular, React, Sass, PHP, Angular2, Laravel, Symphony, Gulp, Grunt, Redux, Webpack, Animations, SQL, Drupal, WordPress, Vue, Express, Ember, Git, Node, npm, – its tiring/exciting even thinking about it.

A good knowledge of JavaScript is the most important criteria for getting my next web development role.  This I did in January – I didn’t spend as much time as I had planned and didn’t get to the end of my to-do list – in fact I only made it around halfway – various excuses from interviews, interview disappointment, birthday, ill health, a weekend away – my plan was probably too ambitious to start.

This month, as per every month, I will spend more time learning JavaScript – it is my plan for the two hours or so left this afternoon once I have finished writing this.  Oh and once I’ve marinated my pork chops.

But my main challenge in terms of learning, is to learn React.  For those reading that are not developers, React is a framework that sits on top of JavaScript and helps to make applications.  It was developed by Facebook, and is used by major organisations such as Facebook, Instagram, Airbnb, etc.

It is something I increasingly see requested on job postings, and the one framework I feel could give me an edge.

Clearly I’m not going to fully learn it in a month, but it isn’t as humongous a task as learning a whole new language like JavaScript.

My plan is to do the two free courses on Codecademy (done), then follow up with this £15 course on Udemy, called The Complete React Web App Developer Course (note – never pay full price for Udemy – there is normally a 70% – 90% off voucher code floating around).  So far I am impressed with the quality of the teaching, and I am itching to get to the part where we make a weather app – those that know me, know my passion for the weather!

Before I consider myself for junior roles requiring React, I want to have a couple of my own apps running – and I woke up this morning dreaming about an app that could help keep the cricket score, for amateur clubs.  I think I can do it with React, though I won’t be sure until I know much more about it.  Whether or not anyone ever uses it, is not important – that I can build it, it works and I can add it to my portfolio, is the key.

FreeCodeCamp also have some pretty cool challenges if I cannot think of another app of my own.

 

Of course, half of the reason that I am learning React is to make myself more employable.

But the other half is for my personal projects and just the general enjoyment of learning.

100 Job Applications And Counting

Well it was 100 when I wrote the title to this blog post. Now my job applications spreadsheet is up to 127 rows (I do love a spreadsheet – one of the things that annoyed me about my last job was Excel wouldn’t work as Windows wasn’t registered…I organise my whole life in Excel…and my coding plans at home).

Not all of them are actual applications – I write an entry for every conversation with a recruiter, every phone interview, every real interview.

OK I’ve just counted, actual applications from myself directly, as opposed to recruiters/employers that have found me, is 99.

Sometimes I apply for jobs that I’m not qualified for. If they ask for 1-2 years experience then I’ll often send an application across, on the off-chance. I have even applied for jobs using two different e-mail addresses two weeks apart a couple of times, when it has been a job I have really wanted. I do tend to take the technology stack required with a pinch of salt too – in my view I can learn whatever extra technology is required, and if a company doesn’t want to train and mould me, then it probably isn’t a company I want to work for.

I was having a few doubts last week once I reached that not-so-magic 100. Would I actually achieve my dream? What if I’m always going to be up against greater competition? Maybe the technology stack requirements are outpacing me? It was a good 3 or so weeks without even any possibility of an interview.

I also have my suspicions that some of the jobs are fake jobs – maybe the Kremlin is creating fake jobs to increase disillusionment for the young (and reluctantly middle-aged) people of this country. Being serious, I do suspect that some of the jobs are created by recruiters just to retrieve candidate information to meet targets. And the amount of times I have hopeful-sounding calls with recruiters who then ignore my follow-up calls/e-mails – do those jobs actually exist?

But things have changed this week.

Firstly I had a phone interview on Monday. But I mumbled and rushed through the first question, “what projects have you worked on recently”, like an Olympic diver forgetting his moves on his first dive. Thankfully, I rescued it, brought my personality and passion across, and have scored enough points with the Olympic judging panel to gain an entry through to the final round, a face-to-face interview and apparently a meet-the-team (pub?) moment too. It seems an exciting company, they have a good ethos and apparently a table football table – I hope they like losing if I do get the job. Plus they want to train whoever they employ on .NET and C# – two technologies that I know nothing about, and I do love adding to my skill set.

I gather that I am the underdog, certainly in terms of experience compared to other candidates, so I’m going to have to impress on personality and passion to stand a fair chance. Needless to say, Sunday will be spent looking into .NET and C#.

Then I have a coding challenge to do for a role in a really quite prestigious company. Though I’ve been sent a file I cannot open without Photoshop – I don’t have Photoshop and am loathe to spend money I don’t have on a month’s Adobe subscription. It also involves making a banner – never made a banner before! And use 3 JavaScript libraries that I have never used previously. So a lot to learn before I even attempt the challenge. Yikes.

There are two other roles that I might hear back from in terms of potential interviews, one from a company directly, another from an agency.

Plenty going on. My expectations are low, so that I do not get disappointed like last time, but you never know.  As long as I do my best, and learn from any mistakes I do make.

And as soon as I do get a job, I am going to buy the fattest rib-eye steak Morrison’s will sell me.

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First Coding Meet-up

Well I was sat here quite merrily going through the React I course on Codecademy, as one of my more immediate goals is to learn React as it seems to be the one front-end technology that I can learn that will most assist in making me more employable.

And then it decided to crash.  So I figured it was a good time to do one of the blog posts I have on my to-do list (not yet powered by React).

Last week I went to my first London-based coding Meet-up.

Well, CSS anyway.  CSS Meetup London, to give it its full name.

I had two aims.  Firstly to learn about grid, which was one of the presentations.  Secondly to meet some people in the industry.  You know – networking.

I arrived early, into the offices of Badoo – a social networking company that I had never previously heard of, who were hosting the event, and supplying beer and pizza, within their rest area/canteen.

It wasn’t so easy to tell who was there because they worked there, and who was actually there for the presentations like myself.  I grabbed a slice of absolutely amazing pizza and stood in the corner, a little awkwardly, hoping someone would note that I am a newbie and introduce themselves.

They didn’t.  I had another slice of pizza and grabbed a beer.  There were a few small groups talking to each other, but most people were sat by themselves, some staring into laptops (the guy I sat next to never paid any attention the whole time except to his laptop).  I did attempt some small talk with a couple of people but I didn’t receive any more than an acknowledgement.

The presentations themselves were reasonably good.  It isn’t easy to get up in front of a room and talk, especially about a technical subject for which you may receive some difficult questions.

The first talk was on CSS Grid, which is quite an exciting new specification coming out widely this March, I believe, which will allow for much more straight-forward layout structuring.

Flexbox has been a revelation to me as positioning could be troublesome previously.  The hope is the Grid will be revelatory too.

The second talk was more abstract, questioning as to whether there is a war within CSS.  I’m not going to attempt to explain it as I didn’t thoroughly understand it, only having done my CSS directly on stylesheets.


Afterwards there was a trip to the pub, which I thought might be my opportunity to meet people.  I popped to the loo, went back in the room to find the same couple of groups talking to each other, stood like a lemon for a couple of minutes and then left.

It was an interesting evening.  I’m not going to rush back but when there is a subject matter being discussed that I am interested in I shall attend again.

There are plenty of other meet-ups that look interesting – there was one the following night for WordPress, where there was lots of comments saying “such a friendly bunch” or “thanks for making a newbie so welcome” – which is clearly what I was looking for.  The CSS one doesn’t seem to be good for networking, though I do need to go back to find out what make of pizza that was.

I will definitely go to more meet-ups but I will try different groups.  Especially if there are giving away free pizza!  If I lived in central London I could probably get fed for free every night.

And yeah, it looks like I won’t be completing that React course today.  Onto something else.