Almost exactly ten years ago, I got an amazing phone call, letting me know that I got the job, and I would soon be the web technologies coordinator for the city of Minnetonka.
A decade later, after another phone call sharing amazing good news, I am leaving the city of Minnetonka to join Lullabot as a front end developer.
If you work with Drupal, you are assuredly familiar with Lullabot. If not, their home page sums it up well: they are an “interactive strategy, design and development company” that “creates delightful experiences using Drupal and open source technologies.”
I had long respected so many of the talented ‘bots who help to make Lullabot such a well-respected organization within the Drupal community. As I spoke to more of the team during the interview process, I kept thinking: these were all people I’d love to have as co-workers. Authentic and friendly, people I could learn from: with this team I could grow and accomplish so much more than I could ever do on my own.
When I first started at the city of Minnetonka, I was learning the fundamentals of design, reading Zeldman’s Designing with Web Standards, and for a time I thought I knew the “right way” to make websites. Within a few years, I redesigned the city’s intranet and website, and before long I had moved the intranet from Dreamweaver to Drupal. I built more website features, developed content management tools from scratch and then began the process of a complete overhaul of the city's website, to move that site to Drupal as well.
During that time I also got involved with the National Association of Government Web Professionals. I attended and spoke at a number of conferences, and I eventually joined the board of NAGW as well. For the last year I’ve served as the President of NAGW, and had the great honor just a few weeks ago of welcoming an amazing collection of local government web professionals, speakers and sponsors to my home turf of St. Paul, MN for our annual conference. All good things must come to pass, and today is my last day serving on the board.
I’ve had the great pleasure over many years getting to know local government web professionals across the country, particularly those who I’ve served with on the NAGW board. There’s been a lot of talk in the web community about mythical unicorns, who can do both design and development. Let me tell you, if you want to find such unicorns, I know a whole slew of talented web professionals working in local government who wear both design and development hats, who care about user research and information architecture and web standards and accessibility, and who are doing great work serving their communities often with limited resources.
I’ve learned so much from this great community, and the many different approaches people take to delivering web services destroyed a lot of the illusions I had about the “right way” to make websites. There is more than one way to make something useful, to provide quality information and services, and you're better off learning about those different approaches with an open mind, rather than spending so much time arguing about which approach is the right one.
In the last few years, I’ve also gotten more heavily involved in the Drupal community. The Twin Cities has a great group of people who put on an excellent Drupal Camp each year and continue that community throughout the year through a wide variety of meetups. About a year ago, after the Twin Cities Drupal Camp, I started contributing to Drupal 8. It was rough going at first, but I learned a lot and have helped to make some improvements to Drupal theming and other front end issues, like responsive images. I couldn’t have done that without Drupal's community tools. From camps and IRC chats to sprints and podcasts, the Drupal community helps people to do more together than they could on their own. Getting involved with core mentoring, the mobile initiative and the Twig team, in particular, helped me to really feel more comfortable working with others to accomplish good things.
The other big development in the last couple of years for me was the birth of my daughter. She just turned two, and she is easily the best thing to ever happen to me. I was home with her for a couple weeks after she was born, and after my wife went back to work, I was able to stay home with her for another couple months. I was incredibly thankful that the city helped support me being able to spend this time with her. That bonding time mattered so very much.
The challenge is that while I live on the east side of the Twin Cities, the city of Minnetonka is on the west side of the Twin Cities. We moved to this side of the cities about seven years ago, as our family all lives within about twenty minutes of where we are. That’s great, as grandparents get to see their grandkid quite regularly. Unfortunately, it has also meant that I spend roughly three hours in the car each day. That’s on good days: when the weather gets bad, and it tends to do that here in Minnesota, my drive gets much worse. The city has worked with me so I can telecommute one day a week, and that’s great. Those days have been a real relief. Unfortunately so many other days, I only see my daughter for a very short bit before we put her to bed. Some evenings I don’t get to see her at all.
Life is really short, too short to spend so much of that time on the highway. I’ve been incredibly thankful for my time with the city and for my time with NAGW. But it was definitely time for a change. There was so much I wanted to accomplish, so many projects I wanted to finish, but there comes a point where you have to find a better balance between your work and your family, between projects you care about and your health.
I’ve been able to accomplish some things on my own that I’m proud of, but I’ve learned through my work with NAGW and the Drupal community that there's so much more that can be done when working with others. You can learn and grow so much more when you work with a talented team and focus on your best skills.
I’m really looking forward to working with the Lullabot team. As a distributed team, everybody works remotely. On a personal level, that means much more time with my family. But I'm also really looking forward to working with a team that values doing excellent work while working well with each other. I think I’ll be able to do much more when I can focus on the front end skills that I really care about, and I can do so with a team that I can learn from while working on some great projects.
It’s bittersweet saying goodbye to co-workers I’ve enjoyed working with, and leaving a board and an organization that has meant so much to me. I’m incredibly grateful for the work I’ve been able to do, and how I’ve been able to grow personally and professionally over the last decade.
In the last ten years, my work supported me as I earned degrees in web design and graphic design at MCTC, as I got engaged and then married, as I bought a house, as I said hello to my daughter for the first time. It’s been an amazing decade.
Now it’s time for a new adventure, for new milestones, and I’m really looking forward to next week, when I join Lullabot as a front end developer. My last day with the city will be Monday, September 29; my first day with Lullabot will be Tuesday, September 30.
My wife always has good advice for me, and she recommended a song for me to listen to as I work through this transition. Country music isn’t always my top choice, but I’ve grown to appreciate a number of the songs she’s shared with me. This song, “Something More,” by Sugarland, captures this moment in my life pretty perfectly.
I’ve enjoyed the ride so far; now I’m looking forward to something more.