Good Night and Good Luck

About 16 months ago, a bunch of PW-ers started this blog. It was a way of us to be able to do what we love (write) and have a way to stay connected to each other. We spent a lot of time reading each others’ work and giving feedback, which in turn made us better writers. I think it’s safe to say that we are all thankful we had this experience.

As I was the first to publish, I figured I would be the last as well. It is with a heavy heart and mind focused on the future that I say goodbye. Thank you to all of those who read, commented, and engaged with us on our journey. We hope that you enjoyed it and maybe even learned a thing or two.

Good Night and Good Luck

Good Night and Good Luck

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.
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Why I Love Passion Projects

I’ve done a lot of freelance work in the past few years, but nothing has been more fun and more enjoyable than the work I did for free. I’ve built wedding websites for friends and a site for my roommate’s feature documentary, Sanskriti.

There are a number of reasons I think I enjoy this. Partly, I am giving it as a gift. I love giving gifts more than anything, finding that perfect item for a person I care about, and watching their eyes light up when they receive it. Sometimes, that’s homemade cookies. Once, it was a personal travel journal where I hand wrote best places to visit in the United Kingdom and printed subway maps. But one of the best gifts I can give someone is the time and effort to give a website that is better than any generic template they could find, or a free service provider with ads.

That makes me sound pretty selfless. I must admit, I don’t do it just for them. These projects, where I’m not being paid, are giving me a place to experiment and learn new things. I had never worked with parallax scrolling before Sanskriti, and it was a time I could try and fail. The site is currently in it’s third iteration, and will be redesigned again by the end of the year. When that’s up, it will probably be miles ahead of the current iteration.

Bre and Laz Get Married Homepage

I’m currently working on an engagement present, in the form of a website.

For the past several months, I’ve been designing a wedding website for my friends, Laz and Breanna. This has been an incredibly fun project, and not only because I’ve known them since the beginning of their relationship in our sophomore year of college. I wanted to give them something for their engagement that would also bridge the gap of our distance (they’re currently in North Carolina). Though we kept in touch post-graduation, this was something that would give us more of a reason to keep talking.

It’s pretty common nowadays for couples to have websites for their weddings. I spoke with Breanna and Laz about what was important to them, what sort of information should be featured. We went through the necessities (event logistics, wedding party bios, and guest information for hotels and directions to the ceremony). Because their relationship began on Facebook, I took note and decided to design a timeline reminiscent of Facebook’s earlier iteration of the timeline.

brelaz-timeline

My first project was actually for my friends Joanne and Tom back in 2011. I was just beginning to learn how to build websites, and I’ve come a long, long way since that project. At the time, it was the coolest thing I had ever built (and I even presented to my class, WRA 415 Digital Rhetoric, about the project and the process). Ever since that project, I had been seeking opportunities for myself to become a better web designer and web developer. That being said, I wasn’t interested in projects that weren’t fun. I didn’t want to slog through pro-bono cases where I couldn’t take the opportunity to learn something new.

In my heart of hearts, I’ve always been a nerd. I loved being in the front of class, asking questions, and challenging myself. I love learning more and becoming the best I can be at what I do. Passion projects are an opportunity for me to explore and learn, with less risk of being bored and giving up. If I were to just create something for myself for the sake of learning, I may not follow through. When I commit to an actual project and deadline, I force myself to keep going.

Breanna and Laz’s wedding website will launch in under a month. There’s still some content missing, and features to be added as the wedding gets closer. Hopefully, all of their guests will love it as much as we do. And hopefully, I’ll be given the chance to give future friends who get married this gift.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

4 Tips to Befriend Your Coworkers

As you know, I recently started a new job. When leaving JCC Association, I knew that I would probably never again have a team of such epic proportions. I will probably never have a boss who I not only respect as a colleague, but consider to be a close friend. I knew that, more than anything, I would miss my coworker soul-sister, Mackenzie, who had become my confidant and lunch buddy and mutual stress reliever over the course of almost two years.

Starting in a new office, on a team of five and within a department of twenty-five, meant I would have to break in to pre-existing social circles. Unfortunately, I can’t rely on my wicked PHP skills to make friends.

To those who know me well, it might come as a surprise that I didn’t immediately pick up some new friends (who am I kidding, it surprised me the most). I know very well that it can take three months to start to feel comfortable in a new place. I know it took me four months to meet Mackenzie and another two to get the courage to make her be my friend (though she’d say I didn’t “make” her do anything). That being said, I came in wanting people to like me and be my friend. I’m nice! I bake things! Be my friend and I’ll make you awesome cookies!

Ok, maybe this is extreme.

Ok, maybe this is extreme.

I’ve been here for a little over a month, and it’s time for me to take some real initiative to make friends. These tips are as much for readers as they are reminders for myself that friendship is a two-way commitment. I can’t just expect people to invite me to lunch or happy hour.

Tip One: Ask questions

Of course, this starts with your coworkers’ names. If you’re anything like me, you may need reminders of names. But once you’ve got that down, learn about who they are. Your coworkers are more than just their position within the department. Find out about their hobbies, where they went to school, what they were doing before their current position, etc. This is an opportunity to find things in common with your colleagues and to plain and simple listen.

Tip Two: Spread the love

Personally, nothing brightens my day quite like an unexpected compliment. Compliment your coworkers on a piece of clothing or the way they’ve decorated their cubical. Remember to be genuine. If you say that you love that bracelet, actually mean it. Don’t Regina it.

I Love Your Bracelet

Tip Three: Be helpful

Offer help for everything from collaborating on project ideas, taking on projects that seem to be dejected by your colleagues, or even just giving advice on where to go for brunch. When someone approaches you and asks for help, do whatever you can (within the confines of your position and the law, of course) to help. Better yet, help with a smile. You’ll become the person who is known as friendly and eventually, people will come to you with more than just work help requests.

Tip Four: Invite them out

At the end of the day, you have to be the one to take initiative. Even after you’ve learned all about the person, spread the love, and were super helpful, you may still be the one who has to offer the invitation. Plan in advance, and invite them for a future date. Be open to scheduling something in the future and be conscious of their work schedule. If your colleague is staying late every night working on something, perhaps offer to schedule for a future date.

That being said, if you get a clipped decline instead of reception to rescheduling in the future, respond warmly but without attempt to change their mind. It may be a sign to let them come to you in the future instead of forcing something that may not be meant to be.

Nothing wrong with alone time.

Nothing wrong with alone time.

At the end of the day, you still may not end up becoming friends with your coworkers. It may never go beyond friendly hellos and head nods. You are at work to focus on, well, getting work done (getting that paycheck, advancing that career). Remind yourself that you tried your hardest, but sometimes it just isn’t meant to be.

Don’t give up all hope. Remember, if you’re awesome, eventually people will come your way.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

Interview Insight and My New Job

Yesterday, I had my first day as web developer at WNET, New York’s PBS affiliate. The interview process took about three weeks, and started several weeks after I submitted my application. I had passed it off as a long shot, such a big company with that big title I’d been hoping to achieve: “web developer.” After applying to new positions for what seemed like forever (though, in reality, it had only been a couple of months), I was ready to give up on that dream. I was ready to go back to searching for community manager positions and digital marketing. I knew I was good at it, and I knew that my resume could really show those skills off, despite hoping to break out.

Wow this GIF is actually relevant now that I work for a PBS producer.

Wow this GIF is actually relevant now that I work for a PBS producer.

I finally got the call for a web developer position. After a phone screen with HR, I quickly met with Brian, director of technology, for an in-person interview. We went through the typical interview questions and a bit of minor code testing. The question I hadn’t exactly prepared for, though should have been completely expected, came up last: “What sets you apart from the other candidates?” As I answered, I realized how much it impacted all of my decisions. I realized that I couldn’t stop pursuing web development, and that I would do whatever it took to get this position.

What was that answer? What made me different from all of the other candidates?

At my core, I am a professional writer. I think about my work through an editorial lens, needing a strong backbone and support structure to hold up the work. I am consciously commenting all of my code to make it easier to read and to understand.

I did it! I'm a developer!

I did it! I’m a developer!

Being a writer gives me a strength beyond my technical skills. Yes, I need to be able to actually build. Yes, I’m tested to show that I can put the pieces together in a way that makes sense and functions. Beyond that, however, I can actually articulate what I’m doing. I can explain how the pieces work in a way that makes sense to those who haven’t ever touched the console or the backend of a CMS.

If you had asked me four years ago if this would be what I would do for my career, I think I would have laughed at you. No freaking way. Bold tags do not equal developer. And now, I couldn’t be prouder of myself. I have moved beyond my expectations of myself and to something so much better. My brain is constantly being challenged, and I’m pushing myself to learn more. I’m officially a woman in tech.

This also doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing. I just write in a new way, in a different way. Spelling mistakes matter more now than ever before and structure is imperative.

I look forward to the upcoming weeks and months as I expand beyond my very specialized knowledge and become a full fledged front-end engineer.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

When I Started Calling Myself a “Woman in Tech”

I was recently asked by a friend of mine, an extraordinarily smart and talented young woman who I met while at a hackathon in Boston, to contribute a story about what it means to be a woman in tech. She gave me no parameters, no length requirement. The only request was that the story focused on a time I was a proud to be a woman in tech.

Let me start by saying for the most part, I’ve been pretty fortunate. I can’t speak to how my childhood influenced my career decisions (I went from dreaming of Harvard Law to becoming an actress to becoming a professor to… well, what I do now). I never thought of myself as someone who would build websites, though I always thought it was cool in concept. I thought I was sneaky when, in my sophomore year, I made my knowledge of CSS seem much more in-depth by using a template website.

However, I can mark the significant turning point when I decided that I not only liked web development, but that I may possibly have a knack for it. In January 2011, I took the class known for being the hardest that Professional Writing had to offer: WRA410 Advanced Web Authoring. Almost every student I spoke with that took the class said it kicked their… well, you know. I was already friendly with the faculty member teaching the class, who had been my supervisor while I interned at WRAC, so I figured I was up for the challenge.

Alexandra White's Portfolio Transformation

Past to Present: A GIF

The first module was easy-peasy, building our portfolios in HTML/CSS. It was a review of the previous class that I had snuck my way through with templates. The design may have been pretty terrible, but it all worked well together. After that, the pace picked up significantly. We got into nitty gritty PHP and built custom WordPress themes. It was hard, and there were times I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it without the help of my best friend and partner in crime, Kathleen, who had a natural gift for it all. But when the class was over, I called myself a WordPress developer.

The summer after that class, I spent untold hours working and reworking my portfolio to make it something I was proud of. I knew I’d have to present it prior to graduating, and I wanted it to be fully representational of my skills (which meant no plugins, all custom content). Somewhere in the six months before graduation, I realized that I wanted to build websites full time. I realized that I could fold that into my robust digital skill set, really selling that whole “digital writer” title.

I can’t remember a moment where anyone told me, “you can’t do that, you’re a woman.” I do remember the surprised look of some of my current colleagues when they realized I was filling a position previously held by a man. I remember the moment at my first job (as a counter assistant at an auto shop) that I was told to lower my vocal octave because it sounded too much like a woman. I can point to moments that I have been treated differently for wearing dresses and bows to professional events. My fashion choices are extreme in femininity, and I’m not about to stop those choices based on who I’ll be around and what they might think of my gender.

I don’t know when that turning point was or when I knew I was a woman in tech. But I can definitively say that I am proud to be one.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

Take Pride in Being a Generalist

When I graduated from Michigan State University (was it REALLY two and a half years ago?!), my resume felt like a jumble of skills. I can build you a website AND write your tweets AND write instructions for using software AND build you an elaborate stage set. I have the skills to design a basic logo AND create communications strategies.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers suggests it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert (though a recent study disagrees). So how can one call themselves a specialist in something or an expert if they focus on so many different things? How do you communicate your expertise?

Take pride in being a generalist.

There’s a huge benefit to having a list of skills that are related. Particularly when going into a non-profit or a smaller company which may not have segmented out certain responsibilities, being able to say, “I can help you with your web communications AND your print” is hugely beneficial. Being “the best” can be nice, but tout your other skills as an added bonus.

Sure, the fact I can build a set is probably not relevant to most of the jobs I’ll apply to, but it can be spun as teamwork! Remind me to tell you the story of the time I built The Forge set at TechSmith.

Check out that awesome brick wall.

Check out that awesome brick wall. I knew that my minor in theater would somehow be useful.

As a generalist, you can roll with the flow and make changes easily. You can adapt to changes in company culture and structure, as well as more easily move up in the work force. Project managers have to have innate knowledge not only of how to lead a team, but also of the various skills of their team members. Being able to dynamically adjust is something all companies look for in a future employee.

The era of the specialist is over.

In 2012, Harvard Business Review published a blog about the end of the era of specialists, and the beginning of the era of the generalist.

Expertise means being closer to the bark, and less likely to see ways in which your perspective may warrant adjustment. In today’s uncertain environment, breadth of perspective trumps depth of knowledge.
—Vikram Mansharamani at HBR

Being single-minded and adept to one thing, no matter how great the knowledge is, means there is a lack of perspective and possibly an inability to come up with new solutions. Having a wealth of knowledge and various skill sets makes your chances of coming up with solutions for change much greater. Not all employers may know this off hand, but being able to communicate your value in this regard can be extraordinarily beneficial in future interviews and cover letters. You can sell yourself as a professional who draws from different backgrounds and experiences to bring fresh insight to a company or team.

One example of generalists companies are currently seeking is a “full stack developer.” It used to be commonplace that developers were great at one, two, or maybe three languages. They were segmented into front-end and back-end, knowing how to develop strictly for desktop or mobile. Now that line is blurring and companies expect their employees to be able to do it all. This may often mean the team is smaller and more focused on seeing a web product through from start to finish.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek expertise.

Just because you’ve got a large set of skills doesn’t mean you should constantly be seeking out small bits of knowledge about every last thing. Instead of being good at 100 things, try to be great at 10. Furthermore, try to be excellent at three.

When figuring out “what is it that I actually enjoy doing,” you can try out various different projects. Though this may seem counter intuitive to the idea of being a “generalist,” it doesn’t mean you should give up on having greater depths of knowledge in certain areas. You can be excellent at email campaigns, but still great at knowing how to write a press release. Don’t stop seeking knowledge in specific interest areas, as long as you maintain your other skill sets, too.

Thumbs Up

Now get out there and do it!

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.

On Being a “Spokesperson” for the Jewish People

I never thought I’d work for a Jewish organization. Not that I was opposed to the idea, the thought just never crossed my mind. Growing up, I was always proud of my heritage (despite hating going to Hebrew school twice a week). My family celebrated the major holidays and went to synagogue occasionally. We often belonged to our local Jewish Community Center, if only just to use the gym and the pool during the summer.

When I was 16, a former director of mine told me about a brand new program called JCC Maccabi ArtsFest. I have always been passionate about singing and had heard of its sister program, JCC Maccabi Games. I went during the summer of 2006 and the following summer, never realizing that it was a part of something bigger, a movement of Jewish programming.

JCC Maccabi ArtsFest

See 16 year old me, practicing with fellow Vocal Music participants at the JCC of Greater Baltimore.

Fast forward to 2011: I was on the job hunt, searching every day on my various job sites, and I came across a posting for Digital Marketing Associate at JCC Association. I had never heard of JCC Association, but I was very familiar with JCCs. Better yet, the position seemed perfectly aligned with my skills from Professional Writing. Even BETTER yet, JCC Maccabi ArtsFest was one of their programs, and so I knew I could network with my former director (and the program’s founder) to ensure my cover letter made sense and got to the right people (oh networking). Lucky me (and lucky them), it seemed to be the right fit.

So how am I a “spokesperson” for the Jewish people? Of course, working at JCC Association does not mean that I know everything about Judaism, culturally or religiously, or about people’s individual practice choices. Just because I also identify myself as a part of the Jewish people, too, doesn’t give me that right.

I consider myself to be a cultural Jew, which means I choose to self-identify as Jewish, participate in some holidays, and partake in some very stereotypical Jewish behaviors (anyone have a bagel? I’m craving an everything bagel). I am knowledgable about religious practices from what I participated in as a child and from JCC Association, but for the most part, I don’t participate anymore. I don’t know that I think the Torah (aka “The Old Testament” or the big book of the Jewish religion) is necessarily factual, but was created to teach morality. A religious Jew is more likely to participate in all of the rituals, be less loose with the definition of “factual” (though some more modern religious Jews take it with a grain of salt).

The most extreme version of a religious Jews are Haredim (or you may know them as Hasidic Jews). They have completely rejected modern and secular culture, dress in “modest” fashion, and maintain gender separation. You can find sects of Haredim in Israel, New York City, and other large Jewish communities.

All of that being said, taking my position as a cultural Jew in mind, I’m often held accountable by friends and non-coworkers for knowing certain things, from dates of Passover (oh hey, that’s happening right now) as well as why some Jews do some things (why do we love bagels? Why don’t we eat bread or cookies during Passover?). I often act as the voice for JCC Association on social media, which is not the same as being a spokesperson for the Jewish people. We are a Jewish organization with a statement of principles that defines our goals and our role within Jewish peoplehood.

Passover has been Beyonce-fied.

I have friends who are Jews and friends who aren’t, some who are aware of much more than I. I’m happy to answer any questions I can about Judaism (or tweet about #Jew), but I always try to qualify my non-factual answers with, “But this is just what I think and how I choose to practice. It is not representative of all sects of Jews.”

But sometimes, one answer is better than silence and assumptions. I may just be one person, but that doesn’t make my feelings and my opinions and my beliefs any less valid. Even if I am not religious, no matter what I believe about what the stories of the Torah actually mean, I am still a partaker of the group. I’m not afraid to offer my voice and my reason, as long as it’s taken as one of many.

I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud to come of a people who have survived again and again, with a rich cultural heritage (and delicious foods like kugel and rugelach). Just take my thoughts as one of a group, instead of the sole answers.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.