What do you want to do when you grow up, kid?
I fell into web design via books. When I was maybe six or seven I remember reading about polar bears and how they hibernated in a large compendium about all sorts of natural habitats and curiosities ranging from foxes hunting in the desert and wild horses running on the Mongolian plains to Emperor penguins shivering in the Antarctic. And to this day I still remember that giant, double page spread of a bear and her cubs. It was a wondrous illustration but what piqued my curiosity was how the writer described hibernation.
They called it “time travel for bears.”
In a flash I realized that the illustrations and the text are the same thing, that they’re two sides of the same coin. And I felt like I had stumbled upon a treasure trove of hidden secrets: I noticed the book as an object, the shape of the text inside it, and the colors and the texture, the merging of syntax and voice, too. They all swirled around into a delicious, potent mix.
At that very moment I knew that’s what I wanted to do. As a child of six or seven I knew the answer to the question that had plagued me for what felt like an eternity; what do you want to do when you grow up, kid?
This! I wanted to point at the polar bears and hurl the text up into the faces of all those nosey adults. I want this.
The reason why I got into front-end development and web design is because of this book about polar bears and it’s why I’m so fascinated in publishing today. I believe I’m a web designer for the same reason that Gutenberg invented his maniacal contraptions half a millennia ago in the German town of Mainz; locking type together, hacking away at bits of text in a dark room, and then – blamo! – you print all the paper, you bind all the books, you hit the big green button, and it’s published.
Sure, web design is different but that impossibly dumb and electric feeling of publishing something on the web is why I do what I do. Not for the claps or the high-fives or in search of faint praise—but something else entirely.
I was terrified the first day I walked into Gusto, the company I work for today. I was being interviewed more than 5,000 miles from my hometown in England for starters. But as I was walking through the office, palms sweaty and knees trembling, I caught a little something in my peripheral vision.
Someone was building an application of some kind and they were referencing something I had written for CSS-Tricks a few weeks prior. It was the most impossible, wonderful feeling I’ve ever had. And no, it’s not because of the fame and prestige although yes that is nice and I will take what I can get thank you very much. It’s the fact that this almost-college-dropout kid from a backwater town in the UK can write a little thing that helps someone on the other end of the world.
It’s an indescribable feeling, the rush and jolt of publishing I mean. (This is about to get sappy so bear with me). It’s a feeling of boundless enthusiasm for how words can be packaged and transported, and it’s this feeling that we can share ideas in this vast human society that we’re building together, a place where borders are just structures we’ve placed in between ourselves, and that words have momentum; a link to a website can lead to a book in your hand, to a friend at a party, to a conference in another town, to a long lasting love in a distant land.
Anyway, publishing on the web is an endless thrill, a sort of everlasting, punk-rock feeling and I hope it will never really go away.