My Clearleft journey
Working at Clearleft was my dream while I was at University. I read the books written by people at Clearleft. I followed their work. They have a fantastic reputation worldwide and I knew I could learn a lot from them. When I volunteered at their conferences, met their designers and developers, I wanted to work there even more. So when I was offered a job, I was beyond excited. I knew I wouldn't find a better place for my early career, but I had no idea just how far this incredible and emotional journey would take me.
Last week I left Clearleft to begin a new chapter in Australia. While I've been waiting for the last pieces to come together, I've been feeling sad. Sad to leave behind an excellent job that challenged and developed me; saying goodbye to my wonderful friends and colleagues at Clearleft. Sad to leave my work in the Brighton web community.
Of course, I shouldn't be sad because I left with some fantastic memories and achievements, so I want to think about that. I'm immensely grateful to Jeremy, my mentor at Clearleft. He always believed in me (even when I didn't believe in myself) and helped me build my confidence. With his mentoring, coaching and encouragement, I achieved more than I thought was possible.
Straight away, Jeremy told me to start writing; to blog as much as I can about what I learn. Like others, initially, my response was: What’s the point? Most people already know the things I’m learning. But I was wrong. It turned out that there are several great reasons for sharing what you know with others (in any format: writing, speaking, etc).
- Regardless of whether someone is a beginner or an expert, they will have a unique perspective. Oftentimes, it's easier to explain something when you've just learnt it as a beginner, which makes it far easier to read.
- Writing things down helps me consolidate my understanding of them. It also reveals gaps in my knowledge—if I can't explain it, then I go back and learn it properly. I also find myself referring to my previous blog posts when I need reminding of how to do something, which makes it a really useful resource.
- There's lots of people out there learning to code and you never know when someone might find it useful. A lecturer who taught me at University got in touch with me recently to tell me that she uses my Flexbox posts as teaching material.
Codebar Brighton—the work and people—have become a huge part of my life and one of the hardest things to say goodbye to. I initially attended codebar as a student because I wanted to work on my own coding skills. I learnt from real developers and socialised with a diverse range of people from different backgrounds and levels of experience, all with the same goal as me: To learn and teach.
A few months later, they were short of coaches, so I nervously started teaching beginners. It amazed me that I, with only a few years experience myself, could teach anyone anything.
At the beginning of last year, I was lucky enough to be asked to join the codebar organiser team. I discovered how much I love helping others grow and reach their goals. Through codebar I could offer a place for people to learn coding. I built relationships (usually over beer in the pub) with students who were keen to progress their career in coding, so I gave them advice and introduced them to mentors. This year, three women I helped at codebar went on to get their first jobs in the industry as junior developers, which filled me with pride
I feel honoured and proud to have been part of the codebar team. I’m also proud and grateful to be part of an industry where so many people are willing to give up their time to share their knowledge and help others learn. So remember this: however much or little you think you know, there’s always something you can learn and teach.
Through codebar I've learnt that organising a weekly event is hard work. In addition to teaching and giving advice, it includes finding venues, sponsors, coaches and interesting opportunities. Once you start a regular meet up, there's pressure to keep finding venues. Codebar is a non-profit event, so we spent our own money on supplies when we needed them.
Organising events involves making friends with people—luckily I love people, so this wasn't too hard. However on some Tuesdays I'd have a long day at work—perhaps my code wasn't working, I had a deadline looming, or I was tired and I didn't think I'd have the energy to keep going until 9pm. But then I couldn't let people down, so I pushed through. Somehow, even on the tough days, I always left the event feeling happy and rewarded by our work.
Delivering my first full day workshop
At Clearleft was 68 Middle Street's auditorium, which enabled me to take advantage of some great opportunities, like offering a space to codebar. I was able to deliver my first full day workshop there. I gathered feedback from codebar students to find out more about their goals from our event. Lots of students wanted to get web developer jobs. My advice for this is to create an online presence. Blog about learnings and keep a portfolio of work to show potential employers. With this in mind, I ran a full day workshop teaching students how to build their portfolio website using a responsive mobile first approach.
Writing for A List Apart
In November 2015, I wrote an article for A List Apart about a collaboration exercise I starting using when building component libraries. After only ever blogging on my own website, I was incredibly excited to have my article submission accepted. Working with an editor was a great learning experience.
I owe much of my public speaking achievements to Jeremy. Without his continuous belief in me and his encouragement, I don't think I'd have been brave enough to speak at a conference of 500 people.
I learnt some fantastic techniques for writing and generating ideas for conference talks. Oftentimes, we worked on our talks together and gave each other feedback. We did exercises with pen and paper, post-it notes and whatever seemed fun and useful.
One of the things I'm most thankful for is Jeremy's patience in helping me deliver presentations. I felt very nervous, so he came up with speaking exercises that made me feel uncomfortable and silly, so that when I spoke on stage it was easy. He listened to me rehearse my presentations every day until I was happy with them.
During my 2.5 years at Clearleft I spoke at the following conferences:
Coding, of course.
Of course, while I was doing all of the above, my main job was to write code. I enjoyed coding challenges and pair programming with Jeremy in the early days. I became fluent in building UI component libraries. I found a passion for improving collaboration and communication between designers and developers. I loved the variety of my work. I wasn't just a developer. I'm grateful that Clearleft give their people the flexibility to explore their potential and I'm incredibly fortunate to have been mentored by Jeremy. While I'm sad to see our mentorship end (in this format at least), I'm pleased to know that Jeremy will hopefully soon be mentoring Amber, who I met at codebar. She is extremely driven and is already a fantastic developer. I will most definitely keep in touch with them both.
End of chapter one
So that's chapter one of my career as a developer. I've grown professionally and personally in more ways than I imagined possible. I had no idea it would be this hard to leave. I guess that's a sign of a truly great time. If the next chapter is filled with just half as many opportunities, wonderful people and fun times, I'll be extremely lucky.