Blog Post

Pixel art of Geoff Graham being interviewed

Interview with Geoff Graham

Job Title: 

Whatever my clients want to call me, which is usually “the blond guy that keeps our website working.” But I also do plenty of work in design and technical writing. 

Place of Work:

I’m an independent contractor but spend most of my time blogging at Smashing Magazine. So, where I work might be my desk one day, the living room couch another, and maybe a café at other times.

Industry or specialization: 

I’d say a bulk of my work is the technical editing and writing I do at Smashing Magazine. I blog about front-end development there and help others get published by helping them shape ideas and editing their work.

What got you into Web Design/Development/working on the web?

It was copywriting! Following college, I decided to start my career as a freelance marketing writer. I figured I’d need a website where folks could find me and, not knowing any better, built it myself. This was sometime back in 2005, so a lot of my learning came from using the ol’ View Source feature on sites I liked and figuring out how they worked.

If I’m being totally honest, though, my first encounter with web development was when I interned at the World Trade Center in Tacoma, Wash. It was 2003 and I was called an “International Trade Analyst” but became the point person for making updates to the organization’s website. They showed me how to use Dreamweaver and everything! I guess I excelled at it — or was the only one willing to do it — because they kept asking me for help.

What does a typical day or week look like for you? What sort of things do you do?

The last thing I want to do is look at a screen first thing in the morning. So, a typical day usually starts with whatever book I’m currently reading over a cup of coffee, early enough to have at least an hour before the rest of my family wakes up and I have to get the kids ready and off to school.

My work starts after that. I’ll check my inbox for follow-ups from the day before, then plow ahead with some editing for Smashing Magazine. That’s maybe a three-hour period of time before I transition to my client work for another few hours, doing a hodgepodge of things from building new front-end features, maintenance stuff, designing interfaces, doing code reviews, and maybe kicking it with colleagues over video.

I wrap my day up by spending time on school. I teach front-end development at two city colleges but am also a graduate student working on my master’s degree in education. I’d like to be a better teacher and eventually do it full-time.

What types of web technologies do you work with most often?

Most of the sites I work on are built on WordPress, so that’s where I spend most of my time. There’s a little PHP, some CSS, and light JavaScript. WordPress is so fractured these days between classic and block themes that no two projects ever look the same, which keeps things interesting.

I’ll work with other frameworks or platforms, like Vue or React, but prefer working in vanilla HTML, CSS, and JavaScript whenever I can. They’re so much better to write today than they were when I was getting started in 2003!

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love that I get to learn something awesome everyday while editing someone else’s writing. I get to read all of these wonderful tutorials before anyone else, which not only makes me a better developer, but feeds me with things that I can turn around and share with the students I teach. All of my work fits well together, even if I’m working with lots of different teams and people.

What do you wish you could change about your job?

It might sound dumb, but I’d love to see things slow down. Just look at CSS and how it’s evolved in a few short years. It’s crazy! It’s fun, but also a bit like drinking from a firehose running at full blast. One of my primary responsibilities is keeping up with these things, and if I’m having trouble doing that when I’m being paid for it, then I can only imagine how fast it feels to those who don’t have as much time to dedicate to it as I do.

Where do you see your section of the web development/design/etc. industry going?

I love that you ask specifically about my “section” of the industry because I think that’s really where it’s heading: more specialization. The web is so big and there’s plenty of work for everyone to focus on a piece of it, whether it’s accessibility, performance, building features, maintaining existing projects, user research, testing, copywriting, SEO, analytics, or whatever. The concept of “full stack” development will likely become less of a thing people claim to do because there’s simply too much for any one person being good at everything the web has to offer.

That might be bad news for me because, if my answers so far haven’t given it away, I’m very much a generalist in that I waffle between design, development, and content.

What technology and/or skill do you wish you learned before you entered the industry?

I really wish I had at least a little background in basic computer programming as I was ramping up. Being able to think with classic “if-then” reasoning would have helped me know how to think like a developer, which may be the most important skill of all.

What are you looking to learn or what skill are you looking to build next?

Well, I mentioned earlier that I work with WordPress quite a bit. The move to a full-site editing platform has really turned things upside-down, but in a really exciting way that opens up a bunch of possibilities, even it requires a good deal of re-learning WordPress. That’s what I’m working on at the moment: what the heck are block themes and what’s the best way to approach them? A lot of the development is still very much in-progress, making it a challenge to learn everything that’s new.

What would you tell someone to do who’s looking to get into the industry? How should they best prepare themselves?

My best advice: look it up yourself! It’s OK to not have the answer for everything because the answer to just about any question you have lives somewhere on the web. Being able to ask the right questions and know how to evaluate good answers is your best path to learning how to think like a front-end developer which, again, may be the most important skill you can develop.

Anything else you’d like to tell future designers, developers, and web people?

I have nothing else to tell, but I do have a question: Is the thing you’re working on adding value? Is it a feature or a bug fix that makes a user’s experience a little more delightful? Does it solve a really terrible pain point that makes things easier for you and your team?

I see a lot of development for the sake of development. All of the current noise about AI is a perfect example. The rush to develop and release AI-powered technology is more of an arms race than it is an intentional effort aiming to solve real problems, and the potential consequences could be devastating, even if it’s interesting as all heck.

If we were to take the money and special interests out of it, would we still think AI is the next big thing? I’d be more swayed to believe it if more time was spent identifying problems it can solve than building new toys that may or may not help anything at all.

Is there a way people can get in contact with you to ask questions etc.?

Oh gosh, I’ve linked myself up plenty in these answers. Click through to find me. :)

Last Question: If you had to be a zombie and you had to eat someone’s brains, whose would it be and why?

Does eating someone’s brains increase my own knowledge? If so, I want to eat Jhey Thompkins’ brain because his work blows my freaking mind.