What I do for a living

NOTE: I'm preserving the rest of this page for posterity because I'm too lazy to rewrite it, but I am currently employed at In The Telling and am not accepting new freelance work at this time. (But if you're a past client who needs support or maintenance, please do contact me; I'll either help you out or recommend someone who can.)

Failure to update my portfolio is basically what was wrong with the old version of this website, and the new one seems to be similar. I’ve excused it to myself by choosing to believe that, if I had time to keep my portfolio up to date, that’d be evidence that I didn’t have enough work to do.

Which is nonsense, of course, but it’s my story and I’m standing by it. And a little behind it. One of my clients recently called me a turnkey solution, though. That felt pretty good. After I looked up what it meant.


Here’s the short version

You’ve got a big, complex web application, it’s been through a few revisions and you’ve had to fit in a lot of new features over the years, and maybe the UI isn’t quite as consistent as it could be anymore and your customers are starting to complain that it’s too confusing to use, and the code is falling out of date, and you’ve got new features you can no longer see where to wedge them in…

I’m your guy. That’s my sweet spot. I can build you a front end that smooths out those workflows, restructures the features enough to make the product intuitive for new users but not so much that it confuses your existing customer base, brings the look and feel up to date with appropriate use of all the modern bells and whistles, and leaves room for future expansion. And then I can work with your developers to turn that front end into a functioning, maintainable product.

I do other stuff too, but that’s what I’m really good at.

Here’s the detailed version

I’ve worked full-time on the web since 1994 or so; my first real job was as a designer at one of the first commercial websites ever: tripod.com. (It still exists. Sort of. My work there predates the Internet Archive, so is lost to history — only a few remnants, and a promotional T-shirt or two, remain.) The major web browser was NCSA Mosaic, and the only background color was #808080 — I still remember my excitement when Netscape 1.0 rocked the world with new HTML tags like align and <font>. We hung neckties from the ceiling, and joked that every company needed exactly one graybeard to lend respectability.

My beard isn’t gray yet, but I’ve definitely got some lightening going on around the temples. Time flies.

The bulk of my work experience since then has been as a designer — in both the look-and-feel and the software architecture sense — of distance-learning software in both the higher education and K-12 markets. I am both a coder and a graphic designer, which means that the bulk of my work falls into that gray area between the two fields.

I was the primary template author and graphic designer for the first version or two of Prentice Hall’s Companion Website software. I was also responsible for the main Prentice Hall site design for a few years. From there I moved to eCollege.com, where I was one of two designers responsible for a complete functional and UI overhaul of their eCourse product, the version 1 design of their eCampus product, and several other projects that began with the letter “e”.

Since 2000 I’ve worked as an independent contractor, primarily in the distance-learning market: major clients include InformIT, Prentice Hall School, Infravio, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, ANGEL Learning, and Blackboard. At MHHE I designed and built several different template sets for Novella / Online Learning Center versions 1 and 2, and took ClassWare from use cases through several rounds of wireframes and architecture mockups to final implementation: I personally built all the prototypes and wrote virtually all of the front-end (XSLT) and client-side code for the product.

I’ve also done the usual assortment of other freelance gigs, including software architecture and UI consulting, custom CMS development, e-commerce and social networking applications, and lots of good old brochureware eye candy.

Codewise, at the moment I’m most fluent in javascript, especially jQuery (I’ve been doing some pretty exciting stuff with the widget factory lately), and enough of YUI to know that I strongly prefer jQuery or Prototype. I used to write some kickass XSLT, but I’m a bit rusty in it now; it’d take a few days to get back up to speed. I’m idiomatic in Perl, rusty in ActionScript, can fake my way through PHP reasonably well, know enough SQL to be dangerous, and can mutter a few simple phrases in Java. I understand standards-compliant HTML, up to and including HTML5 and CSS3, though I’m not a CSS zealot (given a choice between clean code and pure CSS, I’ll take the clean code, even if it occasionally involves a table or two.) I’d love an excuse to learn Ruby or Objective-C; if you’ve got a job in either of those languages I’ll cut you a deal on my hourly rate.

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