Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pet(s) have you brought along with you today?
Ana: Hi!! Thank you for having us! This is Jessie (she came with the name, pretty sure because of Postman Pat). She is a lovely 7 year old cat that we adopted a year and a half ago from Battersea Dogs and Cats home. She was given away because according to her previous owner, she was a hunter and would bring frogs and pigeons home. She struggled a bit to be adopted because people were put off by her background. But we did and turns out she is a pretty useless hunter.
My boyfriend is actually allergic to the majority of cats. At Battersea Dogs and Cats home, when we visited Jessie for the first time, they gave us one of her blankets with which he had to sleep for a night to make sure he wasn’t allergic to her. It was the most stressful night of my life!
Andy: Is he not allergic to this cat then? I’d legit just take antihistamines all day if I was allergic to cats.
I can’t believe Jessie was given away for being a “hunter”. Clearly the previous owners didn’t know what cats actually do...
Anywho, Jessie sounds like she’s in a good place now.
Please, tell us a bit more about Jessie. She sounds like quite the cat.
Ana: Correct! He isn’t allergic to Jessie (he is allergic to other cats we know). We were told that people who are allergic to cats may sometimes actually only be allergic to certain cats only. Apparently it is related to something produced in their saliva which is transferred when they lick their fur and each cat produces different levels of it. We knew we were going for a bit of trial and error but we got lucky that we got it right with the first cat!
It is shame some animals are given away after showing their natural traits but on a positive note some places really want to “employ” mousers and they are keen to find cats who naturally hunt. Fortunately for them, they didn’t employ Jessie, otherwise they would be heading for a disappointment. A while back a mouse entered the house when I left doors open for hours and we grabbed Jessie to give her a moment to shine and it was hilariously bad! She just gave up and went for a nap in the living room. We had to create a fake wall with books to direct the mouse out the way it came from. It did make me wonder if her reputation was fair.
She is an amazing cat regardless. Incredibly well behaved considering I’ve had cats my whole life. When she realises she likes something, she binges on it and it his hilarious. For example: I try to create new beds for her with blankets and name them. She used to love being in “the nest” which was a blanket forming a circle on top of the bed. Recently, I left a thick blanket in a pile on the sofa (by accident) and she got bored of the nest and prefers this new pile, that I call, “the throne” because it makes her taller. She also loves sleeping on piles of clothes that have just been washed, but that one isn’t convenient!
Working from home is never a lonely task. When it is just the two of us, I talk to her a lot (a lot of rubber duck debugging) and she meows back at me. What she doesn’t understand is the concept of phone calls or video calls. When I am working from home and I need to do a video call and speak to the computer, she thinks I am talking to her and joins in and meows back at everything I say. People on the other side love it!
Andy: There’s so many similarities between Jessie and my cat, Delilah. She has no social boundaries whatsoever and I always have issues with her on video calls. She’ll also sleep anywhere where I chuck a blanket.
You mentioned that you work at home which gives me a purrfect segue to ask what you do on the web and how you got into it?
Ana: Ha! Delilah sounds awesome!
I currently work at Hactar as a front end developer. We’re a design studio focussed on social change and tech for good projects. I just celebrated my one year anniversary working at Hactar but I’ve been working as a front end developer for six years now. I’ve always worked in product focused companies so this is my first time working in an agency and I’m loving it. Every project is so different and I’m always learning something new. And I’m not talking about experimenting with new technologies. Unlike product based projects, a lot of the projects I have worked on have completely different goals and audiences to cater to and that’s incredibly interesting.
I used to be quite embarrassed to admit how I became a front end developer but after seeing so many people sharing their stories I became encouraged to embrace mine. So around 13 years ago, in my peak teenage years, I was a massive fan of a band but at the time their official website wasn’t enough to crave my “information needs”. I know, very weird. So as I stumbled upon some fan made websites, or as we would call, fan sites, I thought: “hang on, I am pretty sure I can do this too if other fans are doing it”.
I had no idea where to begin but I figured that maybe I should try to “save as” in my internet browser at the time and see what happens. That’s how I discovered HTML files. I was quite lucky that I already knew English so I just began to edit the file and see what would happen. I began to understand what words I would have to use when I needed to search, how to host files and it grew from there.
The amazing bit? I never built that amazing fan site I dreamed of for that particular band. I just carried on building other things and experimenting. But back then there were intense closed communities of teenagers building fan sites full of tutorials and tips. It was incredible and so supportive and I somehow miss that web.
After some time I thought I really wanted to design for the web and focused a lot of years and money on it. Then I also had another phase where I wanted to study film and I even worked on/co-organised a film festival. I ended up doing a degree that combined all those things and when I finished university I realised that I had more joy looking up how to build for the web more than all the other stuff (trust me, video rendering is a pain).
Andy: That’s a heck of a story of how you got into the web. We’ve had a few folks on Developurrs now that have either started with fan sites or MySpace / Geocities pages. It’s something that I worry about is how uninspiring modern tech is for a newcomer. I wonder how many people we lose just out of sheer boredom when they have to learn Typescript or something?
I’d love to delve more into your experience of working mostly in products then moving on to agencies. I’ve literally done the opposite, mostly and done more agency work. So you find that you learn a lot more a lot quicker in an agency environment?
Ana: I am seriously concerned about that too. Nowadays you can’t just search “how to build a website”. You will probably be redirected to websites that build a website for you as a service or immediately given so many brand new words and concepts that may not be the right first step. On the other hand, now more than ever we have initiatives that mentor people on how to code for free on their free time. But I can imagine that there is a big barrier in accessing this information because most initiatives can’t afford to pay for advertising.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this agency vs product company experience and what it meant to me. My first three jobs were product focused companies. My first job was in a company that had hundreds of developers, the second a start-up and the third a medium sized company. All had their own advantages and disadvantages. But when comparing to an agency, I don’t believe that my main takeaway is that I learn a lot quicker but that I learn a completely different set of skills because every situation and projects are different.
For example: When I started I had some tasks in different existing projects and I had to learn how they were built and navigate around the existing code. This scenario also happens often in a single product focused company. But what didn’t happen often at all in my previous jobs was having the opportunity to build some projects from scratch and making decisions on what technology to use. And yeah, I had to take risks when choosing, for example, a library that I never used before to deliver this specific thing that the project needed. Sometimes I have to learn quick. Other times I am comfortable and am able to build with a more familiar tool. Frameworks and libraries come and go, so the massive learning experience I am taking from this is what decisions to make based on time, my knowledge, existing documentation, support and budget.
I also have to learn and practise a bit more of self forgiveness. When working in “product” there is always room for refactors but this may not happen when a project is finished and delivered as the client may not have budget for improvements. As developers we’re always learning and sometimes I learn something and I think “oh I wish I knew this when I was working in project X. I would have made it differently”. In a bad day, that thought is accompanied by “oh no, now whoever picks that up will see my name attached to that forever”.
Andy: So much truth. I write so many apologetic comments in my code when I’m really up against a tough deadline.
One thing I’ve never done is work in a big team of hundreds of developers. Do you feel like you’re a bit lost in a sea of people on that situation?
Ana: Absolutely. Because it was my very first job and I was very junior it was an interesting overview of the hierarchy inside the company. Companies that have lots of developers all working for the same project are an incredible school on organisation, processes, quality assurance and decision making. Many things I’ve seen there I still carry today as a benchmark because they were really good. Unfortunately, like everything, it has its downsides. When there is too many people, it may be hard to be heard because everyone has opinions. Most of the times you’re not involved in any decision making and all the decisions are made by a smaller group of senior people and you just go along by the time you’re asked to work on it. Keeping track of how people are doing has to be a more generic process that may not fit everyone, especially around career development and feedback.
Sometimes it felt like a Twitter in real life and it was intimidating too - one of my fears was “breaking the build” and everyone would wait for me to get it fixed. But on a positive note, there was more support when things went wrong. There would always be a lot of people that could help you when you needed. I suppose one of my biggest regrets was not using that more often. I was so afraid of asking of help.
I remember when I left and joined a startup I went from hundreds developers to only 4 (including myself) and it was a shock. I thought I was so incompetent when I was asked for opinions and given tasks way out of my level of knowledge (or so I thought) and with little number of people to ask for help.
Andy: That’s fascinating to read as someone who went the opposite direction. I super agree about quality of output in product teams, too. Even though I’ve worked on the most interesting stuff at agencies, I really refined my craft on products.
You seem to be really switched on and we need more people like you on the web. What’s next on your journey?
Ana: Thank you Andy!
This year I have one big goal: I want to build things for myself. This may sound a bit odd but I’ve always struggled with the idea that I need to “catch-up with everything and every tool” and that has actually stopped me from simply building. I’m starting to feel comfortable with myself a developer so I am super excited to be working and building a lot on my blog. Every week or so I am adding stuff to it and that makes me happy. With that in mind I have also officially started a small side project that is actually cat related (and fashion) and I hope to officially launch in a couple of months.
Andy: That’s a goal I can certainly relate with. So much is learned by building stuff yourself!
Ana, let’s wrap up here. Thank you so much for spending the time to talk about Jessie and yourself. How can people find you on the web and support the work that you do?
Ana: Thank you so much for having me! I love to talk about Jessie! I would say that the source of truth is my blog https://www.ohhelloana.blog! But I am also available on Twitter, Mastodon, GitHub with the username “ohhelloana”!
Again, thank you for inviting me.
Note from Andy: While Ana an I were talking about Jessie for this article, Jessie went missing. It was a horrendous time for Ana and her Boyfriend, but the great news is that after nearly a week, Jessie was found and is now safe and sound again.