#015 - Nic Chan

With Mew

Profile image of Nic Chan

Nic is a ridiculously talented freelance front-end web developer who specialises in HTML, CSS, Vue and Shopify. She’s based out in Hong Kong.

Andy: Let’s do the important intro first. What pet(s) have you brought along with you today?

Nic: This is Mew! I adopted her back when I lived in NYC. My partner was about to go travelling for a few months and I knew I wanted a companion, so we were scouring out the local shelters. At first I had my heart set on another cat, but the other cat was placed on medical hold for dental issues with no sign of when she would be ready to come home. We stopped by the shelter again to see if we could get more information and ended up completely falling in love with Mew, for which I am very glad! This photo is from right after we brought her home. She had gone under the bed (as cats do), but came out shortly making this adorable face - we suspect she was getting ready for her photo op. She is a total diva, through and through, which is why we address her as “The Duchess”.

A half Maine Coon cat looks up to the camera
Mew, the half Maine Coon cat

Andy: Hi there, Mew 👋

I love to hear about pets being rescued from shelters. I’m a huge rescue rather than buy advocate! Please, you need to tell us more about why she’s called “The Duchess”.

Nic: It’s wonderful to hear that you are a rescue advocate! I make good use of my flexible work schedule to volunteer for the local cat shelter, so it warms my heart whenever I hear that someone is pro-rescue.

Her old shelter name was “Grace Kelly” so that says a lot about what the shelter staff had figured out about her personality. She is very regal in the way she carries herself; she seems to know whether or not you are talking about her, and will adjust her position accordingly to show off her best side (see picture). She’s also very fussy about most things. Once, she had problems keeping food down and was stuck in the overnight hospital. The staff told us that her vitals seemed normal, but they had to keep her until she ate some food. Despite the fact they had set out a buffet of options for her to chose from, she was ignoring them all. My partner had a lightbulb moment and ran to the nearest grocery store to pick up a specific brand of cat junk food in the “Chicken Cheese” flavour, and she took one sniff and began feasting on it like there was no tomorrow. That one can of cat food saved us several hundred dollars in overnight stay bills. I realise that this probably makes her sound like a total pain, but she is a very loving and friendly cat (towards humans at least) and my partner and I are very willing servants to The Duchess.

Andy: Oh I feel your pain with the cat food situation. We have two cats and they will both deny any food unless it’s the “Encore, Tuna and Whitebait”. Amazon recently had stock shortages and there was a legit hunger-strike situation when I tried to present alternatives.

That’s awesome that you volunteer at the cat shelter. I bet it’s super fulfilling work. Is it something you done for a while?

Nic: Haha, classic cats. I swear that they are fueled by spite, which is probably why I love them so much!

I’ve been volunteering at my local cat shelter for almost 2 years now, and it’s always a highlight of my week. Here in Hong Kong, animal welfare laws are not so great and selling purebred animals is highly profitable, so we frequently see former breeder animals being given to us in a horrifying state, oftentimes requiring immediate life-saving surgery. Despite everything they’ve been through, most of these cats do not have any resentment towards humans and are just starved for love and attention. It’s so heartwarming to see them getting to experience things like play for the first time, and of course, I just love seeing them get adopted into a loving forever home! Fun fact, if other shelters are anything like ours, we love when people drop by to play with the cats, even if they aren’t looking to adopt. It helps to socialise the cats and get them accustomed to humans.

A half Maine Coon cat has their tongue stuck out
Mew with a 10/10 blep

Andy: Oh my, it sounds like the shelters are incredibly needed by these poor cats. Saying that, shelters everywhere do so much to combat animal abuse and anything folks can do to volunteer, like yourself , will always be welcomed, I imagine.

I just dropped in loads cat food at our local shelter the other day because our cats are too spoiled and won’t eat it 🤦‍♀️. They were from that shelter, too!

So, we know you help out at the shelter (which is super admirable), but can you tell us what you do on the web and how you got into it?

Nic: Aww, sounds like your cats wanted to do a nice thing for the shelter! I would say a good 50% of our personal donations comes from people with picky cats, for better or worse.

I am currently a freelance front-end web developer. I know that term means a lot of different things to different people, so I will try to elaborate - right now I’m spending most of my time writing HTML (and various templating languages), CSS, and JS, with a big heaping of Vue on top. I’m currently doing a lot of Shopify theme development as part of a small agency, creating custom themes and unique shopping workflows for clients who require something different to a standard store. Before that, I used to work primarily with a different small agency that focused on creating JS applications to serve as startup MVPs. As you can probably imagine, even though both jobs fall under the same umbrella of “front-end development”, there are a lot of differences in terms of what I would end up doing on a day to day basis!

How I got into web development was a funny story. I studied fine arts in college, so when I graduated, I took the first job that was even slightly related to the arts that was willing to pay a full time salary, and I ended up as a receptionist for an architecture firm. One day, the marketing coordinator was venting about how outdated the website was (no significant changes had been made to the site since 2009) and that the background images didn’t even cover the entire screen, as average screen resolutions had changed quite a bit in 6 years. Despite having only very marginal experience with HTML from entering content into RTEs on various forum websites, I convinced her to at least try to let me fix the background issue. After much googling, I was able to figure out how to use FTP and tweak CSS, and it just kind of exploded from there! After a few months, I was the dedicated web person, adding new features to the site and extending functionality in their custom CMS (I believe they were on File Maker Pro 11, what a relic!), and it eventually culminated in me rewriting the entire front end portion of their website in Laravel. It was a fantastic learning experience and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to cut my teeth on a project that had some visibility.

Andy: That’s such a baptism of fire into the web! Sounds like you flourished though.

You also made me cringe hard at the mention of FileMaker Pro 😂

I notice you touched on the many different skillsets that fall under “front-end developer”. Do you find it’s quite difficult to market yourself as a freelancer because of this?

Nic: Filemaker Pro is one of those things that conjures up mixed feelings because on one hand, I’ve spent all this time learning this niche skill and it would be nice to put it to use, but on the other hand, it’s best if some things stay buried. 😂

Great question! In all honesty, it really depends. Clients who are not part of the tech industry are looking for the same things as before - solutions to their problems. Effective marketing towards this demographic should focus on how you’ve helped businesses solve their problems, not which technologies you’ve used. Whether you use Vue or React or something else entirely, ultimately it is on us to make the decision that will be best for their users and their business.

Clients who are part of the industry (tech companies, agencies with overflow work) can be a little more tricky in the sense that they will often be looking for a very long and specific set of skills, and if you don’t fit the list exactly, you’re out of the running. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but I’ve found that clients who are rigid about this tend to be looking for an extra pair of hands to execute their vision, and that’s not always the best fit for me as someone who has strong opinions about accessibility and user experience, so it all works out for me!

Andy: I’m benefitting in a very similar sense so nothing but agreement coming from me, here.

I reckon we’ve covered everything in this interview, so thank you very much indeed. One last question: how can people find you on the web and support what you do?

Nic: No, thank you for letting me ramble on about two of my favourite topics, cats and the web! You can find me on twitter at @nicmakesstuff or my website at nicchan.me. You can find the Duchess on instagram at @duchessmoopie, she loves her adoring followers. Feel free to reach out, I don’t bite, but I make no promises on the Duchess’s behalf!