The how and why this website came to be...

Date: 05/23/2015

Whenever I tell friends and family that I've created a website, they all seem to ask me the same set of questions: What's the point of this? Are you trying to show off? Are you selling something? This first blog post is to answer some of these questions and explain both how and why I've decided to make this...


Background:

When I first bought the domain gabrielsoares.com I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it and certainly didn't have an end goal in mind. I had no plan or expectation, and to be honest I just wanted to own the domain that contained my name (since all the cool kids were doing it). I kept the domain name parked for a few years hoping that some day I would come up with some great idea on what to do with it...


Right around the same time that I acquired the domain, Carol Rattray and Ritu Banga were starting a company called Zoomdojo whose goal is to aid young undergrad, graduate students, and veterans with the job search. With the creation of the company they soon had to come up with a website from which people could log into and use the various job/internship search capabilities. In the first few months they would sometimes contact me and ask me various web development-related questions, which is when I realized I knew next to nothing about what it took to create a website for a business. Sure, I had done basic websites in middles school with obnoxious flashing text, scrolling banners, and repeating backgrounds (all the elements you'd typically find in websites created through GeoCities), but when they started asking me questions related to database management, PHP, Javascript, front-end vs back-end, etc. that is when I realized how little I actually knew.


In the summer between sophomore and junior year of college I decided I would take the 2+ months to learn the skills necessary to put together a basic website. I would start with the simple concepts to build a foundation, and over time would explore some uncharted territories. And so at the start of the summer I went to Barnes & Noble and purchased Head First: Web Design by Ethan Watrall and Jeff Siarto, CSS: The Missing Manual by David Sawyer McFarland, and Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug.


Design:

While reading the books I wanted to practice some of the concepts described, which meant I had to come up with basic website ideas and try implementing them. That is where the idea for this site was born. I decided I would create a site where I could list my projects and perhaps even maintain a blog all while learning the various parts of web development (with actual content and not just filled with Lorem Ipsum text).


I began searching for templates, samples, and layout examples from which I would base my website off of. Most of what I found were templates for different Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc, which is not what I wanted to use. I wanted to have full access to the site's source code and be able to make every possible type of modification to it. Don't get me wrong, CMS are great platforms and extremely useful, but they hide/abstract a lot of the source code which can make it difficult to customize the look of a page. As the content of this website grows, I might eventually migrate to a CMS to make it easier to focus on the content of the site and abstract most of the HTML/CSS detail.


Getting the content for the site wasn't very difficult. I've always worked on side projects and kept detailed notes along the process. It was just a matter of digging through notes and converting them into digital format. The purpose of listing the projects that I have worked on is not to show off what I have done; I instead want to document them in such a way so that anyone who is interested in reproducing these can get the information directly from the website and have a place to contact me for more details. I know that I have benefitted a great deal from looking at projects that other people have worked on, and I hope these can serve the same purpose to someone else.


Motivations:

You might be wondering: if the original goal of the website was to practice HTML/CSS, now that I've created the basic outline of the website, why am I adding content? I have a few motivations as to why I am doing this.


One of the main reasons for me to do so is that it keeps me motivated to work on various side projects. A sort of psychological trick I play on myself where by setting the expectation that I need to upload a description of the project online, I become much more impelled to complete the project. I am sure everyone has experienced working on a project which dragged on for too long or for which they've lost interest half-way through. A lot of time it's because they weren't motivated to continue through it. This website helps me stay determined to continue working on new and novel things.


Another main reason for me to be creating this website is that I like to write down and document the things that I do, the steps I took to get there, and list what I've learned along the way. This allows me to look back at what I've done in the past and get inspired to continue going down the same path.


My desire to create a blog spawns mostly from the fact that I've benefited a great deal from reading other people's blogs (such as those by Joel Spolsky, Paul Graham, and Leo Babauta). A lot of the blogs that I read contain extremely insightful information and describe the lessons that they have learned through their varying experiences. My hope is to eventually have content which could be insightful for someone else.


Lastly, I am using this website as my playground. I am learning an insane amount by going through the work of putting all this together, more so than I had originally imagined, and so as I continue exploring other areas of web design, I am going to use this website to test them. By starting this website I learned that I am just touching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to web design and finding out how much freedom I can have with this is making this one hell of a fun project.

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