Things I did when I wasn't here*

Happy New Year! Let's see if I can write more than three posts this year.

I'm still doing front-end development at Futurelearn, which is a great place to be if you want to work on your skills other than coding - Joel, our CTO, sensibly encourages the entire team to spend some of their work time & excellent brains on writing and speaking, whether internally or at conferences and meetups.

For the small but insistent introvert part of me, the friendly audience at a couple of Futurelearn Talks and the excellent feedback I got from them, along with taking part in discussions and the laidback vibe at Go Free Range's Show & Tell sessions is really helping to squash my fears of speaking in large groups. (That is, large groups, especially including new people where we're not at a party & I can't have a helpful glass of wine first, or maybe that's the trick to it..)

Thinking in atoms

The extremely talented Alla Kholmatova & I wrote a post together about the journey Futurelearn has taken from styleguide to pattern library.

Alla's theory of explaining how the UI patterns we build fit together using atomic design in terms of the attraction between atoms, molecules and organisms really clarified the approach for me. The tech team are still working on the 'living' part of the idea, and working out with designers exactly how the development implementation matches up with the pattern library, it's very exciting stuff, and so much fun to work with other like-minded front-end people.

We likey

Inspired by what fun it was to work with Alla on this, I wrote this post about how we made Futurelearn's 'Like' buttons more accessible (with help from Alice Bartlett, Edd Sowden, Melinda Seckington and Luke Nava - thankyou all!)

This started as a bug we found on, and there were quite a few blind alleys and reworkings while talking to the rest of the product team about how to fix it, so the post sort of wrote itself out of my work notes, Git commits & pull requests.

This kind of thing happens fairly often but mostly I never manage to get around to keeping good enough notes or screenshots, etc, to make things into actual posts (I have several drafts here with titles like "That weird Android thing that happened that time", and "Android bugs I have known and loved #35346644", I don't know why I seem to have so much trouble with random Android builds but there you go).

I'm making more of an effort now to capture more as I go along so the next time I become obsessed with some small detail of something I can remember how it works and write about it. (Gotta beat my record of three posts in a year).

The best bananas

I also recently did a lightning talk at Futurelearn where I demoed (an approximation of) what it is like for a screenreader user to use

Melinda gave me the idea, and we thought it would be interesting because while developers often test their work using the keyboard and using VoiceOver, the wider audience that come to the talks might not have ever seen heard how screenreaders work, and concrete examples are always good.

I'm even looking forward to maybe showing other examples of assistive technology in use next time. It helped a lot that everyone at Futurelearn is interested & cares about the accessibility of the website, and asked good questions that led to further debate. I think that because it was only a demo of something I use a fair amount anyway it was much less scary to get up and tell people about it - I definitely recommend this approach if you ever feel the same.

The monkey hypothesis from Matt Haughey's 'An Introvert’s Guide to Better Presentations' also helps a great deal with this! I don't think I will have reason any time soon to experiment with the slide structure and timeline he goes on to outline in the article (I have not been asked to give any keynotes so far this year, anyway) - but honestly - just go read the first bit about the monkeys - it will change your presentation-giving life.

* I don't have a shop, but if I did I would totally name it "eight pounds of uncut cocaine". Or maybe: "Performance enhancing drugs for the semi-introvert".