The old cliché – it’s not what you know; it’s who you know – recently bore fruit for me resulting in my employment at NetEngine. When I decided to write a post about my experience working and learning here, all I could think about writing was how grateful I was to finally get some experience in the industry.
You see I have spent the last couple of years immersing myself in the world of web design and development and currently study IT and Interactive & Visual Design at QUT. Up until now, that was it. When I started to analyse why I was so grateful, I realised it was because I have learnt more at this job in a bit over a month, than I have in the whole last year and a half of Uni.
At NetEngine we work on Macs, develop Web Applications with Ruby on Rails and design and develop Websites with Drupal. We work with the latest in web technologies and all have a love of open source and a passion for our work. We enjoy attending meetups to learn and meet fellow designers and developers and like to enjoy a beer or two together on the veranda each Friday afternoon.
Sounds like a pretty cool place to work right? So no wonder I am happy!
The thing is, its not the beer, the money nor the relaxed environment that most excites me. As I said before, what I am loving most, is the opportunity to really learn. As the web development material I am getting from Uni is more than disappointing, I have taught myself most of what I know. I am starting to wonder why I am paying my University to teach me, when NetEngine is paying me to learn? Obviously there is an opportunity there…
Since I have been working here I have tweaked/built approximately 10 websites in what Tim Oxley has dubbed a ‘trial-by-fire’. I have learnt a tremendous amount and I have found that I know more than I thought I did. I am also realising that it would have been very hard to effectively learn many of these lessons outside of a working environment.
One of the most challenging but also the most valuable things I am learning is the ability to interpret other peoples code. I have found it very challenging to dig around in another persons code and even more challenging to sometimes not have control over all the elements of the design. Learning to use the Inspector that is built into the Chrome Developer Tools has been invaluable in helping me overcome this difficulty. Something I find myself using all the time while editing CSS in the Inspector is !important. !important is used to override inline styles or styles from another style sheet. I use it primarily as a debugging tool until I can change the conflicting styles, however it can be very useful when you need to change something quickly and or don’t have access to the code producing the styling for some reason.
Another challenge I have had has been working with the typography requirements of our clients. Though I had a theoretical understanding of web typography I had very little experience working with custom fonts on the web. I knew that web typography had evolved considerable over the last couple of years, having used services like Google Web Fonts, but I hadn’t delved much further than that. This is one thing I have had to quickly get myself up to speed with. I have had to teach myself how to work with techniques like @font-face in combination with services like Font Squirrel. I have also had to learn how to make better use of the fonts that are installed on the user’s system through CSS Font Stacks. Thankfully Odin Dutton and then Tim have been able to provide me with guidance through all of the above.
I love learning the latest web technologies and enjoy the benefits of working with the latest CSS3 features like border-radius and box-shadow. Most of the modern browsers support these features through vendor specific styles such as -moz-border-radius or webkit-border-radius, but as can be expected IE is incapable of rendering these lovely additions to our CSS arsenal. I wanted to use these on client work but thought I could not until Simon Rentzke and Tim came to my rescue and introduced me to CSS3 PIE, which makes IE capable of rendering some of these advanced CSS3 features.
Perhaps the the thing with the steepest learning curve so far has been Git. I knew a little about Git when I started at NetEngine but I had never really used it. Thankfully Simon has kindly spent some large chunks of his time setting up my development environment and getting me acquainted with the basics of Git. He is very patient when I Skype him through out the day with messages like “help … lost in git again”. As a prerequisite to learning Git I would highly recommend familiarising yourself with the Command Line. I am slowly getting more comfortable working with Git and one thing is for sure I now really get its power. Now the first thing I do with any new project I am working on is initialise a git repository for the project. That way I am can branch my projects and freely explore ideas and I never have to worry about losing any code.
So since commencing work here I have determined that it is not what I know, it’s what I can find out that is important. As long as your comfortable with a few basics and willing to devote time to learning more, there is nothing that a friendly colleague or a well crafted search query cannot teach you. There is of course more to it then that but if your going to work in the industry, why not get taught by that industry as well.