Taking a Break

Taking a Break

I’m moving to Alaska.

No, seriously. I took a summer job at an adventure lodge in Alaska. It’s a full time job that won’t leave much time for web development, but I am keeping many of my current ongoing clients and will be returning to full time web work in the fall.

I will return to this blog at that point, too.

For more on my trip and adventures in Alaska, check out my blog at Last One Up.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Personal, 0 comments
Managing Passwords – How do you do it?

Managing Passwords – How do you do it?

One of the biggest challenges in my business is the managing of passwords. At any given time I have between 5 and 10 active accounts all with hosting logins, FTP, website logins, and logins for various financial accounts, social media accounts and countless other things.

To make matters even more complicated, I often have 5 logins for the same site (PayPal for instance – which a lot of my clients use as a payment gateway).

My issues with password management are two-fold:

First, how do I collect and keep track of passwords myself, so that I can quickly access the accounts I need and not waste valuable development time trying to track down a login?

Second, what is the best system to recommend to clients for keeping track of their passwords so that when a developer needs them in the future, they can have a quick way to find them?

At the intersection of these two issues is how, when I’m building a new site, can I keep track of all of the passwords in a way that makes it easy for me to pass them back to the client when I complete the work?

Of course, since these logins allow access to some pretty sensitive information, all of this needs to be reviewed with an eye on security. My clients have a range of concerns and levels of concern about security, so I always err on the side of the most secure. I won’t be discussing most aspects of secure passwords here, but there are some great resources out there. Here are just a few:

Heimdal Security: Password Security 101

Huffington Post: 7 Steps to Safer Passwords

The New York Times: Protecting Your Digital Life in 7 Steps

So, here is what I have (and haven’t) figured out:

For my systems, I use Last Pass, which works great for me. I save ultra secure passwords in the system and have one secure password for Last Pass which makes it easier to memorize.

For my clients – I don’t know what to suggest. I package up their logins and send them back, but judging from how hard it is to get passwords from people when I’m starting projects, those emails/text messages/printed documents just go into the trash. Does anyone have any good ideas for password storage for individual clients?

One trend that I’m noticing with larger companies is the ability to “grant access” to your account to another user. In these cases, the original account holder can grant access to me by just entering my email address. I’d like to see more two-factor authentication in these systems, but that’s another story for another day. At least in these cases, I can access account information under my own login, which also allows clients to remove access for people without changing their own login info.

For now, I’m setting a goal to develop a better system than what I’m using sometime in the next 6 months and then implement that for all clients to make this step less of a hassle for everyone.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Web, Work, 0 comments
When to call in a “pro”

When to call in a “pro”

In a world where it seems like a simple Google search can bring you a video or step-by-step guide to almost anything, it can be tempting to try to DIY everything.

I’m guilty of this myself. Fix a running toilet? YouTube it. Make an impossibly complex recipe? Just follow the step-by-step and Google the techniques along the way. Out of carpet cleaner? Make your own from these four common household items.

One of the things I love about working in WordPress is it allows a lot of my clients to DIY their websites to some extent. Once I design it and build the functionality they need, I can hand it off to clients and let them change text and images, add blog posts and videos, and if I’ve done my job right, their website will continue to look and function as it should.

But without that first crucial step of setting up look and functionality, some of which inevitably takes place in the PHP, Javascript and CSS files, these clients wouldn’t be able to run their websites on their own.

WordPress has grown into a complex ecosystem of the basic platform, plugins that add functionality, themes that add styling, and API integrations with various other web services. A person with some basic knowledge of the web and WordPress can still build a basic blog site by themselves, but for more complex websites, you may want to call in a “pro” early in the process. It will save you a lot of work and a lot of headaches in the future.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Continuing Education, Self-employed, Web, Work, 0 comments
Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Own Business

Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Own Business

I graduated from college 10 years ago, and since that point, I have had a full-time, salaried job, until June of this year when I decided to go out on my own and start my own freelancing business.

Now that I’m about six months in, I have a list of things I wish I’d known when I started. Some of these things are practical, some are philosophical, but all are good advice for anyone thinking about going out on their own.

  1. It’s better to start with systems than to develop them as you go
  2. Pay for the accounting software
  3. Your business name doesn’t matter nearly as much as your business structure
  4. Working for friends can be a blessing, but it can also be the hardest client relationship to manage
  5. Insist on signed estimates and deposit checks before starting a project
  6. Hold on to your free time. Just because you work at home doesn’t mean that you’re always at work
  7. Be confident in your abilities, but know when to ask for help
  8. It’s OK to outsource things you’re not good at (more on that in my next post)
  9. The worst part of any job is going to be billing – dealing with money sucks
  10. Save everything – receipts, business cards, notes, emails, mockups, draft documents, checks, etc. – you never know when you’re going to need to refer back to something
  11. And above all – remember the reason you’re doing this – whether it’s for creative freedom, the ability to work from anywhere, the ability to spend more time with friends or family, remember that reason and hold on to it. There will be hard, horrible days where you’ll wish you could go back to a full time job, or where you’ll want to fire clients, resign accounts, and quit projects. On those days, it’s important to think about why.

    For me, there are multiple reasons why freelancing works for me, but one of the biggest is that life is short, and there is so much in this world that I want to see and do, and so when I have a hard day, I remember a raft trip down the Nolichucky river on a Wednesday morning, and how it was a perfect day, and how in my previous jobs, it was a day I would have had to miss, sitting instead in my office while the leaves went from green to yellow to red, and then fell off the trees. Those are the kind of days that make it all worth it.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Personal, Self-employed, Web, Work, 0 comments
Do you use checklists?

Do you use checklists?

As I fly home to Denver today, I’m wondering what tools other developers use when setting up projects.

I have a questionnaire that I sent to clients before quoting a project that helps me get a sense of the type of website we’re going to build.

But I’m thinking of developing a series of checklists for new projects.

  1. Collecting Logins for Clients with Existing Websites
  2. Setting up a new WordPress installation
  3. Plugins
  4. Social Media Scheduling
  5. Analytics and Adwords

Any others you’d like to see?

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Self-employed, Social Media, Web, Work, 0 comments
Keeping up with the cutting edge

Keeping up with the cutting edge

One of the things I’m loving about self-employment is the opportunity to continuously learn new things. From changing technologies, to new projects, it seems like every week presents a challenge that I have never conquered before.

Last week, I worked my way through some social media best practices courses that served as a refresher course for me as I launch into a social media project for a client. This one in particular from Hootsuite has a series of videos and quizzes that help you work through the changing landscape of social media.

It was great for two reasons:

  1. I refreshed my knowledge, staying up-to-date on the latest best-practices for social media
  2. And, it reminded me of the items that I needed to describe to the client to get the best elements for their profiles and posts

Now that I’m working for myself, doing these kinds of things can be hard. While I’m running through these courses, those are not “billable hours” for me. But it improves my work across many clients and lets me reset my brain for new projects.

How about you? How do you balance the need to do continuing education and research with the need to create billable work?

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Continuing Education, Design, Self-employed, Work, 0 comments
Can Design be Hostile?

Can Design be Hostile?

This is the sixth in a series of nine posts on the All Things Open 2015 conference I attended in Raleigh in mid-October. For more information on the conference, along with videos and slides from the presenters, check out the conference website.

Sometimes when you’re at a conference, you go to a session where you think you’re getting one thing, and what you get is totally different. This is that session.

Hostile Design, a talk given by Shopify Lead UX Designer Cynthia Savard Saucier, was one I was looking forward to. In her session preview, she used the phrase “bad design can kill” and I thought she was going to talk about how poorly designed sites and projects can be painful to use (metaphorical pain here).

Her actual presentation… more of a tirade really… was about how a company’s clever promotion or user experience can actually hurt people (not metaphorical pain here) and how the poor design of her building’s evacuation alarm would lead us all to burn in a fire (not metaphorical fire here). Having trouble following her line of thought? So was I.

But there were a couple of key takeaways that I can get behind.

She started off with “the best designs don’t require instructions.” That is something I’ve been preaching for many years when it comes to web design. I had a client once who wanted instructional overlays for new users. Instead, I advocated for using standard web icons with tooltips, along with a simplified user experience.

The other thing I loved was the explanation of Dark Patterns, which are essentially web practices designed to trick a user into doing something that is in the company’s best interest, but not necessarily the user (Savard Saucier would be so mad about my repeated use of ‘user’ but that is what I do…). An example of this is opt-out email signups on checkout forms, or opt-out subscription services on a free trial signup.

This is the kind of hostile design that I’d originally thought of, and one that we can actually effect change on.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Conference, Design, Marketing, Web, Work, 0 comments
Open Source is Ugly

Open Source is Ugly

This is the fifth in a series of nine posts on the All Things Open 2015 conference I attended in Raleigh in mid-October. For more information on the conference, along with videos and slides from the presenters, check out the conference website.

One of the themes of the design track at All Things Digital this year was how to add design to Open Source projects. Apparently, design has not been a priority for Open Source in the past, but is becoming an important part of a lot of projects.

The session called Open Source is Ugly on the UX/UI track gave a good overview of why design is important for projects. All projects have users. Sometimes these are the general public, but often in Open Source, these are internal, or specific users, like developers who work in a specific technology, or users who are already using another project that can be extended.

For this reason, developers often don’t think about design as a top priority, but user experience is very important, from Branding to User Interface.

This speaker, Garth Braithwaite from Adobe, talked about choosing a styling platform, integrating design to your project, and giving developers a crash course in design using free online tools, which I plan to check out soon.

You can check those tools out here: Speakerdeck

(Garth and I, incidentally, had a very funny twitter interaction the next day about why my four hour drive should take precedent over the after party. You can check that out and follow me onhere.)

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Conference, Design, Marketing, Self-employed, Work, 0 comments
Women in Code

Women in Code

This is the fourth in a series of nine posts on the All Things Open 2015 conference I attended in Raleigh in mid-October. For more information on the conference, along with videos and slides from the presenters, check out the conference website.

One of the unofficial themes of the conference this year was how to ensure that women, non-cis-gendered people, and people of color feel comfortable in the open source community or the code community at large. There was a fantastic documentary film shown the first day called Code: Debugging the Gender Gap followed by a panel discussion.

The film shows women of all ages, from small children to women who were pioneers in the industry. It talked a little bit about how to improve all parts of the pipeline, from encouraging girls to stay in STEM education paths to making the work environment more welcoming to non-male employees.

As a woman in tech myself, albeit on a more female-friendly side (marketing, advertising, and journalism all tend to skew female), I have felt like an outsider at some conferences and jobs, and am likely a product of the world that says that girls shouldn’t love math and science (I still love you Science!!).

I also feel like my public school system did not encourage computer science as a career path, possibly because when I graduated High School, it was just beginning to be a growth area for jobs.

I am encouraged, though, by the prevalence of this conversation among technology industry groups and conferences. I felt totally welcomed at the All Things Open conference, and felt like the speakers and keynotes represented a wealth of diversity in the industry. Hopefully that will continue to grown in the future.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Conference, Marketing, Work, 0 comments
GitHub for Beginners

GitHub for Beginners

This is the third in a series of nine posts on the All Things Open 2015 conference I attended in Raleigh in mid-October. For more information on the conference, along with videos and slides from the presenters, check out the conference website.

The second session I attended at the conference was called “How to Start an Open Source Project” and it dealt with the nuts and bolts of GitHub and open source licensing and all those other intimidating things that keep people from starting and contributing to projects. The presenter, Don Schenck from Rackspace, gave a great overview of the process, from getting an idea, naming it, creating the repository (repo) and starting with the first file.

One of the key things he said to us was “once you publish your code to GitHub, it’s not your code anymore,” which is a way of saying that open source projects belong to the community. When starting a project, you need to be starting it with that in mind. If you want to control every aspect of it, then open source may not be right for that project.

He also talked about the need for a development plan: what needs to be done, in what order, and how to get people to contribute.

I’m still not sure I’m ready to create my own project on GitHub, but I’m at least a little more confident that I might contribute to one.

Posted by Megan Jonas in Blog, Self-employed, Web, Work, 0 comments