- Darren Hickling
After nearly five years of running a self-hosted WordPress blog, I recently migrated it to Squarespace. It took a while to reach the decision, but I'm very happy and am looking forward to writing more frequently. But why move?
To Stop Reinventing the Wheel!
As a software engineer, knowing nearly anything about any piece of software makes you curious. You start to tweak settings, probe further, and — before you know it — break whatever it is you're playing with, swear, try and fix it, then immediately repeat the cycle. This inquisitive nature is a brilliant quality, but it comes with a huge problem: nothing is ever quite to your taste! The environment, the setup, that annoying visual quirk on a random browser; pretty much anything.
Often, you can do it better, or at least bits of it, and hopefully will contribute the improvements back to the community. But that doesn't stop there, and before long, you've lost sight of the original goal: to actually use whatever it was that you installed in the first place. For me, a self-hosted, open-source blog gave me so many opportunities for experimentation that, for a while, I forgot to blog at all.
Evaluating Amazing Products
A lot has happened over the past year, on which I will hopefully elaborate soon. One of the most important lessons I have learnt, relearnt and practised several times is how quickly a product can be assembled from highly-specific, excellent software. The fun hasn't been creating new or tweaking existing tools, but researching many existing products, quickly assessing them via prototypes, then choosing and jumping in to build great software with them. Putting aside the desire to discover the inner workings of a tool, and instead treating it as a black box which you can hopefully peer into when required, is a bizarrely difficult skill to master.
I use the term amazing qualitatively; that is, I can categorically announce that Elasticsearch, Splunk, and other products that I shall mention in the coming months, are fantastic. Why? Because their high standards of documentation and support, ease of use, rich features, great communities, plus other factors, are exactly what I would love others to see in the products that I help develop. That eventually led me to Squarespace.
Using the Right Tools
Last year, I became frustrated with the limitations of my blog. I wanted it to better showcase my development skills with my own theme, a slideshow-style CV, interactive charts, and other cool features. Doing so within WordPress did not appeal, so I decided to use Umbraco, which I was enjoying using on a project at the time It didn't take long to cobble together a pretty decent CMS structure, with a blog and projects, charts, and a half-decent theme.
The trouble is perfecting the whole package. Half-decent is not good enough, and perfection takes too long! I dislike php, but the huge WordPress ecosystem provides plenty of ways to assemble a great site. After much thought, it transpired that what I really cared about was an excellent blogging platform to produce a great site which links to resources elsewhere, like my code pens, language tests, and even the board of want. Those platforms are built specifically to do one thing and one thing well, so reinventing flimsy alternatives for exact control was a terrible alternative. An interactive CV would be great, but spending more time perfecting that LinkedIn profile and kicking off the sharing of past presentations helped further my career more immediately.
A recommendation always helps, so when the wife raved about her recent trial of Squarespace, I had to see I immediately found the interface both fast and intuitive, and had very quickly assembled a replacement for my original site. The site it creates is also quick, looks great thanks to the polished, responsive design, and the built-in CDN service for assets really impressed.
Now to Start Blogging Again
I hope you like the new site at least as much as the last. My life continues to get ever more interesting and enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to sharing some of the stories with you here. Enjoy; I know I will!