I went to a conference earlier this week, on web design and development. I’m not a designer by training or experience, and I’m not sure by talent either, though it is a topic that I find fascinating. I’m a developer by training, education, and experience, though still a fairly new one (it is my 2nd “career”, if my haphazard stab at paying the bills could be counted as a 1st “career”), and most of that development experience was not in web development.

My current project at work has been throwing me into web development, which I’ve enjoyed more and more as I’ve gotten deeper into it. I’m surrounded by mainframe developers, which is odd in and of itself, as cobal is a bit like latin, but since it is spoken in banks, it will be around as long as the banks are. Which should be another two weeks or so.

The other java developers aren’t really web designers either. Mostly they’re back-end folks, happiest mucking around with databases and servers and MQs and service layers. I’m a generalist, which is both a strength and a curse, as I never feel like an expert on anything. My boss loves it, because that’s how he is himself, and also because he can throw anything at me, and though I’ll likely fumble a bit at first and end up with what feels like a million stupid questions, I’ll get it done competently and uncomplainingly in the end.

Oddly, though, in my current workplace I am suddenly the expert. On web design. It is a relative thing, and I’m expert only because no one else has an interest in or patience for design. And where I work, it is all about utility, in any case.

But I got interested enough that I wanted desperately to learn more, to get better, to have a mentor! And so I convinced the CEO to pay for the conference. I had to pay for the travel and take the time off as vacation, so it was actually not really a cheap trip, all things considered. But it was worth it.

The conference was amazing. The speakers were fascinating. They were my kind of people, really. They would talk about their other passions – comics and chess and a 19th century designer – and tie it in to the web and design and development. That’s how I seem to live my life, making connections that have others giving me the oogly eye, as if I’m just that half step away from insanity.

So these were my people, in the web development world.

And they cared about the world around them as well! In deeper levels than I’d have ever expected to find. I had Ben Harper in my head “you can change the world, with your own two hands!”

Excited, I came back home and went to read more on the website that is the blog/magazine home of the people who organize the conference. On the sidebar, prominently featured, was an article. 10 tips on writing the living web.

And you know? It is amazing. Some of it is specific to blogging. Some of it assumes you’re a designer. Most of it applies to any writing, and really anything we do in life.

That’s the essential point of what amazed me about the speakers at the conference, and the general theme that seemed to run through it – though we often talked about css and html and some technical design issues or more general visual design concepts (golden ratio, anyone?), mostly they were talking about life. Or so it seemed to me.

I’m not sure I can properly convey what it was like for me at that conference. But at least I can share this really cool article on writing.

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