Happy New Year!

As you may have noticed, my weekly reads have been less than weekly lately. What can I say? The holidays are happening and have been lovely so far, as well as all-consuming. I’ve been enjoying some time away from the computer as I plot out what I think is going to be an amazing & exciting 2016.

So, more soon! ♥

Weekly Reads: web accessibility, committing too much, and more

Happy Thanksgiving Week to those of you in the US! It was a busy week but I did find a handful of interesting web-related reads. I’m looking forward to settling in and reading much more over the rest of the long weekend.

Adobe has a nice Intro to Coding and Designing for Accessibility. Related: Chrome extension Spectrum makes it easy to see how your sites look for users with various forms of color vision deficiency. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but am looking forward to playing with it soon.

Why I Git Commit Too Much is both reassuring for all the times I’ve felt like I made 2,000 commits in a day… and a good kick in the butt for the projects on which I’ve neglected to commit changes for waaayyy too long. (Funny how it never feels like I’m committing the right amount, only way too much or not enough.) I love the idea that commit messages should tell a story!

Melissa Jean Clark laid out how & why she uses Evernote to organize client projects, and it’s glorious. I use Evernote personally but Laura & I are still using Google Drive for most of our internal ellell documents. Drive leaves a lot to be desired, and Melissa’s post finally convinced us: we’re giving Evernote a shot. I’ll let you know how it goes!

I love icon fonts, so this one was harsh but eye-opening: Seriously, Don’t Use Icon Fonts. Solid reasoning in here. Looks like I might have to change my ways…

Finally, some food for thought and inspiration re: how those of us with tech skills can use them to do things that actually matter: Bias for Action.

Weekly Reads

Most days I spend an inordinate amount of time reading what feels like the entire internet. I’m going to start writing about at least some of that internet weekly, here. Here we go:

Reflections on Gather North, Avery Swartz. I was one of the very lucky attendees of Gather North 2 weekends ago, and I’m going to write up some of my own reflections on it soon. In the meantime, if you’re curious about what I’d call the very best professional event of my life, one that is still filling me up with tremendous energy and inspiration, read on.

The 4 Pillars of Great Copywriting (e-book, free with mailing list registration), Helen Tremethick. Laura & I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Helen on one project so far, and we’re hoping for more in the future because she’s an extremely talented writer. She’s sharing some of her secrets in this new e-book; if you do any writing on the web, her tips will help!

Writing CSS on Growing Teams, Susan Robertson. Solid advice, which I’d like to start implementing on my own team of 2. 🙂

Honeycomb CSS Layout, Estelle Weyl. Ok, not much to read, but this is just cool.

Why Are So Many Black Transgender Women Getting Killed In Detroit? Dominic Holden. Devastating and crucial reporting. I hope it helps shed some light. It leaves me asking myself what I can do to make my city safer for all. The amazing Ruth Ellis Center does important work to serve this community, and they’re always accepting cash and material donations.

Candletime, AskMoxie. This seems like a lovely, cozy idea. (This link is broken, but here’s a snapshot from the Internet Archive.)

75 Black Women-Owned Brands to Support This Holiday Season & Beyond, In Her Shoes. ‘Tis the season.

#AlterConf Detroit Recap

Last weekend I got to attend AlterConf Detroit, a one-day conference dedicated to diversity in the tech & gaming industries. I’d been looking forward to it for ages, since coming across AlterConf on Twitter and seeing the quality of speakers they hire and the importance of the topics they address. The first-ever AlterConf Detroit didn’t let me down! Below, a few highlights & thoughts.

AlterConf’s commitment to accessibility was visible and inspiring.

Not only was the venue wheelchair-accessible, but the conference provided sign language interpretation and live captioning of all spoken content. I’d never seen live captioning before and it ruled. Even as a hearing person, I benefitted greatly from it. It was useful to be able to look up at a screen to read something that had been inaudible to me, plus my brain often absorbs information more readily via reading than hearing, especially with more complex ideas.

Many other accommodations & considerations were made, too. Food was clearly labeled for those with dietary restrictions. All attendees were asked to include their preferred pronouns on their nametags, to avoid misgendering. The usually single-sex restrooms were prominently labeled as gender-neutral:

I’d love to see this kind of thoughtfulness become the norm for conferences & events, though I feel we are sadly a long way off from that happening. As an event organizer myself, I wouldn’t be sure how to manage it (especially how to afford the services of talented translators and captioners), but I’m open to suggestions!

My favorite talk: Tiffani Ashley Bell of the Detroit Water Project

As a Detroit resident I’ve been very aware of the water crisis in our city and somewhat aware of some of the efforts to fight it. So the Detroit Water Project was on my radar to some extent, but I didn’t really know what they did and was very excited to learn from the founder & executive director herself.

Tiffani Bell is absolutely a developer inspiration! She was on a Code for America fellowship when she heard about Detroit’s water situation on Twitter. Four hours later, she’d built the beginnings of a system donors could use to pay water bills on behalf of struggling Detroiters. Today her organization has helped over 900 families keep their water on. That’s a huge deal not only for the obvious reasons of public health and sanitation, but because having your water shut off can lead to losing your home and custody of your children, too.

The Detroit Water Project isn’t content with just paying folks’ bills, though. They’ve found ways to use customer data to figure out who is likely to fall behind on a water bill, and intervene before it gets to that point. They also aim to create fundamental, lasting change by helping pass legislation guaranteeing water as a basic human right. As they work toward that long-term goal, they’ll continue assisting with utility payments for people in need in Detroit and other cities. They’re looking for development help (both volunteer and paid), too!

Other favorites:

  • Eva Gantz introduced us to Stellar and the ways it’s being used to increase access to credit for unbanked women around the world.  
  • Elizabeth Mitchell talked about building healthy, anti-oppression workplaces. She shared some stories about what it feels like to work in inclusive environments vs. exclusive ones. She did a great job of engaging attendees by asking us to remember times we felt like we were able to be ourselves vs. times we felt we had to wear masks. A major takeaway: remote work allows employees to contribute meaningfully even when they may not be able to sustain in a traditional office environment.  
  • Laura Jane Watkins shared the story of the #ILookLikeAnEngineer movement: how it got started, why the organizers decided to make it known offline as well as on social media, questions & conversations around what it means, and what’s next.

And an honorable mention: the food was out-of-this-world good!

For a fairly comprehensive review of the day, check out this Storify. There will also be video, transcript, and more posted on each talk’s page on AlterConf, though they don’t appear to be there just yet. Anyway, if you like what you see, definitely check to see if AlterConf is coming to a city near you!

Self.conference 2015 Recap

Some of my favorite talks from self.conference, which was last weekend in Detroit:

Marc Nischan: Basic Git & Github for Designers, Visual Learners, and Everyone Else

I use Git on a daily basis, but often while feeling more or less like this:


dog with computer meme, caption "I have no idea what I'm doing"

Marc’s talk was a good antidote and gave me some helpful new metaphors for thinking about and explaining what Git does. Git for Visual is the website he built to go with his talk and it links to his Skillshare class + a free cheatsheet, both of which would be excellent resources for anyone looking to get more comfortable using Git.

Julie Cameron: Decoupling the Front-end through Modular CSS

I’ve gotten to see Julie speak plenty of times now, including a shorter talk on this topic, so I knew what I was in for: beautiful slides with an overwhelming amount of interesting information that would make me want to redo all of my CSS ever to be better/faster/stronger. I was not disappointed! Julie gave a great overview of several popular approaches to object-oriented CSS and I’m looking forward to learning more about each and trying out various methodologies. Here’s a whole scalable CSS reading list that looks really promising and Julie’s slides are online as well!


Aisha Blake: Creating a Safe Space: Embracing Diversity In The Workplace

Aisha is a good friend of mine and a co-organizer of Girl Develop It Detroit, so I was extra excited to see her present! She shared honestly about some of the adversity & obnoxiousness she’s faced as a Black woman in technology and gave lots of concrete examples of what companies and managers can do to improve working environments. I’m thrilled that she’s taking this talk on the road to Future Insights Live this week, because it’s a message that needs to be heard.


Sara Gibbons: Code #LikeAGirl

Sara is an awesome Girl Develop It Ann Arbor organizer and will be teaching Ruby for us at GDI Detroit later this month along with Aisha! She discussed her experiences in struggling to be herself in an industry that can actively discourage anyone but “brogrammers” from doing so, and made a very solid case for how diversity in tech benefits us all. My favorite slide:

Self.conference was a fantastic & inspiring experience that I’d recommend to anyone. The diversity of speakers & topics was refreshing and exciting, and I left feeling energized about my work and the future. I hope to attend again next year and for many years to come – but for that to happen, we’ll all need to pitch in. The conference fell short on funding this year and is seeking donations. If you value having a diverse and meaningful tech conference in the Midwest, please consider donating – and hopefully I’ll see you there in 2016!

Teaching WordPress with Bitnami Local Installs

Last weekend I taught one of my favorite workshops, Intro to WordPress, for Girl Develop It – Detroit. My now-business-partner Laura Eagin & I developed the curriculum about a year ago and it’s been steadily improving each time we’ve taught it, not to mention when it’s been adapted by other chapters!

Since our class focuses on self-hosted WordPress sites (not WordPress.com blogs), we always run into the challenge of getting students set up with a WordPress environment in which they can experiment. We’ve tried a number of less-than-ideal solutions to this:

  • Everyone in one install is just as messy as it sounds. It’s also kind of fun, because we get to see everyone’s pages and posts as they’re published, but that’s about all we can let the students do. When it comes to widgets, plugins, and themes, they can basically only watch as we demonstrate.
  • Setting up a bunch of online installs is a better choice, but it requires a lot of tedious set-up time on the instructors’ part. We’ve crashed hosting accounts by doing this, and if the classroom wifi isn’t strong we’re left asking if anyone knows any jokes while waiting for the router to reset.
  • Requiring everyone to come with a hosting account and WordPress already installed is a dream come true, and feasible for some audiences. Unfortunately, though, it presents a barrier to students who are, for any reason, not ready to make that commitment. At Girl Develop It we are committed to remaining as accessible as possible, so we’ve only made this a requirement in private classes.

We’ve always talked about doing local installs, but after watching huge amounts of class time get lost to setting up MAMP/WAMP in PHP workshops, we were very wary of that approach.

Luckily, last year our friend Chloe Madison Parfitt taught Concrete5 for GDI and introduced me to a whole new world: Bitnami stack installers. They’re basically the one-click installs of local development. Students get to follow basic software installation prompts instead of having to download MAMP or similar, start the virtual servers, find PHPMyAdmin, make a MySQL database, download WordPress, and manually install it. That saves valuable class time and lets us focus on actually using WordPress (which most of our students are only ever going to install via the one-click method, anyway).

I used the Bitnami method for the first time last weekend and would say it was a success, and my favorite way to teach WordPress so far! Students received the link and instructions to install WordPress on their laptops in advance of class, and the vast majority of them came to class with WordPress ready to go. A few more got set up in class with some TA assistance, a couple chose to use existing WordPress sites or local installs, and a handful (4 out of 20) had hardware issues that made the installation impossible. For those folks, I planned to set up a few clean online installs, and luckily my amazing TA TJ Miller was able to do that on his server with a quick script – thanks, TJ!

I’m excited to keep using this approach to teach WordPress in the future, though I’ll be sure to have some clean online installations waiting for the students who are unable to work with Bitnami. I’d love to hear about your solutions to teaching WordPress, too!

GDI Ann Arbor’s #DayInTheLife: Developers Panel

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel with Girl Develop It Ann Arbor about what it’s like to be a developer. The panel was the first in their #DayInTheLife series and it featured Elizabeth Mitchell, Madalyn Parker, and Bridget Scheifer alongside yours truly.

Like most people, I’m not very fond of public speaking, but Julie and Ronda of GDI AA did such a great job organizing the event that it was easy to feel comfortable! Each panelist got a set of slide templates to fill out detailing what we do, our daily schedules, and our favorite and least favorite things about our jobs. We each presented our slides, then there was time for audience Q & A. Some questions were asked live and some had been collected in advance, which helped in the rare moments when no one’s hand was up.

The whole conversation was great and I think everyone got a lot out of it – I know I did! My favorite moment was the discussion of imposter syndrome, which arose from an audience question about job security. Each panelist admitted to struggling with imposter syndrome to some degree, and we shared the ways we combat it. My strategy is to try to depersonalize it by remembering that basically everyone seems to struggle with it, including people I greatly admire. Bridget had my favorite answer, though: she told us that, because she teaches coding skills to young girls, she does everything in her power to keep imposter syndrome out of her thoughts. Those girls would pick up on it if it were there, so she doesn’t let it in, and instead approaches every situation with an attitude of, “I got this!”


I’m looking forward to learning more about other career paths in the tech world through the #DayInTheLife series with Girl Develop It Ann Arbor. The schedule is below, and they’re still looking for more panelists, so you should get in touch with them if you or someone you know would be a good fit!

  • April – Designer
  • July – Product / Project Manager
  • September – Technical Recruiter
  • November – QA Engineer
  • January 2016 – Executive / Entrepreneur

Announcing: ellell & co.!

As some of you know, I’ve been teaming up with designer/developer extraordinaire Laura Eagin on all kinds of projects for some time now. We’ve co-written and co-taught Girl Develop It – Detroit workshops on WordPress and web development, and we’ve collaborated on several web development projects. This summer, we made things official and partnered up to form ellell & co., LLC.

Freelance life was good to me, but partnership is even better! Laura & I benefit from being able to bounce ideas off one another, and our strengths are wonderfully complementary. The quality of both of our work has improved since teaming up – and we’re able to take on more and bigger projects, too.

Right now ellell is really just L&L (see what we did there?), but the “& co.” part of our name represents one of our hopes for the future. If you’re a talented designer or developer, please get in touch with us – we may be able to work together soon!