The first rebuilding blocks

Korczak Ziolkowski wakes up early on a bitter cold winter’s morning – the same way he has for several decades – after breakfasting and a few mugs of the hottest coffee his palette can stand, he shoulders his tool belt and trods his way in knee-high snow to the eastern wall of the Crazy Horse Memorial… his lifelong unfinished masterpiece.

I like to think that working on one’s own personal website is a lot like Korczak Ziolkowski’s pursuit of progress on the ambitious mountain-sized memorial he started in the late-1940s. He knew he’d never complete the work in his lifetime. He knew that each day’s progress would be measured in inches and pounds and that, only after a generation’s worth of effort, would he be able to look back and see that what he had begun to make was worth it.

In late-November 2023, I changed jobs from VP of Marketing to Senior Product Manager (and lead developer) of Hubbub. When I was working in marketing I needed technical side projects to scratch that particular itch I’ve always had. But now that I spend some amount of time every workday programming – I don’t need to be working on side projects as often. And I certainly don’t need to be building my own static site generator anymore. But I do need a better playground to test and improve Hubbub. So I’ve switched back to WordPress to power my blog.

If you were following along on my journey to build Tuff, the static site generator that powered my site for well over a year, you might be wondering whether I’m upset that I’m replacing it. Wasn’t it a waste of my time? I think it was a valuable project for me to work on.

Martiijn Doolaard, a web designer, musician, cyclist, and now successful YouTuber rebuilding stone animal structures in the alps (who I watch every Sunday with Eliza) recently had a similar reaction to one of his projects. Doolaard had spent a great deal of time building a crane to move large heavy stones on the roofs of his buildings. He spent several weeks honing the tool to work for his needs – only to set it aside when the day came to use it. He answered some questions about whether or not he felt that was wasted time and he said (I’m summarizing) that it wasn’t a waste of time because he enjoyed building the crane.

I enjoyed building Tuff. And that should be enough to consider it time well spent. Tuff is still currently powering a few of my other websites (though, I plan to move them all to WordPress over the course of this year). Imagine building something from scratch that you were able to use for more than a year on multiple websites? That isn’t wasted time. I learned a bunch, used my brain, and honed some of my skills that I use everyday.

In order to improve a software product, I need to be one of its most active users. We acquired Hubbub in December 2023 and for the last few months we’ve had a roadmap of low hanging fruit updates. We’ve fixed some bugs, patched some potential (albeit mild) security vulnerabilities, and added some new features. But our best work is definitely ahead of us. We’re now up-to-speed on the codebase, the issues, the customers, etc. and we’re in the phase where I’m using the product everyday. I’m beginning to have ideas of how the product can be much better, more capable, and more valuable for customers. It is also more likely that I will run into an issue by using the product daily so that I can fix the issue before customers even notice it.

My website is a child theme of the Twenty Twenty Four theme. When I set out to begin this rebuild my goal was to use WordPress’ full site editor (FSE) to complete my entire site with writing as little code as possible. I thought it would be a worthy exercise to help me understand the state of this part of the WordPress ecosystem.

The full site editor in WordPress has really improved a lot and at a fairly rapid pace. While I wasn’t able to complete my entire site without any code, it may not be long before I’ll be able to do so. I’ve seen a lot of complaints in the community about the direction that WordPress is taking with Gutenberg and the FSE. Alternative forks are being worked on. My opinion is that the FSE is the right direction to go, especially to enable non-technical users to build their own websites. I have a lot more to say about this but overall I’m bullish on the FSE.

My site uses a child theme so that I can enable custom post types, add custom styles, a Query Loop Block variation that adds custom taxonomies as filters, adds a template part for my new logo, enables some meta boxes for the metadata on portfolio items, adds support for the aside Post Format, and manipulates the guid in the database. A few of these features could have been done another way (perhaps by someone with more experience than me). I’m hoping that future versions of WordPress will allow me to remove code rather than add it.

Based on my experience rebuilding my website, I may write a separate post about some features that WordPress should have out-of-the-box that it currently does not. Maybe some of them are already underway.

My personal website is not as ambitious a project as Ziolkowski’s memorial of the Lokatan war leader, but I’m fairly certain that my website will never be truly finished. I’m glad that I spent the time to get to where it is today. There is a lot of work yet to be done (especially on mobile and the archive) but I’m excited to be publishing new stuff again. Recently I published a new portfolio piece, a podcast appearance, a new open source plugin, and some photos into my new snaps area.

Much more to come. Stay subscribed.

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