Making Things, Fast

These days, I'm a hobbyist web developer. That used to be a common thing people did; it was like having a crafting hobby, but with web pages. Over the last decade or two, though, making a website became either something done by professional developers using incredibly complex tools, or the province of people using some of the simple services that let you build a website from a template.

Lost in that transition was a bit of the folk knowledge that people used to share with each other, like how to make a certain visual trick appear on the page you were designing, or how to make your site load more quickly. But some vestiges of that DIY era of the web still persist in the way that you can just search for how to improve certain aspects of your website and find some amazing resources to help.

In my case, it was trying to enable "lazy" loading of images on my site; this is a technique where big pictures aren't loaded in your web browser until you need them. I was in the midst of implementing such a solution when I looked at the documentation that Google had created for people trying to build such a thing, and was struck anew that the lazy loading example page actually included a Glitch app embedded right in the documentation, to show how to pull off the trick.

Now, intellectually, I know that Google's smart developers embed Glitch apps in tons of their examples, to make things easier for all kinds of developers. But outside of the work context where I think about these things all day, and in my hobbyist mindset, where I just tinker with things and sometimes break them, and just try to have fun learning it struck me anew that this stuff we get to work on every day is pretty amazing. Being able to see a live, running app that I can use as a model for my own work is powerful. And it was particularly fitting that I was trying to make my little website faster. It turns out, having a real app that you can tear apart and see how it works so you can try the same technique makes things a lot faster, too.

In short, it felt like how I learned carpentry from my dad when I was a kid. He'd let me try out tools, always watching safely to make sure I didn't cut my fingers off or glue my hands together or something. But nothing got me up to speed quicker than tearing apart some existing piece of furniture and then trying to reassemble it, or use it as a model for my own version. It's still something magical, like instantly upgrading your brain.

(Oh, and yeah, this site still probably loads pretty slowly. I'm still learning how to make it faster!)