New portfolio online (and a little bit of reflection)

As must be more or less clear from the new link in this website’s navigation, I have a new portfolio site online.

Some may question the need for a programmer to have a portfolio. Well, to me, my work has always been very visual. In many of the projects I’ve been involved, I had a influence in how the design plays out, and especially in how motion was used. I’m usually especially proud of how the work turned out, so I like showing it off, and looking at the full list myself. It’s a form of therapy: I’ve created stuff.

Another reason for this new site is that, well, I’ve always had a portfolio. The oldest version I have on disk right now is from 2002. My most recent portfolio hasn’t had any updates since 2008. I’ve since had many “prototypes” over time that never saw the light of the day, and a new version was long overdue.

In many ways, the new portfolio is nowhere near complete. It has some of my favorite projects listed: 17 of them at this point. However, there’s more than a hundred other project entries that I need to update to the new format. Keeping that over time is hard.

But that’s not what I want to write about in this post. There’s instead 3 different topics I’d like to touch, each of them a little bit of a reflection on my portfolio and the work that it contains.

The first one is that, to me, a portfolio is not exactly a way to sell myself. I am not looking for work, and not trying to market my work. It is, instead, an exercise and an experiment.

Looking back at the history of this porfolio site, while it went public in August 2017, it was actually started in October 2015, with a first live version in February 2017. At first, it used Browserify and Gulp (my build tools of choice at the time), and later migrated to Webpack; it started using global LESS stylesheets, and then migrated to PostCSS with CSS Modules; it went from React Router v2, to v3, to v4 (a bigger endeavor than it sounds); and it went from using a bunch of global objects for some state, to Redux, to MobX.

In sum, anything I wanted to play around with was thrown into this project, and some of it ended up sticking. I would constantly refactor things. In the end, the only thing that was there since the beginning was its language of choice, TypeScript.

Interestingly, many of the lessons I learned on this project were things that I ended up bringing to my own daily work at Work&Co. That was by design. Having a sandbox to play around with and get yourself dirty is a great way to get more acquainted with a tool or a library before you decide to use it for real work. I may be a bit of a Joseph Grand with my own projects, always starting and never finishing, but I like to believe I aim at trying things that are useful.

The second point of reflection is how this version of my portfolio made me rethink the relationship I have with some of the work I’ve published. In my own list, I have some pretty old projects. Some go back 16 years. Looking at the information for these projects, it’s interesting to see that pretty much every related URL is dead. I’m not just talking about the domain of an original campaign website going offline; that’s to be expected. I’m talking about websites with more information such as news sites, Ad industry sites, and even award sites. Anything that was made more than 10 years ago might as well not have existed. Awards that were given even 6 years ago are not listed anywhere anymore.

My solution was to implement automatic Internet Archive redirections to any link that was tagged as “dead”. This doesn’t work for the vast majority of projects I had listed, since many of them are Flash-based (a problem in itself). But it ensures that at least some informational links still work.

Still, this experience made me aware of how short-lived some of my work can be. I find myself constantly thinking back on some project I’m especially proud of, but having no way of showing them to someone. While I do have archived copies of most of them, getting all the resources working to host them online is not always feasible. One lesson here is to capture the “essence” of projects to the best extent possible via images and “walkthrough” videos. Where will the web be in another 10 years? Much of what we take for granted today will be gone. As a side note, that’s one of the reasons why I make a point of donating to the Internet Archive every year.

The third and final reflection is one of timing. I keep looking at the dates for my old projects. In most cases, I made notes of the start, end, and launch dates of each project, even thought that’s not exposed in the current portfolio. And one thing is clear: old projects were fast. I had complex, ground-breaking projects routinely take a month or so from start to finish, and some even take a week.

Of course, the scope of most of my projects is very different today. And rather than working on campaigns, I’m working on products. I don’t make much out of it: more than anything, I think it’s a sign of the maturity of online and mobile as a media. Still, it’s a bit interesting going from about 10 projects per year to 1. There’s a little less experimentation involved, and it’s more about the practicality and usability of a project than the awe it inspires. Each good in its own right.