Tim Eaton

I'm a PHP developer from New Mexico, currently living in the wilds of Philadelphia. I work for InterNACHI, an international trade organization based in Boulder, CO.

Your company's Slack is probably sexist

My company, InterNACHI, is usually quite good about preventing sexist behavior - I feel like we all work quite well together and listen to each other’s ideas. However, this article is a good review of inadvertant sexist communication, some of which I think I could get better at.

Many of my female colleagues at Quartz have noted that on Slack, men (and sometimes women) capitalize on the “bold privilege.” Not all, but many, male editors frequently respond to ideas with little more than a “k” or “no,” while female editors are more likely to explain what’s wrong with ideas they reject, and thank reporters for their work.

[…]

While incessant communication in digital spaces theoretically permits everyone to avoid interruptions and take as many turns as they like—Slack’s argument for the platform as a democratizing force—the reality isn’t so equitable. Publicly, on average, women don’t take as many turns as men, and their turns are more likely to be offering social support, says Anderson, the workplace communications consultant. “That’s as true online as it is offline. And when women see men taking many turns, being disrespectful, or shutting down a conversation, they’re likely to switch to another channel, where the communication is more collaborative and supportive,” she says.

It’s a good idea to think about how your communication style comes across to your team!

How awesome engineers ask for help

I’m happy to work in an environment where most of us are very comfortable asking for help, and express our appreciation for each other constantly - but this article is a great reminder of how to build professional relationships.

This part is especially useful also:

Take short notes during the process. These might be useful to you later. They also display appreciation and respect towards your coworker. Active learning is far more effective than passive learning, so participate as much as possible by speaking and writing.

Pair programming takes a lot of energy. If you sense that you’re flagging, then don’t be afraid to say that you’re going to work on the problem on your own for a while. Be specific about how you will explore the problem so that they can leave you to it with confidence. This will keep you from zoning out.

Learning from Coworkers

Last week, I had the chance to sit in on a presentation someone was giving about using my software. It was the first time I had experienced that - and I felt both slightly flattered and slightly mortified. I’ve done user testing before, and I’ve shown many people how to use the tools I had written, but this was different.

The tools she was showing were for internal use, and it was all employees listening. It turned out to be very educational, and I think this was especially because she had prepared all the slides showing her workflow. Of course we talk to our coworkers about how to use the tools, and respond to their requests for new features or a simpler workflow, but often it still comes down to our development team deciding how the tools work. Then we imagine people using the tools the way we would use them.

This specific tool was designed to keep track of state licensing departments for home inspectors - and specific settings for each one, to be applied to the education courses our company offers to subscribers. It tracks approval numbers, stores approval documents, takes care of notification settings, notes on our conversations with the licensing departments, etc. It does it’s job, but it’s gotten bloated.

Initially, when I designed it a number of years ago, it was very simple and the forms were small. However, I’ve had to add so many different options and features as we’ve grown bigger and had many more states and countries approve our courses for licensing. Since I look at the code and don’t use the tool myself, the amount of options had slowly crept towards a massive form my coworkers had to use.

You can imagine how useful it was, then, to see it from someone else’s perspective after all of the bloat it had acquired, and I started taking notes. It was incredibly educational:

  • I realized that they were using different words to describe the options then the ones that I had used. They made sense to me, but my coworkers thought about pieces of the tool in different ways.
  • I thought of a new way to break up the organization of the settings so there weren’t so many of them on a single page.
  • In addition, I noticed how many clicks they needed to get to commonly-needed information. Again, this wasn’t an issue years ago, but as the company has grown, I realized that different employees needed different sections of the tool. This led me to a new idea of how to organize the dashboard.

All in all, a good surprise and learning experience for me! Now to get to work…

Visual MySQL Tools

This weekend I discovered a new tool for viewing MySQL databases: TablePlus. It’s worth a try if you like visual representations of your data - and it looks beautiful. I’ve used Sequel Pro for a number of years, but TablePlus has several advantages.

  • It has automatic formatting and syntax highlighting while writing queries.
  • Its search feature allows you to easily search more than one field - Sequel Pro has a nice search feature, but it takes longer to add additional search parameters.
  • You can change the display theme and not have to look at all white rows.
  • Command-P will open any table for you, similar to Sublime Text or PHPStorm.
  • Best of all, when you make any change, it “stages” the change first. You can then view the SQL query, discard the changes, or commit them.

All in all, it looks much more keyboard-friendly than Sequel Pro. I’m going to try it out for the next couple of weeks and see if I still like it.

PS: If you’re looking for a visual tool to use in the terminal, Brian Steffens’ Prequel looks pretty fun, also!

About HTML Semantics and Front-End Architecture

I’ve been increasingly persuaded by this way of thinking about HTML and CSS - for a long time, we’ve looked at HTML and CSS as entirely separate things, too the point that I didn’t even like using class names if I could avoid it. This has led to a lot of trouble, however, and I think it’s a fairly good point that HTML and CSS do not need to be separated at all. It’s not like HTML is a pure language by itself; it’s simply markup. There isn’t actually a good reason to force it to be separate from design markup. Or, as Nicolas Gallagher puts it in this blog post:

We shouldn’t be afraid of making the connections between layers clear and explicit rather than having class names rigidly reflect specific content. Doing this doesn’t make classes “unsemantic”, it just means that their semantics are not derived from the content. We shouldn’t be afraid to include additional HTML elements if they help create more robust, flexible, and reusable components. Doing so does not make the HTML “unsemantic”, it just means that you use elements beyond the bare minimum needed to markup the content.

Why All the Yaks?

Why do I keep using “yak” in my websites? It all started on a backpacking trip to China…

My friends – fair-haired friends especially – had told me stories about China. They talked of train trips in the 80s during which they met people who had never seen a white person, and those people spent much of the trip trying to hold their hands and stroke their hair. I figured: I didn’t look Chinese, but I also wasn’t blonde.

Apparently a beard counted. My personal bubble had never been squeezed as much as it was in 2010, traveling through Sichuan. I couldn’t walk far through any market before someone would grab and tug my beard, and lift my sleeves to see my tattoos. I wasn’t too bothered, because often next I would be offered a pint of barley whiskey, sweet, like it comes in China.

So – when I spent a day traveling to the Yunnan Province, an English-speaking driver took it to the next level. He grabbed my beard, called me “Yakman”, and gave me the shotgun seat. He taught me the Tibetan words for “I love you! Let’s f#ck!” and encouraged me to yell it at every girl the bus passed (I abstained). When we passed the many yaks in the Himalayan foothills, he shouted: “Look, your mother! Look, your sister!” No one I had seen for weeks had a beard close to as long as mine. I could have been offended, but I couldn’t stop laughing.

This wasn’t the first time I had run into yaks. The first time was when a neighbor – out in rural western New Mexico – purchased a number of feral, illegally transported yaks and brought them into the area, whereupon they promptly escaped. My friends and I were called upon to corner them in pouring snow, out in the woods. We passed around sticks and whips, and someone handed me the slingshot. “Your job is to hit the bull in the nose if it charges anyone around you.”

When a bull charges, you shoot. And dive. I hit it twice. Dove thrice. It broke our circle a half-dozen times. We didn’t trap the bull yak until a random rancher drove by and coaxed it with some bovine tricks I didn’t know. Turned out, we all survived. The yaks were brought farther out into the mountains.

Something about all this has stuck with me.

Only 90s Web Developers Remember This

My mind was blown, many years ago, when I read David Siegel’s Creating Killer Websites. Suddenly the world of internet design opened up to me, and I no longer made horribly ugly geocities pages with full-page text - I could use tables and invisible 1x1 gifs for layout! CSS came into the picture and we no longer had to have underlined links! Those days are long gone, but Zach Holman reminded folks about it in this post.

Hello, World!

Hi folks! I’ve been a travel blogger off and on for quite some time, but this is a new move for me. Instead of posting design and programming content on Twitter and Facebook, I’ll be posting it here. I’ve been inspired by the things I’ve read at IndieWeb about hosting your own content instead of relying on businesses that may or may not fail and close - so I took a few days to put together a new Jekyll theme based on my old website, and I’m ready to try it out. Welcome!