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On being Developer and Designer with Jacob Gube

Shortly after I had the chat conversation with Grant Friedman, I contacted another famous internet hero: Jacob Gube. If you don't already know this great guy living in Bloomington, I'm sure you've seen his website: SixRevisions. The site provides practical, useful information for the modern, standards-compliant web designer and web developer. It seeks to present exceptional, noteworthy tips, tutorials, and resources that the modern web professional will appreciate.

Jacob shared some great stuff with me during this chat conversation; About his personal life, his "online life", webdevelopment and design tips and more. It's one of the most inspirational chat conversations I had.

On being Developer and Designer with Jacob Gube

Many personal opinions (both from me and Jacob) are shared in this conversation. If you have another opinion yourself, feel free to share them with us by simply leaving a comment.

Sit back and enjoy this chat conversation! I'm sure you might learn something from this great and creative webdesigner / developer.

On being Developer and Designer with Jacob Gube

Hi Jacob! First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Most of the readers will already know you from Six Revisions, but for those that don't, could you please introduce yourself? Where do you live, what do you do and what do you love to eat?

Well, hello there Marco, thanks for conducting this interview, I'm honored! I'm Jacob Gube and I work as a web developer and designer. Little known fact: my last name is pronounced "Goobeh".

I live in a college town, Bloomington, IN, home of the Hoosiers! It's a beautiful paradise where you get all the luxuries of living in a city without having to deal with the hassles and expenses of living in one; I've lived in cities my entire life before living here - Btown is a treat. I describe Bloomington in this way: imagine all the best traits of a city and all the best traits of a small Midwest town, and then combine them together - that's where I live. It's a great place to be a geek and SproutBox, whose website you may have seen in design galleries, and who are also coming out with these amazing web apps like DecideAlready, are here in Bloomington. I've chatted with the founders and we all agree that this place has the potential to become a tech city (like Austin, SV, Seattle, and Boulder) because it's the perfect environment for developers and creatives.

What do I love to eat? I have a pretty normal eating habit and even though it's a trend nowadays, I haven't gone vegetarian, vegan, or all organic. I like grilling out, so this is my favorite season, though winter and snow hasn't stopped me from grilling outdoors before. I do accomodate people's eating preferences when I grill, so even though I cook a lot of meat, I reserve a spot on the grill where meat has not touched it for people who are vegetarian or vegan.

Haha, thanks for that little known fact; I always thought it was pronounced as "Goob" (Like "Cube", but with a "G"). Good thing you cleared that up, but I guess you can't pronounce my last name correct (Spelled "Kuiper")!

Looks like Bloomington absolutely is one place where loads of creative and inspirational people live. I live in The Netherlands and as far as I know, I'm the only one that has a site like mine in the whole country. My personal friend Gaya is kicking it up really fast too, but other than us, there aren't many bloggers around here that I know of.

Anyway, I'm drifting away here. I know SixRevisions already for a while now (articles keep on popping up on Digg, StumbleUpon etc.) and I really love the place. For those people that don't know about SixRevisions, could you tell them what it is?

That's a common mistake on my last name and I'm not bothered by it. A lot of times, I don't even put forth the effort of correcting people.

The Netherlands is awesome, I've been there once, Amsterdam, but only briefly. Me, my brother, and my parents travelled through Europe and it was one of our stops.

Alright, as for your question on what Six Revisions is. Six Revisions is an online publication that shares useful information, tutorials, and how-to's on design and development topics. I'm stirring away from calling the site a "blog" because it has transitioned into having more formal and more manicured types of articles written by various contributing authors. When I think of "blog", I think: informal, opinionated, and usually written by just one person - and that's not what the site's about now. But the style is still, and will always be, the same: to the point, no BS, no fluff - just straight up good information formatted in an easy-to-consume manner and very bookmark-friendly.

I guess the other reason I don't like calling the site a "blog" is because I hate being called a "blogger". I associate the word "blogger" to uppity, internet celebrity, "I'm better than you, bow down to me", artsy-fartsy people, and that's totally not me. I'm very down-to-earth, straightforward, humble, and I never think I'm better than anyone.

Maybe that approach is the key of the great success of SixRevisions. Many blogs, including mine, are writting from a "one-person" perspective (talking about "I wrote a post about..").

The site has loads of webdesign and webdevelopment related articles. Although there also are guest articles on 6R, many of the posts are written by you. How and why did you start, where did your interest inthe field came from and how did you come up with the name?

Six Revisions was sort of something I established on a whim: I didn't have a game plan (and to be honest, I still don't have a game plan), I just wanted to create a place where I can keep and share stuff that I learned from working as a developer slash designer. I just woke up one morning and said to myself: "Hey, you know what, I'm going to create a blog" - and by the end of that day, I had a domain name, a web host (Media Temple at the time), a WordPress installation using Derek Punsalan's Grid Focus theme, and an article written and posted. Of course no one visited that first day since the DNS records haven't fully propagated yet - but everything was done in a day and not premeditated.

Why did I start? I really love web development and web design. It's my ultimate passion in life. Some people like hiking, others like baking; I happen to like things related to making websites. I wanted to document that passion -- and that's why I started Six Revisions.

The name of the site was inspired by my graphic design experience. When you're designing something, you usually have revision sets which, depending on the terms and agreements, can run for a long time especially when clients are very wishy-washy or unsure about what they really want, or very, shall we say, nitpicky. This revision cycle typically iterates two or three times, but I chose 'Six' because it sounded great. I was going to go with 9Revisions but that seemed like too many revisions.

It's always fun and interesting to hear how other people started their website. It took me a longer while to start my own and come up with a domain name. The "9" is a more commonly used number in domain names (Tutorial9, 9rules), but "SixRevisions" does have a nice "ring" to it.

You also wrote some very nice articles for the guys over at SmashingMagazine. How do you decide which articles you write for your own website and which to submit to others? I always try to achieve the highest quality in my articles and that makes me want to put them on my own blog. How do you deal with this?

Great question. In the case of Smashing Magazine, I work closely with the Co-Founder/Chief Editor (Vitaly Friedman) and he usually provides me with some ideas to write about, and whether or not I would like to write it for Smashing Magazine; this man is a genius and I always playfully ask him if I could borrow or rent his brain for a while. We work pretty well together and we both have a unified idea of where we want to take a story to.

So, it's not like I write an article and then decide whether it's going on Six Revisions or Smashing Magazine – that has already been decided even before I write the article. I treat Smashing Magazine like it's one of my own sites and I think they appreciate that sort of dedication and ownership from their authors; I have a stake in Smashing Magazine's success and so I have a vested interest to write high-quality articles for them.

In general though, when I write for other websites - whether it's a bigger site like Smashing Magazine or a smaller one than my own - I make sure that the article I contribute is something I would be proud to publish on Six Revisions and not a “hand-me-down”. Content I write for others are as good as the articles I publish on Six Revisions, if not better. This is an unspoken rule to guest writing that will allow you to gain the best outcome when contributing to sites other than your own.

Unfortunately, I sometimes get haphazardly written articles that people would like to publish on Six Revisions and it's very discouraging to see that the article they contribute seems like it was written hastily. If you yourself won't publish it on your site, why would you expect other people to publish it on theirs?

I absolutely agree with your "philosophy" on that one. Although I've only written two guest posts on blogs bigger than mine (The iPhone Springboard in XHTML, CSS and jQuery and 20+ Wicked Proof of Concepts for Better use of jQuery/CSS), I think I've placed more offort in creating those than those on Marcofolio, just for the simple reason to show "what Marcofolio can offer".

Loads of popular people from the blog-o-sphere are attending the Front-end Design Conference. Names like Fabio Sasso (Abduzeedo), Chris Coyier (CSS-Tricks) and Grant Friedman (Colorburned) will be there. Did you ever spoke on something like that (or in front of a class or something), sharing your knowledge?

And something else small: Which person from the blog-o-sphere would you really love to meet in real life and why?

I do a lot of writing and not a lot of speaking because that's where I'm most comfortable. I'm writing a couple of books, authoring for some web publications, and writing for my site, but I don't have any speaking engagements down the pipe. I spoke about wikis and "Web 2.0" earlier this year at a business conference to share ways in which wikis can be used to enhance business objectives and lead to better interaction with site users - other than that, I prefer the written medium as opposed to the auditory medium - I convey my thoughts and ideas better in written form.

Meeting people in real life... do I only get to pick one? I think I'd need a list for this.

First, I want to meet Vitaly Friedman and the Smashing Magazine crew, and I already owe them a round of beers if I ever get to travel to Germany - we've talked about this playfully in the past, and I was thinking Oktoberfest would be the perfect time to travel to Europe; if that ever happens you've got to take me around Amsterdam, Marco!

Second group of people I'd like to meet are my online "blogger" buddies: Steven Snell of Vandelay Design/, Noura Yehia from Noupe, and Henry Jones of Web Design Ledger because I only get to talk to them by email or IM and I'd like to formally introduce myself in person.

Front-end Designers (who also write/blog) that I really want to meet in person are: Jan Cavan from Dawghouse Design Studio, Chris Wallace, and Francisco Inchauste of FINCH - very creative and talented individuals who I think I can learn a thing or two from.

I can name a lot more people and I'm sure I've left out some people that I should've mentioned!

Haha, if you really come to Europe, I would gladly give you a tour through Amsterdam. I've never met any "online people" myself (Except for Gaya), but I would also really love to see and meet the person behind the website in real life.

You are a very versatile person; You have loads of knowledge about the latest buzz on the net, make some great stuff with jQuery, manage to design some slick Photoshop stuff and yet, you have time to have such an excessive chatting conversation with me.

How do you manage? What's your secret? Is there any particular stuff that you draw inspiration from and how do you keep "on top of the game"?

Well, first, thank you for the compliment. One of the things people immediately notice about me is that I do have a wide variety of interests. That allows me to write a diverse amount of content such as creating a simple web button in Photoshop, building a standards-based, degrading JavaScript content slider, or how to set up an XAMPP environment for WordPress development.

How do I manage? Being able to manage my schedule, which typically starts from 6:00AM and ends around 11:00PM everyday, would be very difficult for most people. But I live in breathe this stuff - and to me, it doesn't feel like work.

There's no secret: just love what you do. It helps that I'm very passionate about this stuff and that I can't think of anything else in the world that I would rather do than development and design.

A person I draw inspiration from is my dad. In the 26 years that I've been alive, I've never once heard him complain about how long or how hard he's worked, he's very dedicated at what he does and he can't imagine doing anything else.

I guess the biggest thing is to have fun at what you're doing regardless of whether it's development, design, generating TPS reports, or baking cookies. If you're not having fun at what you do -- life's too short, take a risk, quit your job, and follow your passion! Your work is what you'll be doing for the majority of your adult life and if you can think of just one job you'd rather be doing, you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing.

Those were some very inspiring words Jacob - hands down for that. Working around 16 hours (!) a day. Although I understand that you must love what you do, 16 hours absolutely is a lot.

I want to ask you a question that I've asked Janko and Chris too. They gave some pretty interesting answers, and I wonder what you would think of it.

What do you think is the most over- and underrated (web)development/-design techniques out there? The whole "Web 2.0-style" is dying now, but what will take it's place?

This may ruffle some feathers, and I admire this technology, I really do - but I think Rails is overrated. It's great and everything, but many people seem to think that it's unique, when you've got very solid PHP frameworks like CakePHP, Zend, EE -- and even Microsoft has an awesome RAD framework, .NET. Don't take this the wrong way, I am not disparaging Rails in any way, it is great at what it does and I've published several articles about it on my site, but I think that there's some hype surrounding it that I think is now dying down. Overrated design techniques: I can't stand dark backgrounds and bright text, to me it gets tiring on the eyes when it's used for long blocks of text. Some people believe that it's actually easier on the eyes, I think that's a bunch of bull.

Underrated development technique: using MooTools. It's such a great JS framework and I'm disappointed that many people get turned off by it quickly. It's excellent for those that really care about OOP and who love extensibility.

"Web 2.0" style designs are calming down for sure, but I think the design concepts that it's brought into the mix: simplicity, focus on the product, high emphasize on usability, a bigger focus on user experience, etc. will be here forever.

Interestion opinion. I personally believe that Rails (and other specific web programming languages like Grails and JSP) only should be used when you really want to use the power of that language that the more common languages can't do. For example, you can't do any video conversion with PHP; You'll need something else to do so. That's where those other languages kick in.

MooTools indeed isn't very used, eventhough it existed before the now very popular jQuery. jQuery is just far more easy to use, especially if you're not familiar with object-oriented programming.

What do you think are the most important skills for a designer/developer to have? Do they all need to be creative, or is that just one "handy side issue"?

I completely agree with your jQuery sentiment - it's much easier for, say, a web designer who isn't interested in programming but still want to be able to develop basic scripts for interaction. I love them both, and I tend to use one or the other depending on my mood and depending on who I'm working with.

An important skill you should have is "people skills" - the ability to communicate your thoughts well with clients and managers. You have to be able to explain your ideas to someone that doesn't necessarily know how web development/design works. I believe that there's a big value to being a developer who knows how design works, and a designer who knows how development works. It's a highly-debated issue: many people feel that these two processes should be compartmentalized, I believe it shouldn't. I seem to favor people who can do both equally well, Henry Jones of Web Design Ledger and Chris Wallace are good examples.

The "people skill" was pretty out of the box thinking. Especially for freelancers this is a vital skill to have, both to explain techy stuff as well as just a nice person to communicate with.

The web has improved a lot these years. It first started out as static HTML, dynamic HTML followed pretty fast and with the launch of Javascript and Flash, it really changed the way how people interact with the web.

I assume that you followed these trends. What do you hope the "next-gen" web will bring us? Is there anything "missing" from the current way people browse the web that you would like to see?

Next-gen web, that's an interesting question - I can think of a million things that the next-gen should have. A lot of my wishes are already contained in W3C HTML5 and CSS3 Recommendation drafts: better handling of multimedia objects, programmatic and dynamic drawing with the Canvas element, semantic mark-up for better/easier interoperability with other systems. I think there's nothing missing with the web experience that we can realistically attain with the technologies we have now: the web's adopted technologies that are present in other forms of media (radio, TV, etc.). I could say that olfactory system engagement is missing, but that's missing in all forms of media.

Haha! An olfactory system would be great if people would want to buy parfume over the net - this way, they can get a sample over the net. That would be pretty weird.

In the whole webdevelopment process, from starting (talking with the client, designing and coding) and delivery, what do you think is the most useful "tip" that you can share with us? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve that you use in any part of the process that you use every time, simply because it works so well?

The biggest tip I can offer is to do a thorough job of requirements-gathering before embarking on a project. This can prevent a lot of scope creep and really give you a good picture of what you have to do. When starting on a new project, I invest time in heavy requirements-gathering and developing a solid project spec report - this pays dividends in the long run. Developing a thorough report also allows me to absorb the things I'm about to create and gives me a detailed picture of what needs to happen and when. Read my thoughts on this topic in an article I wrote last year called "Eight Tips on How to Manage Feature Creep"

Pretty cool to hear you use terms like "scope creep" and "requirements-gathering". These are the kinds of terms that are mostly used for application development and not so much for (small) websites. Still, they provide the webdeveloper a solid base and it'll make the client happy for sure.

Now something totally different: What in the world couldn't you live without, when talking about your work that isn't obvious? Examples could be: a stress ball, certain kind of music, an inspirational room where you work etc.

I can't live without my Moleskine notebook. I use it as a planner, as a place to jot down ideas, to draw sketches, keep a list of things I need to buy from the grocery, and just about anything and everything. I carry it everywhere I go and though I'm in a profession that revolves around technology, software, and web applications, it's nice and refreshing to have something that doesn't involve 0's and 1's.

Sometimes, the "old and fashioned" way is the best. You also don't have to start up a notebook and you're all ready to go.

How do you personally prefer on learning new things and why? Online tutorials, reading a book, calling an expert, "trial and error" etc.?

I'm a visual learner, so the best way for me to learn is by doing it and seeing things in action, "learning by doing". So, "trial and error" is the way I learn most effectively.

I do read a lot as well, both books and online tutorials. I like the ability to take a book in the middle of nowhere (i.e. my living room's couch, 30 feet away from one of my computers) and just read a textbook on a topic I'm interested in (right now, I'm reading a JavaScript book and a Photoshop book).

I see. Personally, I love the "trial and error" too. No books for me; online tuts are great.

Visual designers draw their inspiration from looking at designs from others or checking stuff in real life and try to make it their own. How to you get your inspiration, from a programmers point of view? I think it's harder for a programmer to actually create something innovative and new; harder than it is for a designer. What do you think?

I'll have to say that I disagree about programmers not being innovative and creative. I see innovation every day I come to work - I see my peer developers doing something I would've never thought of doing. In my personal experience, it's actually harder for me to come up with a unique development solution than it is to create a nice design. Taking a design and making it work in various browsers and having legacy browsers like IE6 support it with little to no loss in fidelity from the original design is a lot more difficult and requires a lot more thinking and planning.

This opinion comes from someone who has worked both sides: development and design. I find that a good programmer is very creative: he or she finds unique solutions to things most other people wouldn't even think of doing. That's where you distinguish "developers" who develop and create, and "coders" (or to use a slightly less PC term, "code monkeys") who just write 5,000 lines of code.

Wouldn't you agree that you've got to be a creative thinker to solve a feature demand with less lines and more optimized code that works in various environments (cross-browser support) than other people? Wouldn't you also agree that fixing a bug requires a great deal of "thinking out of the box" to find the cause of the issue: whether it is coming up with the solution on your own or even devising a creative search term and process that leads you to a pre-made solution?

You're absolutely right Jacob - it was a misunderstanding. I'm a programmer myself and (try to be) creative and innovative most of the times. Just look at the iPhone: The gadget has some great features that are never shown before. It really gave mobile development a totally new twist. My previous question was just about how a programmer could get inspiration.

You did gave an interesting view though; as I understand correct, you say the most creative and innovative programmers are both designers too and know "the best of both worlds".

Jacob, I want to thank you tremendously for having this conversation. It has been very eye-opening to me and I hope this counts for the readers of Marcofolio too.

If we want to find you on the net, on what places are you active and should we start looking? And do you have any last words that you want to share?

I'd like to thank you for taking the time to conduct this interview Marco! Your questions are all interesting and I must admit that I enjoyed this whole experience!

You can easily find me on Twitter and lurking in the comment section on Six Revisions.

Last words: don't be afraid to try something new, you never know what opportunities might open up just by saying, "yes, why not?"

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