Sara Soueidan is an award-winning front-end developer, author, and speaker from Lebanon. She specializes in semantic markup, CSS, SVG, and responsive design, with a strong focus on accessibility and performance. At the December 2018 edition of dotCSS, Behind the Code took the chance to talk with her about how she learnt to code and to freelance effectively. In this interview, she also shares some tips on how to become a great developer and explains why writing articles can be a good way to sell your skills as a developer.
HTML and parseltongue
First freelance mission
I had zero experience as a freelancer—I didn’t know how everybody else did it. So I took a job for a very small amount of money. I was building a kind of Facebook app and they paid me roughly $300 for two weeks. I would start working as soon as I woke up, before washing my face. I would jump out of bed, get straight on my laptop, and build until midnight. So that encouraged my client to have unrealistic expectations, because they thought I was constantly available for them. Every couple of days they would decide to change something about the design and then I would have to redo everything I’d built. I got red eyes, my nose started bleeding, my back was destroyed. Physically, I was a complete mess. And I didn’t make enough money out of it. So I had to quit—and I learnt not to undercharge. I had to learn how to ask for a fair rate. I had to learn to set my and my clients’ expectations at the right level, and restrict the number of hours I worked per day. So generally, everything I needed to know about freelancing, I learnt from that gig.
How to become a good developer
How do you become a good developer? The only answer is you have to build things. I was using Windows 8 back then, which has these 3D animations. At some point I looked at the animations and I was like, “I should be able to recreate this using CSS 3D animations.” So I decided to give it a go. I did it. And usually when I’m learning something new I research a lot, I read a lot, and then I make a lot of notes. I decided that I wanted to turn those notes into an article, so I created a blog. I didn’t have a blog before that, but I published that article and it got more than 20,000 views in 3 weeks. That was amazing. But the turning point for me, I think, was when I got interested in CSS Shapes. There was nobody else writing about CSS Shapes at that point—maybe a couple of articles on Adobe, because Adobe made CSS Shapes, but that was all. So I started getting interested. I introduced myself to a couple of people who work for Adobe. I started asking them questions and, again, I started making a lot of notes as I was learning. I remember getting an invitation from one of the organizers of Future of Web Design, a conference that has stopped running now. She asked me if I would be willing to give a talk about CSS Shapes in London. My first reaction was, “No, no way.” But then everyone I know was like, “Why? You don’t have anything to lose, right?” So a month later, I applied for the CFP (call for papers) for CSSconf in the US. I applied for 3 different presentation topics and they were all accepted. I always remember Paul Irish, one of my favorite people in the community, talking to me after my presentation, and he said that people would want me to speak more.
Writing to sell your skills
You never know how useful your articles are going to be. You literally never know. I know that a lot of people want to write but they feel intimidated and are always worried about doing it—like, “What if people like it, but what if they don’t?” My attitude was, “Don’t care about that, don’t think about that.” In my opinion, sharing your knowledge brings you customers, because how else are people going to know what you’re good at? And sharing your knowledge about a particular topic is essentially you telling them that you’re knowledgeable about that topic. You may not be an expert, but it shows you’re confident enough to share what you know.Their reaction might be, “Her knowledge will complement our team’s knowledge really well, so she could be a great fit for our team,” or maybe, “Our team is good but we need someone to lead us, someone who is a bit more knowledgeable about this than us.” I think that’s what has the best effect. Tell people what you’re good at—you’re literally selling your skills.
I’m proud of my speaking because it has hopefully helped me change the way people perceive Muslim women like myself. I am also proud of some of my client projects. If I work on a project that will ultimate help people live a healthier life, for example, or improve people’s lives in other ways, I’m proud of that.
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