I’ve been working in web development for the past 8 years or so. Traditionally, I have worked at agencies, creating sites that have been designed in Photoshop, and built afterwards with a CMS integration such as Perch, WordPress, or similar, with occasional forays into Laravel.
But then, because of concerns about WordPress’ future, Indigo Tree, the agency I was working for, invested time for its developers into finding a possible alternative to that popular platform. Lead developer Chris Geary saw an opportunity here. Instead of trying to replace WordPress with another platform in a 1:1 comparison, he realised we could deliver serverless sites using some cutting-edge tools that were emerging.
This approach had the advantage of allowing a transition: the agency could keep selling and building WordPress sites (they’d been doing this for 10 years and were comfortable with it), but these sites would have a separate front-end using the headless CMS strategy. It also allowed them a marketing opportunity: headless was a buzzword, they could position themselves as a thought leader and gain reputation from that.
So began my journey to serverless. I was introduced to Netlify, and promptly moved my sites from PHP to static, which allowed me to see the benefits of continuous integration, and saving myself a monthly hosting fee in the process.
I experimented with Jekyll and Hugo, but I didn’t see a future for me in either of these languages (Ruby and Go, respectively).
As I learned Gatsbyjs I noticed a typo in the docs and submitted an issue. I was invited to fix the issue myself and submit a pull request. I had never done anything like this before! Cloning an open-source project, branching off so I could fix the issue, pushing up my code and submitting a Pull Request … wow. With this new knowledge I felt like I was finally able to give back to some of the amazing tools I’d so often used in the past.
Documenting the Experience
My personal view is that I should document everything I learn, in the hopes that someone else might be able to benefit from my experience. So I started writing about my explorations here on delicious reverie.
Around the same time, my colleagues and I became more concerned for developers using WordPress. It seemed that many of them could soon be pushed out of that platform for reasons I’ll explain in another post. We wanted to help them identify another route that would also encourage best practices in web development.
So I submitted a talk outline for WordCamp London, which is usually attended by 400-500 developers. I also approached print magazine Net on the same subject. Both the talk and the article were accepted. I soon found myself on the main stage at the conference delivering a 40-minute talk, and saw my material published in the print magazine.
I get so terrified about pushing myself forward in these ways, especially because I was new at all of this. But I felt I had something that could potentially help some other people. That motivated me to overcome my abject fear.
Zopa’s Serverless Initiative
Around this time peer-to-peer lender Zopa were looking to replace a Ruby app with a static website. So they approached me directly and called me for several weeks until I finally had time to hear what they were trying to say.
I’ve had to learn a lot in a short space of time, but Zopa have been supportive and patient with my learning experience. In return, I’ve been able to help identify where Gatsby’s APIs can be used to great effect instead of a custom solution that renders content on the frontend. I’ve been able to help other developers explore the GraphQL syntax and use Gatsbyjs’s built-in IDE to query the data structure. And I’ve helped identify where opportunities to use functions hosted on other platforms enable us improve performance.
What I’ve most enjoyed is seeing those “wow” moments as developers really get GatsbyJS, and how, because of it’s approach to data, it’s not just a static site generator, it’s much more than that.