Benjamin Read's code garden.

Things I Learned By Working for Free

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This article is about: personal

Developers sometimes get asked to do stuff for free. If that happens, it generally can be a warning sign that would be right to steer well clear of. It’s easy to end up feeling cheated. But I’ve been fortunate to be involved in two projects that, although I earned no money from, I felt that I benefited greatly.

Project 1: Edifice #

Edifice came about from the need that a large voluntary organisation had for tracking teams, projects and skill levels on construction projects throughout London, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire.

The lead developer, a personal friend, invited me to join the project initially as a front end developer. When I started, my friend was training a largely unskilled workforce in a huge range of different abilities that he needed for his project, including HTML, CSS, Java, JavaScript, and others.

I at once suggested that to save development time he could use a preexisting framework like Foundation or Bootstrap, which would allow the 3 or 4 skilled developers to work on the rest of the Java MVC web app, whilst the less skilled could work on refining the front end views.

Working on this project gave me an opportunity to learn first hand from a former university lecturer about so many subjects. Among other things, I learned how internet protocols work, why we use relational databases instead of spreadsheets and loads of other stuff.

I also got to work closely with another experienced programmer from whom I learned how to map processes and from these write user stories, how to use Git and Github, and even how to format my code properly.

Yes, the project was for no monetary value, but was genuinely instrumental in my career.

Edifice on Github

Project 2: #

I volunteered to build this website because - as you’ll know if you follow me on Twitter - I love this 90s TV show. The fan campaign to get the show back on television is run by one stalwart fan, and they needed a home website.

I built the site on Bootstrap and Wordpress, very quickly. I think it was in about 3 weeks in my spare time. Whilst it was fun, I didn’t do anything spectacularly original during the build.

But after the project went live, I tracked user flows and kept in touch with the fans via social media, and iterated on the site. It was great to have fan feedback and suggestions, and to see when I changed something on the site, what the results could be.

Being motivated to refine the site after the go live taught me so much about how a website is a living document that can change to fit the changing needs of its users.

The Internet - Built on Free #

A huge chunk of the progress in web standards, in the ability to do incredible stuff with websites, in what we know as the internet today came about by dedicated people who were willing to invest their time and effort building the community and constructing the things we benefit from each day.

So-doing stuff for free, generally a bad idea. Unless there’s some personal gain or it’s for a cause you genuinely care about and are willing to invest in.

You may be surprised what you can learn from getting involved in many incredible projects that really need your support.”

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“Wisest are they who know they do not know.”

— Jostein Gaarder