A younger me would have scoffed a bit at the idea of labeling my own website as a project worthy of mention. Now – on its 8th iteration – I instead scoff at my younger me. In its early stages, my websites served as a wonderful development sandbox to learn and grow while also promoting all of my creations.
These days I’ve learned to focus even more on the work that I think truly stands out in my repertoire and simplify how my websites are managed. My personal advice to any developer considering managing your own site I say this: Simplify. Unless your day job involves keeping up on website standards and possibly even building them for a living, do yourself a favor and pay someone to help you out.
While I’m unlikely to ever delve deep into PHP, Laravel, Html, Css, etc. ever again with the same vigor, I appreciate the sweet release WordPress now offers me, letting me focus on the projects that truly fuel my passion.
- Established in 2010
- Sixth design iteration
- Initially built from scratch in PHP, then using the Laravel framework, until finally transitioning to WordPress
Below is a brief bullet point list of LasseLaursen.com’s most significant events:
- 2010 – LasseLaursen.com registered. At the time, the website was nothing more than text and a link to my Gpu Bee-havior paper.
- 2014 – Initial website design, written entirely in PHP from scratch.
- 2015 – Second site design, written in PHP using the Laravel framework and Foundation layout package.
- 2016 – Third site design, updated to latest Laravel version.
- 2017-2020 – Minor site updates adding broadcasting related features and fixes.
- 2023 – Fourth site design, transition to WordPress.
I can imagine a small handful of web developers gasp at the notion of resorting to WordPress having previously built sites in Laravel. In the next section, I explain why…
Let me preempt my answer by emphasizing that I always prefer knowing how the sausage is made. Meaning I am drawn to intricate details and prefer understanding all of the ins and outs of a system so I know the absolute best way of coding something. This habit has driven my past website development; from hand-crafting HTML and CSS, all the way to using Laravel to create custom websites.
But if anyone today asks me if they should do the same, I would start by asking them: Do you work with web technologies for a living?
If the answer is no, I’d caution building your own site. Yes, it will give you unparalleled hands-on experience with web technologies but there’s a hidden cost I didn’t initially properly consider: Knowledge fade. Most custom built websites will require significant effort and knowledge to not just build, but also build the scaffolding to actively develop and deploy said website. Over time, this knowledge will fade unless you continuously work with all these elements on a regular basis.
In my case, a good friend of mine hosts – or rather, hosted – my site on a Linux server. Not wanting to mix the development environment with the production environment I initially looked into running Apache on my Windows OS. Fast-forward to about 4 weeks later and I was losing my sanity over how many minor, but significant, differences my development environment on Windows had to the deployed environment on Linux. VirtualBox and Vagrant to the rescue and – via it – I learned tons about setting up a virtual environment to now host my website development environment in. I spent months building the custom-made site, learned lots about Laravel and Foundation. Once the work was complete, a few weeks passed between updates and tweaks. Then months. Finally a whole year had gone by without me needing to touch the site.
Then, on a cold November morning, something broke and by then I had forgotten everything from how to start the virtual machine, to how to fix various eccentricities it occasionally presented with, such as not being able to SSL into it, to setting up x-debug via PHP to quickly trouble-shoot problems. This knowledge returned faster than it had taken to learn initially, and I will fully admit that had I left myself some out-of-code documentation ala. Confluence, I would have been better off. But I maintain that the true lesson is that websites live in such a fast evolving environment, that unless you’re keeping up with these changes by proxy of your day-job, or make it your side-hobby to do web development, you’re better off handing over the reigns to someone else to manage your back-end.
My design has had to adapt a bit to fitting into WordPress’ mold, but by and large I’m very pleased with the outcome. Having never used WordPress before, it’s taken me about four weeks to replicate my old site which likely consumed upwards of six months of my time factoring in all the work spent setting up the right build environment, deployment tools, and building the site itself using PHP and Laravel.
Why a website?
The phrase ‘If you build it, they will come.’ is a quote from the movie Field of Dreams. It is also a sentiment that pretty much never ever applies to anything anyone has ever created. Unless you’re literally giving away money for free, people will not magically be drawn to what you do. Even the free money distribution concept still requires at least some promotion to get the ball rolling. All of this is to say, unless you don’t care if anyone ever sees, uses, or enjoys something you’ve made, you should promote your work. It is arguable at least as important as the work itself, which – to me – has always felt unintuitive. Especially because I – like most people – don’t particularly care for advertising, which promotion feels awfully close to.
But you must do this. Even the best of creations required an initial – or even continuous – promotional push. While it might feel uncomfortable, I’ve met so few creators who over-shared. If anything, I’ve met an overwhelming amount of creators who didn’t share enough. There’s a lot to be said about how to do this well, because you don’t want to shoehorn your work into every conversation or interaction you have. But you have to remember as the primary, and perhaps sole, contributor to a work, if you won’t sing its praises, who will…?
I recommend reading Rob Henderson’s advice on the perils of imitating high status individuals, especially when it comes to promotion. Numerous famous creators appear to not actively self-promote. While it can appear noble to let works speak for themselves, these creators can afford to ‘counter-signal’, as Rob puts it, because they’re already so famous that there’s no need for them to personally push their projects. I agree with Rob when he says, look to the people just a few steps ahead of you on the staircase of success, not the ones at the top.