Thursday, August 24, 2006

Meet the Retro Web Dev Guy

Welcome to Retro Web Dev, where I'll be posting about the things I learn as I move through various web development projects, some personal and some work related.

I'm employed as a Lead Software Engineer, but I'll readily admit that modern web development technology has left me in the dust. I'm a self-taught programmer (with a Liberal Arts degree earned in 1987 no less) who started with HTML back in 1999. I taught myself ASP and database programming by building my first web site, SFReader, a science fiction, fantasy, and horror book review site with an MS Access backend (since converted to SQL Server). SFReader is still going strong, now boasting an average 500 visitors and 3,000 page views a day. There are over 700 book reviews and an active forum with 600+ members and almost 20,000 posts as of my writing this.

So far, I've yet to move into .NET. I've never dealt with PHP, Apache, or Linux, so my knowledge there doesn't extend past knowing what LAMP stands for (Linus, Apache, MySQL, PHP). I know enough about JavaScript to download something from Dynamic Drive and lightly customize it if need be.

As the 'Lead Software Engineer', I manage eight .NET web and database application developers (also called Software Engineers) and three webmasters (who work in HTML, CSS, and keep content up to date). All of the developers have been programmers longer than I have and are better at it. Much. We work in a Windows 2003 environment in .NET (both VB and C#).

So how did a reto dev guy with limited skills get the lead slot? Have you ever had to work with programmers? Programmers are an odd sort. Most (not all, but most) have what might be termed 'limited social skills'. They don't relate well to people (and might not even particularly like people). They don't tolerate sitting around in meetings 'wasting time' when they could be programming. They don't like explaining things to customers or Project Managers. They aren't good at putting together PowerPoint slides and standing in front of a group of people and making presentations.

This is where I come in. See, I'm good at all that stuff. I even kind of like it. I'm the smooth operator. I unruffle feathers. I translate geek-speak into English and vice versa. I understand development theory, processes and capability and am good at explaining them. So you can kind of consider me the 'human interface' to the programmers.

I spend about 75% - 80% of my time engaged in 'lead' type stuff: getting beat up in meetings, getting beat up about project plans, getting beat up over level of effort estimates, getting beat up by customers, getting beat up by Project Managers, getting beat up over release dates... you get the picture. Yet despite all the blows aimed my way, I'm remarkably good at coming away unscathed and with the deveopment section looking good. My bosses like that.

What little development I do at work is limited to legacy applications coded in classic ASP (bug fixes, enhancements, and the occassional new project) and some SQL Server 2000 stuff: views, triggers, stored procedures, database design, etc.

As a side business, I do affiliate marketing. I have a server at my house (Windows 2003 running on a dual processor Xeon with 3 gigs and 2 WD Raptors in a RAID 1) with SQL Server 2000 Standard installed, connected to the Internet by a business class cable connection (2M down and 768K up). On that box I'm currently hosting 50+ web sites. A very few are sites for friends, but most are my own. I developed and host niche price comparison sites, with 1.2 million products coming from the 40+ datafeeds I receive from numerous vendors like, SmartBargains, Shop NBC, Macy's, Walmart, eBags, Sports Authoriy and many more.

I'm constantly tinkering and trying new things. At their peak (last December), I earned over $10,000 in one month. Since then, various changes to search engine algorithms have caused my sites to fall off the face of search engine results. I'm not doing any sneaky stuff, but when you are pushing products it's gotten very hard to compete with the Targets, Amazons, Walmarts, and eBays of the world. This month, I'll be lucky to clear $400.

As a result, I've been trying more and varied types of sites. SFReader continues to grow. I've recently been putting more work into SFWatcher, SFReader's long-neglected sister site dedicated to science fiction, fantasy and horror movies.

In August of last year, I launched Free Article Headquarters, a site for people to publish topical articles for other people to use as web content.

I'm about 90% through with my newest site, but I'll refrain from writing about that until it's live.

Over the years, I've learned a lot about ASP, CSS, HTML, Search Engine Optimization, and Internet Marketing. I'll be posting useful bits and pieces about said topics on this blog, as well as any other interesting tidbits I discover.

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