The Website Existential Crisis
After several months of work, I recently spearheaded the release of the new matrix.org website. The website refresh was long overdue. It started as a project to pay off tech debt, and I decided to take it as an opportunity to redesign it entirely.
Redesigning a website goes beyond applying a fresh coat of CSS: it can (and maybe should) make your project go through an existential crisis. You need to put words on who you are, what you do, for whom, and who you’re talking to. It requires stepping out of your comfort zone but it rewards you with a better compass for your project. I decided to apply the lessons learnt along the way to my personal website.
You can’t talk to everyone, but you are
The web is ubiquitous and open, so everybody can stumble upon your website. In practice you’re talking to everyone, but there’s a catch.
“When you talk to everyone you talk to no-one”
There are too many things to say, and website is primarily a medium to convey a message to an audience. So you need to:
- define who your audience is
- define what they’re looking for
- craft your message and how you display it so the intended audience can easily find it.
This is typically why you shouldn’t have a FAQ: they are an easy to way to to shove a lot of unrelated content that will get outdated quickly in a single page. If visitors need to look for the FAQ at any point, that’s either because the website was well thought through or because they’re not the audience for this website.
All audiences are not equal: some of them are looking for quick and simple information. Others are willing to invest more time into understanding more complex messages. Defining your intended audiences allows you to put the information to the most “volatile” audience first so they don’t miss it.
My personal website has three intended audiences.
People I meet in conferences, who might be interested in building on top of Matrix. I want to show them that Matrix is a technology worth investing on, I want to show them it’s worth getting back to me to discuss the matter in greater length, and I want them to easily find how to get in touch with me.
Potential work partners, who are interested in how I work and who want to assess whether I’m a solid advocate or not. I want to earn their trust by transparently showing my work and achievements.
Myself! Working on this website is a great exercise to think about what I have achieved and what I want to develop next. It shows me the gap there is between what I want to appear like, and what I have in store to back my claims.
A career compass
“Jack of all trades, master of none” can be an unflattering sentence. I think on the opposite that it’s a great compliment for a developer advocate.
Our role is not to be an expert in a specific field, but to have a decent understanding of most pieces of a typical stack and how they interact with each other. Our job is to know our audiences and craft the most appropriate message for them. We’re the bridge between the technical experts, communities, marketing and sales.
To showcase how I apply this definition in practice, I listed some achievements where I think I brought value to my company.
It also showed me what’s left to explore, which allows me to set personal goals for where I want to grow. I can then build a case so my next work projects have the widest overlap between what benefits the company and what benefits me.
In short, working on a personal website is a significant time investment but it’s worth every minute spent on it. It allows me to grow faster in my role, which is a net positive both for me and my employer.