One really cool thing about these forums is that brilliant people choose to hang around and help others by sharing their knowledge and expertise.
This month, we'd like to highlight the efforts of Pullo, who is our Member of the Month for December. Pullo has been giving amazing help and advice across a wide range of disciplines of late.
Here's an interview I conducted with him recently.
Congratulations on being awarded the MoTM badge for December, Pullo. Were you surprised?
Absolutely. It came quite out of the blue. That's not to say that I'm not pleased, though
Well, it’s certainly deserved.
There are lots of things I'd like to ask you, but firstly, can you say something about your username? It's often intriguing to know what led to someone's choice of username (unless you have a boring one like mine!)
Sure. I love watching HBO series in my spare time (Sopranos, Deadwood etc.). When I signed up for the SP forums, I was half way through watching Rome, and Pullo is one of the main characters in this series. At the beginning he's a centurion, but later on he ends up as a gladiator, so if there are any aspiring graphic designers out there that want to make me a trident as my avatar, I'd be well pleased.
Now, I've got to ask: your profile page features a mug shot of the gangster Jack Zelig. What's up with that?
Well spotted. I guess you used TinEye, right? Or are you up on your gangsters from the early 1900s?
Heh heh, I used Google image search, actually.
Anyway, to answer the question, I read about Big Jack in a book called Gangster City, which documents the New York underworld from 1900–35. I'm quite fascinated with this period in history and found Jack to be a lot more interesting than your average mobster. He's even got his own website: http://www.jackzelig.com/
Polymath, there's a word! It's certainly better than "Jack of all trades", I guess
Well, I got into computers in about 2004 when I volunteered to make our diving club's web page. However, I didn't have a shred of computer knowledge and volunteering was one thing, but actually making it was another.
There was quite a steep learning curve involved at first, but from the moment I started, I was hooked. I then spent ALL of my spare time learning about web technologies and about PCs in general.
At some point I noticed that friends and family were starting to ask me for advice, both with their computers and with web projects. This gave me the confidence to apply for a part-time job at the local university, as a network administrator (which, suffice to say, I got).
Since then I haven't looked back once. I have never stopped learning and in the course of this job, have been lucky enough to work with a variety of technologies, some of which you allude to in your question.
I am also continuously looking for ways to apply what I Iearn. For example, our department's secretary wanted to make minor changes to two or three pages of our website, so I built her a mini CMS using Ruby.
I gather that you haven't always made your living from web development, and that you have a rather interesting life story. Do you mind telling us a little about that?
Not at all.
As my profile states, I live in Germany. I am, however, not German, but rather a misplaced Brit.
I came to Germany whilst studying, but loved it so much I ended up moving back when I had finished.
I originally worked as an English trainer, but as soon as I realised I could make money from working in IT, I took the plunge and became a freelancer.
That's not to say that I don't teach any more, I do. I currently teach a team of engineers who work with the compounding of thermoplastics. It's great fun and gets me away from the computer, but has left me with a ridiculously in-depth knowledge of a compounding line, that I'll almost certainly never need again.
These forums attract a lot of people who are having specific issues with their web work, but it's really nice when people choose to stick around to help others and share their expertise. What brought you to these forums, and what inspires you to help others?
What brought me to the forums was simple. I was having a PHP problem (the problem being that I couldn't write PHP) and a Google search brought me to SitePoint. I asked a couple of questions and was impressed by the friendly nature of the people who answered, as well as their levels of expertise.
What's lead me to help others? At some point I noticed "Oh, I could answer that question", so I did. And then I answered another, and another, and the whole thing just snowballed.
I enjoy helping people, and sometimes, when I get positive feedback from someone I helped, it makes my day.
You also have a really cool blog site that provides lots of tips for web designers at http://hibbard.eu/. What inspired you to start that up?
Thanks. I was in the habit of documenting problems I had solved in the course of my work anyway.
It was only a short jump from writing things up in a text file on my PC, to writing them up in WordPress for the world to see. WordPress is great like that—the ease with which it lets you publish content is almost unparalleled.
Times have been pretty tough economically of late, especially in Europe. How have you weathered the storm as a freelancer? Do you have any tips for making a living as a web developer?
Despite the global financial crisis, Germany has been booming, so I don't know if I'm really in a position to answer that.
What has worked for me, though, is to plan ahead and when I do find myself "between jobs", I use the time to learn or to practise something that will strengthen my résumé.
What is your outlook on web development in the foreseeable future? Are there any technologies you are especially gearing up for, or do you have plans to branch out in any particular direction?
In a word—mobile.
I've just finished redesigning my blog. Not only did I make my new design responsive, but I designed for mobile first.
This was a very interesting experience and was inspired by the amount of clients perceiving the relevance of a website that is accessible to mobile users.
On a separate note, I'm also looking forward to the release of Ruby 2.0 next year. That'll be fun to play with.
Can you tell us a bit about your interests outside of web development? I gather you are into fantasy books, running and even diving!
Indeed. I am an avid diver and have been diving all over the world, from Holland to Spain to Egypt to the Maldives to Cuba to the USA to South Africa.
Saying that, I've not visited the Barrier Reef yet. Are you located near there, Ralph? Do you fancy a house guest or five?
I’m actually a long way from there, way down in Melbourne, but I can highly recommend the Barrier Reef as a place to visit. It’s awesome. (Don’t wait too long, though, as it seems global warming is killing off the reef at an alarming rate. )
I also love books of any kind, from technical to sci-fi/fantasy. I am currently reading a book on C++, as well as Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy, which I can heartily recommend.
And, when I'm not doing that, I try to keep fit and do quite a bit of running. Now that it is winter over here, this is more or less restricted to the treadmill in the gym, but in summer I enjoy running outdoors (there is quite a lot of nice countryside where I live).
If you had superpowers, what items would top the list of things you'd want to change—about web development or the world in general?
I'd want to maintain the chaos that is the Internet as we know it today. I think that Microsoft and Apple getting to decide what we can install on our machines is a dangerous and slippery slope (think Windows Store or iTunes) and that Microsoft's Secure Boot, while a good idea in principle, could easily be used for nefarious purposes.
So, I'd use my superpowers to put an end to all that. I'm not quite sure how this would work in practice, though. Maybe with some cosmic rays, or something ...
I've just slipped a sedative into the drinks of the other moderators, so while they're asleep, are there any websites or other causes that you'd like to promote here?
Not without getting all political (which is probably not the best thing to do, even if the other mods are drugged up) ... Aw, but heck, why not? Check out these guys, they do great work: https://fsfe.org/
Finally (and this is a bit of a long shot, but I'll ask just in case): can you shed any light on the meaning of life?
Not without several bottles of strong German beer.
Get those shipped over to me, then I'll be sure to let you know the path to true enlightenment shortly after consuming them
That sounds great, Pullo. I’m off to get some of that German beer now!
In the meantime, everyone, please congratulate Pullo on his award!
Sorry Pullo, I drank all the beer. But I think I’ve found the answer now anyway. Thanks for the tip!