Inspiring and important life lessons I learned optimizing websites

Life lessons from a website?

You wouldn’t think that optimizing websites can teach you life lessons, would you? Well, think again. I recently finished performance-optimizing on two websites I manage. This is something I like to do on a regular basis because, in technology, standards and practices always change.

Before you fall asleep – this isn’t a 20-step guide on how to optimize your website or WordPress stack! There are plenty of good guides out there for that. Rather, this is a contemplative piece on the nature of how I address technology to look at the big picture.

I’ve worked for years in the tech sector, and guess what – almost nothing I learned even a few years ago applies today. That is, at the granular level. The big secret to staying relevant in technology? Draw out the big concepts from the technical details. If you strive to learn the BIG concepts, you can always apply those to changing situations.

When researching, changing options, installing plug-ins, migrating technology, and waiting for different configurations and tests in a WordPress stack I got to thinking…..how would I explain what I’m doing to a non-techie, and could I turn it into a useful lesson?

Back to the big picture……and these life lessons started to bubble up. Here are some inspiring and important life lessons I learned by optimizing websites:

typewriter with flowersWhat was good before isn’t always good now.

In technology, the environment changes constantly. The code and systems we put in place one day become obsolete. Entropy and complexity break down even the best-designed systems. The’s no such thing as code that “lasts forever”.

In life, we face changes all the time. We should be open to change and new ideas. We should be continually examining our habits, our possessions, and our attitudes to see what’s “still good”.

love to learn signUnless you keep learning, you can’t be open to new ideas

On average, I read 300 technology-related articles a month. Some of these highlight new ideas and themes, others are about ways to make existing technology better. The websites I build today have nothing to do with what I built in the 90s. The only way to keep moving forward is with a voracious appetite for learning.

In life, the only way to expand your horizons is to learn about the past and other people’s views. Whatever your interest is, you should be trying to learn something new every day. Constant learning helps avoid idea stagnation and bias lock.

balance weigh scalesMaking the best out of situations requires trade-offs

In technology, particularly in optimization, there is never a 100% optimal solution. We’re always making trade-offs. Performance vs. features, maintainability vs. speed, and more. During the recent optimizations, I got the sites optimized as well as I could. I could have obtained a better optimization score. However, the requirements would have required custom code or removed key functionality.

In life, we have to make trade-offs all the time. We should always remember that you can’t make everyone happy! Do the best you can to optimize situations, going in with that mindset – you’ll be happier as a result.

billboardsDon’t always trust the big name in the room

In technology, we have several big “trusted” names in the business like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. Because they’re the “big fish” in the pond, developers tend to take all of their recommendations as gospel. In reality, sometimes their advice isn’t tailored to your situation.

An example is Google’s PageSpeed Insights. If you’re using WordPress, you will find it near impossible to score well without adding manually managed code. If you do have the budget for a custom development team to code to Google and get 100% (which most don’t), then you’ll invariably lower your score on another speed test.

In life, we fall into the trusted authority fallacy all the time. In times of media distrust and disinformation, it’s vital to fact-check, no matter the source. Even though someone has been deemed an “authority”, that doesn’t always make them right!

man backstageBehind the scenes work can mean more than appearance

In technology, my clients won’t see about 90% of my recent optimization work. Most website users don’t care about preloading scrips, deferring or asyncing, lazy loading, and image formats. They want to go to a site, have it load quickly, and work.

Hosting was another challenge when I was optimizing. We were using a big name provider, but I was banging my head against the wall. I couldn’t make the site faster. After some time of frustration, I finally dug deeper into the source. Turns out the big-name provider wasn’t the best provider for our situation. A day of transition work and a huge bottleneck was solved.

Appearance and front end fixes meant nothing until the underlying problem was solved.

In life, the same rule applies to learning any skill. 90% of the practice you put in, 90% of the work you do will never be seen by anyone. Sometimes moving about our daily tasks lulls us into a feeling of non-importance. We should always remember that task, no matter how minute or insignificant it may seem, is part of the greater goal.

Trust plays a big factor when sharing your skills with others if 90% of the work is unseen. By explaining your work in easy to understand terms, you can build trust over time.

Talking about appearances for appearance’s sake – the old adage about putting lipstick on a pig applies! You change your appearance or project a different persona, but you still have a pig to deal with.

construction men on girdersPerfection always requires more maintenance

In technology optimization, several techniques require custom code to achieve the best performance. For example, in coding the fastest performing language is Assembly, but you’ll rarely see anyone coding with it. Why? It’s hard to read and difficult to maintain even though it’s the fastest.

Technology always needs to be maintained. Software and hardware updates necessitate code updates in a recursive feedback loop. Customizations and performance tweaks you have tailored to your system require more maintenance over time.

In life, we should always be looking to maintain good habits while expanding our horizons. If you’re not continually maintaining your physical and mental “base”, you won’t be able to expand it!

Apply these life concepts

As you can see, life lessons can be learned in almost any setting. Whether you’re in technology or not, try putting some of these principles into practice today!

Oh, and if you need a hand at optimizing your WordPress site, you know where to find me! 🙂