The one who writes articles as she learns

  • March 7, 2019

Sara Soueidan is an award-winning front-end developer, author and speaker from Lebanon. She specializes in semantic markup, CSS, SVG, and responsive design, with a strong focus on accessibility and performance. In this interview, she talks about how she learnt to code and to freelance effectively. She also shares some tips on how to become a great developer and explains why writing articles can be a good way to sell your skills as a developer.

Hi, I’m Sara Soueidan and I’m a front-end developer from Lebanon.

HTML and the parseltongue

My first introduction to the web and the coding language HTML in particular was in 8th grade. We took a course in school. My teacher said he wanted to teach us HTML and he started writing HTML tags, and p tags. And as soon as I saw them, they felt very familiar. I always say that it’s kind of like when Harry Potter knew that he could speak the parseltongue. I got a book about HTML. I learnt all the basic tags and I created 3 different websites. And then a year and a half after college, I didn’t know what to do for a living, I didn’t want to become a teacher, most girls usually teach after school if they’re not sure what they want to do for a living. I didn’t want to do that so one of my best friends who was also a designer and a developer, one day I was telling him that I was completely torn, I didn’t know what to do. And he was like, what don’t you build websites. You already know HTML and you’re very good at it so just learn CSS, learn JavaScript and you can start building front-end websites. So I saw new CSS properties, I started learning about them, I started creating demos on CodePen. And I have been doing it ever since.

First freelance mission

I had zero experience as a freelancer, I didn’t know how everybody else did it. So I took a job for a very little amount of money. I was building kind of a Facebook app and I think they paid me $300 only for two weeks. I would start working as soon as I woke up, before washing my face. I would jump out of bed, straight onto my laptop, start building until midnight. So that set the expectations wrong for my client because he thought that I would always be available for them. Every couple of days they would decide to change something about the design and then I would have to redo everything that I’ve built before. I got red eyes, my nose started bleeding, my back was destroyed. So physically, I was a complete mess. And I didn’t make enough money out of it. So at some point I had to quit. So I learnt not to charge little. I have to learn how to charge to ask for a fair cost. I have to learn to set my expectations straight and to set the expectations of my client straight, restrict the number of hours per day that I work. So generally, everything that I should know about freelancing I learnt from that gig.

How to become a good developer

How did I become a good developer. The only answer is you have to build things. So I was using Windows 8 at that time and it has this 3D animations. At some point I looked at the animations and I was like I should be able to recreate this using CSS 3D animations. So I decided to give it a go. I did it. And usually when I’m learning something new I research a lot, I read a lot and then I take notes a lot. I decided that I wanted to turn those notes into an article. So I created a blog, I didn’t have a blog before that, I published that article and it got more than 20 000 views in 3 weeks. That was amazing. But the turning point for me I think was when I got interested in CSS shapes. And there was nobody else writing about CSS shapes at that point, except a couple of article on Adobe because Adobe made CSS shapes. So I started getting interested. I introduce myself to a couple of people who work for Adobe, I started asking them questions and again I started taking a lot of notes as I was learning. I remember that I got an invitation from one of the organizers of Future of Web Design which is a conference that has been discontinued now. She asked me if I would be willing to go and give a talk about CSS Shapes in London. My first reaction was no, no way. But then everyone I know was like why, you don’t have anything to lose right. So a month after that I applied for the CFP for CSS Conf in the US. I applied for 3 different talk topics and they were all accepted. Ever since then I remember Paul Irish, he is one of my favorite people in the community, he talked to me after my talk and he said that people will want me to speak more.

Writing to sell your skills

You never know how useful your articles are going to be. You literally never know. I know that a lot of people want to write but they’re always intimidated, they’re always worried like what if people like it, what if not. My idea was don’t care about that, don’t think about that. Sharing your knowledge in my opinion brings you customers because how else are people going to know what you’re good at if you don’t tell them. And sharing your knowledge about a particular topic is you essentially telling them that you are knowledgeable about that topic. You may not be the best expert but you’re probably confident enough to share what you know otherwise you wouldn’t be sharing it. Her knowledge will complement our team’s knowledge very well so she could be a great fit for our team. Or maybe our team is good but we need someone to lead us, someone who is a little bit knowledgeable than us. I think that’s what contributes the most. You tell people what you’re good at and it’s literally like selling your skills.

Learning tips

Don’t get overwhelmed by what everybody else is doing. Just because React is famous doesn’t mean you should learn React. Just because everyone is learning or talking about Vue doesn’t mean that you should learn Vue. Learn the fundamentals first: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, probably SVG as well but you don’t have to dig deep into SVG, whatever you need in order to use it for icons for example. Learn the basics. Once you learn how JavaScript works, you can start picking whatever frameworks works for you. I only introduce new tools into my workflow if they bring value to what I am trying to do. If I don’t need a framework, I don’t learn it. And the best way to learn is to actually start building things. Maybe see a design on Dribbble or on any other websites and try to recreate it on your own. And that’s how you learn.

Achievements

I am proud of my speaking because it has helped me hopefully change the way people perceive Muslim women like myself. I am also proud of some of my client projects. If I work on a project and that project is something that eventually helps people live healthier life for example or improve people’s life, I am also proud of that.

This article is part of Behind the Code, the media for developers, by developers. Discover more articles and videos by visiting Behind the Code!

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Illustration by WTTJ

Anne-Laure Civeyrac

Tech Editor @ WTTJ

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