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
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.
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.
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Illustration by WTTJ