New Website and Writing Goals

August 15, 2020 3 mins

After a week of hacking away, version two of my new website is finally up and running. It's built with Gatsby, which is a static site generator based on React, and the theme is modified from Chris Nager's.

First experience using Gatsby

It was my first time using Gatsby and intially it was a toss up between Gatsby and Hugo, which is another static site generator based on Go. Ultimately I chose Gatsby for two reasons: I know React well and it's supposed to be easy to use. Judging from the rave reviews online, I was really expecting a Wordpress-like experience: pick a theme, do some minimal configuration and boom, you're good to go in a matter of hours.

Nope. If you're expecting for Gatsby to be a walk in the park because you know React well, then you might be in for a shock. I say that with a slight caveat: if all you want is a blog out of the box, then fine, it really is as easy as downloading and running gatsby develop. But the second you want even the slightest bit of customisation, then you're going to have to dig underneath the hood. That means learning GraphQL, figuring out how Gatsby sources and transforms input files, and fiddling around with gatsby-node.js; the hole runs pretty deep and next thing you know you're learning all you need to know to author an entire theme from scratch.

So what I expected to be a day project dragged out longer than expected. No big deal. On the flip side, now that I have a good grasp of Gatsby, I can finally see why people do love it. Writing my posts and project blurbs in markdown and yaml files instead of hardcoding it into React components (which was what I was doing for version one) makes life so much easier. Importing images into components is a breeze with gatsby-plugin-sharp and GraphQL, and customising the theme is a piece of cake with theme-ui. The greatest part of it all though has to be deployment. Simply hook up your github repo to netlify and deployment is automated everytime you push.

Reflections whilst going through old work

Ever since I went back to school two years ago, it's been a non-stop grind of classes, projects and internships, so I hadn't really found the time to update my site in over a year. Porting the content over from version one though required cleaning up readmes, reviewing code and just making sure the work was somewhat presentable. It was also a good time to really look back and reflect on all the work I've done so far since the beginning of my journey into programming. Here's what I found:

  • Going back to school to learn CS was the best decision even though I am self-taught because there's no way I would have been able to do some of the class projects on my own.
  • Having used React in all three of my internships, I can safely say that my first projects on FreeCodeCamp were actually pretty good! Even if I didn't give them enough credit at the beginning because they were toy projects.
  • Doing the entire frontend sequence for FreeCodeCamp was unnecessary. By the third or fourth project, I had known enough to work in a job.
  • The goal with going back to school was to learn more than just web development and I definitely achieved that.

On writing

One of the reasons for rebuilding my site was because the first version had no blogging capabilities as everything was hardcoded into React components. I've never been a prolific writer so why the sudden will to blog? For several reasons:

  • I have a theory that people who write well, code well.
  • Writing aids learning. Every time I've had to write up a report or doc after finishing a project, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of it.
  • To have skin in the game: publishing blog posts for the entire world to see (even if few actually do) forces you to think more clearly about what to say and write.
  • The only way to get better is to do it.

As for what I'll be blogging about - for now it'll mostly just be about programming-related stuff. People are usually curious about why I switched from medicine to software and in fact, to this day, I still get many PMs on reddit asking for advice based on some comments I made a few years ago, so I'll add some career-related content too. The internet's already filled with people telling you how to plan your career and succeed though, and not enough about the other equally important things in life like friends, family, relationships and health, so maybe I'll sprinkle a few of those topics from time to time as well. Is there anything you'd like me to write about? Please feel free to tell me in an email below.

© 2020 Joseph Liu ·

Gatsby-built, Netlify-hosted, modified from Chris Nager's theme.