How to Be a Self-Taught Web Developer (The Honest Truth)

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

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Becoming a self-taught web developer is all the rage these days. And, for good reason.

With rising cost of traditional universities and a world of educational resources online A LOT of people are opting out of the old model of learning something.

I myself DIYed my web development education and I’m a big advocate of going that route.

But, here’s the thing. It’s not a walk in the park. In fact, a lot of times it is down right painful.

It’s easy to lose motivation or get so frustrated you feel like throwing your computer against the wall.

The truth is if you’re going to be successful at becoming a self-taught web developer you need a solid game plan before you get started.

How to Learn Web Development on Your Own

Zac Gordon is a self-taught web developer who then went on to teach other people how to learn web development.

He’s the guest on this week’s podcast and Zac has a lot of great insight into what it actually takes to learn web development without having to go to school.

You need to know what motivates you and make sure you’re doing things along the way that’s stirring that motivation so you don’t give up.

Without that motivation it becomes really easy to become disheartened and find other things you’d be more willing to do rather than learning web development.

You also need to make sure you’re stair-stepping the process, learning a little bit at a time and adding to what you know as you go. If not it’s easy to get overwhelmed and become paralyzed at the massive amount of information you need to know.

You Can Learn Web Development on Your Own

You can learn web development on your own. Plenty of people have done it and I’m willing to bet there’s nothing special about any of them.

All it takes is a bit of grit and intentionality. And, of course, listening to the podcast with Zac ?

Things You’ll Learn

  • The obstacles to learning web development
  • How to overcome frustration as a self-taught web developer
  • How to stair-step your education in web development to find optimal success
  • The key character traits you need to be a self-taught web developer
  • The emotional process that happens when you’re learning
  • How to know if web development isn’t for you
  • How to keep from being burned out in web development
  • How to recognize your own rhythms to optimize your productivity
  • What a headless WordPress website is and why it’s a good option for most scenarios


Chris: Being a self-taught web developer. Sounds pretty cool. Right? It gives you the opportunity to have a little bit of bragging rights. People are like, Hey, where did you learn how to build apps or websites or whatever? And you're able to say I was able to teach myself and that's cool, except that it's actually pretty difficult.

When you get down to the nitty gritty, you find yourself getting pretty disheartened. You find yourself saying things like, why did I sign up for this in the first place? Or why is that person so much farther along than I am right now? And if you're going to be successful in actually learning this stuff, you've got to have a game plan.

You've got to have a game plan for staying motivated, and you've got to have a game plan for how you're going to teach yourself. And that is exactly what we are talking about in this week's episode with mr. Zach Gordon.

Hey, I wanna welcome you to the self-made web designer podcast. So glad that you are here with us this week.

We had a bit of a milestone this past week, we reached the 10,000 download Mark. And I just want to say, wow, thank you so much for listening. Thank you so much for subscribing. Thank you for being a part of this journey with me, for telling friends, for leaving a rating and a comment and review, it's been a wild ride and I'm super happy about how things are turning out and here's the deal we're not stopping. We're going to 20,000. We're going to a hundred thousand. We're going to keep going because this is fun. Number one. And I love helping people learn how to become self-made web designers, themselves.

This week's guest is a phenomenal educator and developer. He's somebody that I met this last year, but I have been following for quite some time. Zach Gordon runs the website His courses have been incredibly instrumental for me and for a lot of other people learning web development. And Zach not only does web development, but he's also got a master's in education.

So he has a amazing way of taking these really complicated things in web development and making them very simple, very easy to understand and comprehend. We had an awesome conversation. I can't wait for you to hear him. Are you ready? Here's Zach.

Hey Zach. Thanks so much for being on the self-made web designer podcast. Super happy to have you,

Zac: Chris. Great to be here with you. Thanks so much for the invite. Uh, great topics, uh, looking forward to jumping into all this with you today,
Chris: I met you at probably the last event that I had gone to for the year of 2020, before everything had just locked down and we were no longer doing in-person stuff. So, uh, happy to have met you at, at word camp Phoenix.

Zac: I love that that can come together. It was kind of the first one of the year. And then yeah everything's virtual now. So a glad we got that in a glad I ended up going, you know, it's one of the earlier camps, so, uh, thank you, Phoenix.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are, your, your, the backstory, the history that, uh, you know, got to where you are today.

Zac: Sure. So, um, from what's relevant, my background career wise has been in education. I've taught high school, college bootcamps, um, worked at some online companies and run some of my own stuff.

So it's kind of been, uh, weaving through starting off at the roots in the public school system. And then moving up from that and then moving out, always just kind of being driven by. How can I work with, and hopefully help as many people as possible, the scale. Um, and so that's been kind of my career wise.

On a more personal level I have, uh, some more deeper philosophical, spiritual practices and things going that really are a bulk of my, um, life and yoga practices. Breathing have taught a lot of these over the years as well, but, uh, that's kinda been, um, less what. What I do in, in this kind of world, although try to bring it all to it, you know, breathe and stretch for all sorts of folks.

And the only real crossover I've had with them, because I do an office site and, uh, have done some, some things that kind of bridge that. But a background in education, I started using WordPress really early. It was in like version. To where something plugins had just come out. Um, for about 10 years I ran a web design agency outside of teaching the stuff.

Yeah. I kind of had the real world and personal practice and it was great for, um, building sites, like when I had to start shifting from static sites, which is funny. Cause we'll come back to that building PHP or just an HTML site and then plugging in a blog or some way to edit that. So, uh, came across WordPress pretty early and have continued to use it, continue to be involved in the ecosystem, um, over time. And so that's, that's kind of, I think at a high level, uh, how I got here.

Chris: Yeah, that's awesome. And I love the transition. Most people that I've talked to what they started in is nothing in comparison to what they're doing today, you know, with, with education, going to web development.

And you've, you've done courses, which of course there's a tiny bit of education there, but you've got your own company now, um, that we're going to talk about a little bit later, so it's, it's just cool to see, you know, the progression of of your career. And the thing that like really drew me to your courses was just how simple and easy you made learning things like WordPress and JavaScript, um, for people who are absolute newbies.

And I think one of your udemy courses on WordPress was one of the first where it just started clicking for me. Um, And, and so you actually have a, uh, a master's in education and, and I feel like that probably plays into your ability to teach. So what have you found along your career um, that has been maybe hiccups for people who are trying to learn web development on, on all levels from WordPress to JavaScript to whatever front end stuff and how have you helped people get over those hurdles?

Zac: Wow. Well, patience and understanding and, uh, experience, you know, I've taught folks who are, um, sixties, seventies, web development, and I've taught folks who are in middle school, you know, and the whole range in between. And I think what you see, so I'll talk about a couple of levels to it.

One is just the technology, right? The ability to type the ability to navigate a computer, to know where files are stored. Maybe eventually nowhere like hidden files are and using something like a command line tool and just understanding how the internet works to a lot of people. This is just kind of pure magic through the airwaves, you know, and understanding what servers are.

And what a browser is and how that request and exchange is made. And then on the server that you have a database and server side languages, client side languages stuff compiling. This is a lot, right? And when you jump in, especially like if you just jumped straight into WordPress or JavaScript, and these are things that are unknown, um, you're going to find yourself was hitting a lot of walls.

And I think one of the biggest things you see with folks early, early on is not knowing what they don't know just about how everything works. So I find that, um, you know, if I'm designing a curriculum, I, I like to take that into account and either be super clear up front. Like, hey, here's where I'm assuming, you know, um, or start at the beginning.

And I try to teach in a way, and this came out of teaching in high school and wanting to get what you, what we'll get into here is like to learn HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, WordPress, like this whole stack is a lot of things. So I've always been focused on what's the core stuff you need to understand and do to get the farthest.

Cause you could take years of JavaScript programming and never even apply it to the web. And so. That has been something I always try to consider. And I try to write even, you know, like Gutenberg or advanced courses in a way that if somebody has enough of a understanding of how things work, that they could hopefully get through it and do something good with it.

So I think that that is one of the main obstacles you see early on that the next one is going to be the frustration before you get the successes. You know, you want, you want to go in and customize this one little thing, or you want to go and be like a, Envato million dollar theme seller. Right. And there's a lot of steps along the way.

So when you're doing this on your own, it's tough. Cause you can get frustrated. I'm sure you've been there, right? Like, you're look, you don't even know what to look for. You're trying to solve it. Where do I wish I just had somebody here and that's kind of always been my impetus for teaching and exploring education.

Um, is to help bridge that gap because I think without a network or someone to ask for someone to keep you motivated um, well the success is the little successes bringing the motivation, but that's another component that if you're not doing it in person or you don't have access to the teacher or the people. That said mostly people who kind of continue on in this field, they often say like after three years in a career, you know, whether you really have it.

Um, and want to keep doing it, or you're just kinda like, that's not for me. Um, don't have computer science background, aren't technology experts, maybe aren't even super designy or analytical, um, or programmatic in their thought. Right. But through piecing it together and weaving it in um, I noticed that, uh, most people who have success with this are self-learners.

Folks who could take that next step. And that's something that is hard to teach you kind of, you could develop it um, and sometimes your external conditions force you to develop it, but, uh, that's probably one of the other major things now. In the nitty gritty, like the JavaScript language, which I've taught a lot of and been very fascinated by as like a funky, weird language with tons of different rules in this not.
So I find that, um, when I'm approaching teaching, like I have an in depth JavaScript course, I really try to give as much of a background as possible sometimes with things to really explain, because if you jump in copying and pasting code or just trying to code something in advance, For years and years, and years, and years and years, you're going to hit, you're going to hit points where you just don't know, and they might just take an extra 30 minutes an extra day or two of study to put that together.

So with those complicated things, again, it comes back to do I understand how all these pieces work and fit together? Um, off the top, that's kind of what comes to me. There's just a ton to learn. So. Finding a learning path that keeps you motivated and then hopefully making money from it, um, is, is the path I've found you kind of want to weave and where I try to help people.

Chris: I think a lot of people have this misconception when it comes to being you know, a career web developer or having, you know, some type of freelance side hustle or full time business or whatever, um, that if, if you're doing it, you're pretty much coding nonstop throughout the day. You know, you're just, fingers are flying and all you hear is the clicking and clacking of the keyboard.

And. You know, like if you go any into any tech company or any agency, like you just really quickly find out that that is not the case, that most of the time, um, you know, people are looking stuff up and Googling and then copying and pasting what they find and then trying to, you know, tinker with it until it begins to work.

So I think one of the. Biggest frustrations I've had from people that have reached out to me is that they are overwhelmed with what they don't know. Um, and it, it becomes, Oh, a real battle to just allow that elephant in the room to stay and allow the uncomfortability of like, Like the JavaScript world is a very deep ocean and I know a very small amount of it.

Um, so how do you, how do you help people be okay with that uncomfortability and, and then what are the steps to take to, like you said, like pieace
Yeah, your way through knowing a little bit more as you go along.

Zac: Yeah. I guess the first thing that I feel is important to mention is that. In the learning process, which I'm continually going through.

I'm often trying to teach something that I don't know. Um, you know, when I first taught JavaScript, I didn't really know it. That was my Avenue for learning. Just like a lot of folks will, uh, You know, take on a project that they don't fully know. And there is, there's this emotional process that happens during learning where you're anxious and you're kind of getting to frustration.

There is a like second wind that kind of comes and there are these little successes that lift you up. So, um, me still, like in the last week, I've been frustrated and anxious about something I didn't fully understand. So just accepting upfront that this is going to continue. You're not going to get over this.

You're just going to get really good at it and comfortable with it and the emotional feelings that go along with it, right? Like a lot of web developers in this field can get really frustrated and stuck and just kind of be like, all right, I'll just walk away and come back. Right. So knowing that up front, I think is really important because that ocean is not going to go away.

Like, I still feel like I know a drop in the ocean of the JavaScript world and I know a lot more than other folks. Right. So that doesn't happen. From there, like, see, it's hard over a course. I really have liked teaching boot camps. I've liked teaching in person. I like learning in person. I gravitate towards, at this point, you know, a lot of it's online learning, but when I have the option to like that, cause then I could ask questions.

I can, you know, they're going down here, but my mind jumped over here. Cause I don't know this and I want to interrupt or jump in and be like, what? And so I think that. Having that is, is a helpful thing. That's hard to recreate and kind of our modern, online self paced, copying stuff from, um, you know, whatever, wherever you're finding the answers type thing.

So. It's a tricky one. I think so without getting specific about all the details that by generality is like, just know that this is part of it and, you know, try to set up some learning environments for yourself where you can get those answers. So it sounds like a lot of what I'm hearing you say is the relationship of having somebody to be able to.

Talk you through your hurdles, like you say, you prefer doing bootcamps. Um, and, and that's, I'm going to assume that's because you like the interaction of being able to say, okay, here's your misunderstanding. And have you, obviously, you're a proponent of that, but how have you seen people who have been able to just watch an online course and, and just crush it and figure it out on their own?

Or do you feel like doing it with the relational aspect is like the, like, Probably the only way possible. No, there's definitely learning styles, you know, for. 10 people in a boot camp, each of them are going to learn. There's going to be someone who's way more advanced than picking up on their own.

There's going to be somebody who wants that handholding. Um, there are definitely online courses and ways of doing that, that tons of people are learning and it works well. Now the cool thing is most online courses will give you some way to like, ask a question in a forum or contact support or something, you know?

So you, you have those, but. That's why I said like the self learner, the self motivated learner tends to do best in this field because you know how to ask your questions now. I mean, there's little tricks that you learn that you might not even realize you're doing, like how to search for the same question, five, 10 different ways, um, how to stop using Google because their front two pages are so stacked sometimes.

So you might need to search through other methods. Um, you know, and, and again, just having. Yeah, there's plenty of people that just jump in and start doing this stuff on their own, but it's not everyone. And it's probably not everyone who might think, man, maybe I should get into this, um, that are comfortable with that.

But does it happen? Definitely. And some people don't even ever take a course. They just go start hacking away. But, uh, That's not me. I just need a couple of courses. And the other thing I find that's helpful is maybe we watched two or three, you know, because that first one might give you some, the other one might give you something. And I find it usually takes a couple times learning to really. Get it down some time. So

Chris: I've seen quite a few people go a lot of different routes. And I know for myself, um, I have to have that relational aspect with it, have to have the community driven aspect. And then I have to have a motivator too. I have to have a carrot at the end of the road.

Like if I'm just doing it for myself, I find that I tend to get less. And less passionate about it. But if I have a client who I've been up front with about, I'm not a hundred percent sure I can do this, but I'll give it a shot and I'll give you a great price because I know you're taking a risk on like that creates this piece of motivator for me, that, um, helps me to keep going and move forward.

So what, what are some different motivators that you've seen people that you taught, like put in front of themselves or help them to keep going? When things do get difficult? You know, good question.

Zac: Good question. So I'd say for some in this field, the shore, this year, curiosity and enjoy of learning and understanding how technology works and how things work is honestly, a lot, like a lot of folks in this field could just sit around and sometimes do a at just.

Just learn, like what's this. And then the other thing I wanted to mention from before is like, don't always think of your learning as a parent direct line. Like I'm going to get to here. There's a lot of like lateral spinoffs. You might watch one video and Google five different things and then go down.

Um, I think the financial and family one is definitely one. I get a lot of folks, I think, especially. The more structured, um, forms of learning. And often the more ex expensive tend to come from folks who might have a bit more of a pressing issue, um, that they need to support their family times are changing.

Things are shifting. They want to update their resume, their offerings, so that one's kind of a non-sequitur they just show up and start doing, get right, um, are not a nonsexual, but it's not really a. Yeah, it's pretty apparent. Um, a lot of folks who just want to come. Into the field because of what the field offers.

Right. And what the field is offering is actually just your lifestyle. They don't want to be stuck in an office. Um, well, I guess we got to update this a little bit now, but like they want remote work. Right. Um, but they, they want that for their own kind of freedom. They want to have more time with family.

They want to have more time outdoors. They want to just have an overall improved quality of life, which I actually believe that. Being a web developer can bring a pretty good quality of life as long as you fricking balance it because too many people get off in the deep end and it becomes unhealthy and psychologically familialy, you know, physically.

Um, so I think that that's another big one that I've seen of just wanting to set themselves up for quality of life. That's a little bit, um, different. Some folks are feeling they're outdated and they want to. Just keep themselves relevant. And then this, this borders onto a whole other conversation of how do you mean find employment?

How do you find jobs? What's what do you, what kind of mindset do you need for that sort of thing? What type of jobs would work for you? How do you interview? How do you, well, like that's, uh, something that I always brush up against. I don't usually go too deep into it. Some people focus just on those skills, but a lot of that then.

I find they have kind of intermixing components when we get into those motivating factors and like one might compel the other to learn a little bit, but I think at a high level that, and just the pure geekiness and enjoyment of it, some folks just honestly like doing it for their own projects is enough.

Um, and a lot of folks get into it that way cause they started their own site. Um, sometimes it meets another need. When folks have big businesses and they just want to run their website on their own. I've had a lot of people reach out over the years. Like, Hey, can you train me to do this? My encouragement is usually like, let the professional do that.

So that tends to be a motivator that I'm like, no, you are starting. There is a stack of stuff you have to learn. If this was your profession, you could work your way through it, but just let the professionals do that and pay them well to do it. So that's the one motivator I find. Less. It usually won't take them as far. They'll kind of give up along the way, in my opinion, kind of rightfully so.

Chris: I've seen a lot of those same things with people who have started with the course that I've built and either didn't make it all the way through or said this wasn't for me, or just kind of kicking the tires and, you know, for, for me, it's always, it's been a combination of.

Of so many of those things that you mentioned that that helped me to grow and to keep pushing, because there are seasons where you don't, you don't feel like you're making any progress or breakthrough whatsoever. Um, you know, so, um, what would you say on, on the flip side of that. Um, you know, and, um, speak to this as much as you can with the people that you've helped to process through learning.

Um, what are some things that are some reasons why people have come to the conclusion that, you know, this isn't for me, like I gave it a shot and I'm just, I'm just not. Cut out for this stuff. And that always surprises me, you know, like I'm on a subs and read it and see people say, I have been doing software engineering for 10 years and I just don't want to do it anymore.

And I'm like, I don't understand. Like I love this stuff, do it for free, but obviously it's not for everybody. And so w what are some key indicators that maybe this is it? Maybe it's time to go look in another Avenue.

Zac: Wow. That's such a good one and so many different areas. I mean, it's kind of funny, one of the things that's coming up, I little bit more now, but, um, didn't use to see as much just not wanting to be active computer, like legit, just getting sick of the ions spray and the, that, and that lifestyle.

I think. Also too, what happens sometimes is maybe they're working one type of job and don't realize that there's company culture can change so much about working. So maybe you just got so sick that grind near at that marketing firm. You're in that big agency, you're out there like, you know, huge corporation and that kind of gets old.

Um, I know that there are, I don't know that it's getting out of the field, but another thing related is like, You actually don't need to know everything to perform well and have a job. Right? So a lot of times you'll see folks getting outdated. They're perfectly good at their job. They're banging out stuff, but they haven't kept up with all these frameworks.

Like a lot of folks have experienced that with JavaScript. You don't actually need to know JavaScript to be a WordPress developer now. Despite what my site and all my other friends will tell you, you know, because, um, you really only need to know this. So some folks get to the point where they're just, they don't want to keep learning and learning and learning, um, and maybe want to.

A lot of folks, just have other, another interest that they go to. Um, but it's funny. Cause more often than not, I see folks switching careers into web development, into this kind of work and out of it. Um, another things that happened, folks realized that they actually like people more. Right. So you were at a, I do everything agency.

And you realize, wait, I can just go get clients and cater to them, do the process. And I don't ever have to touch it. So they start outsourcing, right? And then they realize, Oh, maybe I want to work internally with managing people. I want to work with the client. And maybe I'm just now really into marketing, because what happens is, as you begin.

Doing the web development and you realize like you're just a real small part of a much bigger thing that makes an online business or an online platform successful and you might find, Oh, I didn't realize, but I want to go do that other stuff. So I know that there's a lot. Got it. 10 gentle movings. Um, But in my experience, it, from what I've come across, I usually see less people leaving than entering in.
Um, yeah. And, and just burn out, like you work at a startup for too long or some of these, but that goes back to that kind of job related, I think.

Chris: Yeah. W well, let's talk about that because you mentioned, you know, it's, it can suck you in to the point of being consumed by it. And so once, once you've kind of, they've gotten off the ground because at a certain point in the very beginning, you kind of have to be consumed by it.

You kind of have to be really, it's like learning literally foreign language. You have to immerse yourself. Um, but that's definitely not sustainable, but you learn these habits along the way. Like, man, I just gotta be all into this until I figure it out. And, and you almost start to like, Like love it. And like the industry, you know, kind of romanticizes it with hackathons and all that kind of stuff.

So what have you found for yourself being able to balance, you know, having a life, having a family, doing, having multiple interests and yet being a successful career or business person when it comes to web development?

Zac: I mean, I almost feel like you kind of gave the answer way right in that, right. It's about the balance.

Um, Right off the bat. If you have family or relatives or friends, making sure that you're consistently spending time or interacting with them, and it's not just like work becomes your lover. Um, because what happens is right. You build up these patterns and these habits that like you said, are applicable earlier yawn, but then you're still late at night scrolling through CSS tricks or trying to.

You don't actually need this information. You're just addicted to the consumption of it. Right. And the thing around it, and the media is social media, right? So like you said, they're like, you get kind of caught up in it. And I think it's cool to, like, you got to enter that stream, but you got to kind of exit it at times.

Um, I'm a huge proponent of nature. Like shoes off, hug a tree in the woods. Hopefully on a daily, regular basis, even, and with lockdowns and stuff, trying to get out. And that's part of why I'm shifting where I'm even living at these times so that I could have more bit of that. And I find that it just brings me in, um, A much more full person.

And you know, I've been in this game long enough to like burn out a few times for different things. So it's just kind of stuff you, you can't, I don't know that you could force yourself to do it early on, but at some point you're going to start being like, okay, I gotta do this. I think, you know, things like regular breaks throughout your day, they say every hour or two, you should stand up, you should rub your eyes.
Like, cause you have all these, you know, electrical signals that are really intense. Pummeling into your brain and your face, and you can just kinda Assad those, get those out. I'm a big proponent of like breathing exercises, even just a few moments. A couple of times throughout the day is going to keep you much healthier, staying super hydrated and going to the bathroom.

Because the other thing that happens is you become so consumed and learning and working that you don't get up and do his bodily functions. And over the years, those have effects on your organs, you know, and your. Your body and all these things are really taking care of yourself. Um, I do think we've shifted out of the like Doritos and red bull culture completely. I think we're beginning to. You know, find some energy drink that might be a little bit better and some snacks and rotating them, but there is a bit of that that happens. So, um, I think going with it a little bit, like, I usually like to have some snacks in a work in or around just to kind of keep me sustained engaged in going, um, but also those serious breaks, um, Those are the ones that come up.

And this is like really unique to me, me. So everybody's going to have their different one, whether it's a workout or a walk, or they just need to like go listen to something. But I think getting away from the electronics and stepping away, the other thing about learning that is not. I think part of our modern learning culture is that you need the downtime.

Like what happens to the brain is it process is a process, is a process. It starts calming down some stuff we'll go to longer term storage. Some stuff will move around and you open up for these insights. And every programmer knows that, like they've just had these insights in the shower, driving around these different times.

So, um, it's not, it's not that you are. Taking away from your learning process to do these things. You're actually enhancing it like 10, a hundred times fold, and the same goes true for working, you know, your efficiency is going come, come back up. Um, last thing I'll throw out is just too much multitask asking, right?

Like if you're going to work. Work. If you're going to have like social media open and music going, I think music can help with concentration, but you know, YouTube going and you have the, your email open. So I'm a big proponent of trying to sit down and focus and you could get, this is how I stay as productive as I do as like intense periods of intense focus undistracted, and then, and then withdrawing, you know?

Um, so yeah. I don't know what, what works for you is that resonating?

Chris: Uh, you know, I think, I think super helpful, I think, you know, and, and I've talked a lot about this on the blog, but, but having, having some intentional structure and boundaries to your day, um, can be very helpful. And not that you have to be rigid with those, um, because you know, there are moments where you hit a flow.

And you didn't anticipate it coming and you just kind of have to keep going with it. Um, but then there are moments where you're trying to hit that brain space and it's not happening. And rather than just trying to muscle through it, like, it's almost best to just say, you know what, I'm going to put my brain in a different area.

And if you are an entrepreneur or a freelancer, like you can obviously choose where that is. If you work for a company. Uh, it might be taken care of something else that doesn't require a specific, um, part of your brain to kind of just help alleviate some of that. Some of that pressure in that specific area of thinking, um, You mentioned burning out yourself, um, a few times in the midst of all that.

And I I'd love for you to just kind of talk about that as much. It's just you, you feel like you can and, and how you've been able to, um, maybe pivot and come back back from that. Cause obviously you're still going for it.

Zac: Yeah, sure. Well, this is good question. Uh, get a little personal here. So I know that, um, early on in my one is I was teaching at a high school as teaching at a college and I was running a web agency amongst my other hobbies and things.

So I had a lot going on and I often found that like, I would just kind of burn out regularly, go hard fry, go hard fry. And it took me a long time. I realized there was actually like this underlying philosophy about it. That is we think that we need to struggle to have abundance. And this there's like tons of studies and people who talk about these sort of things.

Um, and I think. Realizing that if I just slow down a bit and really just let something happen and do it well, and I don't constantly need to be running after whether it's the next client or paycheck or cloud, you know, so taking on a lot is pretty common. And I think we do that out of like a hustle and survival instinct, but, and you could do it for a little bit, but you'll find that, um, That it's not sustainable.
And that is actually by being smarter and pulling it. You know, I remember when I was running an agency and we were doing these like nine 75 websites, right. So we were trying to catch all the websites that every, all the good web designers were dropping, you know, and we get them theme again with the plugins.

We'd spend that thing and get it out. Um, until that point I'd been going after the $10,000 projects, these and I had a business consultant and it's actually, you make more money and do less work. By doing these other projects, these small little ones. So, and I was like, no, I don't wanna sell out. It needs to be about the RDS and bath.

I can't. I came to my senses, shifted the whole business. So at a certain point, pulling in a professional or someone else, who's in it to give you some advice on how you could work smarter and then being fluid about it. You know, if there's a diff there's a better way of doing it smarter way. We can't be too stuck in our Hodges.

And I'm a very like stuck driven person. So I'm not saying it like, it's an easy thing. I've said it cause I've had to learn it. Another big one for me was when I switched, I was teaching at a really cool online learning site. Um, they're not around so much anymore, but they had a good hay day called Treehouse and they're kind of like a type site.

Um, and I switched from working with them. To doing my own site, JavaScript for WordPress, um, which I've been doing for the last four or five years now. And that I burnt out so quickly. Cause I was like, okay, I'm going to produce more content than I did before. Cause I need to keep people interested. And I was trying to teach all of JavaScript, which was.

I mean, looking back insane, insane, but I was like driven. Yeah. I was like, I could do this and it's going to be this. I'm going to put my heart and soul into it. But I was, I worked so hard that I kind of like got to this Lockton place place where I started to withdraw. I wasn't doing my healthy habits.

I wasn't connecting with others as much. Um, And I got to a place where like some days I just couldn't work, you know, and like, and then there'd be more pressure on myself. So learning how to psychologically deal with stress and our own triggers and our own issues, like I'm talking, getting some professional help, most of us could, um, could benefit from.

And it's aided me. Yeah. A lot in how to like, kind of bring myself back up or. Work through those, those burnouts. And again, that came again to working smarter. So I found what worked for me. Not everything works the same for everybody. Like my best buddy. He's also a teacher. I'm also a programmer. He could do the nine to five, like you locks in he loads.

And he just goes, he takes his breaks and he does it and grinds it out. I cannot work this way. Like I am a cat being wrangled. I can get the same amount done in a day, but it might be a few hours here. I might take a few hours off here. My, so when, what I was doing with courses was sometimes I would. Go hard.

Like, Oh, I'm up all night working not day after day after day, but a couple of those in a week and go hard and knock out a course in two months and then I'd take a month or two off. And so. If you learn what works for you, you could start scaling this. You know, I started out as small scale, but I realized that like, if I'm going to go hard and burn out, cause sometimes like you said, you're in the flow.
I might not want to stop. I might want to stay up all night. And I've just learned to grant myself permission for that and then give myself enough rest period after. And I find for me, it's, it's a healthy flow. You can't do it every week, but you could, you could have inflow in that. And so. Um, there's books out there, like the, um, what is it?

The five hour work week, four hour work week? Um, these like works. I love the first part of that book at the end. It gets into like, if you really want to live this lifestyle, just sell pharmaceuticals. So I'm like, okay. Um, I care a little bit too much to do that. But the approach of like work hard and smart and efficiently, and then give yourself breaks, whether it's within the day over weeks and not everybody could do that, but this is one of those things.

Like you could find the job where that could work. You know, it might be a smaller shop. A lot of people in this field only care if you show up any delivery. And if you could do that, I don't care what you're doing the rest of the time. And that's something great about this field. So that's been, um, Those have been my most typical burnouts teaching and doing courses and being in a like screencasting booth and doing the research for it, doing the prepping, which might take me, you know, weeks or months, and then like recording, recording, editing, editing, doing all this, it just got old.

So actually I did something that I was not expecting this year and I switched not careers, but I switched out of running an online education company. And I'm doing something different now. And it happened gradually at first I was like, okay, no more courses. Cause literally like my brain, this part of my brain is melting.

I can't do this work anymore. So I went to just more bootcamps and that I really enjoyed, um, It's tough to make money as an educator doing things. Sometimes it's, it's a little bit easier now in this time period, but there's also so much of it and so much it, this free that it's tricky. So I switched and now I'm working at a company strategy, which I think we'll chat about at some point.

And I'm a community manager and doing tons of internal things for them. It's a super creative, it's a super flexible, it's a super cool job. And I never would have expected that, but you know what? I just like, I've learned over the years, I got to listen to myself and I think. Letting go of who there's this quote, letting go of who you are today for who you can become is something that I've tried to model my life after.

I've had a lot of different titles. I've had a lot of different things, attachment to communities and places and people, and being able to let go of that to step up, um, in terms of switching gears, you might not need to leave the field completely, but you need to make an adjustment. And I think just be brave and bold with that, um, can go a long way.

Chris: Yeah. And ultimately, that's, that's pretty scary of saying, like who, who I've built myself to be for the last, however many years, like we're burning it down. And, uh, and I'm going to start over and we're working on this a lot with our kiddos, especially kind of seeing how they're doing educationally.

You know, we're finding that some of our, some of like, we've got three daughters and a little baby boys, like seven months old. So he's not much into learning more than just crawling and figuring things out. So, um, you know, but, but our three daughters in school, um, one of them, you know, like she almost celebrates mistakes and then the other two, they have a really tough time with making mistakes and it goes back to that growth mindset, um, versus the fixed mindset.

You know, and, and being able to say, I'm, I'm just going to go out on a limb here and I have been successful and I can see this path moving forward. I can still continue to be successful. But what if, you know, like, like what if there's even more success or what if this success. It gives me more time for my family or more time to do the things that I just love doing, like going and taking a walk in nature or, you know, learning something completely unrelated to web development or whatever.

And so, you know, I've found that like how you're defining success and, and even including mistakes in that. And so we actually reward our kids to make mistakes. So like we tell them they need to try and make at least one intentional mistake a day. It kind of remove that stigma of. You know, like you're like the world's gonna crumble.

If you show up 30 minutes late to an online class, you know? Um, and it sounds like you've, you've kind of mastered that. So, you know, because you've, you've changed and pivoted multiple times, what, what helps you to have that mentality?

Zac: Yeah. Well, now we're shifting kind of into the more like philosophical, spiritual for me.

Internal cultivation practices because you nailed one right there and I've got a nine year old boy and like, aren't, they just the teachers of us. All right. We're like, Oh, how do I help them? Like first I got to fix this in myself and master it and then I can demonstrate it and actually show have it be, you know, continuously supportive in that way.

So the guilt, the guilt and the shame and learning that we don't get past that by getting better at whatever we're feeling guilty about. But we get, we get better at forgiving ourselves and others letting go of this guilt. Oh God. Guilt is a killer. It's a killer. And, um, So many of our own, we could have 12 different people and their guilt will affect each of them a different way.

They won't call it guilt, but it's, it's kind of that. Um, so for me, I do a lot of meditation. I do a lot of like spiritual study around forgiveness around acceptance around like, you know, just these practices that help us. And, um, that is, I mean, I couldn't just do this just by being a web dev and learning it all.

I would, I would go insane. So, and I find that a lot of people actually, um, whether they're religious or spiritual or just very practically rooted. In kind of reality, people that these tend to, they tend to have be a lot more stable and more balanced and be able to roll with that. But for me, there's this phrase that like, I forgive this for, it never took my piece away that applies to anything like, okay.

Everything's hitting the fan. I'm stressed about this or this needs to happen, or like I'm afraid about losing this identity, just knowing, okay. Peace is not going to come from this world. It's too chaotic. It's too ever changing. It's it's it exists in another place. And I'm just going to go there. I'm going to let some of that in and, um, yeah, I don't know.

I've kind of always been a little fearless and reckless combination, so that's helped. I know that's not everybody's drive, but it doesn't need to be, you know, we each have our own way, but. That guilt, that hard on herself that making mistakes and it's not a sin kind of thing, you know, is, uh, Cool. I'm glad you brought that up and what's some cool training for your kids too.

Chris: Yeah. You know, and I mean, it's something like you said, I think you never, like, it has to be a learned trait. Cause I don't like, you know, for most of us, you know, like I've seen in my, in my youngest daughter, like she is just, okay, like if she gets one crest question right on a, on a 10 question quiz, she is celebrating, you know?

And so I'm like, I kind of want to be like that, you know, like. Sure.

You know, but, but, but putting things in place and, you know, a mindfulness of going, okay, what, what are my thoughts around this? Like, why am I feeling anxious? What are some lies that I'm believing about this and what are some truths that I can replace it with? Like just, just taking a pause and just stepping back and going, because I can't figure out this JavaScript problem.

It doesn't make me less valuable or stupid. You know, like going through those processes has been super helpful for me. Um, so I appreciate your insight on that as well. I wonder if we can pivot a little bit and just talk about, Stratix talk about kind of the new thing that you're, uh, jumping into. Cause it's it's number one, really cool.

And kind of a cool new development. And so I'd love to hear about it and what you're doing.

Zac: Sure. So. Just to back up a little bit and give context what was happening as I was talking JavaScript for WordPress developers, which is a niche within a niche, and I've been doing it before the rest API, before Gutenberg all this.

And I was kind of getting into this silo of people, right. I've taught all WordPress people. I've taught, you know, computer science in general, that's even a wider gamut. So I found myself just like. As a business owner and as an instructor, like very niche and niche, a niche, which was fun. But I just began, I have this inner feeling of like, I want to find and a way to connect appear again.

I want to find a way so that when I meet somebody, what I'm doing can be relevant to them. And like, not like eyes glaze and they have no idea. Like I'm much more, I've always felt like, wow, what I'm teaching is secondary to my love for teaching. Right. So it's not that I just love JavaScript, although I'm a big fan.

Um, but so that was what was going on for me. And also financially running a business as a anybody's who's done it. Know it can be a lot of strain course development, making sure that it sells just the strain of that. So I was kinda ready and the strategy as a company, um, I'll get into what they do, but I had met there.

Their CEO, who's an amazing woman, Miriam Schwab. And I met her just traveling and speaking at different word camps. She's from Israel. Um, super bright personality, super go getter. A big family has run a successful agency before and. I really liked her. Like, you know, some people, not that everybody resonates with everybody, but when you find somebody and just like, got it, like them, you know, like I just really feel like I know them.

I just like their smile. And so I, I had this feeling, um, pretty immediately upon. Meeting her. And we knew each other for a a while. And what I saw as a company. So what strategy does is they take a WordPress site that when you visit a WordPress site, it runs some PHP. It runs, um, some database calls. Maybe it has a caching layer.

Might run your front side JavaScript, but it, it takes half of that stack out of the equation. So what it does is you use WordPress like normal, and then you hit a publish button and it publishes a completely HTML, CSS and JavaScript version of your site. So there's no PHP to run. There's no database to call.

And what this is for the average user is really cool. Cause it's usually way faster. And it's so secure for a lot of these companies, like. Security is an issue. There's a lot of known vulnerabilities. Most hosts take care of this, but they take the entire site offline when you're not editing it. So you spin up a server to edit WordPress, and then when you publish it spins back down and you close it down and it's completely offline, you can't hack it and you can't get to it.

Um, and what's cool about this approach is that technically this is what's called headless WordPress. So they use the WordPress rest API to visit every single possible page of your site. Run some programming and spit out, um, this, this new version. And a lot of what I was teaching in my JavaScript was headless WordPress, but I was teaching in a different way.

I was teaching it, you have your WordPress install, you build a react site or you use a tool like Gatsby or something like that, right. Or just straight react. And you make all those API calls and you code everything in JavaScripts, right? You don't use a theme. Um, you just build it all yourself. And that was really fun and really geeky.

But out of all the WordPress people could build sites to people who could build these kinds of sites are like here. So again, this was my niche, but I knew, and I still believe that headless what they call headless CMS is, um, and the headless direction of the web. It's just the trend we're going. So some folks like to ask, like, should I do, what should I?

And my perspective has always been like, Well, I don't really care about that. I'm just seeing that this is the direction it's going. You can make whatever decision you want, but more and more going that way, the newer products that are coming out are all built this way. Um, a lot of technologies operating this way.

There's a lot of benefits, but again, um, if I was going with then like Gatsby, something like that, like it's just a small group of people who could do this. So it's cool about strata and why I was really happy to join their team is that it's super technical. It works in this headless way. But anybody could use it.

So now I'm back in the domain of doing something that's super cutting edge of working with a really cool and friendly company of promoting this modern technology stack. That's like more secure somebody even say there's an environmental component where if you just publish your site once and then throw up HTML files, there are certain points where trade offs are.

There's less server power, there's less electricity. So. If you think about all the electricity we're using to power the world's internet, it's a lot. And part of the reason I think we're moving towards these services that are more and more static is because it requires less to power it to. So I used to make a big claim and say, this is really cool.

But then when I looked at the numbers and tried to actually research this, it's a little bit hard to prove. But from my heart, I feel I'm going a good direction, less resources, more trees, right. A general. Um, and so the way the service works is it's a hosting company. You host with them, you log into WordPress, you click the big red button that says published, and then your live site is served completely via CDN and.

This is the way it works. And I do think that if people haven't tried this out, what my big pushes is, I think 30% of WordPress sites run really well as static sites really well. Um, at least at least there's a portion where you don't want to. Um, if you constantly need database interaction, That is not always easy.

There's workarounds, there's third party tools for eCommerce, for forums, for comments, for all these things. But, um, yeah, so that's what strata is doing. So I still feel like I'm a couple steps ahead of the field. I think a lot of people in the, in the WordPress space haven't really gotten static sites as part of their workflow.

They're still wondering. Should I do it. Should I check it out? Would it do it? Do I have to do so I like being a little bit ahead of the field because then there's still the education. So it's cool about my role at strata is that. In some ways it's so far more advanced than when most WordPress developers are that they don't even know what they don't know about why they should be doing it.

And this is an environment that, yeah, I want to jump in there. So I've joined the company in January. I've been doing a lot of internal work to we're redesigning the site. We're redesigning the app or like building some plugins and some compatibility, like we're stacking restocking. And I didn't know this would be part of my job.

So I'm loving getting to like build plugins build all this cool stuff. And once we get to this point, which we're getting to, then I'm going to turn it around more public and really push hard about how to educate folks. Like what are the benefits of static security, speed, scalability. How do you do it?

Use these plugins, this plugin. And I'm really kind of shifting our paradigm because I do think we're. We're going to get there, but you kind of need some people to push a little extra. And I felt my work with JavaScript for WordPress is. You know, maybe not significant, but I think helped a lot of developers get over that hurdle.

And I'm hoping that with this as well, be just developers, but a lot of people just make it super easy for them. And, uh, so that's been my coming on the strata and kind of what they do I do. And it's been really fun. I'm really enjoying it, uh, strata and go check out their site, um, and kind of their offerings and what they're doing, if, and.

I'm community manager there technically. So if you reach out and chat and want to ask for me, they can forward it over to me and I'd be happy to answer questions or run you through everything. So little bit of a sales pitch, a little bit of just lifestyle shift and a lot of excitement. Cause it's been really fun.

Chris: Yeah, no, I think it's, it's such a cool concept and you're right. And not a lot of, a lot of people are going in that direction, you know? And if you think about 30% of all WordPress sites being okay, to be a static snapshot of whatever they're doing, that's still a ton of websites, you know? So, um, Because WordPress makes up however, much of a percentage of the entire web, you know, so it has the potential to really make a huge difference and really be a valuable asset to, to a lot of people.

And most of the clients that I have had have been those who they need a website that is really well put together that presents them really well to their people. But they're going to add a post maybe every week. Um, and they don't need any type of like crazy updates on an hourly, you know, minute basis.

So, uh, so it's really cool. It's really cool what you're doing and, and, um, you know, I think you are, I think you're right on the precipice, just like you were with JavaScript before Gutenberg came out, you know, like, um, so it's, it's cool, Zach, I can't thank you enough. For being on the show and sharing your thoughts.

I could talk to you for hours about all this stuff, but I want to respect your time and the time of our listeners. So if, if people are trying to get in touch with you or connect with you, where would they go?

Zac: Yeah, so it used to be just hit me up on Twitter, Z Gordon on Twitter, but I'm not really on social media, much these days.

Um, unless it's through more official work. So my site, great site hosted, uh, of course, you know, and, uh, there's a contact form there. Just reach out any questions. If you're curious about a learning journey, I like to help people like learn this first or that I probably can't answer as much as your technical, like.

Okay, how do I do this a Javascript. So less of that, but any of the big picture stuff. And Chris you as well man. I just really enjoy chatting with you. I got lost in this conversation as well, and, uh, I hope it's been helpful for people. I know we all need this encouragement, you know, along the way, sometimes just to reminders and.

Hey, I kind of knew that it's good to hear from someone's telling me. Okay. It's right. And I think we stress some really good, important things today. So thank you so much for the invitation here.

Chris: Zach's the kind of guy you could just sit around with all day long and just chat and hang out with. He's such a kind and genuine dude.

And it was so fun chatting with him. And I know that you got a lot out of listening to his experience. I love how real he got about actually burning out and figuring out how to come back from that burn out as something that is really easy to experience in this line of work. And so it was good to hear some insight on.

How to stay fresh, how to stay focused and keep from being consumed by all things, learning web development or running a business, or having a tech career. So I want to encourage you, go check out Zach's website, JavaScript for Go check out strandic and everything that he is doing there. It's actually a really cool hosting system that is on the forefront of what is happening.

With WordPress websites, you won't regret it. Hey, next week we've got another amazing guest with us. The episode of course is dropping Wednesday night at midnight. Are you staying up with me? I hope you are because I'm eating popcorn. Okay. And we'll do it together. Hey, until next week. Don't forget. If you don't quit, you

Image of someone helping to another person learn web development for an article on how to be a self-taught web developer


Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

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