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Website Development and Crafting Cocktails - My Under Appreciated Duo.

Updated on February 17, 2020
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"Matthew is a web developer at Whipstitch webwork based in Hartford CT. He is also "Le bartender extraordinaire" of legend.


The basic skills needed to start bartending or designing websites are easy to acquire

One day, fifteen years ago, I woke and went to work a salesmen in finance and went to bed that night deciding I'd become a bartender. The next morning I did what people do when their goal is to change a career - research. I researched how much money I should expect to make, the job requirements, any needed certifications, and where to learn the skill. It was a pretty straight forward path to go from one side of the bar to the other. So, I enrolled in a weekend course given at the local community college. That Monday I went online to take and pass the T.I.Ps certification, on Tuesday I applied for my first bartending "gig", and I poured my first drink as a paid professional the following Wednesday afternoon. It was a Lynchburg Lemonade and the customer told me it was perfect. It was not, but I didn't know that and neither did she.

Ten years later the urge to do something different came. This time the call was to design and develop websites. As before, I did some career research before jumping in. I was surprised that one could be self-taught, no standards or certifications applied, and I could learn the HTML, CSS, and the basic JavaScript needed to build my first website in a few hours. So, I put aside a weekend and learned the three basic technologies. On Monday I gained enough Bootstrap skill to make me dangerous. I had my first four-page website built on Tuesday. It was a mock car dealership site. The people that saw it thought it was great. It was not, but I didn't know that and neither did they.

After a weekend of studying bartending, I had gained enough skill to create a semi-balanced cocktail. After a weekend in web development, I had an entire website up on my PC screen. I had done it. But, had I really?

The refined skills needed to master either takes a lot of experience

I currently make a living by splitting my time between the two. I do my part at our agency and bartend at least three shifts a week. Bartending allows the social interactions that web development lacks. Web Development allows me to make more money than bartending alone ever did. I love both. I am very good at both.

Today, I can look back and clearly see what the novice me could not. That I knew little more than the basics and that there was much more knowledge to be gained over the coming years.

For my first few years behind the bar, when someone would order a Bloody Mary, I would grab ready made mix, add vodka, toss in a celery stalk, slide it to the customer, and have the audacity to say "enjoy". I thought that was how it was done. It certainly looked like a Bloody Mary. What the heck did I know? It was this same hackery when I built all the other classic cocktails. Presently, I regularly go to work hours early to make a much better base from scratch. Same goes for any juices, shrubs, or bitters. I've graduated from using simple syrups up to granular jaggery and spice infused demeraras. I forgo the shaker and stir things that require stirring. Wine recommendations fall off my lips that were once unpronounceable and foreign. I eye-ball perfect dilution and chill by raising the cube and looking for a certain shimmer on the top of a Bourbon. Any cocktail affection-ado can take one sip of a cocktail that I build and instantly know they are drinking a gem. I basically use the same set of tools that I used when first starting, but now I fully understand when, why, and how to utilize them.

The same pattern can be seen in my web development career. With experience and a deep desire to get better came the mastery to truly understand how to build a website. Where I once thought that every web app should be built with React, I now see that is often overkill. I can see the goal beyond the task and have the knowledge to choose the best tool to accomplish it. I don't stick square pegs in round holes because it's trendy or nostalgic. I rarely waste a line of code, make much more performant apps, and give my clients a great product in half the time. Using Emmet, I can boiler-plate out all of a website's HTML while hitting the 'ENTER' button once. I know when a microservice is the answer or when I've got to build the functionality. In short, I've learned how to program. Here my tool set has expanded, but my knowledge of when, why, and how to utilize them has kept pace.

It is not just experience that has made me better. I could have gone years, never improving at my crafts and made a living. Most people can't tell the difference. Right? But, I wanted to get better and build great things.

The average client doesn't notice the effects expertise has on the product

Whether I'm crafting classic cocktails or designing websites, many of my clients have no appreciation for the expertise and painstaking choices that go into developing the end product. What distinguishes mastery from novice. They couldn't tell if I used WordPress or React on their website, served them Pappy Van Winkle's reserve 23 or Jim Beam, or recognize any of the nuanced choices that I make during the week fulfilling their needs. It's true. My average client couldn't point to the work I do today from my novice work just by looking at the two. They will taste a slight difference in my drinks or see one of my website as a bit more polished than another, but there isn't a deep understanding or recognition for the improved quality of what I build now and what I did just starting. They only see the end product - images and fonts on a screen that look beautiful or liquid in a glass that looks appetizing. Not, that my techniques are better, the ingredients are better, or I use the right product in getting there. Other bartenders and developers can. People with a passion for the subjects do. Those are the people that keep me delivering my best and striving to get better. That knowledgeable nod after a long sip or an inquiry into a site's performance scores, these are signs that someone notices the effort. It reinforces that filling out a template isn't good enough. That failing to optimize down to the lowest kb isn't good enough. That shaking certain drinks will over dilute, so take the time to stir.

So, If you make drinks or build websites - go the extra mile and fully apply your skills. The average person won't notice, but your peers will.

© 2020 Matthew Russell


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