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Loving What You Do and Doing it Better… My Open Source Story

By John Polacek, senior web developer, Chicago

When you love what you do for a living you should never stop getting better. For a web developer, I believe the best way to do that is to work out in the open for the entire world to see.
The philosophy of open source is at the heart of the web. Anyone can view a website’s source code in their browser, and open source is widely used on different sites. For example, there’s the über-popular JavaScript library jQuery that powers more than half of all web sites (and growing); popular CMS solutions, most notably Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla, are all open source; and new front end frameworks like Bootstrap and Foundation come from companies (Twitter and Zurb) that see value in contributing back to the community. Even government institutions, like my own—City of Chicago— are getting on board with open source.
The undisputable center of open source is Github, the social coding site that has attracted developers in droves. At a recent TED conference, Clay Shirky gave an inspiring talk about Github and its potential to change the world. Wired Magazine has gone so far as to declare this the Github Generation.There are many impressive projects posted on Github every day. The talent level on display on the web these days is off the charts, so there’s definitely some intimidation when it comes to jumping into open source. However, every superstar programmer must  start somewhere. No matter the skill level, we developers need to become comfortable keeping up with a relentless change of pace. It doesn’t matter what your skillset, working at getting better at your trade is what matters. Give a damn about your craft. If you do, then you’ll have what it takes.
A little over a year ago, my second son was born. Having kids changes your perspective on everything; I’ve found that the need to provide for them is highly motivating. So while on family leave for my new son’s arrival, I stayed home to spend time with my family and work on some projects. Having seen some interesting HTML5 presentation frameworks, I decided to make one of my own.Thanks to helpful relatives and the fact that babies sleep a lot, I created What The Heck Is Responsive Web Design? which I built on Scrolldeck.js, an HTML5 presentation framework that I created using Scrollorama, a plugin that I also created (synergy!)
Much to my surprise, when I posted Scrollorama to Hacker News, it made it to #1. What The Heck Is Responsive Web Design? is now one of the top Google search results for Responsive Web Design.
It’s been a little bit crazy seeing my content picked up in places like JavaScript Weekly, Codrops and Webmonkey, plus being sought out for opportunities to present at conferences or meetups. I love getting pull requests from people all over the world contributing to my projects, as well as seeing how people use my code in their projects and sometimes see them even winning awards.
I’m always looking for opportunities to build things I can share on Github. At Draftfcb Chicago, we’ve  started a group to share open source projects. First, there was BigVideo.js, a jQuery plugin for big background video. Next, Responsivator!, a Responsive Web Design tool for viewing and sharing how websites look on different screen sizes. Channel of Awesome, a collection of videos that represent the best of Art+Science and controldeck.js which allows you to run HTML5 presentations with your phone. Most recently, we created and shared a grid system that allows us to quickly prototype and build responsive websites for our clients.
I question why more of us don’t develop in the open. Maybe some developers  think what they’re doing isn’t interesting or good enough, or that  it takes too much time to clean up their code, write docs or create a project page. The web can, indeed, be a harsh, judgmental place. For me, the last year has been a great success. Yet, it would have been easy to get bogged down by negative comments, frustrated by issues and bug reports, or embarrassed by code mistakes. Will people say you are doing it wrong? Of course! But put aside those doubts and negative feelings.Developing in the open isn't about being perfect. It’s about getting yourself out there. Do cool stuff, share it and talk about it. Over and over. It is about getting better. It is about being a part of something bigger than the desk you sit at. Try getting out there and mixing it up.You’ll be glad you did.