Confessions of a former Designosaur

Working in Higher Education comes with a lot of perks (when learning is valued, upgrading is easier). I’ve posted previously about developing my leadership and coaching skills and how that really let my interface and front-end design skills grow stale in the trade-off.

Retooling is necessary in any industry, but is incredibly amplified when working in the digital space. Gone are the days of a solo web developer (or “full-stack”, as the cool kids say…) handling all tasks in a project, at least with any quality. I can usually get by year-after-year by reading industry news and following small tool developments, but when I poked my head up this Fall to see where digital was headed, I was gobsmacked. I had a tonne of upgrading to do.

While I love my home city tremendously, our local market is primarily overrun with small freelancers who offer Wix and Squarespace templates or modify self-hosted WordPress - so finding local industry mentors that delve in modern web tools can prove challenging.

If you are feeling like I was, take a deep breath and know that everything is attainable. The interweb is a wonderful place for learning new skills, it can be tuition-free and is mostly expert-led. Heck, you can even study at some of the more revered schools, the price of entry being time and motivation.

I consider myself a multidisciplinary creative, but my primary background is User Experience Design and Visual Interaction Design - if you look at a skills roadmap, that puts me on the path of modern Front End Development, and wow has that ever changed!

As I was preoccupied exploring digital transformation, digital strategy and governance- developers were ditching monolith CMS, outdated infrastructure, and began focusing on a better editing experience, API-first development, JavaScript and static site generators. Discussions shifted away from LAMP-stack, caching and optimization and began to embrace REACT, Webpack, GraphQL and the JAMstack (with many embracing Facebook’s open source internal development tools ).

I was determined to come to terms with the degree of change by tuning into some great podcasts, I can’t recommend the Syntax Podcast with Wes Bos and Scott Tolinskienough. Together with Chris Coyier’s Shop Talk podcast, I was able to get quickly up to speed and in a place where I felt literate again.

Today I’m happily embracing modern JavaScript, the tech behind REACT-powered sites that happily consume content from whatever API publishes an end point, deployed in a serverless architecture. Through general acceptance of CSS Grid, I’m able to abandon the crutch of Bootstrap and Bulma - buzzwords have become concrete skills, and a sense of clam has returned to my résumé.

Knowing that I don’t have to hate on the limitations of WordPress or Drupal themes, and that most everything I want to include is just an API away - Dribbble, Instagram, Elastic Search, SendGrid, Mailchimp, Stripe is incredibly freeing.

I found the following resources to be the best of the bunch:

CSS Grid

  1. Wes Bos’s CSS Grid Course
  2. Scrimba’s CSS Grid

Javascript ES6+

  1. Scrimba’s JS Course
  2. Code Academy
  3. Modern Javascript Tutorial


  1. Code Academy
  2. Design + Code 3
  3. Official React.js site
  4. Level Up Tuts


  1. How to GraphQL
  2. Official GraphQL docs

Headless CMS

  1. Graph CMS
  2. Contenta Drupal Distro
  3. WordPress GraphQL
  4. Strap.io
  5. Contentful

Version Control

  1. GitHub
  2. Atlassian Tutorial
  3. Electron App

Local Development Environments

  1. Docker Official
  2. Docker Training

Web Host

  1. GitHub Pages
  2. Netlify
  3. AWS Amplify

I plan to continue experimenting with new tools and methods that will enhance my interface design skills, but one thing I’m particularly excited about is transferring what I’ve learned about React.js to REACT Native and up my game with native mobile development.

Are you on a skills upgrading journey? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear all about it.

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Michael Warf

Michael Warf

Leveraging boundless curiosity - Michael habitually takes deep-dives into creative, technology and life-hacks - and airs his exploits via social media.