Week 33 at an Unbootcamp

Phase 5 is a start-up within a start-up, and I gave it its first job to do. Now it’s your turn to critique the work.

Phase 5

Phase 5 is a start-up web development enterprise being created within Learners Guild in Oakland, California. It has a website, and it is working on a project for a customer.

Were it so simple!

It began in early October 2017. Some staff and Learners decided that a small web consulting business would be a valuable addition to phase 5, the final phase of the training program at the Guild. That phase was aimed at making its occupants, during their final 2 months of the Guild’s 10-month program, ready to compete for real jobs in the software-engineering market.

They decided to call it “Phase 5”, registered an Internet domain “phase5.io”, and produced the above-cited website. I knew little about this effort. I had entered phase 4 about 2 weeks earlier, so I had about 6 more weeks of study before entering phase 5. But I was aware that the Phase 5 crew were deliberating how they would find customers and how they would enter into contracts with the ones they landed.

Since Phase 5 began, the Guild has continued to evolve. Phases 4 and 5 were consolodated into a single phase 4 (also called “Area 45”). A few weeks later, that phase was renamed the Apprenticeship Phase. More relevantly, the Guild announced its intent to develop a consulting business affiliated with, rather than inside, the Guild. This all leaves it unclear how the Phase 5 business will fit into the Guild’s business model and curriculum—or whether it will at all.

The project

But there’s a project!

Yes, as Phase 5 was organizing itself, I approached some of its Learners and described a website that I wanted somebody to create for me. After some discussion, they agreed it would be a good project for Phase 5 and immediately started planning the site. I reviewed their initial design and gave them some suggestions, ideas, bullet points, and photos to work with. They started developing the site. The decisions on contracting formalities had not been made yet, but this pilot project started up anyway.

The perceptive reader may be wondering why I would do such a thing. After all, I am a Learner, too, and I, too, am studying web development. So, if I wanted a website, why wouldn’t I just build it? Good question. I wanted to help Phase 5 launch its business, and I expected that its Learners could create a better website than I yet knew how to create. That’s why.

The even more perceptive reader may add another objection: The desired site was to belong to an existing category that is well-served by off-the-shelf templates: the “single-property real-estate website”. I could pay a few dollars for a template and configure it to suit, instead of having a custom site built from the ground up or doing that myself. Maybe, but, if so, Phase 5 could itself use one of those templates. After all, contract web developers use whatever productivity tools exist. If the customer wants a slight variation on an existing template, the developer can use it. But also maybe not. I had a hunch that single-property sites typically try to sell property by making it seem far more luxurious than it is and appealing to the buyer’s materialistic greed. I doubted that this approach would work. Prospects might be lured, but they would visit the property and get confused by the apparent lack of fit between the advertised dream and the observable reality. Some real estate may be just plain property, but this real estate is absolutely not. It is, instead, active, independent, relatively affordable senior living in a true, self-governing community in an urban setting near a great university. That’s rare, and some buyers actually want it. I wanted a site that would target them by downplaying the a-man’s-home-is-his-castle meme and upplaying the we’re-all-in-this-together meme.

Not surprisingly, the production process at Phase 5 had not yet been designed, and by definition its personnel were destined to be leaving within a few weeks of the launch of the business, as their terms at the Guild came to an end, they got jobs as developers and left even earlier, or they got absorbed in applying and interviewing for jobs to launch their careers.

Notwithstanding the vicissitudes, the Phase 5 crew produced a framework and a partly functioning site for my project. It was a solid basis for continued work. But the crew itself peeled off one-by-one for the above-mentioned reasons, and the pace of work slowed to zero. I then began to build on—and revise—their work. My revisions were akin to those I would make if I myself had created a first draft. My first drafts are usually barely recognizable in my final versions. I had given the Phase 5 crew only the barest idea of the site that I wanted, because that’s all I had. Actually working on it is what forced me to add detail to that idea.

And—bonus—working on it has given me practice in a certain kind of web development. We’re talking about single-page websites. These are websites that come from a server, but, once the browser gets the content from the server, the server’s involvement ends. The browser (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, Edge, Tor, or whatever) does everything after that, because the content includes programs written in JavaScript that tell the browser what to do and when to do it, in response to any actions that you perform (like clicking a button).

Where you come in

As my 33rd week at Learners Guild came to an end (on 22 December), I was continuing to fine-tune the project, and there was no end in sight to what improvements might be made, but this is the real world. I expect to use the project within a month in a marketing effort, so the further changes will be limited, and I expect to prioritize changes that are easy, quick, and likely to do substantial good.

In that regard, you can help. Imagine yourself a senior citizen wanting to relocate yourself. Or, if that’s a stretch, ask a senior citizen that you know who can more easily imagine that desire (or who even has it). Let’s say you found the site and started to peruse it. What confuses you? What’s irrelevant? What is there too little information about? What is there too much information about? What’s missing entirely?

Also, what works well? I want to know that, too, so that I can protect the good things from being discarded as a byproduct of other improvements.

Feel free to comment below this blog entry. Or, if you prefer, use the site’s contact button to create an email message where you can write your comments. Or create an issue at the site’s repository. Or, if you can, make the change yourself and propose it as a pull request.

It will be a pleasure to have your collaboration!


3 thoughts on “Week 33 at an Unbootcamp

  1. Dear Jonathan,
    Thanks for showing me some of your (and Phase 5’s) art. I enjoyed it. Here are some comments:
    1. First page: very to the point.
    2. Page 2. “Voila!” a little too toney for me. I prefer “Here it is” or “This is it.”
    3. Navigation is easy: Back and Next, well-placed and visable, but there are certainly a lot of links. The detail-oriented will like it; some may be put off.
    4. I would like more pictures, sooner. The top of the building in page 2 seems like a tease; I’d show the whole building.
    5. I don’t know, offhand, what GIS and CAD (computer assisted design, I guess) are.
    6. The picture I liked best, by far is the chamber music group. It had people, and showed the lounge ambiance. You could use it sooner, perhaps. Not everyone is going to follow all the links. People shouldn’t miss that pic. People like pics with people. The potluck meal pic was colorful and appealing, too.
    7. The 2C pics were great, thorough and explanatory. These should get a lot of attention. However, you could miss them all together, if you click “how can I buy in,” with the general conditions, which takes you right to be email. You can get 2C with “have your own apartment” but that is simply parallel to other building explorations, and could be missed. And there’s “how can I buy in?” to distract from 2C. I suggest making the 2C data more prominent, all by itself.
    8. The tub pic reflections of the toilet were a bit confusing.
    9. Most of the pics required (on my screen) scrolling down to see the bottom half. I wonder if people need to be reminded of that? I didn’t notice right away. Then I went back to page 2 to see if I could see the rest of the building, but no.
    10. When I clicked for you to contact me, I went to my MS Office, which is expired. I can copy the address and put it in my LiveMail, which still works. Probably most potential buyers will have MS Office up to date.
    11. I like maps, and I liked this one. I don’t know what SEBMF is, and Chez Panisse is too upscale for me, but it is well known, and the front shot of it is good.
    12. Thanks again for letting me see this, and a sample of what you’ve been learning. I love it.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks very much, Jack. Your suggestions will help a lot. You’re the second person reporting that it is impossible to scroll to the bottom of the building photo. In my testing environments so far, there’s a vertical scroll bar showing for that, unless your window is tall enough to fit the whole picture. Another way to see the whole picture is to narrow the window until it is tall, and the photo narrows to fit, exposing more and more of the vertical dimension. I’ll consider forcing the picture to be shown in its entirely, at the cost of leaving part of the window empty. You’re the first to report that the mail link isn’t usable. I believe you can tell your computer what to do with mail links, but how to do this varies from one type of computer operating system to another. SEBMF is Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation. GIS is geographic information systems. I assumed not all would know all the abbreviations (and terms like “virtualization”), but that those who did would appreciate the info and those who didn’t wouldn’t mind. If it turns out think they would mind, I could do some editing to make terms more intelligible.

      1. I’m glad my suggestions were useful. Good luck on getting the full building to show. –Jack

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