Unplugging with Jesse Schutt

Jesse Schutt is a developer for Zaengle Corp where he works on a mixture of projects between Laravel, Craft CMS, and Statamic. Before making the jump into development Jesse was a media director for ten years at a year-round Bible camp in northern Wisconsin. He’s a husband, father of six kids, and someone full of inspiration and quality advice.

Hi Jesse, Can you tell us about your typical workday?

Whenever possible I like to begin before the kids wake up. My typical routine consists of starting the coffee pot and getting an early jump on the day. Since I work from home and we have 6 children, I need to find stretches of quiet time to focus on development and the early mornings offer it.

Most of my development time is spent on Laravel work with some Craft CMS customizations tossed in here and there. Before I became a full-time developer I did both backend and frontend beginning in the mid-2000s, but now I’ve specialized into PHP, primarily with custom Laravel apps.

Do you have any hobbies?

Ever since I was a young child I’ve lived in rural areas; some might call them “the middle of nowhere”! The lack of commercial entertainment caused me to find my own ways of entertaining myself. Most of them included being outside, whether camping, hiking, fishing, or hunting.

During the winter months I spent a fair bit of time woodcarving. My parents had signed me up for a carving class and I enjoyed making figurines or small fish and animals.

As I got older and was able to start using my dad’s tools I became interested in building projects that were functional as well as entertaining to make.

What is the difference in woodcarving and woodworking?

I suppose you could call woodcarving a subset of the broader topic of woodworking. It typically doesn’t require much for tools, aside from a few carving knives. And it doesn’t require much space either!

Woodcarving projects can be anything from a small Santa figurine to a duck decoy, or a relief carving that will end up built into a piece of furniture.

Spoon carving has become quite popular recently. All it takes is a piece of wood, typically birch, or some kind of fruitwood, and a bit of time to whittle it into shape. My wife has a handful of spoons I’ve carved and uses them regularly in the kitchen.

How did you originally get into woodworking?

My dad is handy, always tinkering on a project around the house. When I was in high school he worked on small building projects for the local lumber yard and I would help out in the afternoons. We joked that our construction name would be “Stupid and Clumsy Builders”… I’ll let you guess which one I was ;P

Although I had access to tools whenever I wanted, and I learned the basics from my dad, I really didn’t engage in fine woodworking (cabinetry, box-making, detail-work) until a number of years later. My wife and I had bought our first house in 2009 and I realized that I finally had some space to keep my own tools. A few months later and a sweet Craigslist deal found me with a pretty well-equipped shop.

As someone who has never built anything, what is the biggest difference between tech and woodworking?

Yeah, woodworking is an ancient practice. The Bible says that Jesus was a carpenter! (That must make it the most holy of hobbies, right??)

Joking aside, there is something special about looking at a piece of wood, and seeing potential beneath the surface. As a developer I enjoy bringing order and structure to bits of code. The same goes for woodworking. I find great satisfaction in taking raw material, shaping it, finishing it, and turning it into a completed project.

That satisfaction is very similar to the feeling I have when implementing a clean, well-tested solution to a code scenario. In code, I’m organizing the virtual, while in woodworking I’m organizing the physical. I believe we were made to be creators, whether with our hands or brains.

There has been a resurgence of woodworking in recent years. I’m guessing this has to do with how much we’ve moved our lives into the digital realm, which can be draining if you live there too long. Woodworking is a way to use modern technology, such as high-quality tools, with an intimate connection to the physical.

The skills required to be a good woodworker are very similar to being a good developer. We need precision, forethought, the ability to picture a project in your head, and solid problem-solving skills. Quality woodwork is clean, even in the joints that aren’t visible. Quality code considers all the scenarios, not just the most obvious ones.

Do you have to keep learning and studying the craft or can you learn everything and then use your imagination to build anything you want?

Like any venture in life, you need a certain amount of experience combined with just the right amount of inspiration. As I look over my growth as a woodworker, I think the best teacher has been failure.

It can be extremely challenging to work with wood, as it can crack, warp, or bend. Humidity and temperature all cause movement in boards. Every time a joint doesn’t come together cleanly, or a piece doesn’t fit as it should, I try to make a note in my mind for the next time I’m presented with a similar situation.

As any good hobby should, I enjoy spending my spare time reading on new techniques. So learning is a significant part of developing as a woodworker.

However, experience is a wonderful teacher as well. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Most developers have hobbies that are computer related. Do you find it helpful to have a hobby that allows you to unplug?

One of the things that I love about woodworking is that it allows me to do something with my hands! Since the majority of my day is consumed staring at a screen with hands on the keyboard, I find that breaking out of code-brain can be challenging.

For example, it takes me a bit of time to get into the mental space necessary to effectively program. Woodworking is a happy medium, where I exercise a blend of creativity and logical, systematic thinking, while engaging with the physical realm. Therefore, there are many days where I will program for the majority of the day, but move into the woodshop where I will prepare to reconnect with my wife and kids. I’ve found it good for our relationships if I can gently make the transition out of “code-brain”. Woodworking has offered me that avenue.

Plus, at the end of a project I have something that can be given away as a gift, or proudly displayed in my home!

What advice would you give someone interested in getting into woodworking?

Everyone learns differently, but I’ve found a few things that may be helpful if a person wants to dig into woodworking:

  • Search the #woodworking hashtag on Instagram
    Woodworking is extremely popular on Instagram, with some of the leading content producers having more than 50k followers. The community is also very friendly and will readily engage with you.
  • Subscribe to a few woodworking publications
    I’ve found that it’s inspiring to have a magazine chock full of ideas show up in my mailbox every few weeks. Currently, I’m subscribed to Popular Woodworking and Wood Magazine, although I’ve also held subscriptions with ShopNotes and Fine Woodworking.
  • Find a Maker-Space — example: http://www.mavenmakers.com/
    Facilities like this are popping up all over the country! The basic premise is that you can rent time in a fully functional woodshop where you can work on whatever you’d like. The plus is that you don’t need to invest much money in tools. A number of them even offer classes!
  • Find a Mentor
    One of the great joys of woodworking is sharing the experience with someone else! Many older woodworkers crave the opportunity to teach a beginner. See if there is someone in your sphere whom you could approach about learning the craft.

If you’d like to find out more about Jesse you can check out his awesome Instagram account, shop his Wood Working Store, and find him on Twitter.

John Saddington on Side Projects

Side projects are a creative outlet for a lot of developers. It allows you to take an idea and turn it into something real. Besides solving problems, it gives you valuable experience in many important areas like launching, marketing, and more.

In this interview, I was able to spend a few minutes with John Saddington, a developer, and writer. John has created numerous side projects over the years including Desk.pm, a minimal markdown writing app, and TOMO, an app currently in development to reimagine human resources. Let’s take a look at how John gets inspiration and how he manages to launch.

Hi John, can you tell us about yourself?

I’ve been building software for 18 years, professionally. What I mean by that is that I was getting paid by a company to do it, but I built my first program much earlier than that! It was a choose-your-own adventure game in BASIC and you could either slay a dragon or save the princess… but you couldn’t do both. I started programming because of video games and my desire to build my own. I have yet to build a production-grade, market-ready game but perhaps at some point I will.

I first found you from your app Desk.pm and it later went on to become one of Apple’s Best of 2015. What do you think was the catalyst for that?

Luck, to be honest. Sure, I put in a lot of work but it’s impossible to really know what impacted the decisions. I’m humbled and honored by the attention… Apple has really made my particular journey really fun!

Otherwise, if there’s anything that was super-helpful to me it’s just that I spent a lot of time connecting to my readers and my customers as well as sharing my story of how I built it. That’s been a big part of how I build these apps anyways and I enjoy giving them a behind-the-scenes look.

You are also working on a new app, TOMO, can you tell us about that?

With TOMO I have a dream of open sourcing HR and all of the systems and tooling surrounding the human resources and human capital space. It’s one of the last places within the organization that has yet to fully adopt an open source philosophy with collaborative tooling. I hope to change that. You can follow our progress on the TOMO blog.

During the development, before you launched, did you ever get hit with negative thoughts? No one will ever buy this. Some other app already does this. etc..

All the time. In fact, there’s a general paranoia and fear that you have to work through so that you can get to launch. No one likes criticism but you know it’s coming. No one likes to work on something and not have it appreciated. But, there’s a large potential for that to happen. It is vastly more important that you execute and try and then fail than to not try and fail. In other words, if you’re going to fail you might as well fail while giving it a shot.

You write a lot on your personal site john.do, do you believe this helped you in making the apps you create a success?

Yes, and that’s because writing for 15 years every single day has forced me to become better at clarifying my thoughts into understandable ways, which directly relates to creating messaging and copy that can be interpreted and understood by potential consumers and customers. The more you practice the fine art of communication the better you become.

I know other developers who have created side projects and once they’ve found a little success they quit work and focus full time on it. Are you planning anything like that?

Nope. Most, if not all, of my side projects are just side projects — very few of them spin up into a big business and only a handful even had the remote potential to do that. This is a healthy exercise for me, though, and I’m fine with the side projects being side projects.

I’ve heard others say you should make around $12,000 a month before you even think about quitting your job. Do you think that figure is accurate once you account for taxes, insurance, and everything else related to being self-employed?

I suppose that’s fine if you live that type of lifestyle but I know that I’ve started many startups and projects with far less. In fact, I’m doing that right now as I don’t have a paying job and am working on savings as I get TOMO up and running.

If you’re driven to solve a problem then you’ll figure out a way to make the finances work… or you don’t and you go get a full-time job. There’s no right or wrong way of doing this but those who want to solve big problems and find deep and abiding satisfaction in their work will do whatever it takes to get there. The rest will just have to settle for a more modest and perhaps more mediocre career, which, I suppose, is sad, but most people will do that.

Where do you find your inspiration for both creating apps and for doing so much writing?

I’m inspired by the problems that I encounter day-to-day. The problems that I have experienced the most viscerally are the ones that I really want to solve.

Finally, what is the best way of keeping up with you and your future endeavors?

@8bit is a good place to start and if there’s anything that I’d like to add it’s just this: Your life is really, really short and if you’re not working on stuff that matters… then what are you working on… and why? What do you really have to lose? At some point we will all get old and die and if you think you’re going to look back and regret the decisions that you’re making today… well, you have to do something about that. Now, today. Get going.