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A Book Apart

Get to Know Jason Grigsby

Nov 29, 2018

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Up next in our series, we get to know Jason Grigsby—author of our latest book, Progressive Web Apps. He shares how he handles his daily to-do list, what he thinks tech needs more of, and the one thing he must have to get through the week.

Author Jason Grigsby

ABA: is your favorite thing about your workspace?

Jason Grigsby: This is a tough one to answer at the moment, because we’re about to move offices. In our current office, I used to love the fact that I could look out my window and see Waterfront Park and the Willamette River. But about a year ago, they started construction on timeshare condos, which has blocked our view and added construction noises.

In the new office, I’m looking forward to having a space finally designed specifically for us. We’ve got little phone booths so people can take private calls. We’ve got an area set up for our device lab. There is a lot of light in the office.

I don’t know what I’m going to like best about the new space yet, but I’m incredibly excited to see it finished and find out what I like about it.

ABA: What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?

JG: I create a to-do list entitled “To Do Today” that is everything that is weighing on my mind. I then count up the number of to-do items and cross out half of them and move them to another list entitled “To Do Tomorrow.”

This helps me focus on what the priority things are that I need to get done. It also forces me to be realistic about what I can accomplish and helps me increase the number of days when I actually cross everything off my to do list for the day.

ABA: In your opinion, what should someone consider before starting out in web design / development?

JG: I don’t know that I think there are things that people should consider, but I do wish they would make some commitments before starting out. I believe people working on the web should be committed to constantly learning and improving; to sharing what they’ve learned; and to ensuring that their work is accessible to as many people as possible. I believe in the values of the open web and want more people to share those values.

ABA: Is there anyone you’re following the work of right now, who you’d recommend others pay attention to?

JG: There are so many people whose work I admire. I don’t know how to narrow it. But someone who I think is underappreciated is Stephanie Rieger. Any time she writes or gives a new talk, I stop what I’m doing and pay attention. When we organized Responsive Field Day, one of the main reasons was so we could invite her to Portland to speak.

ABA: What does the tech industry need more of? Less of?

JG: The short answer is that our industry needs more diversity. The tech industry also still believes technology is neutral, but algorithms have bias. People should read Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher which covers these topics much better than I can.

Beyond that, we need faster websites. I’m tired of waiting for them.

ABA: In moments of self-doubt, how do you recharge and rally to keep going?

JG: I don’t know that there is ever an end to self-doubt, but at some point, I had committed to too many people that I was going to write a book to not see it through.

As far as recharging is concerned, spending time with my family is usually the thing that helps me clear my mind.

Well, that and Zelda. I had never played Zelda before and bought Breath of the Wild sometime last year. I’m still playing it because I don’t get to play often. But I’m not sure if Zelda qualifies as a boon or a detriment to the book-writing process—it certainly helped with some procrastinating last winter when I hated everything I had written.

ABA: What is your go-to source of inspiration when you’re trying to get out of a creative rut?

JG: I don’t know that I have a go-to source of inspiration. Often when I get in a rut, I just need to take a break and let my subconscious work the problem for awhile. Then I’ll start by writing down my thoughts in whatever order they come to me. Later, I’ll try to make them coherent. What I do during the break is far less important than taking the break.

ABA: Is there a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night? What is it?

JG: As a business owner, there is nothing that worries me more than making sure we’ve lined up our next project. We’ve been blessed so far to build a business where the work that we do for clients is what allows us to write and share what we’re learning with the greater web community.

We truly consider making the web better our primary mission, but to do so, we have to run a business well enough to sustain the livelihoods of everyone at Cloud Four. It’s that business side that terrifies me, because even eleven years into Cloud Four’s existence, I still see myself primarily as a web developer and only secondarily as a business owner.

ABA: What characteristic do you most admire in other driven/creative people?

JG: I admire the breadth of output and volume of production. Those are two things I can’t seem to do.

I’m always amazed when people can both be exceptional in the professional lives and also extraordinary at something unrelated. Just today I was looking up Andreas Bovens to make sure I spelled his name correctly. I’ve known Andreas for years for his contributions at Opera and now Mozilla. The search results contained several videos of a dancer named Andreas Bovens and I thought, That can’t be him. But it was. He is an exceptional dancer. I had no idea.

As far as the volume of output, I’m blown away by people who write and share consistently. My output is much more dependent on what else is going on in my life. And there always seems to be someone doing superhuman work. This is what I call the Jimmy Carter situation. One morning I read a review of a new fiction book that Jimmy Carter had written. The reviewer pointed out that Jimmy Carter wrote the book long hand while:

  • writing two other non-fiction books,
  • observing elections in a couple of countries,
  • facilitating conversations with North Korea,
  • teaching Sunday school, and
  • building homes for Habit for Humanity.

Then to top it off, he decided the covers provided by the publisher weren’t sufficient so he painted his own cover. HE PAINTED HIS OWN BOOK COVER! So yeah, there’s always someone out there seemingly doing inhuman things. If you figure out how they do it, let me know.

ABA: What tool, object, or ritual could you not live without to get you through a week?

JG: Yorkshire Gold Tea. I travel with an electric kettle, insulated thermos, and a supply of Yorkie Gold.

ABA: What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made to do the work you do?

JG: Without a question, it is time away from my family. I don’t want to my kids to grow up feeling like their dad is always working. And yet, I have things I want to accomplish and those things sometimes require me to travel or work on weekends.

I also think there could be an easier and more financially rewarding path if I simply joined a larger company. But I’m proud of Cloud Four. We can honestly say that we’ve changed the web in fundamental ways. I’m not sure we could have done that working for a larger company.

ABA: Is there a piece of professional or life advice you’ve gotten that has always stuck with you? What is it?

JG: In high school, I was pulled aside by a teacher after telling a misogynistic joke. She said that she knew I didn’t think that women were inferior, but that others around me wouldn’t necessarily understand that it was a joke and may think it was ok to treat women poorly. By telling the joke, I was contributing to a world and an outcome that was inconsistent with what I believed and what I wanted to see happen.

I think a lot about that conversation. I think a lot about what type of world I want to live in and how my actions and my words align with that vision.

I believe in the power of our words to create the world we want to see. When I send our kids off to school, I don’t tell them to “have a good day.” Instead, I tell them to “Make your day fantastic!” I switch the adjective often, but the meaning is the same—you have the power to make your day whatever you want it to be.

So I consider that the great challenge of life—how do I make sure that my actions and my words are consistent with the type of world I want my children to grow up in?

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