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Q&A with Susan Robertson

Front end developer and design implementer from Portland

Hello, my name is Susan Robertson and I'm a front end developer, working for a company called Fictive Kin.

How did you get started as design implementer, what is your background?

I actually used a book called, Do What You Are when I was super unhappy with my career. It used Meyers Briggs to guide you toward possible careers. My Meyers Briggs analysis steered me towards web designer and so I went to community college for that, but along the way I ended up loving the front end code a lot more than spending my time in Photoshop. So I went down the front end developer path.

Where did you study? Looking back, could you recommend your path for beginners?

So, as I said, I went back to community college, Minneapolis Community and Technical College to be exact, to get a start on learning to code. Unfortunately, the curriculum was a bit behind the industry (as is often the case) and I ended up teaching myself CSS layout and a lot of other things by reading books on my own. But I'm grateful for the community college experience, it gave me ideas, pointed me in the right directions, and my peers were very encouraging.

I think everyone is at different places in their lives, so the path you take should fit where you are. If you think some formal education and being in a classroom with people will help you, then I would recommend checking out a local community college; they are great. But that may not be for you, so meetups, books, following blogs and online magazines are all great ideas as well.

What is a turning point in your professional career?

This is an interesting question. I think there are a lot of little things that occurred along the way that helped me get where I am. But one of my biggest turning points was when I moved towards remote work. First with a large development consultancy and then with a small start up and now with a small company doing both product and client work. It changed the way I viewed work and helped me connect with a lot of people who have been fantastic mentors and encouragements in my career.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you work in your office all day long or prefer to mix a few activities? 

I work from a small home office. I love working from home and I honestly do love my home office. It's got a desk that is automated so that I can stand or sit. I have a cheap external monitor and work from a 13" Air as my one and only machine. Along with a keyboard and mouse, that's about all I need.

My typical day starts with me getting online between 7:30 and 8 am, since I work with people in England and am on the West coast of the US, there is quite a time zone swing, so I start early to help overlap a bit more with people.

I usually work for the morning and then take a break. I may run or take a walk, and I make some lunch. I end my day around 5pm and, now that the weather is nice, spend some time on the front porch with my partner before we cook dinner together.

Where are your favorite places in your city or outside?

That's a tough one, because I honestly love Portland so much. But as for in the city, I really love Pittock Mansion. The Mansion itself is interesting, but the views and garden are amazing, so we sometimes take a picnic up there.

Outside the city, especially in the summer, I spend a lot of time at Stub Stewart Park star gazing. It's about an hour drive from our house, it's in the foothills of the coast mountain range and it gets much darker there, so you can see the milky way and the stars.

And when it's a super hot day in Portland, that's a great day to drive the 1.5 hours to the coast and see the ocean and bask in the cooler coastal weather. Cannon Beach is my favorite spot on the Oregon Coast that is nearby.

Other than that, I spend most of my time in my neighborhood, which is changing constantly, but has so many great restaurants, shops, bars, etc. I don't feel the need to leave it too often.

Who are the designers, colleagues you admire most?

There are so many people I could list here and so many people who have influenced my thinking, but here are a few. Ethan Marcotte, not just for how he has invented a whole new thing, Responsive Web Design, but how his writing and speaking always get me thinking in a new way about CSS and design. I've been lucky to work with great designers who have pushed my ideas of design and helped me learn more about design, Simon Collison and Jason Santa Maria are two of the best. But I also really admire a lot of people who are writers. As I write more, I find editors and writers to be people who I'm paying attention to, and some of those who've influenced me for the better (I hope) are: Marie Connelly, Sara Wachter-Boettcher, Tina Lee, and Mandy Brown.

I could keep going here, suffice it to say, there are a lot of people who have influenced me in the way I work and think, not just about development, but also about working in this industry. I feel lucky to have met so many wonderful people through this work. People I can now say are friends as well as colleagues.