After ~4 years, I’ve finally sat down to revamp my website.
I still remember registering my domain while in university. All I knew then was that I wanted my handle as a .com, but I didn’t understand the administrative side of domain registry, or DNS records, or hosting, or even development beyond rudimentary HTML/CSS handwritten in a text-editor.
After I received confirmation that I snagged pvilchez.com, I was thrilled. Obviously I typed it into a browser immediately, and… Parked page! After mucking around with the FTP interface and modifying index.html, I hit refresh and… Parked page!
Panicked, I emailed the host/registrar for support – what is happening with my website? Part of me honestly believed it got taken over during the transaction somehow.
After a few emails including DNS 101, and a bit of waiting, I felt relief. My stupid “Hello World, it’s Paul” text showed up on the screen.
My first experience with websites was a bit before that; the university provided students with a slice of webspace free for personal use. (They’ve been deactivated since graduation; I wish I had a copy of those first sites). My first site was a landing page with a single sentence, centered, in enormous font, and select words were highlighted as anchor links to inside pages. I think the sentence was something like
Hi, I’m Paul. I’m an engineering [student] at the University of Guelph. I like [coding], [music] and [sports].
where each word in brackets was a link. Based on how sites have been trending to simple and typographic these days, I want to say that it might actually stack up decently to contemporary sites (but my memory might be biased).
I landed a research placement at the University in summer of 2009. The way I describe it on my resume is:
Researched existing internet technologies and pedagogical applications in an engineering education.
The project was led by one of my engineering professors, probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, but honestly lacking as a teacher. He was aware of it though, and it was obvious that he was working hard to improve that side of his job. This was another effort at improving his delivery – he knew all the students were spending time online; if he could reach them through that medium, it could be a game-changer.
I learned a lot about pedagogy that summer, less about web development. On some level I feel like I failed my professor since I couldn’t deliver any novel application (my suggestions were “use Facebook” and “post lectures to YouTube”), but looking back, the project was akin to building CircuitLab (a 2013 YCombinator company) by myself in four months in 2009.
In any case I took the opportunity to use my university webspace to host my findings and videos from the summer. I remember seeing a site I liked with a fixed translucent header, and I wanted one too. My favourite colour at the time was also orange.
It was an ugly site.
This version never saw beyond my laptop, but worth mentioning. It was my first experience with iWeb (Apple’s Dreamweaver, I guess) and the WYSIWYG site builder. It was cool for the first two pages. Then it got frustrating, and finally when I couldn’t figure out how to export the thing onto the university server I gave up on that. Never touched iWeb/Dreamweaver since.
I learned about ‘Information Architecture’ and the importance of content planning during my research summer. Naturally, I decided I needed a content strategy for my website.
My life was going to be divided in discrete sections, each with its own subdomain. One for a blog, one for a (coding) portfolio, one for music, one for art. I decided on WordPress but I was adamant that the theme would be my own. Each site would have a colour scheme associated with it, but the logo and type would be consistent across all of them, so you would know it was the same ‘pvilchez’ behind it.
Since I needed PHP functionality, it was at this point that I registered pvilchez.com and signed up for hosting.
I got as far as designing the logo, and headers for each, but the WordPress Loop threw me for a loop, and I also failed to generate any content for one vertical, let alone the 4-5 I had planned out.
The only thing that lived on pvilchez.com for a while was an ‘under construction’ landing page.
In 2010, several friends and I decided to take on a ‘7 apps in 7 days’ challenge. Based on Waterloo’s 7Cubed, we called ourselves the ‘Guelph Seven’. I didn’t quite know what to expect coming out of the project, but I knew we were gaining some attention, and I wanted my own website to link off of the G7 website.
I didn’t have a lot of time to spare, so I installed barebones WordPress, picked out a free theme, changed link :hover colours and called it a day.
pvilchez.com finally had some content.
By this point in 2011, I had been working full-time as a web dev on a custom CMS backend, as well as the frontend designs for a big client. After months of sprints we finally shipped it and our sights turned to new projects. Word around the office was that we were going to test out a new framework, so I decided to give it a spin and rebuild my website from the ground up using that framework.
Over the course of a weekend I had built out a basic CMS, complete with auth modules, post previews and Markdown parsing. The following weekend I spent on CSS, inspired heavily by Svbtle’s theme at the time. Finally, I spent time working on the branding – I’ve never been happy with any combination of ‘p’ & ‘v’ until this mark, which I’m still using today.
Now, I’m going back to WordPress. Using my own CMS was definitely a source of pride but when I decided I wanted to do this redesign, I knew I didn’t want to spend time getting my 2011 code up to speed. I just want to write.
The truth is, WordPress has improved a lot over the years and is still a great solution for blogs. Now with modern dev toolkits like Sage, which allow me to use tech like Gulp, Bower and SASS, developing for WordPress has never been better.
There’s still some work to be done, of course. At the time of writing, I need to archive the old site and make sure links still work (because cool URIs don’t change). Mobile breakpoints also need to be double-checked. Typography could be tightened.
But I’m happy with V3.