About: Elaine Nelson

Elaine Nelson was directionless with an English degree in the late 90s and then: GODDAMN INTERNET. In her current gig, she wrangles content and content management systems, but her last job was Webmaster, so she's dabbled in all sorts of web work. She's an editor at The Interconnected, previously published in The Pastry Box, and once had a poem published in an anthology of GenX writing, when that was the big new thing.

Posts by Elaine Nelson:

Should X do Y?

I’ve been around these parts just long enough to have seen “should designers code?” and all the variations come up about 500 times. And it always feels like people answer that question at a level of abstraction or theoretical purity.

Should a spherical cow do research?

There is no spherical cow. There is no single way that design, development, devops, writing, strategy happen. Everywhere is context.

I spent the first 2 years of my web career with the web as about a third of my job. The rest of it was administrative support, print design, IT support, and event management. (It was a weird job.)

The next decade I was a webmaster. The last five years, I’ve been on a small team. There’s no luxury of “leaving code to the coders” or “leaving design to the designers.” There’s only work that needs doing, and by god you’d better figure out how to do it.

On the other side, I know people who’ve worked in Fortune-whatever companies where they have literal researchers in actual white coats. So yeah, maybe there you don’t need to know how to do the thing, only how to incorporate it effectively.

But you do have to know how to use what’s around you. You have to know your context: both the resources at hand, and how your work fits into the whole. I worked with a couple of print designers, years ago, where one kept giving me design ideas that just weren’t possible (this is circa 2003, so, like, anything with a curve), but the other helped me get better at the design I needed to be doing.

He gave me tools to understand the concepts, so I could apply them to the raw materials available. I got better — “good enough” — at design so that I could make something that worked with the brand while being true to what the web could do then.

When I got here, as I got settled, as I figured out what it meant to be on a team with other web people, I could still see gaps in what needed to be done. I got us doing usability studies and content strategy, even as my job was developer, because those things were important and I was willing to learn.

Should X do Y?

First of all, if Y is “writing”, then the answer is always yes. Everybody should learn how to write clearly so you can express what the hell you think you’re doing and why.

Otherwise, does Y need to be done? And is there a Y-master on hand?

If not, are you kinda interested in Y? Then just do the thing. Learn as much as you can, do what you can to make your Y not suck.

If you have a Y-master: is Y adjacent to your X? Do you like being a responsible team member? Then at least know enough about Y that the Y-master doesn’t hate you.

2 projects, 2 elections, 2 soundtracks

Since I got my first music cassettes and my first walkman, I’ve become obsessed with specific albums and just listened to them over and over. Music became entangled with specific people, places, and events. Raking leaves in mom’s side yard: Born in the USA. Riding the bus to school: Fascination Street. Walking through north Tacoma: Hunky Dory. Working out at the college gym: Achtung Baby.

As an adult, soundtracks followed me into my working life. Twice now, my work soundtracks have set themselves along with turning points…

Tones On Tail, Summer/Fall 2000

I’m fired up on A List Apart & Webmonkey articles, and learning enough CSS to think, yeah I could totally redo this site to go with the redesign that my boss wants to go with the “rebranding” we’re doing.

Meanwhile, I rip the CD I just got onto my computer; my sweetie has been introducing me to lots of different New Wave/post-punk that I missed because he’s four years older than me. It’s fierce and poppy and jangly, and I love it.

Time to fire up Winamp and blare Tones on Tail over and over while trying to figure out how to do an unholy hybrid table/CSS layout. Oh, and my first stabs at ASP to run a searchable database web thingy.

Not too long after the project is live, while I’m cleaning up odds and ends, fill out my “permanent absentee” ballot, waffling madly between Gore and Nader, and drop it off in the mailbox downstairs. Six weeks later, I’ll be at a new job with new web problems…and the election still won’t be over.

The President’s 2016 Summer Playlist (Daytime), Fall/Winter 2016

We finally get the go-ahead to go forward with the CMS migration I’ve been picking at for over a year. Time to put on the headphones, then.

All the content types. All the views. A theme that looks exactly like our current site, so hopefully no one on the outside will even notice. Editor roles, author experience options. Settings. And then the complicated stuff.

And then this delightful energetic mixtape from Obama. Almost perfect for just dropping into the flow. So I’m singing aloud to Jidenna and Aretha Franklin while yelling at code.

Summer moves into fall, an election approaches, and “we’re going to spend election week finishing up this thing.” But it takes longer than that, because it always does. And an election I was sure about curdles into something else, and music that was about fun becomes a source of defiance.

It looks like Spotify copied that list over into an “Obama White House” account, but I made my own copy, because now everything is off-kilter and uncertain.

Any Given Wednesday

Yesterday I spent almost three hours building a feature (capital-F Feature for the Drupal folx). Headphones on, not my hope + defiance playlist, but a Baroque music channel. Arranging all the little fiddly things, creating new repository branches, cross-checking settings. I spent a good long time on the same sort of work today. It’s very solitary and immersive. I tend to lose track of time (and food) entirely.

Last week I ran a content strategy meeting, which I haven’t really done in months. It’s not the same sort of lost-time-flow work, but it was some of my favorite clients trying to figure out how to update their content after some internal changes. They were really engaged, and sometimes it was just a matter of listening intently while they worked out their own things.

That same day, Justin and I had a working meeting to figure out what we need to do differently in our process, now that The Big Project is live in the wild. We had a lot of hand-waving, half-sentences, writing on the big whiteboard. I think we came up with some good ideas…some of which is what I was working on yesterday.

This morning, our tiny team met to talk through upcoming usability testing. Together we looked at some notes from the client, cross-checked them against the goals for the piece, reviewed the scenario and tasks. I edited a few bits on the fly, just cleaning up wording, rearranging sections, finding a little better way to say the thing that needs to be said.

It’s been almost five years since I gave up being a generalist, a web manager, a webmaster. But I still haven’t given up being a jack-of-all-trades in my heart, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.