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Ice farming and web development

Back when I first started my professional life, I used to enjoy watching talks from Guy Kawasaki.

One story he used to share a lot in various talks was about the history of refrigeration in the United States.

(This story has a point. Stick with me.)

Ice farming

Way back in the day, people would store perishable food in ice boxes (literally a box filled with ice), and ice was harvested from the cold North.

If you’ve seen the movie Frozen, this is what Kristoff is doing at the start of the movie.

During the industrial age, they figured out how to make ice. Ice factories were built, and an ice delivery person would deliver ice to your house.

Eventually, in-home refrigeration made ice factories (and ice boxes) obsolete.

As Guy tells it, no one who worked in ice harvesting made the jump to running an ice factory. And no company that ran an ice factory pivoted to refrigerator manufacturing and sales.

They failed to see the next big leap, and went out of business.

The web platform

For ten years, I’ve banked on the web platform as a way to insulate myself from these kinds of fads in the web dev “marketplace.”

And it’s paid off! I’ve lived through jQuery, two-way data binding libraries like Angular, modern state-based UI tools like Vue and React, SPAs, the pivot back to static HTML, hybrid tools like Next.js and Svelte, and more.

And with every market shift, understanding the fundamentals has remained a critical skill that can even help you use those tools better, if you’re so inclined.

But my big, underlying fear is that I’ll miss a big shift in our industry, and end up like the ice harvesters.

Early in my career, I interviewed with someone who called the mobile web “a fad, and one that’s on its way out.” Wow, where they wrong!

Developer education is in a weird place

Sometime last year, sales of my courses and workshops started to decline quite a bit.

I’ve chatted with other folks who teach developers, and most of them are seeing similar things in their businesses as well. It’s a trend across the board for nearly everyone.

A few things have happened all at once:

  1. A bunch of big layoffs in tech.
  2. Big cuts in VC spending.
  3. “AI” becoming the latest buzzword.

I’ve been operating under the assumption that layoffs and VC cuts led folks/businesses to stop spending on discretionary stuff like “education.” Some of my peers suspect “self-teaching with AI” is a bigger culprit.

I’m still not sure which one it is (probably both), but either way, sales aren’t bouncing back, and I suspect they won’t for a while.

Now, I’m doing more consulting, and a lot of my fellow educators are, too.

It’s great to be able to put the stuff I’m teaching into action to help clients build web experiences that are leaner, faster, and more resilient.

But it’s also not the kind of business I want to have long-term.

Years ago, I decided that a product business suits me and my working style better, and let’s me operate in my “genius zone” (to paraphrase Gay Hendricks).

A professional crossroads

I don’t plan to stop teaching web fundamentals, but I do need my “next big thing” to keep what I do sustainable and allow my work to continue to exist.

Two possible options I’m considering…

  1. Build a self-hosted CMS for your static site generator (SSG) of choice. While there are already options for this on the market, I haven’t found one that checks all of the boxes for me yet. This would allow me to continue to promote the Lean Web ethos and help my existing audience do great things.
  2. Build courses and workshops for RV/caravan newbies. I take one or two long RV trips each year (4-weeks+), and the learning curve for new RVers is steep. This would let me use the skills and infrastructure I’ve built already to help a new audience thrive.

I’m sure at some point things will turn themselves around.

But this isn’t a “side hustle” for me anymore. This is my main source of income, so I need to find a fix now. I can’t afford to just wait it out indefinitely.

I’m not sure if this is a rant, or an ask for suggestions or feedback. I guess a mix of both?

Regardless, if you made it this far, thanks for reading!