This week’s Monday profile is Sara Soueidan, a freelance front-end web developer, writer and speaker from Lebanon – and SVG Guru.
Sara spoke at our Respond Front End Design conference, and this profile appeared in our magazine, Scroll, which you can download right now.
Q Describe your family.
A I’m 29 years old and the fourth in a family of five children. My family currently lives in Lebanon and has been for the past 21 years. Before that, my parents moved a lot from one country to another, until they finally settled down for eight years in Dortmund, Germany, a short while after I was born. I was born in Lebanon but spent the first eight years of my life in Germany. My sister has three kids and she lives in a house close to my parents’ house.
I have a brother who works in Africa, and the rest of the family lives in Lebanon. I work freelance from my home office there.
Q What book has changed your life in some way?
A The Quran has the biggest influence on my life. It’s the light of my heart and is what gives me peace and keeps me in good balance whenever I feel lost. Apart from that, I’m not much of a book reader since I am more of a visual learner and prefer watching things instead of reading them. That said, I did get more into the book reading world in the last few months, and one book that has changed the way I think about user interfaces in general, and web interfaces in particular, is Seductive Interaction Design by Stephen Anderson.
Even though I’m not a designer, that book has changed the way I perceive interfaces as a user, and has changed the way I approach “designing” my own pages, making sure I always think from a user’s perspective. This, in turn, has led me to focus more on all aspects of accessibility, from tone to color and everything in between.
Removing yourself from the position of a developer or designer and changing perspective has an immense result when it comes to designing successful user interfaces and experiences.
Q What formal qualifications do you have? How did you end up doing web work?
A Web-wise: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Sciences. Though I can confidently say that I am self-taught, because I never attended any front-end development classes in college. Almost everything I know today I learned online.
Outside the web, I’m quite good at drawing—drawing people, to be more specific. Whenever I draw someone using charcoal, I almost always get a comment from someone saying “you didn’t draw that—you printed it off the computer”. So I suppose that kinda counts as a qualification, right?
The first time I ever saw HTML markup was in eighth grade. I loved it so much that it felt like a second language I never knew I could speak. I took one class in school and that was it. Years later, I reluctantly chose Computer Sciences as my major, and that’s how I got introduced to programming concepts and a bit of back-end development using PHP and mySQL.
After graduation, I wasn’t sure which path to take and what to do for a living. A year and a half after that, my best friend—who at the time also worked as a web designer and developer—gave me the push I never knew would change my entire life.
He suggested I get into web development, knowing how much I loved it when I was younger. I gave it a shot, started learning CSS from Point Zero, and in 2013, I was approached by an American client to build the front-end of a web application they were working on at the time. I started writing on my blog right around that time as well, and my writing is what encouraged people to approach me and invite me to give talks at conferences.
So you could say I never planned it, but am more than thankful to God for choosing the best path for me I could ever have wished for.
Q Describe what you do. What’s your job? Is presenting at web conferences part of that job?
do any back-end coding. I also write articles and speak at conferences, and like to consider both as facets of my work that I very much enjoy.
Q Do you give much thought to the title you apply to yourself? Does it matter?
A Not so much, no. I like a lot of titles that I hear here and there, and find myself in quite a few of them. “Front-End Developer” conveys my skills quite well to my clients, so I stick to that, along with some extra elaboration on my website to make sure my clients don’t have any incorrect expectations.
I definitely avoid the word “Designer” though, even though I know that many people with my skills would call themselves “front-end designers”—which I like, but would definitely confuse my clients, some of whom already mistake me for a designer and send me design requests that I don’t normally do.
I do think titles matter, but it’s too controversial and usually both sides of the controversy have quite valid points, so personally, frankly I don’t bother giving this too much thought.
Q Describe the first time you gave a presentation on a web topic.
A Oh, that was a fantastically scary time!! It was so exciting but also so intimidating that I had a moment on stage where I forgot the word that I wanted to say and ended up with a thought in my head that said “What are you doing here?! Just get off the stage and go sit back at the table”. Ha ha. It was the first time I ever spoke in English continuously for more than 30 minutes, so it wasn’t easy and I forgot quite a lot of words on stage, but one of them was the worst, so that idea did cross my mind.
But then I remembered the a tip my friend Bruce Lawson told me via Twitter right before I went on stage: “Just breathe. And keep going.” So I literally did that: I took a deep breath, rephrased what I was going to say and just kept going. By the time I reached the last section I couldn’t believe it, so I ended up saying “I can’t believe I’m at the last section”… out loud … to the audience!
After the talk, I felt absolutely nothing. It was like I hadn’t even give a talk. You know how you feel numb after a dentist’s visit and only start feeling the pain after the pain-killer effect goes away? That’s exactly how I felt. For about an hour, I felt like I hadn’t even been on stage at all. It was the fantastic feedback from the super nice attendees after the talk that sort of “woke me up” from my trance, and that’s when I realized I must of done a fairly good job.
I hated watching myself speak and said I’d never speak again after watching the video because I was too embarrassed. But, well you get over it after a while, and the excitement of being on stage sucked me back in just 4 months after the first talk, and I’ve kept going since.
Q In The Graduate, Mr McGuire has just one word to say to aimless college graduate Benjamin Braddock: “Plastics”. What word would you give to today’s prospective web professional?
A ‘Intempathy’. OK, that’s not a word. But I had to choose only one when I would actually say two: Integrity & Empathy.
I believe anyone can master (almost) any skill they want, but the truth is that what makes a good web community is the people behind it, not those people’s skills; and the only way it can grow positively is if people understand each other and feel for each other and are nice and kind to each other.
It’s very common for people to forget that there is another person sitting on the other side of the screen. We’re not robots. It’s our behavior that defines who we are, and that eventually defines our community. Having strong moral values and empathising with people goes a long way in pushing the Web forward in the right direction.
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