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Pepper-Wood
Pepper-Wood

Posted on

You don't need a personal website (and why I no longer have one)

I often tell the story of how a simple website made me fall in love with programming. I was given a brief training assignment to build a website from scratch using HTML and CSS, with no prior knowledge beforehand. Something about the immediate back-and-forth between building the code and testing the display made something click. Soon after, I would spend hours after work building neat dashboards and landing pages with server-less implementations. Google Sheets used as a replacement for databases, hundreds of lines of jQuery added for interactivity. All of this was incorporated into my personal site, which served as both a list of my projects and demonstration of my abilities throughout the years.

Several years and hundreds of hours later, I am retiring my personal site. This decision was not easy to come to, but I know that my goals and abilities at this moment make it disadvantageous to keep it up.

Preface: Do you need a personal site?

Before getting started, I would still advocate for creating your own personal site if there's a specific need that it fills. If you are a freelance website builder, a personal site is necessary as a way of showcasing your skills. Others with design-oriented positions may find that the complete creative control a personal site provides best projects your abilities than using other platforms like Dribbble. Additionally, a personal site can be useful as a central resource if you have a sizeable audience, even if the only content for display is a list of your social media profiles.

I do not fall into the above categories. The goals of my own personal site are different from the goals of the examples listed above. Here are my main reasons for going forward with the deprecation and what may be insightful if you are skeptical about your own personal website:

1) It's a large time sink

There's just something about my personal website that makes me devote way more time than necessary to updating it. Routine visits to update the content to the latest updates inevitably become updates to the layout as well. The colors never feel correct, the layout is too short or too large or too cluttered, there's never enough transitions, there's too many transitions, etc. Every attempt to revamp the layout spins to a large, excessive TODO.

I certainly have a greater appreciation towards UI designers. I am my own nightmare client, constantly asking for small, inconsequential changes on the website and never feeling satisifed.

2) It's a larger time sink than it deserves to be

I recommend this article for additional info, as well as some interesting insights in the comments:

The core summary boils down to a common sentiment around (software developer) hiring managers: a personal website is appealing to hiring managers but do not increase a candidate's chances. The primary emphasis and discussion in job interviews mostly focus on GitHub projects and contributions.

In order for a personal website to be effective, it needs to be fully functional (i.e. works with every phone and browser) and updated. You either spend an excessive amount of time to satisfy these requirements and gain nothing or risk being judged poorly if the website breaks while the hiring manager looks at it or it contains outdated information.

3) Other platforms fulfill the need for a personal website better

Breaking it down, the problems that a personal website solve can boil down to the following:

  • A concise location with links to other platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  • A portfolio with examples of project work with information

As a programmer with a number of open source repositories, my GitHub profile is the best showcase of my skills as a developer. I could attach a link to these repos on my resume when reaching out to companies, but even that feels too low-level. Thankfully, GitHub released an update in mid 2020 that added a customizable bio section visible on your profile page. I can highlight specific repositories and recent blog posts (if I was cool, I would automatically update a list of recent blog posts with a GitHub Actions workflow).

Other platforms cover any other holes that a personal site would cover, namely linking to Dev.to as a blogging platform and linking to LinkedIn for my professional credentials. These platforms are way easier to maintain and keep updated, without the mental push to want to update the UI in tandem.

What should replace your personal website instead?

Since GitHub will be the main focus of discussion in potential discussions with companies, it should also be the main focus when searching for a replacement to a personal site.

The steps I am taking in the deprecation process:

  • GitHub will act as my work portfolio:
    • Update GitHub bio with clear links to my LinkedIn (for professional experience) and Dev.to (for blogging)
    • Update GitHub projects with well defined READMEs
    • Highlight a handful of my highlighted GitHub repositories. Write articles about their motivation and development.
  • LinkedIn will act as a resume (although my actual resume is now hosted on resume.io)
    • Update LinkedIn to link back to GitHub and Dev.to profiles.
    • Update profile to mimic Resume credentials list
  • Dev.to will act as a blog
    • Update Dev.to profile to link back to GitHub and LinkedIn
    • Write articles to fill in the remaining gaps a website would provide that a repo README can't fulfill, i.e. articles about obstacles encountered in projects and how you overcame them, reasoning behind selecting a specific toolchain, etc.

All of this will amount to 3 social media platforms to represent myself professionally. The key and motivation was to create a network of clearly defined tools that are first-and-foremost easy to update.

The true replacement for a personal site is something that will be updated on a regular basis above all else.

Discussion (12)

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tbroyer profile image
Thomas Broyer

Having a personal website is mostly about owning your content.

In case Dev.to moves in a direction you don't like and you'd want to move your content elsewhere, all your previous links (and cross links from other sites) would be dead; and this assumes you'd still be able to easily retrieve your content out of Dev.to (unless you keep a copy of all your content somewhere else already)

If you have a personal website with its own domain name, you can technically move your hosting at any time. Let's say you're using a simple Jekyll blog on GitHub Pages; you want to "protest" some GitHub decision and chose to move to Gitlab, you can do it without any service disruption: setup the same web site on Gitlab Pages, change your DNS, you're all set (OK, this doesn't apply to comments, this is much trickier; I personally chose to crosspost to Dev.to and have my comments there, but my personal website stays my canonical URL; I don't really care if I lose the comments, if some have a big interest, I should extract them into edits to the articles, or new articles altogether).

It's OK to use GitHub as your portfolio and LinkedIn as your resume, as long as you link to them from a web page at your own domain name (it's OK in this case because people likely won't bookmark your portfolio or your resume; it's different for articles where direct links are much more likely and you wouldn't want to break them)

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pepperwood profile image
Pepper-Wood Author

Good point! I was not considering the merits of hosting a website from the point of view of preserving the traceability of your content. Definitely worthwhile to pursue a website if the purpose extends beyond an online portfolio for job applications to one where you want to grow an online presence or just for greater control over your decisions/support. Thanks for the comment!

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khoinguyenkc profile image
khoinguyenkc • Edited on

Yeah I think the biggest benefit of having a site is for owning your media, and from there, growing a subscriber list and things of that sort.

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gustavocrvls profile image
Gustavo Carvalho Silva

Interesting, a agree with you. A year ago I was planning to create a portfolio site, but then I thought "what I will put on there?", and then I noticed that LinkedIn and GitHub was more than the sufficient for me

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gordan_cuic profile image
Gordan Cuic

Thank you for writing this! I actually might follow on your advice. I started to work on my perosnal web page 10 times, and never been able to finish it for the same reasons you mentioned - it's just never good enough

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pepperwood profile image
Pepper-Wood Author

Glad what I wrote resonated! I hope you're still able to use the work that you spent on your WIP personal site for something else. Maybe the distance from making it your portfolio will help to work toward a sense of completion. And if not, hope the skills you learned transfer to other projects ^u^

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tarinss profile image
Tarinss • Edited on

In my humble opinion, we need a professional development company in order to avoid issues related to perfectionism. We'll always want to update the website and it never gets perfect, though...

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lowlifearcade profile image
Sonny Brown

Interesting. I might follow your direction here.

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scottstern06 profile image
Scott

Awesome article. I think personal sites are good as a sandbox to test new tech out,. play with patterns etc. But like you said....big time sync and depends what youre optimizing for.

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pepperwood profile image
Pepper-Wood Author

Totally agree! My first iterations with my personal site also included a handful of neat one-off toy websites that I eventually migrated into a separate "Web Development Sandbox" repo.

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ycode03 profile image
Yoshi

@pepperwood I’m glad I read your article. I’ve been thinking about this in the back of my mind for some time. Thank you for sharing!

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pepperwood profile image
Pepper-Wood Author

Glad you found it useful!