John W Long, the interview

0 comments | Posted: 22 July 11 in Interviews, by Robert Evans

John W Long is a software developer and designer that lives and works in Cary, North Carolina. He tends to spend most of his time on the design side, but he can’t get away from dabbling in Ruby and Javascript. He is passionate about user-driven design and helping clients build successful businesses. John is the proprietor of Wiseheart Design where you can find his blog and portfolio. He is the creator of Radiant CMS and an active contributor to open source.

Robert:

Welcome John! This interview has been a long time in the making. I’m happy we’re finally getting a chance to make this happen!

You’re one of those rare breeds that can do both development and design, and do both very well. What came first, design or development?

John:

That’s an interesting question. I suppose I would have to say programming, but that’s only because I started to learn how to program when I was a child, but didn’t seriously apply myself on design until after high school.

When I was 10 years-old we got an Apple IIe computer and Dad started to teach me how to program in BASIC. I was really only interested because I wanted to learn how to make games and simple animations. In the beginning I just typed in programs from the manual or books that I found at the library, but I eventually came to understand what most of the commands did and began to enjoy it.

By the time I was 14 I had learned enough to start programming simple games in QBASIC. I got my own computer around that time and also began to learn how to do complex vector illustration with a program called XARA. I did a lot with programing and illustration during highschool and even created a program that allowed someone to create a simple photo screensaver (first in Visual Basic, but latter on in Delphi).

After high school I got into Web Design because it seemed like a great way to utilize my gifts in both fields.

Robert:

After high school, how did you get into web design?

John:

Well, immediately after highschool I spent two years working with a Christian ministry in Indianapolis. After completing a training program in counseling, I spent many months there helping with programs for troubled youth and highschool students. I did a number of things while I was working there in Indianapolis, but constantly found myself returning to the computer to assist with design projects of one kind or another.

After that experience I moved back home to begin focusing on something vocational. I decided on Web design because it looked like a good way to use my gifts in both programing and design. I spent a year and a half at home pursuing a course of self-study. I worked through Bruce Eckle’s “Thinking in C++” and took a couple of courses in design.

I eventually went back to work for the same Christian ministry, but this time in their Web department in Chicago. I spent 3 years there, which was a fantastic experience for me. The pay wasn’t much to speak of, but I had access to all the technology (servers, etc) that I could handle and a mountain of projects to cut my teeth on. The one other guy who did web stuff there left shortly before I started working there, so I ended up doing everything for a while — both programming and design. Shortly before I got there they started transitioning their Web stuff over from PHP to Ruby. So I ended up getting into Ruby several years before Rails made it popular in the United States.

Robert:

Fast forwarding to today, when you look back at how you got started, what you learned, what advise would you give to your former self, if you could?

John:

That’s kind of a hard question. I have learned so much about life in general since then. Really, there are a lot of things I would do differently now. But as I look back, I am so grateful for God’s work in my life. I wasn’t really thinking clearly about the path I was taking, but God did so much to guide me into things like Ruby and open source. He also put me in a place where I could master so many of the skills that I use on a daily basis. All I can say is that I am grateful for the way that he led me.

One thing that I wish I had understood earlier was the value of “secular” work to the kingdom of God. For a long time I was really torn between doing something “for God” in full-time Christian ministry — something really radical — and pursuing where my gifts seemed to be taking me. I didn’t stop to think that maybe the reason that God had gifted me this way was that he wanted me to do something that wasn’t overtly “Christian”.

As Christians most of us aren’t called to be pastors or oversees missionaries, or something radical. Most of us are called to work with our hands. To do the work for which we’ve been gifted. To do it in a way that honors God and is really excellent. To be a witness for God in the workplace and at home with our families.

Robert:

So, you’ve been freelancing for 6 years now. What prompted you to go out on your own?

John:

A lot of it was having the flexibility to choose the kinds of projects that I wanted to work on. I also wanted to be able to control my work environment. A number of my friends had already launched their own freelance businesses. Seeing what they had done gave me the confidence to be able to launch something on my own.

Robert:

Can you tell us about your experience with getting your freelance started?

John:

I didn’t have much on my resume at the time other than my work in Chicago, so spent a great deal of time working on open source (like Radiant CMS) and probono work (like the Ruby website) in the beginning. Looking back on it I probably spent far too much time on these things. Cold-calling would have been more effective. :) Nevertheless my open source work and work on the Ruby website eventually put me in touch with the Pragmatic Programmers. Their website ended up being a wonderful addition to my portfolio and led to additional work. Between open-source, blogging, and making the right connections I was able to up my visibility significantly which helped jumpstart the business.

Fast forwarding to today, when you look back at how you got started, what you learned, what advise would you give to your former self, if you could?

Be gentle with others. My personality type is very strong. I often state things in terms of absolutes. I’ve spent a lot of time reading up on and soaking in 37signals opinionated approach to design and business. And while I’ve personally benefited from this approach, I have to be careful not to let my opinionated nature manifest itself in a way that is fleshly and unkind to others. As a Christian and an idealist I tend blurt out what I believe to be true. But sometimes I’m completely wrong about what truth the truth is or state it poorly. Be humble about your opinions. Learn from others where you can. Often regular people do have better ideas.

Focus on making money. I think this one is a little counter-intuitive for some Christians. It certainly was for me when I first got started. I spent a lot of time (and still do) investing in projects and ideas that I cared a lot about regardless of wether I made money or not. If this is your tendency: be careful about this. Making money enables us to spend time doing the things that we care about. And if you care about the right things this is a huge blessing. Money is a great enabler. Don’t be afraid of it.

Robert:

What can you share about God and what He has done for you that others might need to hear?

John:

One of the biggest areas of change in my own life over the last couple of years has been my understanding of the Gospel and what that means for my own life. Three years ago I got involved with a church here in Raleigh that constantly emphasizes the necessity of Gospel in the life of the believer — not just the unbeliever.

It’s far too easy to view the Gospel only as a means of salvation. And while the Gospel has much to do with salvation, it is not just fire insurance. It is because of what Christ has done on the cross that we can have a relationship with God. There is nothing that we can do or should do to add to this.

For myself I often fall into the trap of thinking (particularly after failure) that there is something more I need to do in order to be in right standing with God (if I say this prayer, or go apologize to that person, or do something good for God). And if I do well, I have a tendency to see it as something accomplished by my own hand and to be proud. (See what I have done Lord? Now you will certainly bless me.) But both patterns of thinking are worldly and have nothing to do with Christianity. The Bible teaches that our standing before God is a result of the Cross. Everything has been accomplished on Calvary. There is nothing more to do. When there is failure, it is covered by Christ’s blood. And when there is success, it is by His grace and through His gifts.

This frees me up to live life out of a heart of worship for God, regardless of how I am doing from day to day.

What the church needs more than anything is more of the cross. More of a Biblical understanding of this doctrine.

What Christian web designers need today is more of the cross. More of a Biblical understanding of this doctrine.

Camp here. Let it change you. Let it change the way you do business. Let it change the way you interact with others. Let it change the way you pursue excellence. Let it change the way you worship God.

Robert:

If you’d like to learn more about John, you can visit his company site, Wiseheart Design or his companies facebook page.

Also, if you do a lot of rapid prototyping on the web, then be sure to checkout his newest project, Serve.

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