Michael Boyink interview
Michael Boyink is the owner and principal of Boyink Interactive. He has 11 years of experience making websites. He is a whiz at using the ExpressionEngine, and is someone that I consider to be a pioneer of Christian website development. Despite photos on his own site, he is no good at the pogo-stick.
First of all, you're a bit of a hero to me, a Christian web developer who's making it in this business using web-standards. You've been at this for quite a bit longer than me.
Thanks, that's quite humbling to hear. That's a gracious way of saying that I'm beginning to be one of the "old-timers" in this arena. It's funny though. I turn 38 next week and do quite often find that when I run into people who "speak my language" of blogs, RSS, web-standards, information architecture that I seem to be the older one.
Well, better to be older and more respected, rather than have people see you as a young punk who's telling everyone what to do! Happy early birthday, by the way. Would you mind describing how the process has been going from the old table-based days of the Internet, all the way to XHTML of today?
<old man voice>
Well, let's see now. That was so long ago we had to chase FrontPage uphill both ways and the "Vermeer" label on it was still visible under the new Microsoft packaging!
</old man voice>
Actually that's not far from the truth. I was working as a Microsoft Solution Provider as an Access/VB programmer when Microsoft bought FrontPage (1995-ish?). We got all the MS software as part of our agreement, so I was playing with v1.0 of FrontPage, and built the company website in it. Then redid it with those cool frames. Ooh and an ActiveX plug-in that played a PowerPoint animated slideshow! I remember playing with the first MS "database connector" and thinking that hooking databases to web pages was going to be a big deal. Sorry, you got me all nostalgic.
Honestly, for me the transition from table-based layouts to CSS-based layouts really hasn't been that hard, because I waited for the really smart people to figure it all out, and then put things like the Zen Garden and the Inknoise "Layout-o-matic" online to jump-start those of us who are a bit slow on the uptake.
I should point out, though, that the whole notion of using web standards isn't really the biggest priority or area of interest in my work. Standards are an implementation puzzle, and (to me anyway) not the most interesting puzzle in getting a new site built for a client. I much prefer the earlier phases in the project, the research and strategy. If you made me choose a title, I'd sooner choose "Information Architect" than "Designer." Sites like SonSpring.com confirm that for me. There's a level of nuance and detail in the design that I simply can't do.
Likewise, I feel humbled by people who have a solid IA and server-side background, since I'm just a pixel-pusher. In 2002, you struck out on your own to start the self-titled Boyink Interactive. How difficult of a decision was that to make?
Man, you make it sound really romantic. Here's the real story: In 2002, I was downsized out of corporate America. I looked for another job, and instead got offers for projects. Our choices were to take on these projects and keep everything else in our life unchanged, or cast a wider net for a job with the probability of having to sell our house, move from my hometown, change churches and sever all our existing friendships. I had 8 weeks severance pay and some unemployment coming, so starting the business seemed the least riskiest choice. Worst case was we'd find ourselves in the same spot 12 weeks later, so Boyink Interactive was born. This was such a God thing. I'd never once considered self-employment, but in the outplacement training I received as part of my severance found that my personality and work history were consistent with people who go into business for themselves.
What advice would you give those who are considering freelancing full-time?
You know, there are alot of great books and web sites out there with better advice than I'd have about going into business for yourself. The only possibily unique contributions I'd have are:
Living Frugally: My wife Crissa is a stay at home mom, and also homeschools our two children. We didn't want that to change. Crissa and I had already been on a "life simplification" kick before starting the business but took it further. We looked for every way to save money in order to make this lifestyle work (growing up Dutch finally paid off). We're still not completely there. We still have some debt to pay down, and haven't always made the best financial decisions. But the mortgage is getting paid, we're still eating, and Crissa is still at home teaching the kids.
Unburnt Bridges: You know that job I mentioned above, where I worked as a programmer? I later was asked to leave that business. I got passionate about the Internet, and when I get passionate about something it's hard for me to shut up about it. My boss at the time just didn't see the same potential in the Internet as I did, and it got to the point where he saw me as a distraction to the rest of the company, and asked for my resignation. Somehow we kept it all civil. I bit my tongue and didn't say those things I wanted to say at the time, and have never said the "I told you so" that my sinful side has always taken pride in. Now, ten years later I just did a web site for his wife's business: CookingAmongFriends, and am working on another site for his new business. God has truly shown me the value of humility and forgiveness when the world would tell you otherwise.
Wait: I'm so thankful for the jobs I had before going on my own. The vast majority of my work has come in from people I used to work with. Having that existing network has made things so much easier. I haven't had to advertise locally, have never had to respond to an RFP, and have only lost maybe 2 or 3 bids to other companies.
You're a member of the pMachine Professionals Network, how does one go about getting into this club? For me, I had to learn the 9rules hand-shake and stand on my head for 12 hours straight. Is the experience anything like that?
I was lucky to be included (by invitation) into the network when it was created a few months ago. I had used pMachine products for a few client sites, and had good rapport with their staff. They had seen my work and felt it met their standards so it was a good match all around.
Nope, there's no secret handshake or hazing. The requirements are posted on the pMachine site. Being that it's much more of a "business relationship" than what I understand 9rules to be, it's a very straightforward process.
How does the ExpressionEngine differ from other free content management systems such as Textpattern or WordPress?
You know, I'm not the most qualified guy to tell you that, as I haven't ever tried out Textpattern or Wordpress. It's a case of being so happy with the ExpressionEngine product, staff, and hosting that I haven't bothered looking at the other "blog" CMS.
From reading around, the ability to create custom fields is pretty key in EE. For example, I'm working on a site that includes a timeline, basically a list of years with events. While in most CMS's you would have the entire timeline live on one "page" or within one "post." With EE, I can create a custom field structure to include the event year and event description. New events can get posted at any time without having to edit the entire list.
Since each event is stored seperately, I can pull one event out to use as sidebar content on other pages in the site. And since the template handles all the formatting and sorting, the input screen doesn't need to be anything more than your basic web form. If we wanted, we could add commenting to the timeline and let users comment on individual events.
Not to burst your bubble, but that can be done with some creative manipulation of WordPress or Textpattern syntax. I get your drift though, you like EE because it just works well. Would you mind sharing your testimony, and how you came to faith in Christ?
Sure, but I have the most boring testimony out there! I grew up in the Reformed Church in America, which is huge around here in Holland, Michigan. There was Sunday school, youth group, two services to attend, etc. It was the whole white-bread, suburban, middle class America deal. I made a public profession of my faith at the age of 9.
There's nothing wrong with having a "boring" testimony. Just because you didn't have a crazy story like the Apostle Paul doesn't mean that there's any shame in it. I think that wraps up all my questions. Is there anything else you'd like to add before you get back to pogo-ing?
Sure! I'd like to take this chance to plug a new inspirational Christian site that I just started developing today, because God just revealed the idea to me yesterday. I've long said that churches should be using the web to let their people tell stories about how God shows up in their lives. This would be more than testimonies: stories of the little moments, the magic moments, the ones that bloggers might post about.
Reading through Psalms, it's amazing the number of times it says things like "One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts," (Psalm 145:4). I think as a Church, and as a people, we're just not talking enough about those "mighty acts."
Church websites, blogs especially, are the perfect places to do it, but it ain't happening yet. God has convinced me that it's time to stop complaining and "show, don't tell." The new site will simply be a place for people to post and read stories about God. Look for it soon!