Community Spotlight

Interview with Marie Poulin

Ralitza Dilovska 27 February 2012

For one of our first Community Spotlight articles, I talked with Marie Poulin, a member of the TXP team who will be serving in two important ways by Issue 2. First will be as Editor for TXP’s upcoming Site Watch column, where she—and occasionally other team editors—will be profiling exceptional sites powered by Textpattern CMS. She’ll also be a part of the committee that coordinates theme competitions sometime after the admin-side markup of Textpattern CMS has been reworked. Since she’s involved with these key roles, and because few who might be interested in theme competitions may know Marie, we thought it would be nice to introduce her to you. She’s not a personality to disappoint.

Marie, who likes the title “digital craftswoman”, has been crafting web sites with Textpattern as far back as 2005. She considers herself a designer and strategist, though she’s been doing development for many years as well. She received a design degree from the York–Sheridan Joint Program in Toronto, and worked in a small design studio before launching out as a freelancer.

Marie Poulin
Digital craftswoman, Marie Poulin.

Through many late nights of troubleshooting, and with just a few online resources for help, Marie got comfortable with Textpattern with barely a visit to the Textpattern Support Forum. Before long she started giving Textpattern workshops out of a studio, and writing Textpattern tutorials for Fuel Your Coding.

More recently, she’s been focusing on work that allows her to travel, which has turned into a rather nomadic situation; she has no fixed address and few possessions. As she recently wrote at her blog, she’s decided to “take the plunge” and put herself out of her comfort zone by going somewhere new. Before she did just that, I was glad she had time for a few questions.

How long have you been using Textpattern CMS and how did you first hear about it?

I first discovered Textpattern about 6 years ago when I stumbled upon another designers website. Her website was so beautiful, and the way the content was laid out suggested to me that there was something going on beyond static html pages. The sidebar content, the way you navigated through the work, and complexity of the layout – it all made me curious about how it was built. I noticed in her footer that the site was built with Textpattern. Given that her work was mostly design (as opposed to development), I thought to myself, if this girl can teach herself Textpattern – and she’s not even a developer– why couldn’t I? I will admit at the time I did not fully understand the nature of CMS’s. I knew of Wordpress but had never really worked with a CMS before. I looked up Textpattern, did some research, and I was hooked!

Is Textpattern the only CMS you use for clients or just one of many in the toolbox? What other systems do you use and how do you go about choosing a CMS for a client project?

Textpattern is generally speaking the only CMS that I will use if I am personally doing the development for my clients. I used to do some work with Wordpress, but I have no interest in broadening my skillset further by learning PHP. I would much rather outsource that kind of work. So if a client insists on a Wordpress website, I will outsource that, and just handle the design.

What was the first project you used Textpattern for, and what was your initial impression of it against other systems you may have been using at the time? Has your impression of Textpattern changed much since then?

Since it was my first CMS, I didn’t have any basis for comparison. My impression has changed tenfold since then, as I was not using it to it’s full capacity back then. I think it took me a year of working with it before everything clicked, and I really started to understand how the system worked. It has also evolved and improved quite a bit over the years, so yes my impression has definitely changed in a more positive way since I first started tinkering with it!

A lot of people in the Textpattern Support Forum, a place often considered to be the projects social watering hole, may not know who you are because you don’t really hang out there. Have you ever posted anything in the forum, or at least read it as a help or information source?

I have posted a few things in the Textpattern Support Forum over the years, and have definitely used the forum to look for helpful resources.

How do you otherwise go about getting help for troubleshooting a problem when building with Textpattern? Or do you never have problems working with it?

I tend to Google any problems that I am looking to solve, and 9 times out of 10, that leads me to the forum, or a website of a fellow Textpattern user with a solution to my problem. Most of the time I can figure out what I need to on my own. A few times I’ve actually used Twitter to post a problem, and got a few responses that way. I have found the members of the Textpattern community to be incredibly helpful!

Any indispensable system plug-ins you may share? What helps you regularly in terms of extending the core system?

Some of the plugins I tend to use fairly frequently include: upm_image, vdh_flickr, zem_contact_reborn, ebl-image-edit, zem_nth, glx_gravatar, asy_wondertag and I am sure there are a few I am forgetting about, or unaware of! I always love looking at other peoples’ Textpattern installs to see what plugins they work with.

Yes, I guess many of us like to peek under the hoods for enlightenment.

How do you go about “selling” Textpattern to customers? Do you give examples of working sites or put stress on back-end use? Or, perhaps both?

I don’t typically need to “sell” it to clients. If they want a site that can handle what they need their site to do, and they want me to build it, that is the system that I use. If they insist on using another CMS, then I will handle only the design, and I will outsource the development. Occasionally I have provided examples of working website, but generally they trust that if they want their site to get built the way they want, they’ll go with my recommendation.

As a female in a field clearly dominated by men, how do you persuade potential clients they’re in safe hands with you?

I will be honest with you and say that I think being a female has been an advantage for me in the industry, probably because the field is dominated by men. Working with a woman tends to be a refreshing change for people. Mind you, 80% of my clientele does happen to be female! I think women entrepreneurs like the idea of supporting other women in their vocation. Almost all of my work comes from word of mouth, so I never need to do any persuading. By the time someone contacts me, they have either been recommended by others, or have seen my work and it speaks for itself!

Most of us freelancers are doing what we do because we like it. Are there things you don’t like about being a freelance “digital craftswoman”?

The one thing that I don’t like about being a freelance digital craftswoman is the long work hours. I work a lot, and often tend to work in the evenings and weekends. However, I do believe that is compensated by the flexibility of those hours!

The other thing I find difficult is project/time management. I am a designer first, so all of the admin, technical, management side of things is not the part that comes easy to me!

The only other thing that can be frustrating is working with people that don’t understand your value, so I try to sniff those clients out early on in the process. If someone comes to me and they know exactly what they want visually or technically, I know we won’t be a good fit. I try to work with people that value my expertise and are willing to collaborate in the process of making their website awesome.

You recently participated in what must have been the first Vancouver B.C. Textpattern meetup. Who did you meetup with, and what sinister ideas did you share? Are there plans to do it again?

I had a great meet up with Les and Walter. I didn’t even realize who Walter was because I had only ever known him by his avatar, so we go way back.

Walter said he loved my tutorials, and felt that they were some of the few truly useful tutorials for a start-to-finish website. We discussed how there wasn’t really a simple, thorough “How to build a basic brochure-style business website in Textpattern” tutorial, so he encouraged me to take the reigns on that! It’s definitely on my ever growing to-do list! I hope we get to meet up again, when I am back from my travels.

Marie Poulin doing push-ups at Talent Time in Vancouver B.C.
Marie Poulin kicking push-up butt before a live audience at Talent Time, Vancouver B.C. (She did like, 500, or something.) Photo by Evil Patrick Shannon, from his Facebook album, Talent Time – 2012.

Our reporters in the field have learned you’re able to hold your own in a push-up competition? That’s certainly one good approach to a balanced work/life routine? What other things do you do to keep burnout at bay and the creativity juices flowing?

Travel is very important to me. In fact, I am heading to Bali for 3 months, leaving in a few weeks! It will be my first attempt at a work/travel lifestyle. I have no idea what I will do afterward… if I’ll continue to travel, or settle down in Vancouver again. Who knows!

Keeping physically active is also very important to me. I play Gaelic Football, soccer, yoga, and I snowboard whenever I get the chance. I also feel that it’s very important to make time for good friends. I have so many talented friends that keep me inspired and are always willing to bounce creative ideas around. They keep me from feeling too burnt out—they remind me what matters.

For one to have creative minds around is definitely a plus. I’m glad that we have your creative mind in our midst and I’m very much looking forward to your contributions, whichever far-off point in the world you send them from. Godspeed!

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