Creating Physical Products in a Digital World

As a web developer, most of my work is not only completely digital, but it's ephemeral - lasting only a few years, if I'm lucky. At times this wears on me, as if my entire career is building something that will be simply overwritten in the next version.

My brother-in-law is an architect, and I'm often envious that he gets to see the physical manifestation of months or years of work, and that his work will last decades, or longer. It would be exhilarating to see an idea take shape in physical form.

I was recently able to experience the physical first hand. I've been a contracting Rails developer for the crew at BooksTo.Me for several months now, helping to implement new features. BooksTo.Me is a service that uses your Instagram feed to create beautiful physical books from your photos. My latest project was to allow a user to customize the date range of photos from which to use in a new book. We went through several iterations on how the process should work, and recently launched the new feature.

After the new feature was out, I ordered a book for myself. I needed to test out the process in production, end-to-end. I also really wanted the book.

When the book arrived a few days later, I was taken back by having a physical product from code that I had written. The book was beautiful, my favorite photos from the past year. I specifically noticed the date range, printed nicely on the cover, remembering how I had wrestled with that code, fighting time-zone differences. Somehow getting that code right was rewarded by holding the book. It wasn't just another date, stored off into some database.

For developers who struggle with the ephemeral nature of digital work, go out and find physical ways to put your skills to use. The opportunities are endless, and you'll gain a new appreciation for your skill set, and the superpowers it gives you to create, and be creative, in our digital world.

Written by Alex Brinkman who lives and works in Denver, but plays in the mountains.