Last September, I built a project of mine that I called “ben-edit”. It’s a simple way of enabling people I’ve built websites for to edit content on their website.
For those who are programming-interested, it’s a git-backed headless Content Management System (CMS) built with Laravel. Edits are committed to GitHub in the repo alongside the website’s code, which causes the static site to be automatically rebuilt and redeployed.
Here’s the story behind that project:
I got an email on the day that I moved into Tufts for pre-orientation, August 27th, 2021. I saw it on my phone as I was walking to a restaurant with my parents to grab lunch before they were gonna head home.
The email was from a client whose website had stopped working — he edited it through a Google Sheet, and the data from the spreadsheet was used to populate the website. Google Sheets had recently changed the way their developer integrations worked, so the way to update his website was broken.
I replied and told him that I would build him a solution, but that I was about to embark on a five-day backpacking pre-orientation trip with no phone and no computer.
But I was excited to solve this problem! I immediately saw it as an opportunity to build my own Content Management System, which I could use for other clients as well. My own custom setup for letting clients edit websites, built exactly to my liking.
I remember sketching out ideas for how I’d structure the data in a small notebook while on the bus to New Hampshire. It was a great way to pass the time.
And on the trip, in moments when we were just walking through the woods and everybody was silently in their own heads, I’d mull over the project.
When got back to Tufts five days later, I started the project based on what I’d thought about. Orientation week was a stressful blur, but I always had one constant: when I was done for the day, I’d sit down at a table in the dorm’s common room and work on my new project.
People would come through and introduce themselves. Eventually the people on my floor who I’d met before would poke fun at the fact that I was always at that table working on this coding project, and they weren’t wrong. But the feeling of people being around was nice.
It gave me something to do. Something familiar; a way to do what I loved doing, despite being in a strange new place. Every day I looked forward to coming back and working on my project.
A couple of days after I came back, I was finished coding. I sent the project over to the client, who was happy that he could edit his website again. I was done.
But looking back, this project wasn’t really the smartest idea. It’s generally seen as a large and unnecessary undertaking to build your own Content Management System. Other people have done it for you already, and they’ve put more time into it than you will. There’s lots of free alternatives that I could’ve slotted into his website.
But still, I look back fondly at building ben-edit during the first couple of weeks at Tufts. I got to sit in the common room and do what I love to do most, while occasionally chatting with some of the people from my floor of the dorm.
It gave me something to look forward to during that first week, when most other things were hectic and lonely. And for that, I’m grateful.