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I’ve read a lot of articles by management in the web design industry over the years about unicorns. Primarily about how it is that you don’t want one. Everyone thinks they do (or so the tales go) until they have one and experience all the problems. They don’t work well with others. They destroy teams. They ruin moral. They take on too much of the operations of the group, burn out, leave and then your both crippled.

Everything about these articles is the negative side of developer unicorns.

And they are all true. So now let’s lay out why I’m trying to foster more of them.

I am a unicorn

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Let’s inspect my meta data for a moment to try and understand why.

  • Loves my job and the people I work with and serve
  • Extremely passionate about what I do (see above)
  • Abrasive and doesn’t always play well with others (see above)
  • Works endlessly, far more then asked, borderline addicted. (leading to, see above)

Why do I consider myself a unicorn? Have you even attempted to follow the project I’m leading up? It’s confusing as hell. There’s this platform Drupal (duh) and it’s complicated for sure. This makes that look adorable by comparison given that it’s heavily networked Drupal that has a site factory system baked in (so Drupal requesting and building Drupal) that then automatically sets up network connectivity to the new sites it produces and stitches the UX together in such a way that people are constantly confused that they are going between different sites.

This isn’t “just Drupal” for sure. It’s a bit insane; but let’s start to unpack the notion that unicorns are a bad thing shall we? Anyone, can copy and paste something into a server and get an identical working copy of everything the team and I have done the last 3 years now. Millions of lines of code, dozens of databases, server libraries orchestrated together perfectly to produce a living, growing platform. This now forms the new baseline we stand on and as others grow to realize what it’s capable of (and we improve UX for sure) then they’ll also start to say “where did this come from?”

To which I’ll say, it is the thing of unicorns (plural). Because I’m no longer a unicorn. If you are a unicorn, something the blogosphere wants to stomp out and tell you not to go with, you have 2 paths options:

  • You can stop being special; stop being what makes you unique
  • You can make everyone special; empower everyone to make everyone more vibrant

And so, here we are today and the trajectory forward. Fostering, building up, encouraging and yes, actively seeking out unicorns. We’re going to have a whole flipping heard of unicorns, stampeding together. A flock of unique thinkers who are empowered to empower others to change the world.

How to grow unicorns


[ ] Become a Full-Stack developer

Never paint yourself as “only” front-end, only back-end, only anything. If you aren’t in development, this is the equivalent of being a jack-of-all-trades so to speak or master carpenter, and painter, and mason, and logger, and foreman, and any other job in the construction of a project of any kind. You know how to do everything. You are Emit when he achieves master builder status.

[ ] Pass up promotions that only give you “power” over others

I’ve been offered “management” types of jobs and promotions and said no each time. I don’t want to just manage people and tell them what to do, I want to become a more powerful, efficient, better, smarter full-stack developer. I want to be the best full-stack developer on the planet, and you do too. Find those that want to be Master Builders. Encourage them, shape them to be even better builders. You don’t want to be the one-eyed king in the land of the blind, you want to give others as good or better eye sight then you possess and to genuinely be equals.

[ ] Find your passion, follow that

You can always get a job that pays different, or different benefits, or different people; but you can’t always get a job doing what you love. If you aren’t genuinely in love with what your doing and the mission it serves (or it has no mission) then it’s time to be looking if you aren’t already. You need a mission to inspire one in others.

[ ] Worry about the people that actually matter

I’m passionate about my work but only because I have an amazing support network in my family. They make me want to make a better world for them and other families like them. If you don’t stop and focus on the people that actually matter at home then the work becomes empty and meaningless. I am incredibly blessed.

What’s this all about anyway?

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I needed to write this because I’ve been realizing why I came here. Why this place chose me to be where I accomplish something amazing. Where we accomplish something amazing…

Because I started many years ago. I’ve been searching for architects, builders, visionaries, and for a long time would get frustrated, sad and lonely.  At first, I loved being the only one who could “remake the matrix” so to speak. But it wasn’t till I stopped caring about the rank order and started caring about helping friends and colleagues that I got what I actually wanted. I needed to stop expecting architects to just be there and instead start helping to shape and mold and grow an army of Emit’s.

It’s the scene at the end of the Lego Movie where Lucy gets on the TV and says that everyone needs to be ground-breakers, tearing up the bricks that had been laid for them and create new things, things that no one’s ever thought of. Weird, amazing, stupid at times, unique, snowflakes of their own.

By fostering and helping build up the capacity of the Drupal community in higher education we have created an army of potential future LMS builders. Through investment in organic deployment methodology, we will create systems that can be scales fragmented, broken apart and scaled 3 dimensionally with limited to no effort. The more we democratize that process, improve user experience, increase capabilities, the more we will come closer to achieving my actual grand plan. My magnum opus.

If successful, it won’t be my great work, it will be all of ours. Run wild Unicorn developers. Wild open pastures await you. Be free.

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