inside cafébabel

Forrest Gump and my experience creating Cafébabel’s new website

Article published on April 13, 2018
Article published on April 13, 2018

We’re launching a series of informal articles written by Cafébabel staff to explain the changes the magazine is going through. Most importantly: a new editorial line, new sections, new plans, new faces... in short, it's a whole new world!

“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” I don’t know what Forrest’s mother was thinking that day, but she could easily have been referring to developing Cafébabel’s new website. I would never have suspected, not even for a second, the surprises that were in store for me.

For several months now, I’ve been working with a team of developers on what has been Cafébabel’s most crucial element for 17 years: its website. The old version dates back to 2013, so let’s just say it might as well have come from the Stone Age. Even worse actually, it was completely impossible to maintain and update. The code is so complex that even the brainiest web developers gave up. The pitfall was Python, also known as the programming language that has been used up until now. Luckily Python has nothing to do with parseltongue, the language spoken by Harry Potter and Voldemort. It’s a very ‘light’ language but not very widespread.

I’m a graphic designer before anything, so this new project was the perfect way for me to add a string to my bow and learn about front-end development. If that sounds like gibberish, let me explain. A website is like an iceberg: there is the visible part, the tip, which is called the front-end. The submerged part is called the back-end.

We decided to build a new website… from scratch. The first surprise came straight away, the moment the developers told me they wanted to use Python again.

“But I thought that was one of the reasons why the old version was impossible to work with?”

“Actually no, the problem was the framework. Before, we used Django. This time, we’re going to use Jinja.” 

“Right.”

From there, I quietly started my work and managed to land in yet another linguistic trap. jQuery, the coding language used to create user interactions that I thought I knew well was actually an abbreviated version of the general language: Javascript. It was as if I had spoken slang all my life and I had just discovered what literary French was. It’s never too late to learn, but still. The project progressed bit by bit and I started gaining confidence.

Last little surprise: I had to say “bye-bye” to working individually. When I write even the smallest line of code, I share it with my acolytes for a review. The web development process is consolidated step by step. I weigh my words when I say “consolidated” since the developers are so meticulous that any misplaced tab or space needs to be corrected. That’s what we call being rigorous, right?

But isn’t this exactly what the new Cafébabel needs? To steer the editorial line towards higher quality, to propose content that’s structured better, more homogenous, more researched – these are the objectives that we gave ourselves more than a year ago, and that we’d like to set in stone this year.

After having spoken about html, jQuery, Javascript, Python and even parseltongue with Mrs. Gump, the new website will soon see the light of day. Cafébabel is a multilingual magazine after all, right