Estelle: What is your background? What first got you interested in web development?
Chris: I was a computer nerd as a kid and that just rolled forward. I was into programming and art in high school. Then computer science and design in college. I would have loved to get a web design job right out of college but I didn’t have the chops. So I went into graphic design and the printing business for a few years. All the while I was building websites on the side. Some for fun. Some for bands I was in. Some personal sites. Some freelance. An opportunity for a web job came up, and with that sideboard of work, I was able to get it.
Estelle: What do you consider yourself? A designer? Front End Engineer?
Chris: That’s always tough to answer. That’s why I like joke titles. I was “Lead Hucklebucker” at Wufoo. Certainly Front End Engineer is a big part of it. I also do design but I’m self conscious about it.
Estelle: What are you most passionate about when it comes to front end engineering?
Chris: Decision-making is a big one for me. I really like talking through problems and making choices. Of course that could apply to any job but it’s particularly fun in front end because the days are like an endless series of little logic puzzles to solve.
What text makes the most sense here? What should happen if they click here? How does this grid behave at this size? Does this look button-y enough? Is this error message helpful enough? How could we have prevented that error in the first place?
I consider all those things front-end problems.
Things like “should this be a <div class="subtitle"> or does an <hgroup> with an <h2> make the most sense?” are front end engineering problems to be solved as well, but are less interesting to me lately.
Estelle: It sounds like you’re passionate about good user experience design. How important do you think it is for Front End Engineers to also be skilled in UX?
Chris: Fairly important. UX is everyone’s job. If you just mindlessly replicate designs I don’t think you get to be an “engineer”.
Estelle: What projects are you working on now?
I also podcast at ShopTalk (you’ve been on before!) and of course keep up CSS-Tricks, my long time blog and community site around all things web.
Estelle: For people considering entering our profession, what would you recommend them?
Chris: My general philosophy is “Just build websites.” What you need to know becomes clear when you build.
If you absolutely have no idea where to start, I think I’d suggest “Handcrafted CSS” by Dan Cederholm (the book) and read through it and follow the project.
Then pick a project of your own. Build a personal site. Find a business you can build a website for. Anything.
And just do it. You’ll have roadblocks. But now, you’ll have a motivation to do the research and learning you need to do to defeat the roadblock.
(Repeat 1,000 Times)
Estelle: What is your biggest obstacle in your career as a FEE, and what are you doing to overcome it?
Chris: There is fear and there is over-confidence. Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference.
For example, every since I started web design I sized all type on every site I’ve ever worked on in pixels. I’d read stuff about the downfalls of that and alternatives and yadda yadda and dismiss it all.
I’ve been building websites for a while now, I do it this way, it works fine.
That kind of confidence is sometimes super useful. This works for me so I’m not going to worry about it and focus my attention elsewhere.
But at some point I had to admit it was either 1) being fearful of admitting that what I’ve been doing all this time was wrong or 2) overconfidence that my was best without truly considering other options.
So I give sizing all fonts with ems on a project a proper try and it’s better. There are some clear benefits.
That kind of thing can be a constant obstacle. Your own mind can be awfully stubborn.
Estelle: Where do you think our profession is going? What do you think we’ll be focusing on in 3 years?
Chris: Three years is a great time frame to think about it because it’s both close and incredibly far away at the same time. Just one year ago there were a LOT more discussions around IE 6/7. I feel like that’s pretty much over now. There was an attitude like “Oh this HTML5 stuff is neat or whatever, 2030 will be sweet!” Now a year later we’re using a lot of it on live sites. Time passing is a part of it but the rate of change is going faster too.
I think layout is going to be a different ballgame in three years. Flexbox will be starting to be used in primetime in about a year and will totally oust floats-for-layout in two years.
Web components will be a big deal I think. Web apps will be created in a much more modular structure. It will be funny to think of CSS as this huge looming monster over websites like it is now. Instead it will be contained to smaller parts.
Education will catch up a bit, so young people entering the field will have actual web experience. Tools will get better. It’s a bright future. If you’re already involved in the web right now, you picked a good place to be.
Thanks to both Chris and Estelle for the interview!
In the first of our interviews with Webstock ’13 speakers, we talked with Clay Johnson. Clay has an impressive CV that touches on many aspects of 21st century life — our relationship to technology, our consumption of information and the way these relate to power and politics. He’s also giving what promises to be a unique and, yes, important workshop: How To Take Over Your Town.
Webstock: I want to focus on the workshop you’re giving at Webstock – ‘How to take over your town’. It’s an intriguing title!
So, firstly, what’s been your journey to get here. You’ve been involved in politics with the Howard Dean presidential campaign and with Blue State Digital. You’ve worked with the Sunlight Foundation on making government more transparent. And you’ve written a book, ‘The Information Diet’ about the (pretty poor) information we consume and how to improve that. How has all that lead to you wanting to take over the town?
Clay: I don’t want to take over the town. I want us to take over our towns. Or rather to take our towns from charged up political climates into friendly, innovative communities. All politics is famously local. Power, too, is local.
Our media environment, though, makes us pay attention to large, sexy, national or global issues — issues that we largely can’t do anything about. Here — I’ll ask you three questions. No Googling allowed:
1. Who is the president of the United States of America?
2. How has the child poverty rate in your city/town/community changed in the last year?
3. Which one of the outcomes of the above two questions are you most likely to have an impact on?
Now some may say “That’s not fair! It’s very important to know who the president is!” and they’re right. These aren’t mutually exclusive. But what if I replaced the first question with “Name a Kardashian?”
We — the technology community — have to start paying attention to our communities. Two billion dollars just got spent in the United States presidential election, largely raised from concerned americans who wanted to participate in the election in some way. Thousands of people knocked on doors, made phone calls, and asked for votes. Can you imagine what would happen if that effort and participation went into improving public schools, or heck, street sweeping?
Webstock: The workshop description includes the following line, “The future of government isn’t in the code of law, it’s in the code of software.” What do you mean by that?
Clay: Right now the establishment profession of power is the lawyer. They write the laws, make the rules, determine who follows the rules and how best they get followed. But as technology is famously eating the world, isn’t the developer on the rise? After all, the software developers at Facebook are, through software, creating governing law on our interactions — they’re creating rules in the system about how we can communicate.
I think it’s time to start thinking about this critically. And I think it’s time for developers to start thinking “Perhaps I can make a big difference by making some changes in the way my community works!”
Developers have a skill like no other profession: they can rewire society without having to wait on government to change.
Webstock: Who should attend this workshop and what will they learn?
Clay: The developer who wants to learn how to organize people. Above all else, what I’m going to teach you isn’t a political skill, it’s a critical skill about how to move people. Hopefully, you’ll take this skill — combine it with what you already know how to do, and make amazing things happen for your community. But heck, if you just want to use the skills I teach you to learn how to leverage the ideas from US Political Campaigns in your business — that’s fine too.
That’s going to be the first half of my workshop. The second half of my workshop is going to be about having a healthy information diet so that you can stay focused on making great things happen for you. By the end of my workshop, you’re going to have a system for dealing with incoming crap, and you’re going to leave Webstock with more time. Anybody who wants more time on their hands should come to my workshop.
Also, Nat Torkington. And the lesson that he will learn is that he should have given my book a five star rating on goodreads. He will learn that lesson “the hard way.”
Webstock: Changing tack a little, one of your blog posts that I loved was ‘How to focus’ And I even went so far as to try the Pomodoro Technique mentioned there. How has the “focusing” gone for you? We all know it’s one thing to write or think about focusing better, it’s another to actually put things into practice over a sustained period of time.
Clay: I must confess. Focusing has gotten a lot harder for me since my wife and I brought our son Felix into the world in July. I still need to child-proof my How to Focus technique.
But honestly, I still use that technique a lot. It’s intended to be sort of a recovery program: when you find yourself lost in a rut of things that are asking for your attention, having the focus technique available is the thing that gets you out of that rut and back on track. It works every time.
Webstock: What the one single thing you’d recommend to someone wanting to improve their information diet?
Clay: Write 500 Words, every day, before 8AM. Make it the first thing you do every morning. That way, you’re starting your day as a producer, rather than a consumer. And your whole day will revolve around you making things rather than reacting to things.
Webstock: And finally, what are you most looking forward to at Webstock?
Clay: I’ve heard so much about Webstock that I can’t even begin to anticipate what I’m looking forward to the most.
Webstock: Thanks so much so Clay! We’re looking forward to having you here in February.
You may have heard that in the second half of 2013, Wellington’s century-old Town Hall – home to Webstock – will be out of action, whilst it receives the full earthquake strengthening treatment. It’s a two year project designed to lift the earthquake rating of the building to 140 percent of new building standard, making it safer than a super safe thing.
This means that Webstock ’13 may be the last, possibly forever, in the iconic Wellington Town Hall.
We believe that the Town Hall is an integral part of the Webstock experience. We are fussy customers and the right venue is paramount. The Town Hall allows us to accommodate the almost-1000 people who come to the event over the course of Webstock Week. It enables us to have workshops running simultaneously. It allows us the social table layout we prefer to aisle and row type seating.
With the Town Hall unavailable, we’re presented with a challenge:
Where do we hold Webstock in the future?
And how many people might we be able to accommodate?
And what impact does that have on the format?
These are just some of the big questions we’ll be considering over the next little while. Cos right now, we don’t know what the future holds for Webstock.
All we know is that it will be very different to the Webstocks that have gone before it. Changes are afoot for Webstocks 2014 onwards. It’ll be Webstock – but not as we know it!
All of which means that Webstock ’13 marks the end of an era. This is the last hurrah to the Webstock experience you’ll be familiar with. And we think that’s a cause for celebration and a right royal knees up! We’d love you to be there so we can make it one mighty send off. [This is where you now consider registering this instant so you don’t miss out!]
To remind ourselves of those special times we’ve had, here are the some photos from Webstocks past. They’re in the nature of our love letter to what’s been a wonderful venue and one that has helped define the very essence of Webstock.
PS – We should also say that we’re REALLY EXCITED about the possibilities for Webstock ’14. It’s a great chance for us to…ah hell, we’re not going to tip our hand this early! Let’s just say: Webstock ’14 is going to be something awesome – something different, but definitely awesome. But bottom line: Webstock ’13 is your last chance to experience Webstock “classic”. It’s gonna be big. It’s gonna be gigantic amounts of fun. It’s gonna be mighty memorable. And it’s gonna be very very exciting. It’s gonna RULE!
A lovely venue, which has accommodated many Webstockers over the years
The inaugural Webstock back in 2006 was opened by Sir Tim Berners Lee via video
Webstock aims to have a diverse mix of speakers
And a feeling of audience participation
The venue provides excellent facilities for the Speakers when they need to take some time out to prepare and relax
The Speakers’ presence on stage is often highly anticipated
VERY highly anticipated
The venue provides the room and freedom for a range of different presentation styles
It’s a venue that works well for workshops, streamed sessions and keynotes
And importantly, it works well for the much anticipated afterparty
The venue provides excellent hospitality staff and a wide range of beverages and tasty morsels suitable for the party environment
Said parties are a great opportunity to discuss issues raised over the course of the day eg the Andriod vs iOS debate raged last year:
As did debate over the HTML5 specs
Debates aside, the environment at Webstock is always a highly convivial and joyous one, bringing wonderful like-minded people together to celebrate their craft and the wonders of the web
#1 Wellington Town Hall interior. Original photographic prints and postcards from file print collection, Box 13. Ref: PAColl-6407-49. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22813146
#2 Visit of General Evangaline Booth, Salvation Army, Town Hall, Wellington. Crown Studios Ltd :Negatives and prints. Ref: 1/1-032721-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23244296
#4 Hypnotist, Miss Dormia Robson, with the audience at Wellington Town Hall http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22387489Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1958/1443-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
#5 Judges in New Zealand Brass Band Championships at the Town Hall, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1959/0553-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23261700
#6 Police restraining fan during Rolling Stones concert, Wellington Town Hall. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1965/0521-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23132666
#7 Teenage fans at the Walker Brothers concert in the Wellington Town Hall. Dominion post (Newspaper) :Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post and Dominion newspapers. Ref: EP/1967/0398-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23033384
#11 Medicine department at Wellington Town Hall during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Ref: 1/2-C-016207-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22328319
#12 Don Beitelman vs. Ivan Kameroff, wrestling match at the Wellington Town Hall. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1956/1088-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22907669
#13 Amamus Theatre Group performing in Wellington Town Hall. Dennis, Jonathan Spencer, 1953-2002 :Photographs. Ref: PAColl-7413-13-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22483099
#14 Guests at Plunket Ball at the Town Hall, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1956/1414b-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/23128050