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Video: In Conversation with Russ Weakley

I really enjoyed these conversations we did with speakers at Respond a few weeks back, and I’m equally enjoying returning to them, editing them a little, and listening to what these wise, intelligent and generous contributors to our field have to say.

If you’ve missed them to date, take a bit of time to listen to conversations with

But this week we have the very first one I recorded, which I feel is entirely fitting. It’s with Russ Weakley, a huge contributor to the Web design profession not just here in Australia, but globally. It’s particularly fitting since Russ, Maxine Sherrin, Peter Firminger and I together started an event called Web Essentials back in 2004, that became Web Directions.

We talked about accessibility, about how the role of what we now call front end developers (or do we?) has changed in the time, and what the future holds for us as Web professionals. There’s the obligatory discussion about voice interfaces, jetpacks and the future of interaction, and much more. I hope you enjoy this really great conversation with Russ Weakley.

If you’d like to know more about Russ, we featured him in our Monday Profile this week, or why not grab a copy of the digital edition of Scroll Magazine, where the profile also appears?

And lastly, if reading’s more your thing, there’s a full transcript below.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Like to watch and read more like this? Be the first to score invitations to our events? Then jump on our once a week mailing list where we round up the week’s best reading and watching on all things Web. And you’ll get a complimentary digital copy of our brand new magazine, Scroll.



Full Transcript

John
So I’m here with Russ Weakley in the very, very first- possibly last (laughs) – conversation over coffee or other beverage as it happens to be with folks who I find interesting in making great contributions and in many cases, have made great contributions over a long period of time to the web. So, Russ … Russ and I go way back and there’d be long stories around that that we can probably have over a glass of wine or a whisky.
Russ
1952, I think it was.
John
1952, that’s right. (laughing) See, young people probably think we’re not joking at that point. One of the things I’ve admired about Russ over that period of time is his focus on accessibility as a core part of the web. That’s something that since I very first met you in the early 2000s has been an important focus for you. Did something lead you to accessibility or how did that come about?
Russ
Yeah. Failure, dismal failure. So I think we also jumped on the web standards bandwagon in 2002, somewhere around that, and you sort of you were doing it right. When I remember going seeing my first blind user and watching them pull apart my website and the code and tell me how appalling it was and humility made me realize how badly it was written, so I suddenly decided that I had to learn it better and hooked up with people like Roger Hudson, who’s one of Sydney’s sort of penultimate accessibility gurus, but here it was just basically through realizing I knew nothing about it, and watching real users using codes. Things like that really helped.
John
Through the empathy for your user, and suddenly realizing I’m…
Russ
Well, I don’t think originally it was empathy, it was humiliation, eventually it became empathy. (laughing)
John
You just had to get out of the humiliation part.
Russ
But yeah, just watching simple things like, in those days we were obsessed with lists and realizing that this blind user was just saying, “Why are there so many lists on the page.” You know it’s simple things that you realize when you’re watching a real user that you, you know, you really need to change the way you work.
John
So, I guess when you or I were doing a lot of web work in the early part of the 2000’s, it was very much a point of focus, I think, we took pride in testing against the very standards for accessibility. People shared ideas about how to improve the quality of that. I generally don’t feel that that’s something that’s so important anymore to people, but what’s your thoughts about that?
Russ
I think it depends on who you speak to and the teams you’re in. So I think, we’re probably going to do this a lot, but it’s concept of a stack overflow developer. Do you know where you’ve heard that term, a stack overflow developer?
John
Absolutely, yeah I think there’s a whole book on it.
Russ
Oh, is there? So that there’s… Where I worked at the bank recently, there was a lot of young developers coming in, and they were handpicked to be craftsmen in the latest trends, so highly proficient in react, and could always, sort of, very modern job of script frameworks, and because these young guys, young people, just constantly on the move with these these young frameworks that are constantly changing, I think they’ve lost, there’s a big gap in basic knowledge. And it’s not just accessibility, it’s fundamental HTML, fundamental CSS practices. I would sit beside a young developer, by young, I mean, new in the field rather than ageist order, but just watching them literally have no idea about how to do basic mach up. So, their world was copying, pasting from stack overflow and constantly, agiley moving through code, but really not understanding that you couldn’t put an h1 round or div or, you know basic, things like that. So yeah, there’s somewhere along the way, just with the rapid progress of the way, we’ve lost, a lot of people just don’t understand, and also don’t appreciate, basic things like understanding what HTML is. Would you agree with that?
John
Look, I do, I do have a lot of empathy. I mean, when people like us started you could become a, well, you could be a world expert in CSS in about three weeks, because it was only about four weeks old. (laughing) There was a period when I probably knew more about CSS than almost anyone in the world because I had about a weeks head start. So, whereas of course, now, as you say, there’s a considerable need to learn an enormous body of knowledge, particularly around specific frameworks. And that’s partly, I guess, because people are, you know, (mumbles) is asking for expertise in specific frameworks and technologies.
Russ
Full stack, everything’s full stack.
John
Full stack, of course. But, of course, that doesn’t include, as you say, the core foundational technologies, so.
Russ
So the bottom of the stack is missing, that’s the problem.
John
Right.
Russ
Which is basically, HTML, no one cares about that so, the bottom of the stack I should say, you should actually also understand how a div works, unfortunately that’s not put in there.
John
And I guess on one level, people produce potentially fragile and not particularly stable code, and that’s bad enough, but on another level, we’re producing things that are inaccessible. And it seems to me, you know, once upon a time what we asked the web to do was pretty straight forward, right. It was to convey some basic information, it was very informational, it was marketing, communications teams with the old web, as to the extent we interacted at all was maybe to fill in a form and send it off. You know I remember, you’ll remember very well, the Sydney Olympics, when the tickets were available online, and that was a pretty complex, sort of web, what we now call application, and of course, it was inaccessible and it led to.
Russ
Well that was actually just tables but yeah, I know what you mean, it’s fundamentally, that one failed, but yeah, that was way before the days of rich web application.
John
But, whereas now, we’re asking the web to do so much more. we’re asking it to provide so much more interaction, and yet, we seem to be less and less concerned, in some ways, that it’s fundamentally accessible.
Russ
Inaccessible, yeah.
John
Yeah well, less concerned that it is (talking over each other) that it is inaccessible or that it be accessible. What are we going to do about it? What do you think, what are your thoughts about that?
Russ
That’s a hard one, I think, yeah you’ve got to look, I suppose, at the industry and I think there’s problems in around the way we define roles, and there’s problems in the way we understand the roles, and also just this feed, I just think that, I mean, you said off the cuff before this idea that we’ll always be in a job because there is that gap. You know, worked in banks to help people in that area because they didn’t have the skills, so on one side, you can say that it’s good that gap there, but i don’t know how to figure that, because the speed is ever going to increase. Like three weeks from now, there will be a totally new Java Script framework, and, you know the gap will get wider they’ll have to panic quicker, and they’re being asked to produce more quickly. I don’t know where we stop and try and fix the problem.
John
I guess one of the hopes I had is as we standardized on particular frameworks or a small number of frameworks get applied to solve specific problems, why aren’t we baking better accessibility into those. Lots of people are using Bootstrap, lots of people are using React, why is it? The more we bake accessibility into those frameworks and those libraries, surely the easier it makes accessibility, and it doesn’t seem to be what is happening.
Russ
Yeah, it’s a very good point, and, again, it depends on who you speak to. There are people who work with the accessibility Bootstrap would argue that Bootstrap is fundamentally accessible. Now on some level they’re right, but when you look at the way it’s applied, I mean the quickest example would be that you can apply a button class to a link or button, so that means that you could use either, so people will just slap one down and not really care, but fundamentally there’s a huge difference between a button element and a link element, they have a different purpose. The biggest one though is there’s a drop down menu and it’s a button with a drop down attached to it, and that is fundamentally inaccessible in terms of the way it’s being used. So, select menus are really hard to style so people put this button element there that looks like a really sexy, easy to style select menu, but now you’ve lost all of the accessibility, the default accessibility attached to a select menu. A lot of it comes down to the way they’re being used, rather than the core things being accessible.
John
However that is a core.
Russ
Yes, it’s a core problem still.
John
It’s a core piece of interaction. So, it’s something people use over and over again. So, anyway, this, I guess is our call out to people building those frameworks and libraries to really think, as much as possible, around accessibility.
Russ
I guess it depends where it stops though too because another example I’ve seen a lot is you make a, Bootstrap has a model, where you pop open a model, rightly or wrongly, people using models, and there is, as you said, baked in accessibility there. But people copy and paste that code, and so, for example, there’s like an array label, which is saying, this is attached to this, but if you just copy that and paste it, and don’t quite get it right, which I’ve seen people do all over the place.
John
You’re attaching something else. (talking over each other)
Russ
Which doesn’t exist, so it’s looking for a description for the model which doesn’t exist. So the people are trying, I think, to put it together, but there’s still a basic lack of understanding about simple array and what that label is doing and why it’s important. So I don’t know where it sits with the, if it’s purely with the framework developers, or education around them, or just people should know more about array, if you’re doing rich app sequence.
John
It does surprise me that ARIA, which I’ve been a strong advocate for, for a long time, is not as well understood, nor is widely understood, given it’s not particularly complicated, it’s technically not a complicated idea. You essentially label things with the role that they play.
Russ
Theoretically, yeah, but is fraught with all the perils of, you know, anything that’s began, it was introduced after WCAG 2, it wasn’t originating WCAG 2, it was introduced later so sufficiency techniques are sort of gradually coming in, which weren’t up there originally, so people that began with WCAG 2 are sort of having to relearn. And it wasn’t supported early, and it’s also got bugs. Like at the bank I sat day in day out using different screen readers in different browsers and watching all the different flaws of a simple array label, how well it was adapting. So, theoretically yes, it’s basic, but lacking. I think it’s like the early days of CSS, remember when we’d build something and you’d have to build it six ways for six browsers, (talking over each other) I think that array is still, there are parts of it that are very rock solid, but there are still parts of it that are a bit hairy around the edges, so yeah.
John
So it’s not magic. It’s not going to solve away our problems.
Russ
No, I mean there are things that are beautiful and do solve things really well, but there are things that are a little less beautiful and magical.
John
So I’m going to jump to something completely different. I’ve got a real thing, you know me, I have lots of things, so one of my things is voice interfaces, and if you go back to movies of the past about the future, often the way we interact with computers is using voice. Bill Gates has been obsessed with it for years. It is the future of how we’re going to interact with things, and indeed, only recently, the CEO of Microsoft talked again about the future is voice. Now obviously, on one level, you’ve worked with a lot of people and seen a lot of voice interfaces, screen readers reading to users, but not necessarily people speaking to computers. I’m just wondering, you know, what are your thoughts around voice? Is it a technology, do you think we’ll eventually replace tap and touch and typing and mousing or do you think, is it about specialized uses or is it just one of those technologies, what I call jet pack futurism, which is a vision of the future we always have, but never seems to arrive and we then sit back and think, well why don’t we have jet packs? What are your thoughts about voice?
Russ
Probably a lot of different things actually, I think that for some audiences it would be better. People with all the different motor skill issues, you know, they can’t move their hands or that sort of thing. Voice activation is already in place for a lot of them, but very crude.
John
And do you find, for example, Siri and Cortana and those other sort of technologies, are people with those sorts of disabilities, are they using those technologies. Are we seeing that happen? Is it being valuable for them?
Russ
Very interesting question. I’ve watched a lot of people, the the blind community, which you know, being a bit extreme here, very sort of anti Apple when it first came out, but as soon as voice over came in the uptake of IOS devices just blossomed. So, the voice over itself, got really good support, but as to theory, I haven’t actually tested that at all so I’m not sure how well supported that is.
John
I read recently, something a while ago i bet, again, only because it conformed to my preordained expectations and beliefs, after several years of Siri, only 15% of Apple, you know of IOS users, had even used it, let alone used it routinely. It seems to be one of those things that people don’t quite, and I’m wondering whether, is it, do people feel a bit weird talking to at inanimate object, except when watching sport, obviously, when we shout at it.
Russ
(laughing) Yeah, we shout at a screen.
John
You know I always had that vision of rooms full of like, the open plan office with all these people just talking at screens, like this babble coming out of it, (taking over each other)
Russ
There’s other problems as well like it’ll benefit some users, but will be problematic for others, like people who can’t talk, obviously, people who have speech impediments. You know there’s going to be all sorts of interesting… You know once you make something accessible to one group it’s going to negatively affect another group, so there will be all those, sort of, issues to run back as well.
John
I wonder with it too we will optimize voice recognition for certain languages because like wise,
Russ
American.
John
Yeah that’s right, we’ll be all speaking American. Every time I go to America and order a coffee, they think my name is Shawn, because John and Shawn, and so I just, if I want, to the extent that I care, if I want them to actually write my name down correctly on the Starbucks coffee,
Russ
You say Ja-hn.
John
Is I say Ja-hn, of course, so I do wonder whether we will all end up speaking with accents that will reflect the fact of what Siri or Cortana or other technologies will actually recognize.
Russ
I think your point about the jet pack, I just see us all sitting there going, “Open, open, open!” (laughing)
John
Well there’s a scene in Bladerunner, I think this is a great example.
Russ
Was it involving ants?
John
(laughing) I don’t think it’s that one. There’s a scene where he’s zooming in on a photo on a television screen, and if you watch the process, people should go and watch this, this is really, this is one of my arguments against, certainly ubiquitous use of a technology that like pinch zoom would be loop, He literally takes about a minute, because there’s no zoom, back, nope, like he’s just, He’s not even getting it wrong, it’s just the zoom in cut, and then he says crop and cut and then he prints it out.
Russ
I remember that scene where I found interesting is, this magical, extra pixels appeared each line after.
John
That’s right, like what are they using to code this thing? But it does strike me as a great example of that, sort of technology, that sort of, it demos well, it sounds really sexy but once you start actually seeing it in practice. Anyway, so I thought I’d, I’m going to ask this question of multiple people, maybe it’ll become my little stock, standard question to ask.
Russ
Be interesting to hear the comments.
John
Yeah, see what the even thoughts around it. But yeah, I have been saying for several years, I’m not convinced that we will see wide spread adoption of voice technologies. (talking over each other)
Russ
Are you talking in two years, five years or?
John
Right, right, well it’s a bit like artificial intelligence, so it’s about five years off. I certainly see in the car, for example, or even perfect example, obviously very dangerous to use, devices when looking at them and even touching them when, in theory, it’s less dangerous to talk to those devices and yet, we haven’t really seen wide spread adoption. I think there’s more investment in cars that drive themselves than controls we can just activate with our voice.
Russ
That makes more sense, it’s skipping the middle man, the middle man is that we are idiots as drivers.
John
Turn left, turn right, no, stop!
Russ
Fundamentally as humans we are bad drivers so, what good was that,
John
Oh I couldn’t agree more. but it strikes me as that is managing a more difficult problem than simply saying, “Can you turn the sound up please.”
Russ
But you see their logic’s like, basically, humans are wrong. Let’s go to the problem which is let’s drive the car for them.
John
And then we can just use our hands while we’re not watching the road.
Russ
See then you don’t have a problem anymore.
John
That’s right.
Russ
We can tweet while the car drives.
John
Yes, then we’ll all get motion sickness, and who knows, so. So you talked about that question of like, time out in the future. I always like to, sort of sometimes stop, and so, you know you and I first started talking about these things kind of over ten years ago. Does the world, or the web, feel an awful lot different to you from that time? If you were to go back to yourself back in 2002, rather than inside invest heavily in certain shares like Google, what were the things that you would alert yourself to, in terms of how the world was going to change?
Russ
I don’t know, its too hard a question to answer. I think fundamentally it’s so different, it’s impossible to. (background talking)
John
The job we did, they’re fundamentally different now, right?
Russ
I did a talk awhile ago and it showed this simple little diagram of what I used to do and then what it became, what it became, and that idea was that when I started there was a webmaster. I worked with a few of them, and they’re all bastards, they were horrendous human beings.
John
Well they identified as masters, you start there and (talking over each other)
Russ
They were these horrendous human beings.
John
Well you had to do everything, like you had to know how to do the web server.
Russ
Everything.
John
You had to know how to optimize GIFs.
Russ
And because they knew everything, they were arrogant.
John
The book was only about 150 pages. That was it, you could be the webmaster.
Russ
And know everything about the web. Everything about the web.
John
Literally from end to end.
Russ
So I came along in the very early days when there was no web designers and I was attached to these webmasters, who hated me, because I made their web pretty. You see what I’m saying, there were like two or three roles, and in CSS, I mean you were in it earlier than I was but it sort of gradually, bubbled up around 2000, 2001, and that became sort of like a different industry again, but then it sat for a long while, 2007 to 2008, was a long period of quiet.
John
So what changed that? Do you think the IPhone, IPad?
Russ
No, I reckon it was the abstraction of CSS, when we started to go to things you’d hate, like blueprint. You know we’d started to use frameworks that suddenly changed everything about what we did.
John
So how did that change? Did it make us more productive, in a sense, could we go do more and more quickly.
Russ
Yeah, that simple idea that instead of, literally every time you’d start a job, you’d build from the ground up. You could take this package, rightly or wrongly, unsematical, whatever, and just quickly build anything from simple websites to massively rich applications. All the interfaces were tested for you so, you know you didn’t need to browser test to the same degree.
John
And I guess browsers go sufficiently better that we’d never. We did spend a lot of our energy trying to make different things work across different browsers.
Russ
Oh yeah, actually, that’s a very good point, it was a number of factors, it’s never one thing. but I think abstraction of CSS, the frameworks, and also the sudden blossoming, everyone let go of Internet Explorer, those are the things all combined.
John
That sense that every website had to look the same in every browser. The reason why I brought up, particularly the iPhone, and then the iPad as well, is if you look at when responsive web design really, well got a title and took off, 2010. What’s interesting, in the previous three to four years, you had the iPhone and then the iPad. Remember the olden days, all the boss wants to talk like this and that’s (mumbles) You were always trying to install the browser you wanted the boss to use so that they didn’t look at it in the browser you didn’t want him to look at. It was always, “Oh, the boss wants “it to look the same in this.” so suddenly you put all of this effort into that because we had this idea that web has to look the same on every browser. Suddenly, I think the boss has the iPhone, that whole idea fell away, almost overnight to an extent, because it didn’t even make sense. I mean, it made sense sort of, that every browser and every, you know, roughly speaking there was 800 x 600, but the differences between, we always talked about the differences between mobile web and so on, but when it really arrived in 2007, 2008, 2009 as people started adopting smart phones. I think it went from being this abstract idea that the web could be anywhere, all these different devices and all. The stuff we talked about, even in the 90’s, actually became real, so.
Russ
Yeah, I suppose all this played a big part in it. It’s weird though because I still, when I was at the bank a year and a half ago, they were still trying to do pixel perfect things across browsers.
John
Really, and then what would happen? Was there a person who’s job it was, it’s like that pixels out of?
Russ
No, it was even better than that, they had written a script, this is just a staggering, there’s a script written with a bit of testing software, which is gone from my old brain, which would literally measure text screen shots against all these different browsers, and measure pixel accuracy and then could flag that this one was 15 pixels, this element was 15 pixels off.
John
I mean there’s value in regression testing. (talking over each other) (laughing)
Russ
But that was insanity.
John
So that, yes, so that has finally died
Russ
Not necessarily.
John
Well, yes, well hopefully.
Russ
That was only two years ago, that’s still there. But, yeah, I agree, fundamentally there’s been a let go, but there’s still pockets of people that are still desperately trying to hang on to the old.
John
You know, the one thing that is common in all of this, everything we’ve talked about, is still this piece of technology called the browser. Somehow this thing is still there. Are we always going to have browsers or is that thing?
Russ
My god, that’s (mumbles). I can’t answer that, you’d probably, you have more
John
I have thoughts about it.
Russ
Well what are your thoughts?
John
Well, I sort of think we’ll fall away. I mean, it comes down to this interesting phenomenon that we’ve also in the last, four or five years in particular, seen the rise of apps and particularly, I mean when I say apps I mean Facebook. (laughing) No really, I mean they do, and then what we’ve seen is, people kept saying these statistics are out, mobile used it. 85% of all mobile users are using apps, right? Well, if you really look at it, probably about 78% are using Facebook, but are very high percentage of that Facebook use, certainly many tens of percentages, I think, maybe as close to 30%, 40%, is actually the embedded web browser in Facebook. So people are looking at web content, into web content, but it’s in Facebook.
Russ
So what your essentially saying, you’re saying the browser will be there but be less obvious?
John
Well I think two things potentially, I have this feeling that, we’re seeing this fragmentation of platforms, like hardware and software platforms. So once upon a time there were Mac and Windows, well there’s really Windows and Mac right? Now we’ve got desktop and laptop and tablet, and within them you’ve go fragmentation. But then suddenly we’ve got wearable devices and suddenly we’ve got embedded devices in our home.
Russ
You forgot the fridge.
John
And we’ve got fridges. You’ve got all these things that, maybe they should or maybe they shouldn’t, that increasingly are internet enabled. Some of these don’t have, I mean, the classic internet fridge has got a screen and it’s a silly idea, but it’s not a silly idea to have an internet enabled fridge that might be testing air quality and temperature and reporting back to base. In the industrial world that’s been happening for 25 years right? So it seems to me, there’s two possibilities around these, and one is that we see this hyper fragmentation and if you want to deliver applications into that fragmented landscape, you just write the same application or variances of it all these different times and all these different languages. I think at some point that just breaks down. I think we’ve even seen that with wireless and android. My feeling is the web will be this layer that sits on top of that fragmentation.
Russ
Yeah, and in their delivery mechanism.
John
Yeah, and not just simply as the internet has become, people forget that there were lots of proprietary as well as well as open networks, and the internet basically became a network of networks, that sort of, almost layered over.
Russ
In fact, it was the information super highway.
John
Oh, indeed (laughing) the information super highway, which we’re still waiting for, I think. So my feeling, to answer the question that I asked you, when you kindly asked me that, I feel the browser, to some extent will fall away. the technologies of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, (mumbles) that stack of technologies will be embedded in lots of places. And maybe there are places that won’t have screens but they will still use those technologies. I mean, we’re seeing devices that basically use JavaScript in hardware as the programming.
Russ
I see where you’re going. You’re saying that we’ll all be in Minority Report and we’ll be throwing, with gloves, we’ll be throwing them up on.
John
Well that’s all a question of user experiences that I don’t necessarily, I think Minority Report is another great example of jet pack futurism. (laughing) But I am interested in what technologies, and I have been an advocate for many years that people should just learn JavaScript, because it is this enabling technology.
Russ
We lean up to a side note to that, one thing that I found fascinating is how that impacts people. Like I was doing testing with a guy on a big drug company site after the Facebook really has taken off, and this idea of navigation, you know like in the old days, top navigation was very common, and we tested a range of people and we found that none of them were using the top nav, and there was this weird thing, that when we asked them what it was, they had no idea. Then it hit us, their web is Facebook. There’s no concept of home, like it was this one page sort of thing with the interacting.
John
How old do these people tend to be?
Russ
These were elderly people, these were people who were testing theory and standards.
John
Right, were they potential people who came relatively late to the web, and they came in through (talking over each other)
Russ
Not sure about how far to unpack this, you can test, it was really just that, we noticed that for the first time in years, I did a lot of testing, the first time in years, this idea of a top nav had suddenly become a foreign concept, that they were much more interested in the home button and what would happen on the page, as if the page was more interactive. It was really a fascinating thing that something that was so commonly understood has possibly fallen away.
John
Well, because I guess it harks back to the menu bar that’s always been at the top of Windows or at the top of the screen in the Mac, whereas a mobile device, see, maybe that reflects the mobile device and the great debate about the Hamburger medium, which we won’t have today.
Russ
(laughing) Yes, thank God.
John
Which is just sort of, essentially a drawer to stuff all the features we otherwise wouldn’t. So are we moving towards a simpler model I guess, to an extent, potentially of interaction.
Russ
Of interaction, no, no. You were saying that everything’s breaking down, everything becomes harder.
John
To every bit becomes harder.
Russ
Yeah, and I think your point is really valid, I think there’s a period where we naively thought responsive web design, I think it’s a great thing, but it sort of began a slightly flawed mentality that one thing can do everything. And then we started to realize from a UX perspective that was incredibly flawed. If you’re on an iPhone, you need to operade in the most native way you can, regardless of how it’s built just from a UX perspective, you want it to be iPhone-esque if your on, you know like…
John
Yes, to reflect the platform that it is on.
Russ
Yeah, so that idea of one build goes everywhere just will fail more and more as we go into this world that you’re talking about.
John
So do you think, I mean, we’ve definitely been seeing a movement away from m-dot, style sites, towards a responsive.
Russ
You’d have to explain to your audience what that means.
John
Well I’m hoping our audience, maybe they’ll all know, like if you’re viewing this in 2075 in the far distant future.
Russ
I reckon there’d be a lot of people who wouldn’t know what you mean by MDOT is.
John
Is that because people aren’t doing that, or?
Russ
No, it’s gone, it’s dead.
John
Oh no, there’s still, a lot of sites still do it. (talking over each other) But have I made a mistake? All right, so MDOT being, of course the idea, that you sense on the service side what sort of device is come to ask for resources and you serve up completely different resources and therefore different experiences on different devices.
Russ
Having said that, I love, and I can’t pronounce his name, Luke Lebowski? Help me out here.
John
Wroblewski.
Russ
Thank you, I remember years ago big on responsive, and then he talked about RESS, and that changed my world, responsive and server side, because then you get the best of both worlds.
John
There’s really two different challenges here, there’s experience challenge, the right experience, and then there’s the engineering challenge of delivering the resources, and so, I sometimes think we sort of bundle them all together rather than unpacking those.
Russ
Which is why I think RESS is the ultimate solution, fundamentally it’s a responsive website at it’s core but you can use server side sniffing to say, “Actually, I’m going to leave a list, “I’m not going to throw all that JavaScript there.” (audio cuts off)
John
So Russ, you’ve been doing this awhile, I’ve been doing this awhile, you’ve eluded to a lot of people who’ve been in this industry a lot less time then us, and often, know a lot more, certainly in various areas, can we keep going, have we still got something to offer? Should we maybe retire, if we could afford to? What’s your feeling about, oh you know, does this really excite you, do you find you’re interested in different aspect? Where’s the next few years going to take you?
Russ
Yeah, well I think it’s a question, that it hits people that have been in the web for longer, more than you agree, because they’re coming out to already fitting descriptions that the web uses now, so I know I’m not a front end developer. I don’t know full stack, front to back so I can’t call myself a front end developer. I do a lot of UX and accessibility and I do parts of front end, but I can’t label myself exactly in those terms.
John
So, you struggle to fit into these holes in the industry.
Russ
I work in places where I fit, but just in pure industry standard, I don’t fit into label, and I speak to a lot of people who have grown up in our era, you know, a lot of people used to come to (mumbles) because at some point I went in a panic and thought what the hell is the future, and I rang around a whole bunch of different people, and from that same year have all found similar problems, that they, you know, they’re very confident in their skills but they’re not sure exactly where they’re fit in to these newer models. Also, to some degree, it’s like panic of at the speed it’s going will I be relevant? I haven’t had to worry as much about it because I can always switch, I do a lot of UX and private accessibility, so it’s weird that even though front end, that was my biggest passion, (mumbles) CSS,
John
You taught a great many people to do it well.
Russ
And I consider myself a front end developer, even though it staggers me how little people know about HTML and CSS, learning is now something else. It’s almost like need this other mini description, separate to what they now (mumbles) It’s a fascinating time, the world’s changed, there are times when, you know I worry about it, but generally there’s always work out there. I think I’ve been one of those who don’t quite fit into the exact roles of how all jobs are defined.
John
But the interesting thing is I think those who came into the web at the time we did, probably did for that very reason. We were odd creatures who sort of followed an interest when there weren’t really job descriptions and you sort of had to be master of all trades or jack of all trades at least.
Russ
Later, I think, you know things settled down into industries, and even that’s changing all the time. I think front end to me, is the biggest change, it’s shifted radically from where it was. UX hasn’t, you know it’s become more fun and more professional it really hasn’t fundamentally changed, but front end, in particular, and I don’t know, back end may have as well, but front end to me has radically shifted in it’s description and it’s goal.
John
Well here is to you fitting in for the next ten years. (laughing) I share your pain, yeah, you’ll be here for the next ten, (background talking) no, not five minutes, that you Russ for kicking off this series, which I hope will run for the next ten years but probably won’t.
Russ
And thanks for the flat Diet Coke. (laughing)
John
You are most welcome. All right, we’ll see what…

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