Saturday, July 11, 2015

"You Must Run Twice as Fast as That"

Old Friends...
“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” Thus spake Lewis Carroll's Red Queen, and these days I admit I feel a whole lot like her.

When I first began building web sites back in the Dark Ages (circa 2001, when Chrome wasn't so much as a glimmer in Google's eye), my job was quite doable with a NotePad file and a copy of (then-Jasc) PaintShop. I would sit down, sketch a layout on paper, create some graphics, open a text file, and start writing HTML, dressing it up with a little CSS and Javascript.  As technology evolved, I abandoned animated .gifs for Flash and .jpgs for .pngs. The box model replaced tables in my layouts. In other words, I kept pace.

When I finished a site, I knew personally every jot and tittle in the resultant HTML files, how those files would display in both Explorer and Navigator, whether they were optimized for an 800 x 600 PC screen resolution or a more sophisticated 1024 x 768 display, and how well a Mac would handle them as opposed to a Windows PC (or, as we called them back then, an IBM clone). I would sooner have eaten worms than used a WYSIWYG development tool or anything that smacked of canned code <shudder> or a template <conniption fit>. Dreamweaver was for wusses; WordPress for lightweights.

And then I blinked, and it became 2015. A web developer in today's environment armed with nothing more than a knowledge of HTML5 and CSS3 (the current iteration of those familiar web languages) is, in a word, irrelevant. She needs not just coding skills and a proficiency in web languages, but an entire arsenal of workarounds, shims, snippets, media queries, and libraries stuffed with open-source tools to have any hope of building anything that looks good and works well in IE-Safari-Opera-Firefox-Chrome on a desktop-laptop-notebook-phone running iOS-Android-Windows-yadda. 

These days, when I build a site, I go to Bootstrap for frameworks, Googlefonts for typefaces, Fontawesome and Glyphicons for icons, SASS and LESS for CSS mixins, jQuery for form structure, GitHub for troubleshooting, and YouTube for free tutorials on all of the above. I've flattened my designs, installed my shims, expunged my Flash, abandoned my box models for grids, and completely surrendered to the many-tentacled leviathan that is modern web development.

Am I complaining? Nope; I am marveling. As it always has been, the Internet (the one of People, not of Companies) is a generous entity, shoveling information at all takers as fast  as they can absorb it. All around the world, very smart people whom I'll never meet, most of them likely many decades my junior, are inventing new ways to make my job easier, and they share it with me and others like me without charging us a cent. I'm not talking about purchased, template-based solutions that ignore my own creative and technical abilities; I'm thinking of toolboxes that solve universal problems for coders and designers so that they can serve up the best possible web sites for their clients.

So, yes, after all these years, I still have to run to stay in the same place in my profession, but I'm eternally grateful. This rapid evolution simply means that the Internet is getting better, more useful, and more generous with its favors with each passing minute.