A web professional can never stop learning

Just in the last couple of days I have read no less than three articles that all bring up something I have felt for a long time: Web professionals who refuse to update their skills and insist on using outdated methods can no longer be called web professionals.

Some will call me an elitist for saying that. But think about it. Why should web professionals not be required to know their craft? I find that attitude – which is held by many in the industry and by many more outside of it – insulting to those of us who work hard every day to keep up with current best practices.

I am very happy to see others voicing their opinions on this. Ian Lloyd has posted an interview with Andy Clarke at Accessify: Interview with Andy Clarke (AKA Accessibility, the gloves come off). Here’s a quote that could have been from me:

There are now so many web sites, blogs or publications devoted to helping people learn standards and accessible techniques that there are now no excuses not to work with semantic code or CSS. Those people still delivering nested table layout, spacer gifs or ignoring accessibility can no longer call themselves web professionals.

The gloves come off indeed. If you want to comment on that quote, hop on over to Accessibility, the gloves come off at And all that Malarkey.

I completely agree with what Andy says. There is no reason to call anyone who will not make an effort to keep their skills up-to-date a professional. Note that I’m pointing my finger at those who do not want to learn, not those who simply do not know any better, but are willing to learn about modern web design and development.

Molly E. Holzschlag follows up with Web Standards and The New Professionalism, where she notes that:

The heart of the issue is simple: We must know our craft! And what we don’t know, we must be willing to say we don’t know and be open to learning

The key word for me here is craft. There are so many people working in the web industry that just don’t seem to care about what they do for a living. There are so many people that just do whatever it takes to muddle through or “get the job done”, which is a rather popular phrase used to defend outdated methods.

I don’t know everything about web development. Far from it. But when I don’t know something, I admit it and go looking for knowledge. Or ask someone who does know.

Finally there’s John Oxton, who delivers the following message in Why it’s now ex-HTML (certain words censored):

What I want is HTML that kicks up a royal f*****g stink if it isn’t treated properly. HTML that takes no s**t, with a built in big flashy message (GO AWAY AND LEARN ABOUT ME!) for people who refuse to take the time to learn this super simple language and who refuse to refine their understanding.

John is talking about XHTML served as XML here. I know that many do not believe in letting the client (as in web browser) display error messages to the person visiting the site instead of trying to figure out what the author actually meant. Let’s leave that out of the discussion, and instead imagine that all web browsers did display such error messages. Don’t you think that would make a whole lot of so-called web professionals awfully interested in learning how to fix those errors?

Yes, if HTML had been that strict from the beginning, the web would not have become what it is today because the learning curve would have been too steep for the masses. But the web is more mature now than it was over a decade ago, when the first graphical browsers appeared. It’s about time for web professionals to follow.

Update: As mentioned by Sean Fraser in comment #27, the sub-standard quality of web related education and how to reach those that need to be reached is addressed by Holly Marie Koltz of The Web Standards Project in Beyond New Professionalism.

Another couple of posts on this subject:

Posted on November 15, 2005 in (X)HTML, Web Standards

Comments

  1. That’s not elitist, it’s reality for almost any profession. I enjoy reading your blog very much.

  2. Roger, I think you’re right in this little rant. The problem, as you stated above, is that way to many developers won’t care until they are forced to.

    Only the truly devoted ones are interested enough to actually increase their knowledge in their spare time, which is the case for most of us, isn’t it?

    But on the other hand, what professional in any other industry does?

    Ever heard of an accountant spending some hours of spare time every week learning about the latest in book keeping, or a tailor that stays up late to find a better way to fasten a thread? Probably not… why?

    My guess is that the web moves way to fast for the “nine to five:ers” to keep up with all of us that has a genuine couriosity and hunger for knowledge…

  3. This is true with all “professions”. Being a web professional now for eight years, I don’t there is a single day I don’t need to learn more to validate my services.

    Ask any lawyer, engineer, doctor and any professional who cares about their work, and you will know they too have to update their skills periodically.

    The difference is that our industry is “still” in its infancy, and continues to evolve at break-neck speeds. This makes us professionals responsible to keep up to these changes.

  4. I agree 100%.

    Back when I first started doing this, in 1994, one of the biggest thing that attracted me to the web was the simplicity of publishing online — the idea that “anyone could do it.” For a handful of years I held onto the notion that web development (then meaning HTML) should be simple and quick so that the promise of “everyone can publish” could be upheld.

    However, the reality today is that not just anyone can do it (although many people still believe that to be the case). Web professionals must have a lot of skills in a lot of varied areas, and it’s not something one can just “pick up” in a few hours like it once was.

    However, the proliferation of online “personal publishing” tools makes this okay. It allows anyone to still publish easily.

    It’s for the reason that I believe it’s time browsers start requiring valid code for stricter DOCTYPEs. Of course, that won’t happen — but I think the web would be a better place if it did.

  5. To right, its not elitism its the truth!

  6. The problem doesn’t just exist in the web dev industry. Take any industry and look at the people calling themselves professionals. I’m all for mandatory periodic accreditation for any industry.

  7. How about if The Web Standards Project institute an accreditation program whereby all who pass accreditation will be allowed to display an image (kinda like “9 Rules” or “A Proud Member”) on their site.

  8. The only real limitation in web design is lack of knowledge. The cure is simple: learn more - and never stop learning. If a day goes by without having learned something new about the profession one claims to master, then that day has probably been wasted.

  9. I don’t believe you’re being elitist at all - it’s the nature of any industry where there is a penchant for DIY’ers. The concern about professionalism and keeping up with best practices isn’t a new one, it was raised when the market was flooded with those web professionals who had a copy of MS Front Page and could “whip up a website lickety split”. Not looking to offend anyone - that’s just how it was back in the late 90’s. I recall the web “e-literati” getting real concerned about the quality of product back then, and it’s funny that the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same. I’m with you 100% on this - learn and keep learning, after all why wouldn’t you want to?

  10. I think a big part of getting the larger population of web designers to adopt standards lies in making correct information obtainable, and taking outdated and incorrect information out of circulation.

    When someone first learns about web design, chances are they’ll go get a “For Dummies” type book about HTML4 and make some crude table layouts from it.

    Or, they might google HTML, and get the dreaded site “HTMLGoodies”. These two options are some of the easiest and most popular routes in which people are taught to design web sites. I know it’s how I was introduced four years ago.

    If we want to make web standards and accessible designs matter, we need to teach designers correctly. The first time.

  11. Sam has made a good point, most people learning about web design or development start with a book like HTML4 for Dummies (Sitting on my shelf), which teaches table based layouts.

    I did something even worse before that, FrontPage 97…

    While there are alot of good books out there today for these topics, all of the ones that I’ve found are for people who’ve already started with tables, not for people starting over.

    So we need more resources teaching from the ground up? Hell yeah!

  12. Or worse, they learn web design from actual Universities, which tend to teach the most antiquated circa 1997 practices imaginable.

    Either that, or the “web design” program consist of learning to administer apache with tomcat and write Java code.

    Seriously, the Universities are pathetic in this industry, for the most part.

  13. Nice. I agree of course, but this kind of post usually provokes some sort of reaction from the more belligerent elements of the nested-tables-and-spacer-images crowd, which I’m not seeing here. Where do these people hang out? How do we get their attention? It seems like the web standards crowd and the nested-tables-and-spacer-images crowd are like oil and water these days, and that we preach to the choir and pat our own backs most of the time.

  14. …imagine that all web browsers did display such error messages. …

    If only; then we’d get less of these Charlatans preaching about “web professionalism”.

  15. November 16, 2005 by Jonathan Phillips

    I read the recent interview with Andy Clarke with great interest and the same lines jumped out for me, as well. While I agree wholeheartedly with his comments, I suggest that there is a challenge for the profession implicit in his statement. While there are resources out there, the vast majority of websites, blogs and publications tend to cater either to beginners or to those on the leading-edge of the curve. There is a significant gap between the sophistication required to work through the W3C school site and the knowledge base you need to have to work through the technical articles on A List Apart or the more technical posts on 456 Berea Street.

    This is not the fault of Jeffrey Zeldman or Roger Johansson, but it’s a problem for the profession as a whole: not just to make the benefits of standards, accessible markup, etc. known, but how to make them easily attainable for developers who are just a step behind. Because I can read and understand the latest article on the “One True Layout” (conceptually, if not always technically), it’s easy for me to say designers should design for standards, but I think the vast majority of the nested-tables-and-spacer-images crowd are clueless rather than belligerent. While they may see good reasons to bring their technological know-how more up-to-date, the transaction cost (learning curve, time expense, etc.) of doing so is very high. And the educational resources, many of which cater to developers working at a slightly higher level, are intimidating for those who already believe themselves to be professionals.

    By way of illustration, I came to web development by being asked to design sites for organizations with which I was affiliated, though I had no experience. It is only because of tenacity and periodic overabundances of free time (i.e. unemployment) that I have diligently kept up with the latest developments in semantic markup, CSS, accessibility, and usability. On the other, the particular projects I was asked to do did not require work with other technologies such as JavaScript and PHP or even basic Apache configuration, etc., and although I am interested in learning these, I have found the resources either too basic (like W3C schools) or complex and intimidating, like many of the blogs. There is a missing link. (Sure I can copy and paste pre-prepared scripts into my pages and configure them to work, but this is of little use if I’m interested in the ins and outs of AJAX, for instance).

  16. This is rather at a tangent to the question at hand, but speaking as a non-professional, and someone who isn’t even approaching being a skilled amateur, what I can’t understand is why these table layout folk make life so hard for themselves.

    When I first started searching the web for tips on writing HTML in the late 90s, it was the standards evangelist types I happened upon (presumably because the search engines like their sites!) and they enabled me to quickly pick up the basics. If I’d been introduced to HTML as a bewildering mess of tables and spacer images, I doubt I’d ever have been able to make even the simplest site.

    Of course, as someone who only wants/needs to know a little about this stuff to get by, I don’t know how clean markup and nested tables compare on large, complex sites, but I really can’t imagine that the former saves time and effort.

  17. Oops. I meant to say, ‘I really can’t imagine that the latter saves time and effort’. Obviously.

  18. It’s funny, I had a meeting on Monday morning with a new temporary contract ASP developer.

    People in the office thought I was really going to hit this guy. I was saying he couldn’t use tables to lay out a form and he just went into a big tirade about why CSS is rubbish, and why tables are sooo much better.

    And he wouldn’t let it go, 3 times I tried to move away form the argument.

    Yet this was a guy who has moved over to learning about .net and using XML and webservices.

    I think HTML is often seen as a simplistic language that is looked down upon by developers of ‘real’ languages like ASP.

    They know it all already, so why bother learning it all again when it’s just HTML.

    That’s my experience anyway.

  19. I most definitely fall into the (semi)skilled amateur class when it comes to this discussion but I fail to see how the so-called “Web Professionals” can’t keep up with current tech and keep their jobs.

    My actual work is as a musician and if I don’t practice regularly and keep improving, I don’t get work. It’s as simple as that, case closed.

    To echo the remarks of some other commenters; I came around to building web pages with standards because, as a noob, it seemed easier and much more logical. I guess that far too many “Web Professionals” rarely get their feet wet in the actual code of their sites.

    Thank goodness there are people like you, Roger, who are writing good, literate articles on these subjects. Your blog, as ever, remains a wakeup call - and I’m not even really in the business!

  20. I’m no Molly or Andy, but I hit on it yesterday too. I’m sick of having to fight with the terminally clueless:

    Of course, I say that, and I’m terminally clueless when it comes to making the link work:

    http://thebitterpill.com/11-2005/do-it-well-or-not-at-all/

  21. I think your perspective is flawed.

    Whatever profession someone is in, they should try to master it. But I’m not a chef, so spending 15 minutes cooking instead of creating a work of art is fine for me. I’m not a mechanic, so just filling my tank with regular and getting my car checked out when needed is fine by me. I’m not a real estate broker, so buying a house that satisfies me but might not be the exact smartest purchase is fine for me. I’m not a web professional, so using the web without being a master of development is fine for me.

    Sorry if this spoils the “we’re so awesome as true web professionals” mojo, but I think there are lots of people like me who just want to get the part done that’s important to them and then keep moving, not make this a lifelong profession.

  22. Chris - you make some good points, but he is making the comparison of a true web professional. Not someone who just does it so they can post. Personal blogs, personal sites, these are exceptions to the rules - because they can look as crappy as they want - its THEIR site and THEIR personality.

    BUT, the problem comes when you begin creating work for others and taunting yourself as a professional when you dont have the first clue. Its like the blind leading the blind.

    What if you took your car to the shop to get it fixed, and the mechanic says to you “I dont really know everything about cars, but I know where the engine is, where the transmission is, and where the gas tank is.” What good is that? Would you trust someone like this to fix your car? Someone with limited knowledge in their field?

    Thats the point to this article. For those calling themselves web professionals - but yet dont even understand their field - those are the ones that are frustrating. If you are doing personal things, more power to you - but when you begin selling yourself/services you should be held to a higher standard.

    Just think about it. If I made a website with the philosophy that ANYONE can do it - and let them go and make a big mess - what good is that? They dont know what they are doing or WHY they are doing it (and with the web, its so broad and ever changing).

    When I get hurt, I know how to put a band-aid on - but that doesnt make me a doctor. Ill leave it to them to do the surgery.

    Great article!

    Peace, Nate

  23. @Chris: I think your analogy is flawed. If you’re being paid to do a job, then the person paying you has some expectation of your competance to do the job correctly. If you’re soliciting for work and are unwilling to invest in bettering your skillset then you’re not doing your customer justice. In the long run, you’re not doing the profession any justice either.

  24. I think one of the excuses for some web developers not to learn (or update themselves or whatever) is mainly due to the fact that there’re still a large number of clients and corporate entities out there that do not care or appreciate a well updated web developer.

    Some of my clients dont care about semantic markup or underlying codes or css or degradable javascript. Hey if it looks good on the frontend in the browsers - then woot! That’s probably why some web developers think they can get by by just knowing the same good old HTML or font tag.

    Sad, but true. But this wont be the case for long….

  25. I don’t think it’s elitist to say, and I don’t think it’s revolutionary either. From my day one in this field, in the late 90s, it’s been a constant quest to keep up with the changing technology. If you can’t enjoy or at least begrudgingly accept that, then you’re denying one of the fundamental aspects of the business. Technology won’t stop progressing because you did.

    That said, it can be extremely difficult in some situations. I’ve done contracting and consulting with people at larger agencies and such who have had great difficulty progressing because they’re locked into tight deadlines and horrific schedules.

    These folks often times are trying— they’ve bought their Zeldman books, they read their feeds when they can, but the ability to execute is crippled by the fact that they don’t have the luxury of being able to try things out. The clients sure don’t want to hear that their money went to developers learning web standards, and developers who work late nights anyway aren’t going to come home to learn on their own.

    Not to make excuses, just pointing out that sometimes the situation is a rough one. But when I see people trying, even in a bad situation, I usually see results, however small they might be. There is absolutely no excuse for not trying at all. Stagnation is for some other career. Not sure which one, but it ain’t the web.

  26. From Greg R, above:

    “It seems like the web standards crowd and the nested-tables-and-spacer-images crowd are like oil and water these days, and that we preach to the choir and pat our own backs most of the time.”

    I totally agree! Yes, there are lots of sites that teach standards compliant methods but do the old school designer types even know that they exixt? I think that the message needs to be spread to these people and brought out of the insular environment it’s in now. A lot of those people probably don’t even know who Zeldman et. al are!

    I also think that some of these (non) “professional” types are just clueless. It’s not that they don’t want to learn, it’s that they don’t realize that they need to learn! There are others who are more focussed on marketing or programming to the point where they’re blind to the importance of other factors. We should be doing a better job of communicating the what/why/how of good design, and that goes way beyond standards and tables vs. divs IMO.

  27. The Web Standards Project has Beyond New Professionalism which adresses most of the comments found herein.

  28. On the point of Developers pawning themselves off as Web Professionals who deliberately write crap for code, I am almost insulted. Albeit HTML is not rocket science, I do think a fair amount of craftiness goes into writing semantics. One must at the least be aware of how to make an outline before they begin developing a webpage let alone an entire site.

    It’s laughable that even web industries like MySpace can call themselves professionals. Giant networks that don’t get their html up to speed also brings down the bar.

    On a separate note for Developers who do practice regular learning and outright admit we don’t know all the answers, good for you. Good for us! We are the innovators and rulers of the free world! (ok, now I’m getting off topic)

    As for the people that somehow miraculously got the Disney Web Deal, just pick up a book and start reading. Heard of Zeldman? Read his book. Seriously the Disney site is horribly inaccessible. And talk about a site that could have used accessibility…that was it! That’s like next in line to any government web site.

    I think it’s time where 508 becomes an actual regulated law. Like, at least restrict your site to less than X number of warnings or else your host gets billed. In return, your host can bill you.

  29. I agree, I could learn something new every day even being around for long time.

  30. Cheers! I hands-down agree with you, Roger. Most of the comments already cover my feelings, so I’ll just restate a little.

    On a personal level, if you are presenting yourself as a ‘web professional’, you should be passionate enough about your craft that you are out there learning and trying new things. More importantly, on a professional level, if you’re being paid to do a job you should be delivering the best product possible.

    That being said, some fault lies with the actual businesses as well. It is very easy to find true ‘web professionals’ that have passion, ethics and an open mind. Businesses need to start educating themselves on web technology (like they already do when making any other kind of investment); there is no excuse.

  31. As an AIGA member and graphic designer I always viewed my skills as a blunt object that needed to be refined by experience. The Web affords the opportunity to continue to learn. I hope those in the field take advantage. The AIGA does a great job in promoting the discipline of design, its contribution to business and the World. May I propose a professional trade association built upon the same premise as the AIGA…

  32. I googled your site and HAD to comment on all your smug and ‘elitist’ comments! My hell who the hell do all of you claim to be? Web GODS! I’ve been coding for longer than the internet has existed and read a book a month and still find it hard to keep up with the latest and greatest. AJAX, XHTML, etc, etc. make it almost impossible to maintain a firm grasp on web technologies let alone constant ASP.NET, PHP, and Perl updates (and the list goes on and on. )If any of you claim to be an expert at every single ‘web’ technology let him come forward so that I might grovel at your feet. Good heavens. Humble up people. There are plenty of intelligent people on coding on the web that aren’t ‘front end’ coders as are most people that code really good and up-to-standards web sites.

  33. Wow…I’ve just started webdesigning…There is soooooo much information and I feel quite overwhelm by all the information there.

    There is LOTS to learn…I thought my websites where quite good…until I was checking your websites. LOTS TO LEARN…

  34. Wow, lighten up skowronek. Good for you, you’ve been programming since before the web. News flash. The web changes. Just because you’ve been doing it for 20 years doesn’t mean you’re good at it. Yea, we get the point.

    I think the point here has gone way past your head.

    Although I don’t think anyone can claim to be an expert on “every single web technology” as you’ve spat out like it’s possible. I will outright say that I do have a level of expertise in which I feel I can claim myself as a web professional. I work hard and I do my best to stay ahead of the game. The line must be drawn somewhere. What would an industry be without professionals?

    My advice is to take pride in your work. I’m sure you’ve done some impressive things on the web.

    If anything, it’s enlightening to finally figure out and say to ourselves “Hey, what the hell, ‘we ARE professionals” since the web industry has never quite been known to bring out such folk. I say, it’s about damn time.

  35. November 17, 2005 by Jörgen Nilsson

    I couldn’t agree with you more! It’s about time that people relize that even the front end coding have move forward the same way as with .NET2 (Should be out soon), PHP 5 and JSP. And that it takes skill and knowledge to deliver compliant web sites that is accessible, not just in various browser, but for cellphones, PDA’s and screen readers.

  36. The web is still in it’s infancy. I think we will all look back in few years and laugh at how many hours we spent trying to get some stupid rounded corners to stay ‘put’ using css.

    Let’s hope it doesn’t get too easy tho or we could all be out of a job ;-)

    Shaun.

  37. November 17, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Just in case someone is wondering why I haven’t been participating in the discussion: each time I meant to comment on something, somebody beat me to it. And I didn’t feel like just posting “me too”, so…

    As Greg mentions in comment #13, posts like this tend to provoke a reaction from those who want to stick to the old ways. I think it depends a lot on which forums or mailing lists a link to an article like this gets posted.

    So, what can be done? Education. Pressure from employers and clients. Peer pressure. But I still think there will be those we cannot reach because they don’t want to be reached.

  38. Although I write (X)HTML to a standard and practice and innovate new methods with XML XSL allow me to be the devil here… I don’t think this matters to the end user we are just hearing fron the choir like so many cheerleaders.

    Has anyone noticed that one of the one of the biggest proponents of standards now has a site that breaks under certain conditions? I’m speaking of the new A List Apart build.

    Ya really want to know what mattered? The ease of use and the friendly read. For that matter there are design elements that as a graphic designer really bug me and yet the compliments roll in because it is easy to use.

    It is obvious that continuing education matters. The question is what do we continue to learn? The same old cycle that brings us back to where we start? It is comfortable to affirm personal values. It is brave to realize what matters to somebody besides yourself.

  39. Though it seems as if it has mostly been preaching to the choir, I happen to believe that some of this message is getting out to others, just not enough or fast enough.

    Look at software companies who are making changes in some authoring software.

    Look at business and enterprise websites who are converting over to standards.

    Look at some organizational and educational websites that are working towards change.

    I believe we need to step up ways and use other creative ways to increase awareness and move the message.

    In Implementing Web Standards In The Enterprise, Andy Kenney states:

    But now, the client side and Web standards are gaining popularity. Why? I think there are 3 main reasons:

    1. Web standards evangelists have kept the fire burning until it started to catch on with others; we are reaching a critical mass of working web standardistas.

    2. While there is room for continued code performance improvement on the enterprise server side, the gains are relatively incremental.

    3. Conversely, the client side is now the place where large gains in performance and functionality can be made. Ajax and Flex, for instance, hold out exciting possibilities for new ways of interacting with end users.

    I do not know if we are reaching a critical mass as Andrew states, though the client side is beginning to matter, very much. As web applications become more prevalent, standards have made their way into the emerging technology involved with usability and functionality. For the chemistry student or others interested, take a look at Jalenack’s AJAX Periodic Table of the Elements

    So, the message is getting out. We will not reach everyone with the message, though we could do better or find even more ways. I believe education is one of those ways, yet there are many more. We can create nifty interfaces, we should be able to create more news and awareness about standards, guidelines, accessibility, and best or better practises.

  40. One major way I think we can stop “preaching to the choir” is making the home of standards (w3.org) accessible to the common public. Many people will be turned off by the immense size of the standards and information for each language. Hell, I still am a bit. We need to make something similar to htmldog, but with even more simplicity, stressing how important it is not to cut corners and to write your own markup. If we can educate the next generation of web proffessionals, the current (those who use Frontpage and what have you) will have nothing else to do besides lose their job, or comply.

  41. I think webstandards are a must-have. Very good article - I enjoy reading your blog since months!

  42. Are “web professionals” those who construct sites which meet W3C and accessibility guidelines? And, if W3C and Accessibility guidelines are the tenets on which “Web Standards” are based, doesn’t it follow that anyone who meets W3C and accessibility guidelines is a “Web Standards (Web) Professional”?

    Are you less of a web professional if you use CSS behavioral tricks rather than DOM Scripting?

    I don’t consider myself a Web Professional because I do not use proper semantics as defined by Web Standards best practices, e.g., it’s “formaldehyde” not “archive”. I consider myself a web professional because I’ve made my living from the web since 1998.

    It’s ideology versus commerce, isn’t it.

    What does one need to learn about web standards after acquiring comprehension of W3C Specifications? This year’s “Next Big Thing”? Next year’s as-of-yet-not-invented “Next Big Thing”? Maybe, Java Applets will resurface.

    What’s left to learn about CSS? CSS3? One could educate themselves about CSS3 but why would someone what to use it when it’s not widely supported. What happens when CSS4 comes?

    Presentational CSS has been around for four years. Accessibility has found wide-spread advocacy over the last year and a half. Behavioral separation popularity is sixth months old. Web Standards?

    Andy Clarke’s statement

    “There are now so many web sites, blogs or publications devoted to helping people learn standards and accessible techniques that there are now no excuses not to work with semantic code or CSS.”

    is valid. All of the world-renown tutorial sites have significant articles dated between 2002-2004. It’s not that tutorials don’t exist; they do. They’re archived. They’re on bookshop shelves; they’re in the archival reading stacks of sites.

    Still, where are “Web Standards” tutorials?

    CSS beginners are left without peer or professional immediacy and are obliged to venture over to - Let’s say - CSS Digest. The same basic questions regarding fundamental conundrums discussed in 2003 are constantly re-posted, e.g., “How do I float divs?” Or , “CSS hover doesn’t work in IE?” The replies to these questions are - Mostly - condescending.

    These days, authors from The Classic Age of CSS seem to use their sites and blogs less as educational speaking platforms. Most authors are required for speaking engagements. Or, they’ve authored books. Or, they’re constructing sites.

    The “Old Professionals” have found success. They have become authorities. Education has become impersonal. It’s gone institutional.

    It’s like the anarchists have been given 40 acres and a mule with the Ministry of Defense.

    That’s progress. And, commerce.

    It’s like having your favorite indie band get a song used in a television commercial. Recognition’s good. Royalties, too.

    Those in the CSS vanguard are departed for practical reasons. And, with them, they took education with patience and passion. They were educating others about the continuous invention of design through CSS and it’s hacks. All of the newest information was posted on the first pages of their sites. There was an exhilaration reading all of the new uses for CSS (with their accompaniment-necessary hacks). There was an intimacy knowing that the author could respond at any moment to your comments. It was education by familiarity. It was an education in standards through CSS design.

    And, because of that, standards-based design became fashionable.

    How many HTML tables-based sites look identical to CSS-styled sites? Visit template factories. They’ve got shelves stacked with CSS Zen Garden and Stylegala inspired designs but they are presented with tables.

    That’s commerce.

    What ever happened to all those sites which displayed innovative Flash designs. How do we know that 2005’s Web Standards-based sites will not be the Flash sites of the ’90s.

    Standards ideology hasn’t become commonplace. It won’t become commonplace until the fundamentals on which it’s premise is based are resolved and made standard.

    How long did it take before Usability’s ideology became commonplace in commerce?

    Web Standards has gone though invention, entered practicality and has been seen lurking in commerce. And, what about commerce. Commerce has shown an interest in CSS and Accessibility. Return-On-Investment has been well documented for sites which validate for HTML, CSS and Accessibility. What benefit does Web Standards ideology offer commerce. “Old Professionals” are reconstructing large commerce sites with W3C specifications.

    What ROI benefit does Web Standards ideology offer commerce? if one removes adherence to W3C Specifications?

    Non-Web Standard HTML’s gone through invention, practicality and commerce. Ten years? Twenty years?. It’s the industry standard. It’s matured.

    When should we expect Web Standards’ maturation?

  43. And, for those who don’t believe ideology versus commerce, the following is from an interview with Matt Cutts (Google Engineer),

    “Eric Brewer wrote a page while at Inktomi that claimed 40% of HTML pages had syntax errors. We can’t throw out 40% of the web on the principle that sites should validate; we have to take the web as it is and try to make it useful to searchers, so Google’s index parsing is pretty forgiving.”

    3 billion Google search corpus pages/40% non-valid HTML pages = Commerce

  44. November 19, 2005 by TwoCatsTango

    Until Microsoft either owns it all or is removed from the face of the earth, then there will be two of everthing. And when they release a new version of IE, or whatever their browser of mass destruction is, then everyone will have to learn how to cope with that. And if you ever become touched with the zen of Bill, you will plainly see their yang, and your ying. If you think Frontpage was bad, wait until you have to work with pages done in the Visual Web Developer, or VWD, or virtual web destruction. Until the craft of building web pages becomes a science and not a black art, web pages are going to be built any way they can. Damn the torpedos, full speed ahead!

  45. Dustin:

    Yes you are correct. It was late when I posted and my reply was not intented for the majority of the posters. And I am actually a proponent of good web programming. However, I am also a realist, and as such I ‘realize’ that as recent as a year or two ago, there were still 4.x browsers on the market (amazingly enough). It wasn’t even until last year that the firm I used to work for decided to NOT code to 4.x browser specifications. This means nested tables, image spacers, LAYERS (oh my!) and all the crap that zealots of ‘standards’ abhore. We are now just coding for 6.x browsers and above.

  46. November 19, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Sean: Thanks for your long comment :-).

    Using web standards has many business benefits, as I’m sure you know. In fact, the only two commercial reasons I can see for a company to not use web standards are broken tools and ignorant or lazy developers. Fixing those problems would require finding a better CMS and educating or replacing developers, both of which will cost money.

    Other than that, I don’t see it as an issue of ideology vs. commerce.

    As for Google parsing broken markup, well of course they have to do that. And 40% invalid pages sounds awfully low. I’d guess that at least 95% of all pages on the web are invalid.

  47. My school just adopted IE6 this year, to prove skowronek’s last statement. We, and the rest of the county had used IE4 and N4 for years.

  48. November 19, 2005 by Luc Belanger

    Hello Roger,

    My name is Luc(pronounced Luke) and I am pleased to comment on your article.

    I have to agree with your statement, but there are some points missed in your article. One, that people are pressured to learn the quickest and easiest methods of displaying a page. Two: money.

    It takes me 2 months to design a simple template because I use up to 12 versions of each individually DESIGNED pixel image before I am satisfied with the basic layout. I like the “morphing design” approach. As I write my technical articles on the design of my own project, I think of new ideas and LEARN new tricks to implement in my project, on the fly. It depends on what stage of development I am at before I start thinking of content arrangement. But because I still have the old 1998-2000 table-layout vision in my mind, creating background-images inside div tags simply added more options to be tinkered with, which I LOVE doing. Because of this, it’s impossible for me to make money, even though I took the time to learn the standards in 2004-2005. I am a perfectionist. Which is good in some ways, but not as good in others.

    After a 3 year break from designing, I had to refresh HTML knowledge and study CSS again, and after an overall assessment of the current practices involving standards, I found that I was so far behind I thought I’d never catch up. I’ve been back on the ball now for over a year and I’m still not up to par, but studying and implementing web standards instead of nested tables has made the whole experience of designing much more welcoming and less of a “repetitious” task.

    BUT, The new age of designing has brought on a wide range of more complex “side-languages” to web page designing, which is the killer in what you are saying here.

    In order to be competitive now, you not only have to know HTML, but you have to know up to 5 languages simultaneously. THAT, ladies and gentleman, is exactly why I haven’t pursued my “wanted” career in web development. The custom work that I do makes it impossible for me to be able to complete a project in a reasonable amount of time and make it profitable as well.

    I have been working on certain project for over a year. I have built ONLY 1 themed template, but because I was writing about my thought processes used DURING the development stages.

    Everything took 5 to 6 times longer to implement. I am still working on that process page, with over 56 Kilobytes of information so far out of a projected 200KB. The CSS file is 21KB now, and that’s after the first consolidation(reduced as much as possible) effort on the code.

    But I can’t be expected to only use standards, because I know numerous ways to layout pages that look and function as professionally as the standards based designs that are “normal” today.

    Although I am willing to learn standards, doesn’t mean I HAVE to use them to achieve what I have in mind for a project.

    If the customer likes what he/she sees, then so be it. That’s where the money is. Customer satisfaction.

    Company marketing executives merely THINK of increased revenue based on this standards compliance issue. The more profitable competition, on the other hand, are the ones that could afford to pay someone to ONLY KNOW standards.

    I say the more you know, the more you should be able to do with it. Not the more you know, the more you have to forget about to be competitive.

  49. Roger,

    I’d say that 99% of all pages are Web Standards deficient.

    40% have broken markup, e.g., head section not escaped. 59% have valid or psuedo-valid HTML tables-based designs. 1% have Web Standards vailidation.

    1% isn’t bad for a nascent movement, is it.

  50. I work with both web design and print design, and i have noticed similarities between bad web production and bad print production. Today, it’s very easy to download an unlicensed copy of InDesign, Quark, PS etc and make your own logos or advertisements for your company (Some even use Word or Powerpoint). Then you throw something together, maybe using images that you found on the web, and maybe with Truetype fonts that don’t work in print. Then you send it to some magazine or print company, were the print guys will either laugh at it or curse for the rest of the day. And in the end product (an ad, a folder or whatever) it’s easy to see that it has been created by an amateur. So this is not just a web design issue.

  51. I completely agree… I’m in the process of learning how to do table-less design. I work a lot, but will be reposting my own site with table-less designs and layouts once I get the hang of it.

    It may take me a bit, but I WANT to learn. I’m online a lot, and I’m constant reading and learning about how to do what I need to know in order to do what I’m trying to accomplish.

    If there’s anyone who’s willing to shed a bit of light on their experiences with table-less design, please don’t hesitate to contact me at briankjames (dot) com.

    See, I want to join those of you who are doing the great things by doing great things myself, but some of the stuff is a little awkward. I’ve bought books, and I’ve e-mailed people… some of it helps… sometimes it doesn’t.

    But, i NEVER, EVER give up.

    I hope to hear from anyone, but I’d like to hear from you most Roger! Take a look at my site, tell me what you think, and if you have any resources that you use that you (or anyone out there) would think could be useful to me, please don’t hesitate to let me know! Okay?

    Ciao, from Philadelphia, PA - USA….

    Brian K. James =)

  52. For those that don’t have the real knowledge about HTML but are the ones managing and hiring people I made a simple guide:

    How to spot a REAL web professional

  53. November 21, 2005 by mustbeperfect

    You all make some good points. I don’t know whether I’ve quite got the gist of what you’re all saying, but I believe you’re advocating advancement in coding standards for committed professionals, and that, as professionals, we must continue to learn all the time so that we can look down our noses at the ordinary coder.

    Now, I’m all for standards and I know you’re going to love this when I tell you that a standard part of all my web pages is TABLES. Lots of ‘em. The more the better. I LOVE tables, the more I can nest the better. My personal best is 54. I also like to save keystrokes where I can by not closing tags. After all, IE’s pretty clever now (I don’t bother coding for the Netscape and those other mickey-mouse browsers like opera cos their rubbish - Microsoft is the best!)

    I’ve been a programmer for 25 years now and only started doing hmtl a few months ago. I originally programmed on PDP BASIC in the early eighties and you know what my favourite statement was? The GOTO statement. You could jump about where you liked in the code. I really resented object-oriented languages when they came along, because it was new and I REFUSED to learn. I did NOT want to update my skills, because I was happy. (By the way, I’m talking about proper programming here, not your messing about with markup and scripting languages.)

    These days I don’t write new code, I just cut and paste it from all the handy tutorials available. The only skill you need these days is Google, so you can track down the answers to your dev problems.

    Anyway, I’m getting there. I still absolutely refuse to learn anything new or update my skills, but I’m working on my motivational abilities. I’ve just started not learning about C# and .NET.

    Seeing as we all share such passionate views about all the rubbish developers out there, I think we should get a elite website going as a platform for our New ProFascism movement. Being professional web designers we can design it ourselves and make it a benchmark for all future websites (and woe betide those future websites which do not comply). It would have lovely graphics, there would not be a table in sight, and it might feature a lovely Flash intro (which everybody can skip immediately). Names? How about www.werebetterdevelopersthanyou.com, or www.godsgifttocomputers.com.

  54. November 21, 2005 by worshipfulcss

    To mustbeprefect

    I think you’ve missed the point. Most of the contributors here are clearly very intelligent and humble and are trying to highlight a very serious topic which is at least as important as, well, it’s very important anyway. And your comments are just foolish. Such facetiousness will do your chances of acceptance among the elite high-brow blogsters no good at all. In fact, I think you’re a blogster doofus.

    Now, to address the real issue. What are we going to do about these abysmal lower class html hackers who by, say, 2007, are still using tables? Unless we get a policy worked out then all this talk of higher professionalism amounts to no more than mere rhetoric. My own suggestion would be some kind of search engine which picks out the bad code in websites and names and shames such sites. It must not matter that the site works perfectly well, but potential users of the site have a right to know that they may be interacting with a site that adopts commonly accepted poor standards and, as such, ranks rather low in technical terms. That would soon put a stop to all these shyster programmers would don’t know their html from their butt.

    Personally, I’m thinking of starting a movement of my own to discourage the use of Times New Roman in websites. I mean, it’s a bit nineteeneighties, isn’t it, and does nothing for our image as profressional web developers, of whom I am one and, as such, very, very proud of it. Unless there is a specific and overwhelming good reason to do otherwise, all websites should stick to Arial or, at a push, Verdana. Oh, all right, a little Tahoma. But definitely no Trebuchet, which should have been drowned at birth.

    Can’t we also ban uppercase tag names, because I hate being shouted at when I view the source of a webpage.

  55. November 21, 2005 by Marc Luzietti

    I thought I knew CSS. Now I know better. Wrestling with IE6, box models, columns, tableless forms has humbled me somewhat. At the same time, I could have learned this sooner had I won the argument at my last company on moving to a CSS design, losing to the handful of Netscape 4/Mac users we still needed to support. Truely the last thing I wanted to do after an 8 hour day was go home and learn on my own time.

    While it’s true that the nested table element still exists (and if you think Dreamweaver can produce some complex tables, wait ‘till you deal with a site created by Fireworks or ImageReady—EEK!!) the biggest reason the web hasn’t caught up to standards is corporate fear. Corporations don’t see the reason to spend money to fix something that from their standpoint isn’t broken. Can users access it? Then why spend 100s of 1000s of dollars or more rewriting it. Will we lose viewers by switching? That’s future revenue possibly lost.

    On top of that, content management systems don’t work very well with CSS. We’re using WebLogic at my company, and I can’t set up a simple ID attribute to take the value I want because WebLogic inserts its own value. This means I have to use extra markup to get a formless table to look the way I want.

    Man, I wish there was a Dreamweaver extention for netui.

  56. Well, this is a great discussion and I agree with many points made in the post and the comments.

    My two cents is that this isn’t a black and white issue, or better stated: this isn’t an issue that is well suited for binary thinking. You can’t limit your choices to just 1 or 0.

    Developers tend to like this kind of problem solving, for obvious reasons.

    But just as we need to understand our craft (a brilliant description of the “how?” side of the issue), we need to understand or explore “why?”

    This is called context.

    It is becoming clearer and clearer that we must include this in our “learning” as well. The most effective solutions speak to and attempt to answer both “how?” and “why?” They are inseparable.

    The other point I want to make it that everyone wants ownership of the Web. Admit it, come on. We are all guilty of this.

    Fortunately, the original design of the Web seems to be manifesting; that is, it was designed to be inclusive and open, not proprietary.

    The Web was designed as a social tool, not just a technological one, with the purpose of helping people work together and collaborate better, promote creative thinking and aid in problem solving.

    If business leaders are starting to realize this and even talk about it, surely we should as well.

    We create and build Web sites and applications. If anyone should be able to put this phenomena in context, you would think it would be us.Instead, we are actually catching up with the rest of the world. Ouch.

    I hope this makes sense. If not, thank you anyway for letting me rant my two cents.

  57. I am cheating by adding another comment right after a lengthy one. I couldn’t resist making another point after reading through the comments.

    There is so much more to being a “professional” than perfect, standardized code. I think this conversation should have focused on what makes a developer “certified” or some such term.

    Being a true professional means you have an understanding of who you are serving, our clients, and what their needs are. There is nothing wrong with making good, solid recommendations (a complete solution, not just pointing out a problem), but at the end of the day, it’s their site and you work for them.

    Sixteen years working as a service provider in various roles has taught me this: professionals listen and compromise and always keep their eye on the ball.

    This is really an internal discussion. And a damn good one, but don’t kid yourself: Are you really a “Web professional” if you don’t have a solid understanding of visual design principles, such as typography? Makes you think a little differently, no?

  58. November 22, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Are you really a “Web professional” if you don’t have a solid understanding of visual design principles, such as typography?

    It depends. If you claim that your specialty is graphic design, then no. Same thing if an excellent client side programmer were to shrug their shoulders and say that visual design is unimportant.

    On the other hand, if you are a client side programming expert that does not have a solid expertise in visual design but admit that and recognise that visual design is important, I would definitely consider you a web professional.

  59. The client has to see a value to all of this. What does he gain?

  60. To be brief on this complex topic, since basically, there’s nothing more to add: A web professional can never stop learning. Period.

  61. When you approach a client about standards how do you apply outreach to let them know why a table based layout is bad? If your education has continued how does it carry over to the client?

  62. Having recently been to a presentation on the role of Javascript within an Accessibility context by a (I previously thought reputable company) I think this is a must the presenter was unaware of things like unobtrusive javascript and gave a presentation hideously outdated. As someone within a large (v.large) organisation trying to promote the “current” thinking and pushing things forward it was unbelievable…

  63. I agree any who stops learning might as not call themselves a web professional rather than a professional at what they do.But there is no knowledge that is not power so why would anyone ever want to stop learning?

  64. With regard to learning new things, it is not a matter of not having the time. It is more of a matter of taking the time.

    I was formally trained as a graphic designer (Identity & Print). When I worked for an ad agency, I started learning about web design (don’t get me started on sites done by ad agencies). When I started using Dreamweaver 3, I was building sites as they should be done now. (not being arrogant there, they looked terrible).

    Ironically, I was hired by a “professional” web firm that taught everyone there how to build sites with lots of nested tables (“but don’t get more than 6 levels deep”). I started learning about CSS based layouts and tried encouraging a move in that direction as it would save time, money, and man power. They wanted to stick with nested tables and CSS that was inline, embedded and linked (yes, all at the same time) while using the font tag.

    Before I left there to do my own thing, I had asked one of their top developers their thoughts on XHTML. He had never heard of it. Talk about banging your head against a wall.

    With my work, I am still learning how to make my sites more accessible and more compliant, but I am finding out that it really isn’t that hard.

  65. Upon further reflection, I would like to add that the original statement should apply to ALL professionals in ALL fields. Would you want to deal with any service provider who was not practicing the most up-to-date accepted techniques for their industry? NO! So why are so many “web designers” getting away with it?

    “A professional can never stop learning”, and that goes double for anything related to technology.

  66. February 9, 2006 by Andrew Furgal

    OK, I’ll tell you what - when Microsoft finally realizes that THEY are not the “standard” for web publishing, then I will go back to school and take every publishing course twice. What’s needed here is USERS who are educated enough to throw Bill Gate’s sleazy products into the trash and never look back. I spend more time trying to make my pages work on Explorer when they run just fine in Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc. Of course I can’t charge for all the extra time - because my clients all use Explorer. Microsoft products cost me real dollars, every day.

  67. April 5, 2006 by Abilio Santos

    Adrew Furgal: In case you don´t already know, Microsoft has realized that they are not the standard for web publishung. IE7 is almost out there! And is aiming for standards (W3C standards)! So go to school and take every publishing course twice.

  68. Thank god IE7 is coming soon… :)

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