Tell me about yourself and how you got into development.
I started programming BASIC when I was seven or so, thanks to a computer summer day camp my parents got me into. I think the camp had Tandy Model III minicomputers, or else they were PDP-11 terminals. I don’t know, man, I was seven! That was forty years ago!
At 10, I talked my parents into getting a TRS-80 Color Computer Model 1, and at 12 or 13 a Commodore 64. At 16, an 8086 Tandy PC whose model now escapes me. All along the way I was programming in BASIC, doing crazy and largely pointless stuff– typing in multipage programs from monthly magazines, vector-drawing Star Wars ships by hand, that kind of thing. I moved up to Pascal in high school and then Turbo Pascal in college. Post-college, I was still noodling around with Pascal when the Web hit and I dove into web development like a billionaire into a tax shelter.
Do you still do much development, or is most of your time spent doing other things?
I do some development, working on the web site for An Event Apart, creating my own little mini-projects, and trying out new ideas in CSS. But a lot more of my time is spent researching and writing, including writing emails. So many emails. I’ve just finished up the fourth edition of “CSS: The Definitive Guide” for O’Reilly, with my co-author Estelle Weyl, and it should be published October 2017.
“An Event Apart” and “A List Apart” have been huge resources for developers for years (myself included). Can you tell me a little about how they got started, and how you got involved?
A List Apart is really Jeffrey’s thing, but it started as a curated mailing list, what we’d call a tinyletter or just a newsletter today. Jeffrey would compile a list of cool things and send it out; the draw was that instead of being a constant chatter or a raw linkdump, it was a collection of things put together and commented on by one person. Over time, it became a web site.
When Jeffrey and I decided to try creating the kind of conference we’d want to attend ourselves, one that spoke to the kind of person who reads A List Apart, we figured it made sense to use a similar name. We settled on “An Event Apart” because we thought of them as events more than as conferences.
How did you and Jeffrey meet/start working together?
Jeffrey and I met so long ago now that neither of us clearly remembers how we first met in person, but we’d had online contact before that, largely through the Web Standards Project. Jeffrey was a co-founder, and I was named to the CSS Action Committee, a.k.a. the CSS Samurai– because there were seven of us, you see.
Somewhere around 1999, plus or minus a year, Jeffrey and I started running into each other at conferences, and a gradual friendship developed. We started a SXSW ritual of going to a slightly-out-of-the-way breakfast one morning of the show to have a quiet hour to catch up and talk shop, and it was at one of those breakfasts that we first bounced around the ideas that would become An Event Apart.
What is your favorite thing that you do for work?
Update web pages. I swear, the ability to change some markup or CSS and see the change occur as soon as I hit reload, even if it’s not exactly the change I expected– that just never gets old. I think it’s why, 25 years since I started, I still have yet to seriously burn out.
Is there anything fun or exciting that you’re working on?
Well, there’s “CSS: The Definitive Guide” completing, and at the moment I answer this, the 2018 schedule for An Event Apart. Those are exciting to me, because they’re the outcome of a lot of work and thought, albeit in different ways.
On the fun side of things, I’ve had a blast creating the figures for CSS:TDG, which are up on Github for anyone to browse or download. I wrote a little resonant-orbit widget for Kerbal Space Program earlier this year, and hope to get back to it to add some improvements. Heck, I’d like to get back to playing Kerbal Space Program again. I had to drop it, and all other recreational computer use besides social media, while I finished the book.
What do you like most/least about what you do?
I like discovery the most, whether it’s a new insight or a new CSS trick. Or even just finding an unexpected problem with how things interact, and then working out how to solve that problem.
What technology do you currently find exciting?
CSS Grid, especially in conjunction with Flexbox, Shapes, clipping, filters, and blend modes. Kind of CSS in general, which is an amazing thing to say after all these years. The new capabilities that are landing in browsers, and getting very wide support very quickly, is really something else. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Beyond that, I have some interest in augmented reality, but I haven’t made any steps in that direction yet. I have more than enough to keep me busy as it is!
If you had any advice or wisdom that you would impart, what would it be?
Don’t devalue shallow learning curves and robust failure modes. More importantly, don’t devalue other people. Everyone has something to contribute, no matter how inexperienced or “non-traditional” or old and out of touch or unusual you think they are. Make sure you can hear them, and make doubly sure you aren’t shouting them down or shutting them out.