Growing Up with The Web

I was born in the 90s — just 50 days after Sir Tim Berners-Lee publicly introduced the World Wide Web. The only part of life I remember without the Web is the early part of my life when I wouldn’t have known what it actually was anyway.

I have never used a spacer.gif. I have never used an HTML table for anything but tabular data. I have never worked on a major, live site over FTP.

Animated GIFs are 4 years older than me. I was still more than a decade away from high school graduation when the Web Standards Project was founded, and I learned all about responsive design before I graduated college.

Even though I completely missed the formative years of our industry, I can still work alongside people who were in it from the beginning, and helped make our industry what it is today. In fact, that’s what I do every single day at Happy Cog.

That is the true beauty of this industry. The fundamentals of our work — the design patterns and programming concepts — largely stay the same. The tools and techniques that we use, however, are reinvented at an incredible pace. There are things that were core pieces of our work just a few years (heck, even months) ago that are now left tothe history books Wikipedia articles. There are new things that come out and change frequently, forcing you to stay current on their latest implementation.

Young Anthony

I learned how to type while wearing sweet Power Rangers outfits, like this one, apparently.

Humble Beginnings

Growing up with the Web, and missing out (professionally) on the most formative decade of it, gave me an interesting path into the industry. (Note: by Web, I mean more than just websites — I mean the connected world of devices, platforms, and services). By the time I was heading to college, there had been nearly 20 years worth of iteration and reinvention of the Web. This left me feeling completely overwhelmed by the sheer mass of content that I needed to learn.

I remember that horrifying feeling of paralysis, not knowing where to start. I remember those days of utter frustration with what I thought should have been the simple parts. Scariest (and most exciting) of all, as I learned, I discovered so much more that I’d have to learn in the future.

An industry with rapid change and iteration is exhilarating to those of us within it, but it is downright intimidating to those trying to break in.

Or so I thought.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Go ask the best designers and developers you know what their secret to success is. (We are lucky enough to work in an industry which encourages knowledge sharing, so they’ll tell you!) Most will say that they never let their skill set stagnate, they were constantly learning new technologies, techniques, and processes in their respective areas.

The pace of iteration and reinvention on the Web means that even the best of the best need to learn and relearn new and changing things. If they didn’t, the industry would pass them by — they would move backwards by simply standing still.

Think about when a new technology or technique gains popularity. The veteran decides to learn how to use it — maybe it’s a new responsive image technique, or a new design application. Learning it may require throwing out something old, un-learning a career-long habit, or even a complete workflow change. Through all of this, the veteran knows that the long-term benefits will be worth the short-term annoyances.

Now, the beginner decides to learn the same thing. For the beginner, there is no workflow upheaval, no un-learning of old habits, and few, if any, short-term annoyances. There is only learning, just as the beginner has been doing all along. It’s just the next, natural step for the beginner.

Maybe the veteran has a bit more insight as to why this new thing is better, and maybe the veteran has a deeper understanding of the theory or technology behind the new thing. That comes with time, and the beginner will get there. But for now, the beginner has the luxury of being able to pick up any new thing without un-learning old techniques or redefining a workflow.

Eventually, the old thing fades away and the new thing becomes the standard. Both the veteran and the beginner are well-versed in what is now the standard, and that old thing the veteran once used is left behind. As far as current skill set goes, they are on equal footing.

At least until the new standard is replaced by another new thing.

The Cycle

The process I just described is constantly happening all throughout the industry, and it will never stop — that is the nature of the Web. By being a member of the community which creates that, we embrace it.

Just as the web is constantly iterating, we, as industry professionals, need to be constantly learning. Maybe your daily work has you in a situation where you can’t work with some new technology or technique. Go out of your way to learn and experiment with new things. Build exploratory side projects and proofs of concept to expand your box.

If you’re just getting started in the industry, or if you’re mildly interested in joining the fun, just jump in! Get started bylearning the current best practices of the industry, and keep an eye on the newest things coming along. The cycle of the Web refreshes the best practices and standards of the industry so quickly that it won’t take as long for you to get caught up as you think it will.

If you don’t believe me, ask my friend James Wilson, who used to be a carpenter. He was determined to get into the industry, so he did it. He jumped in, learned as much as he could about the best practices and standards of the industry, and keeps current on the new, exciting pieces of our work. Now he’s a full-on, pull-requestin’, application-buildin’, coding machine.

So, it doesn’t matter who you are — industry veteran, a kid just out of college, a guy from Boston looking for a career change, or a weekend hobbyist — if you have any interest in this industry, push the boundaries of your skill set — don’t let the amazing skills you have stagnate. Learn something new. Build something exciting. And please, share it with the rest of us! It’ll be awesome, and it will be totally worth it.