The Emerging Profession

MinneWebCon 14 April 2008

as i worked on what I wanted to say, a new talk began to take shape as i considered what makes a professional, i kept coming back to a certain word again and again

The Emerging Craftsman
MinneWebCon 14 April 2008

and so this talk will actually be about the emerging craftsman, as in the craftsmen of the web and here i should take a moment to point out that I'm using "man" in the sense of "human"-this applies to women as well as men, and no gender specificity is meant

crafts·man (krafts′mən, kräfts′-) noun pl. -·men--mən
1. a worker in a skilled trade; artisan 2. any highly skilled, painstaking, technically dexterous worker, specif. in the manual arts

so what is a craftsman? we can turn to the dictionary for explanations of the word's meaning,

crafts·man (krafts′mən, kräfts′-) noun pl. -·men--mən
artisan, craftsperson, handicraftsman, skilled worker, skilled tradesman, skilled workman, master craftsman, journeyman, maker, wright, smith, union member, technician, manufacturer, machinist, mechanic, artificer; see also artist, worker

or a thesaurus to get related concepts,

“A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist.”
~ Louis Nizer ~
(1902 – 1994)

but I think in a lot of ways the best summation of craftsman is this quote from louis nizer now, i can't tell you how to get to that third stage-- i suspect that nobody can We cannot teach students to use their hearts, but we can teach them how to use their hands and brains in service of their hearts - how to be craftsmen, and thus give them the chance to become artists to me, a craftsman is someone who is good at what they do not because they have to be, but because they want to be craftsmen will have a sense of the history of their craft, which deepens their pride because of their understanding of what's gone before and the foundation on which they build themselves


so let us consider the history of the web (okay, not the whole thing)

“The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect — to help people work together — and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world.”
~ Tim Berners-Lee ~

TBL created the web as a way of connecting not just information, but people; that goal informed the technical design

“The most important thing that was new was the idea of URI or URL, that any piece of information anywhere should have an identifier, which will allow you to get hold of it.”

this extends even to the humble (yet mighty) URL/URI

“That idea of URL was the basic clue to the universality of the Web. That was the only thing I insisted upon.”

the ability to get to any resource via its URI is the most commonplace aspect of the web, so it's easy to forget just how revolutionary that was at the time (for comparison, Gopher had unique servers but you had to navigate them from the top level, much like BBSes)

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
~ Tim Berners-Lee ~

once it's possible to reach any bit of information, it becomes equally important that anyone be able to do something with the information that's been reached accessibility isn't an add-on, isn't a thing of fear: it is infused into every aspect of the web, and it takes effort to suppress it but oh, how we as an industry have worked

some of you may recall the days of Mosaic -- you're looking at the height of 1993 web design right here (even though this is from later on) at first, there was almost no worry about browser consistency because there were only a couple of browsers and they didn't offer anything in the way of authorial intent (in fact, the paradigm was an inversion: the user could define the presentation of any element, where the author could not)

authoring was done with anything that could edit text; I used Word 5.1a then Netscape was formed, and things started to shift no user settings; introduction of things like font and tables and blink IE started competing with its own invented stuff like marquee, and then the browsers wars came into full swing browsers became incomptaible with each other on purpose, inventing their own versions of html as they went

“In ‘93 to ‘94, every browser had its own flavor of HTML. So it was very difficult to know what you could put in a Web page and reliably have most of your readership see it.”
~ Tim Berners-Lee ~

as TBL says, things started to diverge; you couldn't even be sure of HTML authored to one browser's abilities would display comprehensibly in another

“Anyone who slaps a ‘this page is best viewed with Browser X’ label on a Web page appears to be yearning for the bad old days, before the Web, when you had very little chance of reading a document written on another computer, another word processor, or another network.”
~ Tim Berners-Lee ~

badges came up (this site best viewed on my computer)













Internet Explorer Netscape + Gecko family (Firefox et. al.) Other

and then right as netscape and IE started to change places in the market,



the wasp was born their mission was very simple: to force browsers back together, to return the web to its roots there was some self-interest, because we were all tired of navigating the incompatibilities and in some cases building parallel sites it became a movement to smooth out a very rough playing field in order to give us the chance to actually learn a craft

“When it comes to professionalism, it makes sense to talk about being professional in IT. Standards are vital so that IT professionals can provide systems that last.”
~ Tim Berners-Lee ~

this is quote that survives from the original title of the talk, but it’s an important point (substitute “craftsman” for “professional” if you like) it is important not only that we have pride in the work, be craftsmen of the web, but that in that capacity we take the web’s nature seriously, that we work to preserve and even defend it, and strive to be the best we can be so that what we build can last

so where are we today? what defines a craftsman of the moment? we still have lots of browsers and lots of things to learn incompatibilities, while much smaller than in the past, are still with us and will never be completely banished so long as more than one browser exists so how do we navigate the landscape?

we have tools now, very powerful tools, that can abstract away much of the difficulty

but this is where a web craftsman is at home yes, I really am saying that a true web craftsman should be able to hand-author a site, markup and CSS and all -- not that they must do so, but that they be able to do so at any time IDEs like dreamweaver and expression abstract too much, especially when learning the craft

craftsman.web { coding: by-hand !important; }

so yes, learning all the elements and attributes and properties and values is important, indeed crucial, to anyone who wishes to be anything more than a web laborer once you’re mastered those things, you can use tools like IDEs with confidence and use them properly

Which of the following is more semantically correct? (For the title of a document.)
A. <span class="title">This is a Title</span> B. <h1>This is a Title</h1> C. <p><b>This is a Title</b></p>

© Dan Cederholm Source:

teach markup and semantic markup they will groan, just as middle-schoolers groan when forced to learn English grammar and basic algebra these are important skills because they are foundations start simple, covering not only what is best, but why

Which method makes the most sense when floating an image and caption within a body of text?
A. <p class="floatimg"> <img src="image.jpg" alt="good alt text here" /><br /> Description goes here </p> B. <div class="floatimg"> <p><img src="image.jpg" alt="good alt text here" /></p> <p>Description goes here</p> </div> C. <dl class="floatimg"> <dt><img src="image.jpg" alt="good alt text here" /></dt> <dd>Description goes here</dd> </dl>

© Dan Cederholm Source:

then build up to more advanced topics and reach the points where there are no right answers because this is a field where there are many choices, none of them truly correct, and only a master craftsman will be able to evaluate situations and make informed judgments poetry; street addresses

“We can only progress if we question ourselves at every step and then ask ourselves if the question is the right one. At least if we look for alternatives, or at least try and fail to make improvements, we are pushing at the edges of what is possible and one day might find ourselves breaking through into new territory.”


with the right foundation, students will become able to not only challenge their teachers, but challenge themselves-- to know when they’re up against the edges of the profession and when they’ve pushed beyond the realm of easy answers

with that skill, they can adapt to evolutions of the web such as microformats

<div class="vevent"> <p> <span class=”summary”>MinneWebCon</span> <abbr class="dtstamp" title="20070928">April 14, 2008</abbr> </p> <div class="location vcard adr geo"> <span class="fn">McNamara Alumni Center</span><br /> <span class="org">University of Minnesota</span><br /> <span class="street-address">200 Oak St. SE #35</span><br /> <span class="locality">Minneapolis</span>, <span class="region">MN</span> <span class="postal-code">55455</span><br /> <span class="tel">(612) 624-9831</span><br /> <span class="latitude" title="44.975015"></span> <span class="longitude" title="-93.232534"></span> </div>

after all, imagine trying to decipher this markup without that grounding

the best IDEs are frankly the ones you can create out of web browsers web developer toolbar

the best IDEs are frankly the ones you can create out of web browsers web developer toolbar

the best IDEs are frankly the ones you can create out of web browsers web developer toolbar

the best IDEs are frankly the ones you can create out of web browsers web developer toolbar

the best IDEs are frankly the ones you can create out of web browsers web developer toolbar

firebug working natively in the medium is an inherent advantage

firebug working natively in the medium is an inherent advantage

firebug working natively in the medium is an inherent advantage

firebug working natively in the medium is an inherent advantage


there are also warning signs that indicate someone still has a ways to go in order to reach their full potential as a craftsman

layout tables, particularly nested solely presentational markup frequent use of deprecated elements lots of line-breaking
class-itis & div-itis

poor style organization lack of accessibility dependency on scripting or plug-ins

and if they evince these?

© Marc Hanot Reproduced with permission of the author

“First of all, I'd like to say here the fact that I'm not naturally a craftsman has made me work very hard.”
~ Beatrice Wood ~
(1893 – 1998)

with all due respect to beatrice, a craftsman is someone who almost by definition works hard because they are compelled to do the best job they can

“An apprentice carpenter may want only a hammer and saw, but a master craftsman employs many precision tools. Computer programming likewise requires sophisticated tools to cope with the complexity of real applications, and only practice with these tools will build skill in their use.”
~ Robert L. Kruse ~

this has long been true of the physical arts, but it is just as true of the digital arts such as programming or the web

“When a work lifts your spirits and inspires bold and noble thoughts in you, do not look for any other standard to judge by: the work is good, the product of a master craftsman.”
~ Jean de La Bruyère ~
(1645 – 1696)

ours is a profession that makes possible the bold and noble in bringing people together, in connecting information, in revealing patterns, in a whole host of ways it is just as important, and just as critical, that we build it well, so that it will last and the changes it makes possible will be equally lasting

The Emerging Craftsman
MinneWebCon 14 April 2008