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Kimberly Blessing

How do you define/defy "best practice"?

1 min read

Cross-posted from The Circle of Standards:

Since the practice of setting and managing standards is as much a management concern as it is a technical concern, I spend time reading a number of business blogs. The HBR Voices blog is full of important management insights.

A recent blog post, How Are You Defying "Best Practice"?, was particularly insightful. Although the article was referring to business and management best practices, it just as easily could have been about design and code best practices.

The only difference is that, while the business world has well-documented and well-established best practices (most commonly taught in MBA programs worldwide), the Web design and development world doesn't yet have that common set of agreed-upon best practices. What one designer or developer considers a best practice may be contrary to what another one believes.

This leads me to the question of how do you define what is an industry best practice? And, how do you defy those best practices, if at all?

Add your two cents

Kimberly Blessing

How do you define/defy "best practice"?

1 min read

Since the practice of setting and managing standards is as much a management concern as it is a technical concern, I spend time reading a number of business blogs. The HBR Voices blog is full of important management insights.

A recent blog post, How Are You Defying "Best Practice"?, was particularly insightful. Although the article was referring to business and management best practices, it just as easily could have been about design and code best practices.

The only difference is that, while the business world has well-documented and well-established best practices (most commonly taught in MBA programs worldwide), the Web design and development world doesn't yet have that common set of agreed-upon best practices. What one designer or developer considers a best practice may be contrary to what another one believes.

This leads me to the question of how do you define what is an industry best practice? And, how do you defy those best practices, if at all?

Kimberly Blessing

IE8 Compatibility Mode is not the problem

3 min read

I've spent most of my career working at large Web-focused companies which typically have multiple Web development teams to handle their sites. While the Web may be the vehicle that makes their business viable, most of the business people in these companies are ignorant oblivious too busy to follow the developments of the browser market space.

These companies, while all different, handled the release of new browsers using the same wait-and-see approach: wait until the browser comes out, see how much of the site's traffic moves to that browser, then invest on bug-fixing only if n% of users are on that browser. Most, if not all, of the alpha/beta/RC testing was done by developers who were interested enough to test and possibly bug fix (assuming the issues weren't major shared template problems). And they were probably doing this on their own time, because the business wasn't going to stop business-supporting, revenue-generating development work in order to support a new browser!

I often owned the browser support matrix at the companies I worked for, but just because I owned it didn't mean I could change it whenever I wanted. I had to convince the business teams that preparing for a new browser was worth our time and money. If I didn't walk into meetings with current and historical browser usage statistics and demonstrations of bugs in the new browser, I would have been laughed out of the room. Simply stating that "a new browser is coming and we'd better be ready" just wasn't, and isn't, enough.

Other than a handful of companies, businesses aren't in the browser business, or even in the browser support business (even though we developers may feel differently). Microsoft is right to not expect all businesses and Web sites to jump just because they have a new browser coming out, and I think that IE8's Compatibility Mode provides a decent solution to bridging the gap for users between the old, crappily coded sites and the nice, new(er), standards-compliant sites.

I'm not jumping for joy over it, of course, because it signals that we standardistas haven't succeeded in our education mission. There still aren't enough designers and developers out there building standards-compliant Web sites, with or without business support, to withstand an event such as this. There certainly aren't enough business people who understand the Web well enough to simplify the business case for standards-based development. Community and education tie into this as well.

Those who think that IE8 is going to be a wake-up call to businesses dependent on the Web are wrong -- it won't be. But it should be one to all of those designers and developers and business people who do understand the benefits of sticking with the standards: we still need to get out there and talk to our colleagues and community about standards, and help move the Web forward!

Kimberly Blessing

Code Monkeys vs. Code Ninjas

3 min read

Software programmer Sara Chipps (yay! a woman!) has written an article titled Natural Programmers (Code Monkeys) vs. Career Programmers (Geeks in Suits). It's probably the best non-techie explanation of the behaviors, habits, and beliefs of the "natural programmer" that I've read -- and yes, I completely identified with much of what she wrote.

However, I have to take a step back and address an issue that I have with the two types of programmers she defines and the names she assigns to them.

First there's the "career programmer (geek in a suit)". These days I find that career programmers are not geeks, and they're definitely not in suits (always business casual!). I've found that they're in programming for the money; they learn enough to do their work -- perhaps well, maybe even to get to the point of being perceived as geeky. But I also find that these people lack a true passion for the craft of writing code. Sara suggests that the career programmer is more of a business person, concerned with cost effective solutions, but I'm not even sure that's true anymore. To me, this person's work is just a job, and if flipping burgers paid as much as programming, they might be doing that instead.

Like Sara, I fall into her other category of "natural programmer". But I am certainly not a code monkey -- I am a code ninja! (Actually, with a nickname like "Obi-Wan Kimberly", I'm probably a code jedi, but anyway...) I find the term "code monkey" to apply more to the previous category of programmer. Why? "Code monkey" implies that anyone can do what we do and that we work for bananas. "Code ninja", on the other hand, says that we're stealth and secretive, jumping out of the darkness when you least expect it. Our code takes you by surprise in its brilliance and our swiftness of execution is legendary. We could do no other job because we have trained for so long, perfecting our natural talent, and nothing else can satisfy our need for control over the systems we affect.

Sara closes her article with some OR logic about which type to hire, however I need to propose a more detailed and different solution. If you have only one programmer working for you, you probably don't want either of these types -- you need someone who really does fall into the gray area between the two extremes. (Yes, they are out there!) And if you have a team of programmers, you need a mix of these two types, and you need to put effort into getting them to communicate effectively with one another. Only then will you have both a killer team and killer code.

Kimberly Blessing

Web Development as a Craft... and Career

3 min read

Karl Dubost's recent post on the craft of HTML coincided with the launch of the first round of Web coding standards at work. Why did we need coding standards? Karl answers that for me in his first paragraph:

HTML is a practical art. In a professional context, it requires precise and extensive skills. As with many popular crafts, the vast majority of people do it on their own, but only a few do it for a living. The quality of products varies a lot.

When you have a team of developers working on a product, you need to set quality requirements... but to meet those requirements you also need to set the expectation that the developers will work in a consistent manner. Sometimes this can be achieved by having the team lead set the direction for the code by crafting templates and doing code reviews. But what happens as team members rotate on and off the project -- how do you retain the knowledge about the coding direction without taking time to bring each person up to speed? What happens as your development team grows to 10, 40, 100 people? This stuff doesn't scale without spelling out the rules and setting expectations... thus the need for coding standards.

But standards alone won't create consistency, of course. When Karl says that "HTML is a craft", he implies that there are techniques that one can only learn through study and practice. When practicing a craft, there are skill levels that reach into the realms of mastery that only few will ever meet. Out of that team of 10, 40, or 100 developers, how many will truly become those masters?

My experience over the past 8 years of working in industry has led me to find that only a few will ever commit themselves to the craft of Web development, and that worries me as a developer and as a manager. We all want job security, and dedicating oneself to excellence in a field implies we're in that field for the long haul. But what career path can a Web developer expect to have today? What opportunities will be available 5 years from know? There are many unknowns and I think that this may be one big reason I don't see more talented developers taking the plunge and committing themselves more fully to Web development as a craft and career.

Karl points to another problem: the "majority of people do it on their own, but only a few do it for a living", which to me implies that most people think anyone can be a Web developer (how many times have you heard someone state that their kid could build a better site?) and therefore they don't take the craft of Web development seriously. I've found that most Web developers who didn't emerge from computer programming backgrounds have serious complexes over whether or not they're "real" developers... and a lot of this is due to snarky computer programmers who put Web developers down because they make the same, stupid assumption that "anyone can do Web development". How is that encouraging to anyone looking at committing themselves to this work as their career? (Nevermind how irrational it is for a computer programmer to dismiss part of their larger discipline.) How is that encouraging to anyone who has hopes of using Web development as a basis for a career that could include programming in other languages?

So what's a developer to do? And what's a manager to do? I'll post my ideas at another time... right now, tell me yours.

Kimberly Blessing

The Nice Girl/Angry Woman Paradox

3 min read

In this recent study, a Yale post-doc has found that a woman who shows anger in the workplace is likely to be seen as incompetent and out of control. In order to achieve status at work, women may have to behave calmly in order to be seen as rational. In fact, an "angry" woman is also likely to make less money than an "unemotional" woman, though in either case is still likely to make less than a man.

No wonder why so many women end up adopting a "nice girl" approach in business. But you know what? That doesn't work either -- at least not for the woman trying to always be so nice. That's why I'm glad to see that Erica wrote up her 5 steps to stop being too nice. I was also pleasantly surprised by the book Ambitchous by Debra Condren, which promotes embracing ambition as a virtue, standing up for one's self, and being authentic in order to be achieve success on one's own terms and to be happy with one's life.

I could go on at length about the "nice girl/angry woman" paradox, but I won't because I resolved this internal conflict a long time ago. Ultimately I only care about being authentic, because when I'm not true to myself, everything else in my life goes to hell.

Sure, I try to be nice, and yes, I get angry. I don't let people step all over me, but I also don't run around yelling and screaming (much -- hey, I'm Italian!). Some people will think of me as the crazy lady but really don't care. I simply hope that others will remember that I behave the way I do because I care about myself, my work, my people, or whatever the issue is at hand. It's in expressing some emotion that I am (and I think most women are) most comfortable demonstrating my commitment to my work, by showing how much I care about what I do. An unemotional response might help a man better understand my point, but wouldn't be an authentic expression of myself.

To those that know me and work with me, I hope the above is either already apparent to you or is now clear. To everyone, here's what I ask of you: The next time you encounter a "nice girl", ask her if she's being true to herself by always being so nice. And when you butt heads with an "angry woman", acknowledge her commitment to the work and doing what is right. Encourage people be themselves, to be authentic. I bet that you'll find that you can then do the same, and everyone will be all the happier for it.

Kimberly Blessing

How not to recruit talent

2 min read

Robert Scoble alerted readers to Jeff Barr's post about Google recruiting. I had to laugh out loud here, because I've also been subject to some strange Google recruiting crap myself.

Most recently, I got an e-mail from a Google recruiter (who clearly did look at my Web site, because she commented on the pink-ness of my blog) with regards to a technical solutions engineer position. The first thing that struck me as odd is that, if you actually read my resume, you'll learn that I've been in management positions for a while... so why would I be interested in an engineering position? The next oddity was the requirement that I complete a self-evaluation before discussions could proceed. Uh-huh. No thanks.

Of course, when I got that e-mail I was laughing pretty hard, because in the many years I've attended the Grace Hopper Celebration I've talked to Google folks many times about job opportunities there -- and was basically told again and again that "Google doesn't recruit Web developers because that's not important to [their] business". Whatever.

I have some friends that have gone to Google, but honestly, the more I learn about them, the more suspicious I am of them. I feel like they're one giant social engineering experiment, and we're all their guinea pigs.

Kimberly Blessing

Younger Women at the Top

1 min read

According to the Dartmouth Tuck School of Business and Loyola University, as reported in the April 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, women who make it into senior management roles in Fortune 1,000 companies get there faster than men.

Though nearly half of Fortune 1,000 firms still have no female executive officers, those that do seem to be aggressively hiring and promoting them into the top ranks. As the chart shows, a much larger percentage of Fortune 1,000 women have made it to executive officer positions in their thirties, forties, and fifties than have men their age. What’s more, these women achieved their executive positions at a younger average age than the men did (46.7 versus 51.1) and have less tenure on average than men in their current positions (2.6 years versus 3.5 years).

Check out the chart, too: Younger Women at the Top.

Kimberly Blessing

Camp $tart-Up

2 min read

Via a friend at the Johnson School at Cornell...

Do you wonder why there are not more women in business school and in business professions? Please help us spread the word about Camp $tart-Up.

Camp $tart-Up

  • Teaches young women 13-19 about business skills and professions in business in a week-long summer program
  • Differentiates the Johnson School: the only top business school reaching out to women at a younger age, to increase the number of female business school applicants
  • Provides an opportunity for sponsors and donors to differentiate themselves from their competitors in the eyes of young women, future leaders, other sponsors and donors and both the Cornell and Johnson School communities

About Camp $tart-Up

Camp $tart-Up is a week-long business and leadership training program in Ithaca, June 23-30, 2007, to expose young women aged 13-19 to business. During the program, campers learn about marketing, operations, finance, planning, research, technology and entrepreneurship.

Camp $tart-Up is part of a larger initiative at the Johnson School to increase the number of women interested in applying to business school, by building business and leadership skills in young women.

Sound like something you care about? You can learn more or complete an application on the Camp $tart-Up website.

Kimberly Blessing

The Buzz about WaSP

2 min read

There was lots of buzz about the Web Standards Project during SxSW Interactive, and for good reason! After a panel on WaSP Task Forces, an open meeting, and the (slightly troubled but finally debugged) redesign launch, it's clear that people see WaSP as alive and well, and ready to start stinging again. Woo hoo!

I'll toot my own horn a bit and admit to my role in the redesign, which was the porting of the design created by Andy Clarke to WordPress. A proud moment for me just yesterday was in describing how I accomplished some of the content presentation objectives to Matt Mullenweg; he told me that I'd figured out some pretty cool stuff (which I fully intend to write about in the future)! But projects like this aren't accomplished single-handedly, so I have to give big virtual hugs to Chris Casciano for porting tons of content to WP, Chris Kaminski for doing the scripting, and Holly Marie Koltz for doing lots of QA and content tweaking.

Meanwhile, the response to the Education Task Force has been overwhelming. I've probably got 30+ business cards and notes in my suitcase from folks wanting to know how they can help in our mission, as well as wanting to know how they can help affect change in their schools. And the contacts and ideas keep coming in via e-mail too... now to get some plans together! You can be sure that you'll be hearing more from the eduTF soon.