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Kimberly Blessing

How to Improve Page Load Times

1 min read

My latest article for Peachpit is on one of my favorite topics: web site optimization and improving page load times. This article is a review of the basics, which I hope will be helpful to those of you wondering where to start with optimization.

As a next step, you may be interested in my 2008 presentation from WebVisions: Optimize Your Site in Seven Easy Steps. This repeats a few tips but also provides some additional steps to improve page load times.

These resources just scratch the surface of the topic, but they're important fundamentals. If you want to optimize your site, you need to do it at every step -- in your code, with the use of graphics and other assets, at the server. Building a site and trying to retrofit for optimization may help, but it doesn't pack the same punch. (The same thing holds true for accessibility. And, like accessibility, creating an optimized site isn't terribly difficult when planned for from the start!)

If you have any questions about Easy Steps to Improve Page Load Times, please ask and I'll answer in another article or post!

Kimberly Blessing

Planning for and Managing Browser Support

1 min read

With a flurry of new browsers hitting users’ computers and mobile devices this year, everyone involved with the Web has had to scramble to ensure that their sites are compatible with the latest and greatest. This has left many Web professionals and business teams wondering, “What browsers should my site support?” Kimberly Blessing helps you answer that question.

Read my article at Peachpit and let me know what you think! And stay tuned for my next article on optimization...

Kimberly Blessing

Tips for Women in the Workplace

5 min read

From the New York Times, The Mismeasure of Woman:

"For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women. Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn’t be more spectacularly misleading."

Sadly, it's true: making up half of the workforce has not brought women equality in the workplace. American work places are still largely ill-suited for us and our employers do not fully recognize or taking advantage of our talents. What's more, we're still far too often demeaned, belittled, and treated as sex objects -- usually behind closed doors, but sometimes publicly, too. What must women continue to do to gain equal footing?

In Ten Things Companies -- and Women -- Can Do To Get Ahead, employers are reminded that a lack of gender diversity in executive and board positions hurts both the company, as well as professional women, and provides some great tips for companies seeking to increase female presence. While all of the tips were good, those which I'd personally recommend, from personal experience, include: (emphasis mine)

  • Make Mentoring a Priority: Research shows that mentoring programs can be powerful tools for advancing the careers of professional women. Every young professional can benefit from having a mentor. But for women in male-dominated corporate environments, the need is even greater. Women with mentors, research finds, are more likely to apply for promotions.
  • Retain Your Best Women: What does it take to keep talented women in your organization? Asking them directly is a good place to start in getting an answer. However, research finds that flexible work hours, generous maternity leave benefits and coaching for women returning to the workforce can make a difference.
  • Measure Your Results: When companies put goals in writing and track their results, things gets done. Companies need to know where they stand and make managers accountable for the level of gender diversity in their organizations.
  • Move Beyond Tokenism: According to McKinsey, companies with three or more women in senior management scored higher on measures of organizational excellence than companies with no women at the top. It is not enough to add a woman here or there. The best performers build a critical mass that gives women the power to have their views heard.

The article also provides some suggestions for women -- again, all good tips. Here are the ones I'm always telling other women:

  • Dare to Apply: McKinsey, citing internal research from HP, found that "women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements." That by itself, if it holds true across the corporate world, could be holding back a lot of talented women.
  • Know What You are Good At: Instead of just focusing on what you are lacking, take time to inventory what you have to offer. Evaluate your potential based on your skills and competencies, not merely the jobs you have held in the past. Many of your skills could be applicable in jobs -- or in fields -- you have not considered.
  • Know What Success Means to You and Move Toward It: If you want to get somewhere, it helps to know where you are going. In the book "Stepping Out of Line: Lessons for Women Who Want It Their Way...In Life, In Love, and At Work," author Nell Merlino says: "You have to see it before you can devise a plan to get there."

Some of the best advice I've read lately comes from an unlikely source -- Forbes. (They've published a number of sexist pieces in the past year or two.) The article states what many people won't acknowledge, telling women: "Sexism, whatever you call it, hasn't disappeared. But it's better to know exactly what you're up against." Amongst their list of unwritten rules: (emphasis mine)

  • Men get the benefit of the doubt. Men generally get hired on their promise and women on their demonstrated experience. Men are usually taken at their word, while women get challenged more, required to deliver data and substantiation for their views.
  • You won't get sufficient feedback. Professional development depends upon rigorous, comprehensive, ongoing feedback. Your (male) boss may not feel comfortable delivering that information to you. You need to be direct in asking for it from him and from other colleagues and team members.
  • Women are rendered invisible until they demonstrate otherwise. If you want to be noticed, you've got to offer your ideas, approach a mentor, ask for the assignments, build a network, convey your aspirations and communicate your achievements.

I feel very lucky to have worked with some great women and men in the course of my career who -- regardless of whether or not they acknowledged that sexism still exists -- proactively mentored me, instructed me, and helped me overcome any roadblocks which could have set me back. Still, I see too many environments in which sexism, however subtle, is part of the status quo and managers and leaders are unprepared (and, sadly, sometimes unwilling) to change their own behaviors, as well as those of their teams. I realize that I make people uncomfortable in raising these issues and pushing to address them. But what others must realize is that I live according to a rule my mother taught me long ago, which is reiterated in the Forbes article by Ann Daly, and which I can't say often enough to other women: "Don't let them sabotage your ambitions".

Kimberly Blessing

Craftmanship can change the world

2 min read

Most mornings, I hit the Starbucks near work for a double tall non-fat no-whip cinnamon dolce latte. Yes, it's a mouthful to say. And apparently it's a really tough drink to get right... at least for the morning crew at this particular Starbucks. Despite seeing the same crew regularly, I almost always have to correct them on some aspect of my drink that they've screwed up (espresso shots sat too long, wrong milk, wrong size drink, scorched milk, etc.). When I do point something out, rather than get an apology, I'm usually given some excuse as to why it's not right. I'm starting to suspect that either they're making my drink wrong on purpose or they just don't care about their craft -- but in either case, they send a clear signal: a job's a job, and they don't care about theirs all that much.

Web developers can't have this attitude. We absolutely must care about our craft and continually ensure that our work is demonstrative of best practices (both industry and our own signature practices). Sloppy execution of our work leads to cross-browser problems, inaccessible features, confusing user interactions, and time lost refactoring code in the future. We don't get to give excuses to our customers -- if it doesn't work, end users don't use the site, and clients don't pay. Messy code shows that we don't care about leaving something our fellow developers can learn from, and it demonstrates that we don't care to take the time get our code right.

I shudder to think about the kind of code the baristas at the local Starbucks would write, were they developers. If only they could be more like so many of the awesome developers/craftspeople I know... then I'd be happily caffeinated each morning. And if fewer developers wrote code the way those baristas make drinks? Well, the Web might just explode from all that awesomeness.

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

Adventures in India

3 min read

Back in February, I traveled to India in order to do some Web development training for PayPal. In addition to having a wonderful time meeting and interacting with all of my coworkers, I got the opportunity to see some of the sights, including Mahabalipuram and DakshinaChitra in Tamil Nadu and the Taj Mahal in Agra. I did my best to document my experience in photos, and while it took some time, I've finally uploaded and tagged all of them. Go check them out!

Self Portrait

Prior to leaving for India, I made plans to visit Delhi and Agra with two of my co-workers, Jeremy Gillick and Reena Bansal. Reena lived in Delhi for some time and she made a great tour guide. Thanks to accidentally perfect timing, we saw the new Bollywood epic Jodhaa Akbar just prior to visiting North India, and this gave us history on the sites we were seeing and really helped to bring them alive.

As great as that trip was, I really loved spending time in South India. The culture was simultaneously alien and completely familiar. There were more people and there was more activity than I think I've ever seen before, foods were completely unfamiliar, the language was completely unknown to me -- yet I felt completely at home with the chaos and the people. For my free time in and around Chennai, the role of tour guide was filled by fellow team-member Guru Prasath. He did a great job of ensuring that I gained a greater understanding of the cultural, spiritual, and linguistic history and traditions of the region. And, with the help of Anitha, another co-worker, I gained some lovely Indian fashions, too.

I'll admit that I didn't know much about India -- but one of the few things I knew, I learned back elementary school. For nearly 25 years an image has been stuck in my brain: that of a woman drawing an intricate pattern on the ground outside a home. The accompanying description explained that women in South India would wake each morning to draw kolams, or "painted prayers", in order to bring prosperity to the home and family. Never did I think that I'd see one in real life! Now that I have, I've been inspired to learn more about the designs and to draw some myself (just on paper, so far).

Drawing a kolam is a wonderful meditative practice that I would suggest to anyone who needs to quiet one's thoughts or develop greater concentration and attention to detail. It's also a practice in generating mathematical patterns. In my further reading about kolams, I've seen them referred to as "spiritual mathematical patterns", the practice of drawing them as "geometrical acts of kindness", and the women that create them as "great female mathematicians who solve complicated line patterns every morning". Kolams are so intriguing, in fact, that computer scientists are studying them. How's that for ancient traditions mixing with technological advancements?

I guess that's what appeals to me about India -- the blending of old traditions with new technologies and outside influences to create something that is still uniquely Indian. As I see it, the people of India have one foot moving toward the future with the other rooted in the past, and I respect how they're working to reconcile the two. I can't wait until I return again, to learn more about what's been and where they're going. And next time I'll be sure to rise early to witness the kolam ritual, and maybe even try some of my own.

Kimberly Blessing

The Annoying IE8 Loophole

2 min read

Right now, the Web Standards community is celebrating. After weeks of telling us otherwise, Microsoft has announced that IE8 will enable standards mode by default.

Like others, I'm very happy about this change and I applaud Microsoft for reversing their decision. However there's something bothering me about their latest statement...

Developers who want their pages shown using IE8’s “IE7 Standards mode” will need to request that explicitly (using the http header/meta tag approach described here).

You see, originally Microsoft wanted us to add an HTTP header or META tag in order to indicate that a page was compliant with the latest-and-greatest standards mode; now that we get that mode by default, we don't need the header/tag -- except to explicitly indicate that we want the older, IE7-like standards mode.

Don't see the loophole yet? If you work for a big company that's not quite so Web Standards savvy, you might. The loophole is that there's nothing in IE8 that's going to force anyone to upgrade their code! While you, dear Standards-abiding designer/developer, want this opportunity to clean up your site and trash the old code, The Man is going to tell you that there's no point investing in this change and they're going to point you to the HTTP header/META tag solution.

So, now is the time to begin strategizing -- how are you going to convince your boss(es) that an IE8 code refresh is necessary? Also, how do you plan to support IE8 and IE7, and possibly even IE6 and IE5.5?

Go ahead and start the party without me... I need to work this one out first.

Kimberly Blessing

Already kicking ass in 2008

1 min read

I'm very honored to be featured as Christopher Schmitt's first interview of the year. Christoper is a stand-up guy, a great designer, and prolific author. We had a good chat about work and non-work stuff, and you can read the whole thing here!

And just in case you didn't notice, the line-ups for the 2008 An Event Apart conferences have been posted. Eric and Jeffrey asked me to speak to the Boston crown on June 23-24, and how could I say no? I had such a good time last year in San Francisco and it seems about time to take my message to the East Coast.

Wow, we're only eight days into the year... how am I ever going to keep up this level of ass-kicking for the remaining 358 days? Whewh!

Kimberly Blessing

A Book and A Contest

1 min read

Cover of Adapting to Web StandardsNot having mentioned it here before, you may not be aware of the fact that I contributed a chapter to the new book Adapting to Web Standards. But I did, along with Rob Cherny, Meryl K. Evans, Kevin Lawver, and Mark Trammell -- all coordinated and organized by lead author Christopher Schmitt.

My chapter (chapter 5) relates to the five years I've spent as a standards evangelist and standards consultant in the enterprise. I write about the Circle of Standards: the process I invented to make standards adoption and ongoing practice an easier task. There aren't too many "professional" standards evangelists, so I hope this chapter encourages more people to step up to such a role. Of course, I hope that it helps all standards enthusiasts through the process of establishing standards in the work environment.

If you're interested in checking out the book, you can try to win a copy in this contest! Of course, you can also buy a copy.

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.