Andy Clarke started it, Molly Holzschlag added her powerful voice, and Roger Johansson and Holly Marie Koltz jotted down some interesting notes. It's time for New Professionalism in the website industry.
I completely agree; in fact I have been worrying about this problem for quite a while, and no doubt others have, too. Such movements aren't created out of nothing, they are ideas waiting to find a voice, and I'm glad that it happened. We have to reach the New Amateurs and transform them into New Professionals. But how?
Although CSS is not the only component of the New Professionalism, it's the one that offers the clearest break with the past and the one that's best suited to explain the new way of creating websites to newbies. Therefore I wouldn't be surprised if CSS, once again, will be the crowbar that opens up dusty areas peopled by old-fashioned developers who haven't learned anything since the late nineties to the shining light of standards-aware, accessible, professional web development.
The main problem is not one of explanations, since, as Holly rightly points out, there are many books and sites aimed at beginning CSS developers. Anyone who wants to learn badly enough can do so without spending years on it. The days of the CSS pioneers who slowly and painfully worked out the basic rules of the new game are over; future generations can stand on their shoulders and start out by using CSS right.
All fine and dandy, but there's still a huge problem.
Anyone who reads Andy's, Molly's, Roger's, or my own site, and who follows WaSP with interest, is already convinced that CSS is the way to go. Conversely, developers who don't know CSS from roasted peanuts are not aware of these sites, because they haven't found out there is anything to be aware of.
And it's these "New Amateurs" that we have to reach. How?
Holly points to the importance of education. Although I agree that it's a necessary component, I don't think it's enough, certainly not now that Internet Hype 2.0 is brewing and web developers can't serve all their clients even if they'd clone themselves ten times over. There simply aren't enough professionals to do all the work, so amateurs will once again creep in and infest the web with tag soup and bad sites.
Suppose that in a year or so company X, a participant in the new hype and currently brewing tag soup, becomes aware of CSS and sees its advantages. Its web developers don't have sufficient CSS knowledge, so it decides to hire new developers. Note that at this point company X is already going out of its way to make a clear break with the past and to do things right.
Unfortunately it doesn't find any professionals, because they've already been scooped up by other website companies. The most likely scenario is that management will decide to forget about CSS and continue working old-style. I cannot blame them; company X needs to make money and to do that it needs developers, professional or otherwise.
With a full-fledged hype going on professionalism will take a back seat to sheer availability. The New Amateurs' skills, old-fashioned as they are, are going to be much in demand, not because they're the best web developers, but because they're the best available web developers. Besides, they have experience in working in the industry, always an important selling point, especially during a hype.
Therefore I feel that the education of the New Amateurs already working in the industry is a vital part of the New Professionalism movement. Unfortunately, before educating them we have to reach them and explain that they have a problem. It's here that things turn tricky, because the web standards movement simply doesn't reach these people.
The main question for anyone supporting New Professionalism should therefore be: How do we reach web developers already working in the industry but blissfully unaware of modern web development? The current structure of the standards-aware web development world is not suited to reach them, because you already have to be interested in standards to find the right sites and books.
Although our standards-aware ecosystem has played an enormously important role in defining good practices, solving technical problems, and shaping a new theory of web development, it isn't designed to handle this new challenge. It doesn't reach the target audience.
I feel that it's time to leave our comfortable cradle of like-minded sites. I feel that we should go out into the world, brave the New Amateurs in their lairs and start a new wave of evangelization.
But how do we reach them? Where are their lairs? Which arguments would sway them? Could we arrange for economic pressure, for instance by lobbying for all government sites to require the use of CSS? How? Should we use psychological pressure by making tag soup sites the target of ridicule? Or would that be counter-productive? Should we try to convince their managers? How?
I just don't know. Does anyone have hands-on experience with evangelizing the New Amateurs? If so, please share your tips and tricks.
I’m around at the following conferences:
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