On Webmasters and jQuery plugin Monkeys

If one is remotely interested in Web sites, JavaScript and coding, then I strongly recommend YUI Theater’s Douglas Crockford on JavaScript series—all of it. “Scene 6 – Loopage” I found especially interesting, not only because Crocker’s unique blending of history and passionate way of putting things in context makes the subject matter come alive—he does that all the time—but he also goes to great lengths to acclaim, to a still too typically nearly-all-male audience, the early contributions of a woman, Grace Murray Hopper, saying in no uncertain terms she “created the discipline of software engineering” (ibid. 50:36).

But it’s at the YUIConf 2010 Panel Discussion: The Future of Frontend Engineering, that the contributions of “webmasters” were discussed with rather less acclaim, and the term “jQuery plugin monkeys” was floated.

52:45, response to question beginning 51:55

Douglas Crockford: Yeah, we have to make them. Historically we had people call themselves ‘webmasters’. This is going way, way back. Generally they weren’t very smart.


Douglas Crockford: But they figured out how to bring up Apache, and they could do a little bit of Perl, and that was enough to build a website. There were a lot of hobbyists who kind of got into the web that way. The thing we found is that that’s not a good way to do this stuff…

…The world is still full of webmasters though…


Ouch! My professional designation for over 7 years was “Webmaster.” But did I just sit around bringing up Apache? Hmm…

Elaine Wherry: I look back in 2005 when we were starting to hire our initial team, and… I think it’s actually better now than it was then… Now at least there’s a lot of enthusiasm and people are playing around with all the open source initiatives. I initially got into JavaScript by looking at Rico many, many years ago. So I think there’s just a lot more to play with, and it’s a lot easier to pick up than it was back then.

Dion Almaer: So today’s webmasters are JQuery plugin monkeys?

Elaine Wherry: They are, and it makes reviewing resumes a little bit more difficult, because there’s a higher signal to noise ratio. But at least most people who are interested in JavaScript have a website, you can go to it, and you can kind of get an initial read of the person, so that’s helpful.

Elaine Wherry will never hire me from my blog or web site, but—having been at one time a webmaster (York University Faculty of Education, 1998-2005) and having witnessed first-hand the entire progression from a time when web site duties were about 30% of my job (email administration and BBS-style collaboration accounting for the rest—and at that time & place far more engaging) to the cloud-hosted mashup stuff they’re doing there today—I refuse to be laughed and not talk back! 😉

When it comes to coding I have no illusions about my abilities. I approach the matter somewhat the way my father approaches his morning crossword puzzle.

Image as callout... I advocate this because it's fun and educational.

...because it's fun and educational!

I suggest classroom teachers learn more about coding, databases, application servers, other hardware and software—and do it in their classrooms with their students—because 1) it’s fun and 2) I’ve found that knowing something about it, getting a foothold in the common language of programmers, may make for more powerful collaborations with more realistic expectations. And occasionally amateurs or hobbyists can have an outside-the-box moment knowing the “right way” to do something sometimes prevents  from happening at all. If I do simple things, simplistically, then I hope my enthusiasm at least is worthwhile, and I hope that somewhere, to someone, it is contagious—perhaps a young person gets interested, then engaged, and goes on to do things she wouldn’t otherwise have done.

As Tantek Çelik says…

Tantek Çelik: …Anyone can slop together a website that works for one person, or works for 100 hits a day… But you want to build something that scales economically? You’re going to need a [computer science] person to do that.

…and he’s absolutely right. Elsewhere in the discussion they talk about such things as music majors (as I was) who are also talented programmers. I’ve already repeated a few times that I learned HTML and JavaScript in exactly the same way I learned guitar, “stealing other people’s licks.” Tantek’s also right when he says,

Tantek Çelik: “You mentioned music, and I think something that’s interesting there is that a lot of musicians learn how to do …what? They learn how to improvise. And that’s, frankly, what being a frontend developer is a lot about.”

This former webmaster can take the ribbing. I trust I won’t be dismissed out of hand. Please tell me when I’m wrong, when I can do things much better—I’ll learn. I’m not after anyone’s job… in fact I think educators and programmers are destined to make beautiful music together.

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