Weblogs: Web Standards

The influx of web developers to Yahoo! and Google

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Note: This is my blog and my personal observations. I work for Yahoo! Europe, and I do not represent them or speak for them.

I started work with Yahoo! this week along with Drew McLellan (the brains behind Flash Satay and 24 Ways - the 2005 Advent calendar) and Andrew Phillipo, joining a team of highly competent web developers.

I'm back in a position where I have something to prove - that's my challenge: prove I'm good enough to be there. I'm relishing the opportunity, as well as enjoying the idea of working with a team of talented and clued-up developers, designers and usability experts.

I joined Yahoo! because I wanted a fresh new challenge, and I felt that I needed to step up a gear. Yahoo! offers me a place where I can grow my skills and understanding of the Web. I want to be a better web developer. The Web is still moving forwards at a prodigious rate, and I want to be with a company that's actively engaged on that path of improvement.

It was last year, when Yahoo! hired Simon Willison, that I became interested in Yahoo! as a potential future employer. That hiring told me Yahoo! was taking web standards seriously. Earlier this year I got extremely lucky in terms of timing - at the time I'd decided to move on, Yahoo! were actively looking for web developers.

Web development mind share

One of the regular topics of conversation at @media 2006 was the steady flow of web developers towards Yahoo! and Google. On an individual level, the people I talked to were very positive, but the perception from the overall community was a little more cautious, perhaps slightly troubled. One of the questions that came up in the hot-topics panel:

Isn't the recent mass movement of high-profile web designers to large companies like Yahoo! and Google a little worrying in terms of objectivity and in terms of creativity?

Through my years spent on Usenet guiding other developers there arises so often a permathread about web standards, and the perpetual argument that since Google and Yahoo! are not using CSS layouts and well-formed markup, the whole web standards thing is just bunk spun by academics to keep the Web out of the hands of web designers. The counter we used at the time was that both Google and Yahoo! could afford not to follow web standards, they had the resources to throw at the problem if and when it became a problem, whereas a typical web site wouldn't have that luxury position.

The web standards benefit

Now five years later, Google and Yahoo! have hired a plethora of web standards savvy web developers. And its being raised as a worrying concern. I don't believe it should be a worry. Web standards savvy web developers are very much in high demand - and understandably so. Hot technologies like Ajax, social networking, maps, microformats have created an environment where people can combine data from different organisations into a "mashup".

These mashups are not accidental. Mashups happen because diverse systems and sites support a standardised way of doing things. Well-formed HTML is almost a requirement for DOM scripting (and thus modern Ajax-based applications), as well as stable CSS layouts.

Big web companies are realising that with a web standards foundation, stable and solid services can be (and are) offered on this web platform. Thanks to web standards.

What is interesting is that web standards hasn't become more important - its always been important. Its just that web-focused companies like Google and Yahoo have recognised the competitive and perhaps business advantages of building on web standards.

Web standards isn't about high profile people

Although Yahoo!, and I'm convinced the same could be said about Google, has hired a number of high-profile experts in web development over the last couple of months, what is noticeable is that the existing team, without these high-profile people, is very highly skilled, very well motivated, and certainly grok the whole web standards idea. From my perspective, Yahoo! Europe isn't transitioning into a web standards savvy team - its already there.

For every high-profile web standards advocate out there, there's probably six or seven developers who are just as talented and skilled quietly plying their trade outside of the public glare. The high-profile developers are not the only people to successfully adopt web standards.

Icing on the cake

Walking into our area for the first time and I was greeted with the sight of a mint in the box Lego Star Wars Imperial Star Destroyer. I understood at that moment that I'd joined the right group of people. 3104 pieces of pure geekdom.

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