Web Professionalism

The hot topic within the standards community at the moment is the question of professionalism. I’ve brought this up time and again in conversation away from this blog – how can you call yourself a web professional if you have stopped learning anything new about what you do? Doesn’t every professional job require constant personal development review? Don’t people want to learn? Are people under so much stress that they don’t have time?

I’ve broken my thoughts on the issue out into the following sections:

History / Philosophy of the World Wide Web

The whole point of the World Wide Web is its availability to the masses – practically anyone can create a website about any subject they’d like to share with others. Technically-savvy people worked out how to do it in the late 90′s and were then asked, employed or started businesses to do likewise for others. Print companies were asked to convert brochures into websites and software companies saw the business opportunities offered by the web and developed WYSIWYG web tools for hobbyists and developers alike so creating websites was quick and easy. Unfortunately, HTML was not specced robustly enough the first time around – if only this was done along the same lines as compiled programming languages to ensure that the code was well formed. Of course that wouldn’t solve another favourite of standardistas – semantically correct HTML. Even strict HTML or XHTML doesn’t stop you wrapping a header with strong tags rather than using an appropriate header element.

Standards were loose, the web was (is) cool and it’s popularity outstripped our understanding of it.


The biggest obstacle is people’s own Comfort Zone.

“It’s quick to produce a beautiful website from [insert graphics package] – and I don’t have to look at the code”.

“I’m a programmer, I write web applications in Java / C# / asp.NET using a visual IDE and my work gets put into the website template.”

“Table-based layouts look good no matter what browser someone is using.”

I don’t subscribe to the thought that standardistas are elitist (using negative connotations of the word). It’s just an accusation to hide the fear of stepping outside the comfort zone and found to be lacking somehow. Standardistas want to teach! Yes, the learning curve can be steep, especially when you have to unlearn old, bad habits but standardistas are always learning something new. Learning is overcoming a lack of knowledge so comfort zone workers should come and join the rest of us in the lacking group.


Just as with the comfort zone workers there is more than likely to be a lack of knowledge regarding best practices, legislation and business benefits within management circles too. Managers might well have a technical background but their primary role now is to manage a project, the resource required (people like me) and lend experience. There are only so many hours in a day so they might be relying on staff and management journals to keep them informed of current methodologies / best practices. If the publications don’t communicate these practices and the staff are in the comfort zone, there’s a risk that a web strategy or development environment will be outdated or even non-existent, putting the business at risk.


Are we, the web standards community getting the message out effectively? Sure, we all read each other’s blogs, visit related forums, join organisations like GAWDS and attend conferences – but who outside of the bubble know about us and what we hope to achieve for the Internet?

We should strive to identify, teach and accredit the trainers whether they are university lecturers or course providers. It’s not currently their role or remit but I would love to see this accreditation to be underwritten by the W3C themselves. If trainers have a website (practically a given) then it must demonstrate best practice as an accreditation criterion.

We need to continue to work with the big software companies like Microsoft and Adobe / Macromedia to produce applications that move ever closer to providing standards compliance out of the box. Articles like this one at MSDN can only be a “Good Thing”tm.

We need to push the business, ethical and legislative case for web standards at mainstream media – print, TV and online. Tell them about the horror story of Disney Store UK. Give them an example every month – bad and good. Can governments help more (effectively)?

If we are employees then we need to push from within. Convince your team and line manager and then devise an awareness campaign to spread your message further. Sometimes it is easy, most times it is hard. Sharing your feelings with like-minded souls keeps the fight alive in you so engage in the community and draw strength from it. I’m a bit-part actor in the scheme of things but I know that a question publicly asked could just as easily get a response from “the big names” as from a more anonymous developer.

My biggest fear with people commissioning websites, workers and their management is that they take advice from the wrong sources… “Website Projects for Dummies” anyone?

This is big! It’s going to be a long and difficult road.

Further Reading

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2 Responses to Web Professionalism

  1. Mike Cherim says:

    This is going to be a long term effort, and many will never come over from the dark side. I consider myself lucky in that I saw the light, so to speak, very early in this web development period of my life. This effectively places me well ahead of the curve. Hopefully it’ll pay off in the coming years.

    Good article.

  2. Trust me it pays off, lots of people thought all this webstandards stuff is junk, try developing with HTML 3.2 doctype, back when i started all apperances backround dividers where all done with tables, the font tag was in huge use, all alink visited was defined in the body. Pages took ages to maintain, I learnt the hard way I hand coded pages, which forced me to see how I had to plan ahead with structuring my html documents, once your site gets big you understand the need for easy updating and constant all round accessibility. I believe that everybody goes through phases in development, I went through them all, Frontpage extensions, iframes, frames, wrong doc types, tables, coloured scroll bars, extrensive use of divs, huge css files… you never stop improving… and when your not learning your doing something wrong.