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Jenn Lukas

Jenn is a front-end developer who is well versed in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Usability, Accessibility, Quality Assurance and Web Standards. She is the Interactive Development Director at Happy Cog, where she is known for her relentless quest for semantic code. Jenn has worked on projects for clients such as MTV, Zappos, Mozilla, ABC Sports and Microsoft. Jenn lives in Philadelphia and writes about subjects on The Nerdary and is a monthly columnist for .net Magazine.

Jenn has a personal website, and can be followed on Twitter @JennLukas.

Published Thoughts

I was at dinner with some fellow nerds the other night, and someone brought up the idea of coming across something on the interwebs that was “tl;dr”. As a lover of acronyms and an owner of an occasional short attention span, I can totally relate.

This way we choose what we deem worthy of our time to read and watch has also extended to our interfaces. Think about the plethora of one page sites out there. TMPTL? Too many pages to load? Perhaps the more clicks we save our users, the more we show we respect their time. I’m not sure if it’s an all or nothing pattern, but I do know I’d prefer an inline slideshow to a lightbox popup most days.

Coda follows this pattern nicely with their product video on the home page for the release of Coda 2. Their headline states “What’s new in two minutes. See the Coda Tour.” I love this because they let me know how long this video is and because this video is short, I’ll totes watch it. The other bonus of their implementation is that the video plays right inline with the page. They thought about the time of the audience. No clicks, no lightbox, no new window, just instant gratification. And isn’t instant gratification one of the things that makes the internet so great?

With all the attention on mobile devices lately, have we forgotten our desktop experience?

Did that get your attention? While I’m not about to tell you to throw all your tablets and phones in a river, I do think it’s interesting to think about the range of effects that the last year of additions to CSS has had on our workflow. Responsive design has really rejuvenated the front-end landscape. This, of course, is awesome.

Surely though when we transition static designs to fluid, add breakpoints to target column stacking, and drop in JavaScript-powered navigation fixes for smaller screens, we’re also certainly adding to our scope. When adding multiple design states to our sites and including more devices that demand quality assurance testing, do we have to change some of our traditional approach? Here are some of the questions I’ve been asking myself lately:

  • Do we keep the same level of standards and allow our timelines to expand? Will this mean our projects will last 3 years?
  • Do we cut hours in other areas, like testing in Internet Explorer 6 or making our sites work without JavaScript?
  • Does anyone even test for text size increasing/decreasing anymore or are we all now used to text zoom?
  • How about accessibility and source ordering with screen readers? How will that effect our mobile to desktop content reflow?
  • Are we using frameworks and skinning our designs in a browser? Are we stretching our imaginations in Photoshop? Is there a mix of both?
  • Are we choosing web fonts that will still look good on PCs without font smoothing?
  • Are blurry images ruining our designs? Are retina images worth the download time?
  • Are we focused on smaller screens? Are we focused on huge resolutions? Did we remember the middle guys?

There’s no shortage of things to discuss with your team. Lots of times I find it’s not a one size fits all answer. Looking at questions like these on a project-by-project basis, examining analytics, factoring which CMS will power a site; these are all things that influence decisions on what serves the time spent on a project best.

By this time next year, I’m sure there will be a completely different set of questions we’re asking. It’s been fun to embrace this unpredictability.

Last month, I fractured the tibia bone in my leg. Being on crutches and in a wheelchair has really changed the way I view getting around. I’ve begun to notice things like which street corners have curb ramps and which ones don't. When trying to ride the subway, I’ve been baffled by who put in the lift that leads to a staircase. I’ve been amazed at the way strangers will ask you “what happened” with dropped jaws. In general, it’s been eye-opening.

While I think I am empathetic toward situations that necessitate accessibility requirements, until we are in one, there’s only so much assuming we can do. I wonder if we took a few weeks and browsed websites using only a keyboard or only looked at sites on a PC, how/if that would change the way we design and code websites.

I think the rise of code education sites on the web is super radical. Even Kahn Academy has just added a Computer Science section. I’ve recently been reading a lot about Problem Based Learning and I think incorporating some of the techniques used in PBL and providing real use cases for learning code would make these code education sites appeal to an even wider audience.

Last time we met, I talked about the question, “What’s your favorite website”. I suppose it’s only fair if I share mine.

For a long time running it was Flickr. The interface is easy to understand. Subtle interactions let you edit a photo without interrupting the work flow. The copy was friendly and inviting. I still love Flickr, but recently I’ve become in total like with Tumblr.

I first tried Tumblr in 2008. And then again in 2009. And then, why not, in 2011. As you can see: http://jennlukas.tumblr.com/archive, I wasn’t too sold.

Recently though, two things happened. The first, I witnessed the customization possibilities when my buds and I over at the The Nerdary moved our site over to Tumblr.

Secondly, I like many of us lovers of the internet, occasionally come up with a smart (or really dumb) idea for a site that seems really funny and/or clever at the moment, but I’m always road blocked by the task of developing a full site. I decided that mocking the show Game of Thrones was more important than custom design and code. So using Tumblr, I had a site that made my coworkers laugh up in 5 minutes.

Giving people the ability to create and publish quickly while also allowing them to customize that content to the depths they wish with ease is not an easy feat. Tumblr allows computer users of all varying skill levels to be authors of the web and that really, really rules.

Recently, we've been going through the hiring process at Happy Cog. My fantastic co-worker Chris wrote a bit about some job tips to get in the door. Once in said door, our interview process goes something like: you come in and sit in a room with 8-14 of us and we hang out and yell questions at you while you juggle a tennis ball, a bowling pin and a chain saw.

Okay, so the juggling and yelling part isn't true, but we do love group interviews. During these interviews, we let questions and discussion flow, but some of us have go-to questions that we always ask potential candidates. These range from "why are you looking for a new job?" to "what's your karaoke song?". My go-to:

What's your favorite website?

I absolutely love this question. There is only one answer that I consider a "bad answer" and that is "I don't have one". As people in the web field, how could we not have one? Sure, our definition of "favorite" doesn't have to be the same. Favorite for me could be based on a site with accessible code and favorite for you could be based on the content of a site that makes you laugh.

Either or any way, I think we should be all be able to answer this question and defend our answer. When I ask this, I'm not judging people if they say a social network site or high-fiving them for picking a development tutorial site. I'm looking for someone to be able to feel confident when speaking about the web and what makes a good experience. And if you can keep a straight face while saying http://procatinator.com/ is the greatest site on the Internet because you think their loading interface is easy to understand, then my vote's for a second interview.

Remember how cool it was when you first learned how to tween objects in Flash? That’s how I feel about using CSS transitions with hovers. It’s my favorite thing about the web right now, which is why this isn’t the first time I’ve written about it or talked about it . I just can’t seem to get enough of the awesomeness that we are applying to our links. From subtle color changes as seen on the links of Owltastic to more apparent size changes, such as the ones I recently worked on for the Online Music Awards, there are a plethora of enhancements we can add to our styles. When done with the audience in mind, they can add just the right amount of fun and class to your interactions. And don’t we all know if there’s anything the internet needs more of (besides kittens), it’s class.

Here's a conversation that occurred on a train:

"How do you decompress from work?"

"I don't."

Reading through Twitter, blog posts and various other Internet correspondence, I've noticed a common theme. Call it what you prefer: "venting", "complaining", and/or "reality", but a lot of us seem to be tired, overworked, and/or stressed out.

At the same time, wellness seems to be a theme gaining popularity. This is probably not a coincidence. We are encouraged to balance our work and our personal life as to not get burned out on either. We see articles about how sitting is killing us and contemplate purchasing monitors that can tell us we have bad posture.

But how exactly do we do that? It's been nice to see some solutions to these issues, such as dimming our screen every hour, reminding us to get up and walk around. Or booking a private villa in Spain for when your team needs to work overtime. Not so shabby ideas. I hope to see these more of these coming.

Grid systems: good or bad for divitis?

Related: have we forgotten what divitis even is?

Recently I worked on the redesign of happycog.com. We planned, designed and coded the whole site in one 5 day work week and published it on that Friday, even with some bugs still showing. As a part-time perfectionist, the applauded philosophy of releasing early and often has always seemed a bit horrifying to me. Are you really going to let people see your code before you have quality assured it till your eyes can't blink anymore? Gasp! It's a formalists nightmare. 

After we launched, it took just a few minutes for the first piece of twitter feedback to come in, alerting us of to one of those remaining bugs. My first instinct was to put down my celebratory beverage, run back to Coda, and start fixing things. And then something crazy happened. It might've been that my brain was working on 6 hours of sleep over 3 days, but instead of firing up my mobile emulators, I closed my laptop. I decided to embrace that we tried an experiment on our own company site, knew there'd be bugs and in time, they'd be fixed. A JavaScript bug in Safari wasn't going to be the end of the world and it won't be on your site either, unless you're working on a site that is teaching Bruce Willis how to disarm an Asteroid

We've all been under tight deadlines and might not have had the time to test Opera for the 22nd time and sometimes it's 4 am and we forget to also add a :focus rule to our :hover declaration. In this big internet family we all are, a lot of folks genuinely want to help each other out and help you identify these items.  If the attitude is "we are all in this together", then that's another great thing we have going for us. 

The idea of social bug reporting can be really great. Two things to remember: 

  • Keep a thick skin and take feedback with a grain of salt, while giving yourself a pat on the back for all the hard work you've put in up to this point.
  • Give feedback with grace and don't forget there are people behind those anonymous functions. 

I love sports. You might know this by my check-ins to stadiums on Gowalla or perhaps you've seen my cheese carvings of sports mascots. A couple of years ago, if you followed my Twitter account, you might have known I loved sports from my tweets griping or celebrating local Philadelphia athletics. One winter day, I received a Twitter reply from a friend of mine stating: "Oh, I forgot I can follow @jennlukas again now that baseball season is over." My first reaction was laughter and to reply with a picture of a cat playing football. But then I started to think he might have a point. 

Knowing your audience is key. I have always viewed Twitter as more of a safe place for nerds. I like to use it to stay up to date on news, mostly relating to the web. So I decided to make an effort to slow down on the sports tweets. Some have told me: "it's your twitter, post whatever you want!" And sure, that's certainly true. However, I'd personally rather read web development tweets over the ones about the Kobe Feef Phở someone just ate or the "OMG I can't believe that just happened on [insert TV show here]" variety, so why not try to cut down on my plethora of jock outbursts? 

I now use Facebook status updates to fulfill my need to talk about sports on the Internet. For me, Facebook is more audience appropriate, as most of the people reading my updates are local friends who might give a hoot about the Philadelphia Phillies. I think finding a balance of staying true to yourself and using one of the many social channels we have to do so is totally doable.

Now please excuse me while I go add  "Social Karma Expert" to my LinkedIn.

Recently over lunch, the hypothetical question of "If you could have lunch with anyone in the world" who would it be came to discussion. I racked my brain and disposed of the "too smart, it would be intimidating" entries (like Bill Gates) and the "I'm only lunching with you cause you're hot" entries (like Joseph Gordon Levitt) and ended up on someone who I thought I could relate with and learn from, Tina Fey. Tina Fey/Liz Lemon and I share three important similarities:

  1. We were both the first femail directors at our jobs. Her as the head writer of Saturday Night Live, me as the Interactive Development Director at Happy Cog.
  2. We both accrue lettuce in our hair as a result of eating at our desks.
  3. We both have dated a beeper salesman.

If you're waiting for the comic relief in which I say only one of these three facts is true, you'll be waiting a while. I never really put much thought into any of these, as they all really just seem like an integral part of life, but recently the first one has been on my mind. After reading about Virgina Rometty being named CEO of IBM, I got to thinking, "that's awesome! But why does it matter that she's the first?"

My thoughts on that were further solidified after watching Tina Fey's acceptance speech for the Mark Twain award in which she said:

Apparently, I’m only the third woman ever to receive this award, and I’m so honored to – to – to be numbered with Lilly Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg, but I do hope that women are achieving at a rate these days that we can stop counting what number they are things.

I really dig that women in technology is gaining momentum as a topic. I loved teaching the first Philly chapter of Girl Develop It. I've also enjoyed reading the tweets from the 11th Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. I hope these groups supportive of women tech nerds keep on coming. I hope that they become so prominent that we slowly don't need them anymore and like the real Liz Lemon says, that we'll be able to soon stop the counting.