6 Aug 2012
It is summer. We get about a week of actual summer here in the UK, a brief glimpse of what it must be like to live somewhere hot and sunny and then the clouds roll in again, and the rain starts.
This year we also have the Olympics. The rowing events happen just down the road from where I live and work, at Eton Dorney. I don’t have tickets, as they are like gold dust, but the coverage on TV is impressive—we cycled up there a week before the event started to see the huge towers they have erected for the world’s longest ever Sky Cam system.
Even if it rains I still enjoy the longer summer days as I like to be able to run before or after work while it is still daylight. I’m a fairly recent convert to participating in sport. I’m an ex-dancer so I didn’t really do much sport at school, however in the last few years I have discovered running and now run half marathons. I started by doing the Couch 2 5K Program, and once I could run 5K joined a running group, the ladies there encouraging me to work up to the half marathon distance. This year I decided to join the local athletics club. There they have runners who frequently come in first in local races—to me these were the serious, “proper” runners. I was pretty nervous going along to my first ever track session.
I didn’t need to worry. As someone who has come to running fairly late, and with a stack of injuries working against me, I’m never going to be anywhere near the fastest person there. It doesn’t matter. They met me where I was. My starting point was my level of fitness and ability when I walked through the door, my achievements at chipping a little bit off my times are noted. I don’t feel like a second class member, or compared negatively to those who actually win races.
Back to the day job. I spend quite a lot of time supporting users of our CMS product, Perch. Our customers range from our peers in the industry, to people who are just starting in web design. Including those who can’t even really write HTML as they have been using some software to generate their HTML pages. Many of the support tickets we see raised have little to do with our product and everything to do with a lack of knowledge of HTML, or the fundamentals of how the web works.
I’m sometimes asked whether it is really frustrating dealing with customers who don’t understand HTML and CSS, and yes, sometimes it is. It would be a lot easier if everyone had 10+ years of experience and cared deeply about web standards, but they don’t. We have to meet people where they are. We have to understand what they are trying to achieve and try and steer them towards the best solution for them. Should we demand that every person building a site as a hobby understands the finer points of best practice? I suggest not, the web has always enabled people to create, and I would hate that to change. Should we pour scorn on the student who has been taught outdated practice at their college and now is having to unlearn all of that to progress in their web career? I don’t think so, but have seen it happen.
Many people will be inspired by the Olympics to get active. I hope they all find local clubs and gyms full of people willing to meet them where they are and help them to achieve their goals. Even if they will always be in the back half of the field come race day. Achievement in sport for most of us is not about being better than everyone else, it is about being a bit better than we were last time.
Likewise I hope we, the community of experienced web designers and developers, remember that some people are beginners, some have been taught incorrectly, and others are just having fun building sites as a hobby. That those things that seem obvious to us can be baffling to someone who hasn’t had the benefit of years in the industry, or great people to work closely with. When we meet people where they are, helping them is far less frustrating, and we can support and encourage them as they go on to achieve more than they realised they could.