It’s really heartwarming to see this idea resonating.
Tuesday, March 6th, 2018
Friday, March 2nd, 2018
Just change it
Amber and I often have meta conversations about the nature of learning and teaching. We swap books and share ideas and experiences whenever we’re trying to learn something or trying to teach something. A topic that comes up again and again is the idea of “the curse of knowledge“—it’s the focus of Steven Pinker’s book The Sense Of Style. That’s when the author/teacher can’t remember what it’s like not to know something, which makes for a frustrating reading/learning experience.
This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to blog about stuff as they’re learning it; not when they’ve internalised it. The perspective that comes with being in the moment of figuring something out is invaluable to others. I honestly think that most explanatory books shouldn’t be written by experts—the “curse of knowledge” can become almost insurmountable.
I often think about this when I’m reading through the installation instructions for frameworks, libraries, and other web technologies. I find myself put off by documentation that assumes I’ve got a certain level of pre-existing knowledge. But now instead of letting it get me down, I use it as an opportunity to try and bridge that gap.
The brilliant Safia Abdalla wrote a post a while back called How do I get started contributing to open source?. I definitely don’t have the programming chops to contribute much to a codebase, but I thoroughly agree with Safia’s observation:
If you’re interested in contributing to open source to improve your communication and empathy skills, you’re definitely making the right call. A lot of open source tools could definitely benefit from improvements in the documentation, accessibility, and evangelism departments.
What really jumps out at me is when instructions use words like “simply” or “just”. I’m with Brad:
“Just” makes me feel like an idiot. “Just” presumes I come from a specific background, studied certain courses in university, am fluent in certain technologies, and have read all the right books, articles, and resources. “Just” is a dangerous word.
But rather than letting that feeling overwhelm me, I now try to fix the text. Here are a few examples of changes I’ve suggested, usually via pull requests on Github repos:
- The instructions on the AMP validator page.
- The documentation for Composer, the PHP dependency manager.
They all have different codebases in different programming languages, but they’re all intended for humans, so having clear and kind documentation is a shared goal.
I like suggesting these kinds of changes. That initial feeling of frustration I get from reading the documentation gets turned into a warm fuzzy feeling from lending a helping hand.
Monday, February 26th, 2018
I’ve just come back from running a workshop at Webstock in New Zealand, followed by another one in Hong Kong. I heartily concur with Tim’s advice here. I’ve certainly migrated to having a more modular approach to workshops. In fact, these days I have little to no slides. Instead, it’s all about being flexible.
You can spend forever carefully crafting and refining your workshop and coming up with solid exercises but at the end of the day, you need to be ready to go with the flow.
Some sections you wanted to cover you may not get to. Some topics you hadn’t allotted a lot of time to may need to become more detailed. That’s all fine because the workshop is about helping them, not yourself.
Friday, February 2nd, 2018
Friday, January 5th, 2018
Friday, December 15th, 2017
I’m giving a workshop in Hong Kong on February 21st. If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there. If you know anyone in Hong Kong, please spread the word.
This workshop will teach you how to think in a progressive way. Together we’ll peel back the layers of the web and build upwards, creating experiences that work for everyone. From URL design to Progressive Web Apps, this journey will cover each stage of technological advancement.
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Saturday, November 11th, 2017
I spoke my brains on the Venturi’s Voice podcast. It’s a random walk through topics like sharing, writing, publishing, and bizzzzznis.
Tracy’s new book is excellent (and I had the great honour of writing a foreword for it).
Programmers, developers, marketers, and non-designers — want to become a better designer? This short book has everything you need.
Whenever I dipped my toe in the waters of the semantic web, I noticed there were two fundamentally different approaches. One approach was driven by the philosophy that absolutely everything in the universe should be theoretically describable. The other approach was far more lax, concentrating only on the popular use-cases: people, places, events, and that was pretty much it. These few common items, so the theory went, accounted for about 80% of actual usage in the real world. Trying to codify the remaining 20% would result in a disproportionate amount of effort.
I always liked that approach. I think it applies to a lot of endeavours. Coding, sketching, cooking—you can get up to speed on the bare essentials pretty quickly, and then spend a lifetime attaining mastery. But we don’t need to achieve mastery at every single thing we do. I’m quite happy to be just good enough at plenty of skills so that I can prioritise the things I really want to spend my time doing.
Perhaps web design isn’t a priority for you. Perhaps you’ve decided to double-down on programming. That doesn’t mean foregoing design completely. You can still design something pretty good …thanks to this book.
Tracy understands the fundamentals of web design so you don’t have to. She spent years learning, absorbing, and designing, and now she has very kindly distilled down the 80% of that knowledge that’s going to be the most useful to you.
Think of Hello Web Design as a book of cheat codes. It’s short, to the point, and tells you everything you need to know to be a perfectly competent web designer.
Friday, October 27th, 2017
Amber shares her story of becoming a web developer and a public speaker. She is an inspiration to me!
Monday, October 2nd, 2017
Alan Kay’s initial description of a “Dynabook” written at Xerox PARC in 1972.
Monday, September 25th, 2017
Here’s a great free curriculum for teaching HTML and CSS.
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
Some great ideas here about using metaphors when explaining technical topics.
I really like these four guidelines for good metaphors:
Monday, September 4th, 2017
Here’s Amber’s great talk from the great Material conference last month in Iceland.
Amber Wilson worked in the field of Psychology for many years and is now a budding Web developer at a design agency in Brighton. New to Web development, she is continually eager to improve her skills.
(The silhouettes of Jessica, me, and Joschi in the front row make it look like Mystery Science Theater 3000.)
Monday, July 31st, 2017
People of Sydney, you’re in luck. Charlotte is starting up a Sydney chapter of Codebar. If you know someone there who is under-represented in the tech industry, and they’re looking to learn how to code, please tell them about this.
Some want to become full-time developers, whereas others want to learn the basics of coding to enhance their current jobs. Some want to learn programming as a hobby. Whatever the reason, we’d love to see you there!
Also, if you’re a developer in Sydney, please consider becoming a tutor at Codebar.
I promise that tutoring is not scary! We ask that you let us know which areas you feel comfortable tutoring when you sign up, so you choose what you teach. It’s absolutely okay to not know answers during sessions, but knowing how to look for them is helpful.
Oh, and if you’ve got a space in Sydney that can accommodate a class, please, please consider become a Codebar sponsor.
Friday, July 21st, 2017
Donate money to support Codebar:
By donating to codebar you are helping to promote diversity in the tech industry so that more women, LGBTQA and other underrepresented folks will be able to get started with programming and raise their skills to the next level.
Wednesday, July 19th, 2017
I think “it’s simple” shouldn’t be used to explain something.