Don’t pay me to speak – share instead

No money

I just made an announcement on Twitter on something I’ve been doing for a while. Something I’d love more people with the same privilege as I enjoy doing:

It is a wonderful situation to be in a full-time employment and get the chance to present at events. It also is a tricky one. Your work contract often doesn’t allow any extra income. And even if that is the case, you need to deal with taxes and paperwork coming from that. You also don’t want to be the person taking a speaking slot away from someone who does it for a living and is great at it. Or someone who starts out and needs the pay to be able to afford it in the first place. You also don’t want to be a speaker because you are a freebie for the conference organisers.

Conference organisers are under a lot of pressure these days. They are rightfully asked to offer a diverse line-up and be open to lots of people to attend. Elitism and gatherings of the privileged are things to avoid. Sometimes it is hard for a small to medium conference to budget for that. It is not enough to offer free tickets. Often people who could benefit from an event and bring a different point of view can’t even afford getting there.

To help making this easier, I’ve been forfeiting my speaker fees for quite a while. Instead I ask conference organisers to put the money into efforts that bring people who can’t afford it to the event. It means no paperwork for me, no worries about annoying my employer and yet it means I am not a freebie presenter.

I hope that this helps a bit making what we have here even better than it is now. Thanks to all the conference organisers who put effort into this.

Photo by Neubie

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February security review

We are now midway through the second month of the new year. This should be a good time for web professionals to review and update their individual security practices. Do your daily practices keep you secure? Are you certain? It is easy to to become complacent with our practices, credentials and equipment. This might be a good time to review individual security fundamentals.

Is it time to review your security practices?

We have all seen the examples where passwords are taped to a monitor or under a keyboard. We know not to do that. But do we periodically stop to consider our daily practices and how they affect security? This might be a good time to ask ourselves the following questions…

Best practices

With respect to passwords – are yours long and complex? Do you use passphrases? Are they impossible to guess? Do you use a different password on each site? Do you keep your passwords in a vault? Do you change your passwords from time to time?

Do you use two factor authentication (because passwords alone are no longer enough)?

When you are traveling – do you use a VPN (if you must connect to a public network – such as a hotel or airport)? Do you keep your phone and tablet backed up? Do you have the ability to track a device (in the event you lose it)? Do you have the ability to remotely wipe said device (again if it is lost or stolen)?

Do you routinely update your applications and operating system? Do you do this on your phone and tablet as well?

Additionally, do you do a factory reset on devices before you dispose of them (or recycle them)? Do you confirm that all data has really been erased from the device?

Hopefully you have been able to answer in the affirmative to all the above questions. If not, this might be a good time to rethink your practices. This also might be a good time to discuss these topics with colleagues and clients.

Resources

We have found the following resources helpful (you might want to share some of these with your colleagues and clients as well). All are links to the SANS website. I am a reviewer of their OUCH newsletter. These are provided because they can also be easily shared with colleagues and clients. Hopefully you find them useful.

What other security practices do you employ periodically? Care to share stories of “best practices” and how they helped (either personally or a client)?

As always, we look forward to your comments.

Best always,
Mark DuBois
Executive Director and Community Evangelist

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Presenting about the P in PWA at Awwwards Berlin

Last Friday I presented about Progressive Web Apps (PWA) at the awwwards conference in Berlin.

I was pretty lucky as @DasSurma also covered the same topic later in the evening with a more WordPress focused approach.

I am sorry that I couldn’t stay for the whole event, but we got booted out by security as my partner and me had brought our dog. We had asked upfront but there was a miscommunication between the organisers and the event staff. So we had to leave early.

The talk I gave was “Minding the P in PWA” and I covered the idea that we talk too much about the nuts and bolts of PWAs instead of seeing their benefits.

The slides are available at SlideShare

I am pretty sure that awwwards will soon release the video. Until then you can also watch the longer version of this talk at Skillsmatter which I gave last month at the London PWA Meetup.

The resources I covered:

  • What the web can do – a dashboard of extended features of the web like sensor access checking if your current browser supports it or not
  • Mozilla ServiceWorker Cookbook – recipes of different ways to use ServiceWorkers.
  • Google Workbox – an abstraction library to ease the work with the moving ServiceWorker spec
  • Google Lighthouse – an audit extension to the Chrome developer tools that lints and checks the quality of a PWA opened in the browser
  • PWA Builder – an open source project by Microsoft that allows you to pre-seed a manifest from an existing URL and create a ServiceWorker for you. You enter a URL, and you get a PWA and binary fallbacks for the PWA in the end.
  • Details on the support for ServiceWorkers and WebManifest in Apple Safari/Webkit – including some interesting facts about how Safari deals with defunct and old caches
  • PWA Stats – a resource by Cloud Four showcasing PWA success stories. This is great if you need to convince business owners to go the PWA route
  • PWA on Windows 10 – an in-depth article showing what Windows 10 offers to PWAs, including Service Worker support in Edge and web indexing of PWAs and automatic ingestion into the Windows store. There’s also a great tweet by @kirupa, showing “what a PWA would look like on Windows 10:

Again sorry for having to bail early, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have more PWA questions.

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February Updates – CSS Grid Layout

In January we reviewed recent CSS updates. As a web professional you must be aware of constant changes taking place in our world. CSS Grid Layout is now supported by nearly 90% of modern browsers. It was adopted as a candidate recommendation by the W3C on December 17, 2017.

CSS Grid Layout

In this article I would like to focus on CSS Grid – a powerful layout system available in CSS. It is a 2-dimensional system, meaning it can handle both columns and rows, unlike flexbox which is largely a 1-dimensional system.

CSS Grid Layout

CSS Grid Layout

In the article A Complete Guide to Grid, Chris House provides many details about CSS Grid Layout along with examples.

Here are some key-points:

  1. In his introduction, Chris references two great resources – Rachel Andrew’s book (Get Ready for CSS Grid Layout) and Chris Coyier’s Complete Guide to Flexbox.
  2. He reviews the basics (including getting started with your container element display:grid, setting rows and columns and placing child elements).
  3. Of course, it is important to know the proper terminology (including grid container, grid item, grid line and more).
  4. He then provides a very useful overview of properties for the grid container and grid items.

Everything you need to learn CSS Grid Layout

In Rachel Andrews article Grid by Example explained basic concepts of Grid Layout which gives us a method of creating grid structures that are described in CSS and not in HTML. It helps us to create layouts that can be redefined using Media Queries and adapt to different contexts. Her 2016 book “Get Ready for CSS Grid Layout” has a meaningful quote by Eric Meyer in the forward. We think this nicely sums up the importance of CSS Grid Layout.

“Grid Layout is to Flexbox as PNG is to BMP, and then some.”

Resources

Here are additional resources about CSS Grid we believe are useful for Web Professionals.

  •  A collection of resources & tools to help you manage the Grid link 
  • Great examples which include an image of how the example should look in a supporting browser, they each link to a page with more information about the technique being shown, code and a CodePen of the example. Examples by Rachel Andrews
  • This is an older example (but still useful) which tells how CSS grid are becoming popular these days. As web applications become more and more complex, we need a more natural way to do advanced layouts easily without hacky solutions that use floats and other less burdensome techniques. An exciting new solution for creating layouts comes with the CSS Grid Layout Module.
  • CSS Grid Layout excels at dividing a page into major regions, or defining the relationship in terms of size, position, and layer, between parts of a control built from HTML primitives. MDN Web Docs also have great examples of CSS Grid.

We hope you find these overviews and examples in CSS Grid world useful. As always, we look forward to your comments and feedback (whether you are a member or not). What have been your experiences with employing CSS Grid in real world applications for clients. How was the work received? Did any issues arise?

For those who would like to have a little fun, try out CSS Grid Garden.

If you aspire to be a web professional and don’t know where to start, we offer a number of beginning classes to our members via our School Of Web learning management system. These include the fundamentals of CSS and HTML (and much more). As a member, your first class is free.

 

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February UX update – User Experience is all about Users

User experience design (UX, UXD, UED or XD) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usabilityaccessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product. User experience design encompasses traditional human–computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users. As an aspiring or practicing web professional, we should make every effort to enhance user satisfaction.

UX Term origin

User Experience Architect Donald Norman – it has been said that he has invented this term as he thought human interface and usability were too narrow and he wanted to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including industrial design graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual. Since then the term has spread widely, so much so that it is starting to lose its meaning. He has written his personal reflection about this in his Wikipedia article.

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Developer Evangelism interview on news.com.au

This morning news.com.au ran a segment about new job titles based on an interview with me a few weeks ago. In the interview about developer evangelism I answered a few questions and – more importantly – covered the difference between sales and developer relations. Here are my full answers to their questions:

Article screenshot

In layman’s terms, how would you describe your job?

A developer evangelist (or developer advocate which is a term many prefer now) is an expert who helps developers use the products of a company and technical people in the company to get the time and support to write excellent products. The job is a communicator role between the technical experts of a company, the outside world, but also different departments of a company. Working in tech is a taxing job although it doesn’t look that way. A lot of people have demands but are not interested in understanding what you do – they just want the work done. The job of the developer evangelist is to bridge that gap. By creating learning materials, presentations and help with communication in between departments. Developers are excellent at solving technical problems and building great software. But many have neither the time nor the drive to communicate their efforts well to others. This is what we do.

Would it be fair to say you work as a sort of salesman for companies to encourage other people to purchase things from the company? Or purchase apps for example?

No, not at all. This is the job of a sales department and their main goal is to artificially create demand for a product. As a developer evangelist you help the product on a technical level. You create example projects using the product. You collect and collate outside feedback, triage it and then bring it to the busy technical team. You help people with technical issues. You create demand in the technical community by talking about the product and showing how it makes the life of developers easier.
If you do a classic sales pitch in the form of “you don’t need to understand this, our product magically fixes all your problems” you’re dead as a developer relations person. You need to have the technical knowledge and properly understand how the product works, not simply sell it. Of course, we’re all creating demand and interest, so in a way we are sales people. But what we sell is knowledge about the inner workings of the product to the outside. You sell your company as a place using cool tech to other developers. We sell outside interest back to the company helping it to priotitise product roadmaps. Good DevRel work doesn’t necessarily result in more product sales. Instead it helps with hiring new talent and ensure people in the company are happy. A company with a fixed product does not need a developer evangelist. When your product offers more granular access to its features using for example an Application Programming Interface (API) then you should consider bringing this role up.

As a comparison, consider a car company. The sales people are there to sell cars – customers don’t need to know the internals. A devrel person would be the one explaining mechanics how to maintain the engine. The person should present at conferences why your cars have great technology and are good for the environment. And explain that your company is much more than just a maker of cars. We create interest and explain how things work so people from the outside can contribute. We don’t sell products.

On your Linkedin you say, ‘I like to take complex technical things and translate them to various audiences in an understandable format’. Is that for people working for companies like Microsoft? Or the general public?

That depends on the event or publication I am asked to reach out to. I’ve explained tech and products of my former and current companies internally to our own people of other departments. I explained them to outside developers working for other, similar companies. I worked withthe open source community as a whole, designers, product managers, project managers and at one time also to people working in the unemployment office. That’s the “various audiences” bit in there.

The general public is less interested in the inner workings of products. It makes more sense to give this communication channel to marketing. However, a good developer evangelist works very closely with sales and marketing to make sure that your company advertisements and press releases don’t overpromise or make it impossible for your developers to deliver in time.

The job of a developer evangelist is to make technical issues easier to understand. This also means to help your company to communicate to the general public without dazzling them with buzzwords.

You don’t only to explain the how but also the why. And the why differs from audience to audience and needs different explanation materials. This could be a very well documented and explained piece of code, an exciting use case and demo app or a presentation. It boils down to being a good communicator and feel empathy with the audience. Far too many technical documentation assumes a perfect audience and thus fails to spark interest. Other information materials show a shiny best scenario but never explain what to do when things go wrong. As a devrel person you need to find a good middle ground.

How does one go about becoming a developer evangelist?

The perfect scenario is to move an interested developer of the product into the role. You need to know the products and technologies inside and out to be a good developer evangelist. People in technology have had their fair share of overpromise and slick sales people telling us things work that do – in fact – not. So you need to have the right “street credibility” or you’re just a sales person that tries to reach a very hostile audience. Personally I was in a lead developer role in a company when I transitioned. I didn’t see any more ways to get promoted on a technical level without moving into management. So I proposed the role of developer evangelist to help the company to improve our internal and external communication. I was lucky to find a sympathetic ear as this is a big issue for a lot of companies.

To start, you need to know what you want to talk about. You can’t only be a good presenter or writer, you also need to know the technical details and know what the market as a whole is doing. For developers or technical project managers who consider a role in DevRel it is a great idea to do a competitive analysis and find out what gets developers excited and how it relates to your company. Then you can start selling the idea of this role to your company. One thing to remember is that only your own excitement sells. If you don’t care about the technology you are supposed to promote or you don’t understand it, you will fail.

Do you developer evangelists work in every tech company? For example, is there a developer evangelist attempting to sell Candy Crush to developers or people looking for the next app to play?

I am pretty shocked how far this has grown. When I wrote the developer evangelism handbook there were only a few companies that had devrel departments. Now almost every technical startup has them.

However, the example of Candy Crush or next app to play is nothing a developer evangelist should do – at all.

King, the company behind Candy Crush most likely has developer evangelists. Instead of telling people about their new games they talk to game developers how to use their analytics, scoring mechanism and other internal features of games. Developer Relations (DevRel) is a hot topic now and a lot of people try to jump on the bandwagon. It kind of washes out the idea of what it is meant to do – improve communication between technical and non-technical people. Developers are a sought after community. They are early adopters and often they are ahead of the next wave of change in our markets. It is tough to hire talent, and it is even harder to retain them. A functioning DevRel department is there to make the technical people in your company be understood and proud of what they are doing. It is not about going to events and giving out T-Shirts.

Do you believe developer evangelists are just one of the many jobs people need to embrace/learn to do in the 21st century. If so, how should people start learning?

It is for sure one of the newer jobs and one that still needs proper definition. However, I would disagree that people should start as developer evangelists. It is a role technical people should transition into once they know your company’s products and goals. That doesn’t mean though that the skillset needed for it isn’t a thing everybody should be learning. We’re at a stage where technology evolves faster than humans. In the very near future it will not be about who can program, but who can use intelligent products that work for us in a sensible manner. Knowing what is happening at the bleeding edge of technology and finding simple ways to explain it is a skill that will become more and more important. It is especially important to make a conscious decision to avoid the drama and hype about technology. Right now, the tech world is getting a bad reputation of being horrible people who only look out for themselves and don’t care about what our products do to people. It is a good time to disprove this impression.

The beauty of our time is that the internet is a great place to learn all kind of things. You can use online courses to try out ideas and technologies for yourself and play with them. There is no certificate for developer evangelism. We’re still at a very early stage. You can use that as an opportunity.

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January WordPress update

As a web professional, you are likely aware that WordPress is used as the principle technology for over 25% of the top 10 million websites (actually now 29% based on the December WordCamp US State of the Word 2017). To better understand the reach of this technology – in the above mentioned State of the Word presentation, it was mentioned there are now over 47,000 plugins and said plugins have been downloaded over 633 million times.

WordPress update

Version 5 coming (Project Gutenberg)

We have recently learned that the next major update (version 5.0) will be based on Project Gutenberg.  We understand this will be the most extensive update since version 2.0 of WordPress. As a web professional, it is important you understand the implications of this upgrade (and the potential effects with your clients). These include:

  • the default editor is changing from the current TinyMCE editor (and changing significantly). If your clients are editing their own content, you need to either train them on the new editor or make certain you use the classic editor plugin (you might want to try both out to better understand the changes). Note this is beta software at the time of this writing so you do not want to install this on any production WordPress sites.
  • although you can presently test Project Gutenberg, it is presently available as a plugin (meaning you may not be able to fully test your current themes and plugins at the moment).
  • the new focus will be on conceptual editing (similar to what you may have experienced with LinkedIn Pulse or similar approaches).
  • the focus is on “identifying and adding meaning to content using blocks and block contests.” See below for what this means.

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That was my Beyond Tellerrand Munich 2018 – Keynote talk/slides and impressions

I just got back from Beyond Tellerrand in Munich and here’s a quick report what you missed if you didn’t go. You might not be interested in my impressions, so let’s get my work out of the way first.

I gave the opening keynote “Sacrificing the golden calf of coding” in which I explained my transition from a hobby coder to a professional developer and learning along the way that tooling and automation is not the enemy.

The video is already available on the Vimeo Channel:

Sacrificing the golden calf of “coding” – Christian Heilmann – btconfMUC2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

I also added the slides to Slideshare:

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Beyond Tellerrand. The organizer is a very old friend of mine and he bends over backwards to make the event something special. He cherry-picks the speakers, treats them immensely well and on a deeply personal level. I feel very proud to be a part of this for many years. On a personal level, I am chuffed about its success as my partner and me met at this event. Thus, she also was a volunteer this time and helped making this event work smoothly for all the attendees.

Anke packing bags

I was worried that branching out from Duesseldorf to Berlin and Munich might be a tough step for the event and as Munich is not a hotspot for events I worried about participation numbers. But I shouldn’t have. The even was full up and people stayed for the whole duration. I was heartbroken to hear about a massive personal loss in the organiser’s life just before the event and I am even more so impressed how well it worked out.

Attendees painting on the Surface Studio

I shot quite a few photos at the event, none of which of course will match what the official photographers managed to get.

Live Video Editing at BTConf

Beyond Tellerrand is ridiculously fast in releasing the videos of the event as they are mixed live. I love this as with booth duties at the Microsoft stand and personal errands I couldn’t see all the talks but will do so now in the nearer future. Here are some picks that may tickle your fancy, too:

Simon Collison’s “The Internet of Natural Things” talk was a lovely reminder how the internet is not all about cold technical things but also a way to organise your life and record natural things around you. It ends with an intriguing new way how an OS could look to be more helpful for people in their natural environment.


The Internet of Natural Things – Simon Collison – btconfMUC2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Harry Robert’s “Why Fast Matters” is a talk full of great information on how to measure and improve the speed of your products and what the positive effects of that can be. Harry does not only show tools but also proves why considering improvements can make profound business sense. And he explains how well performing products are truly international and help you reach new markets without breaking the bank of users who live there. His slides with all the links are available on speakerdeck.


Why Fast Matters – Harry Roberts – btconfMUC2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Nadieh Bremer’s “Data Sketches: A Year of Exotic Data Visualisations” is a whirlwind explanation of her last year of creating bafflingly beautiful data visualisations. She doesn’t only show off her work and talks about the beauty of it but explains the story warts and all – from having to scrape and clean up the data to iteratively doing the math on paper to get the effects she wanted to have.


Data Sketches: A Year of Exotic Data Visualisations – Nadieh Bremer – btconfMUC2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Dina Amin’s “A tinker story” was a total surprise to me and clearly the winner of the event. It already inspired me to write two new talks. Dina is a lady from Egypt who likes to take mechanical things apart and build stop motion animations from them. That’s impressive enough, but the real beauty of the talk is about her story. How she dared to do something that crazy and creative instead of pursuing a normal career and how the internet and working with other people over it made that possible. If you want to see some really cool animations and hear a story of empowerment and joy, this is for you.


A Tinker Story – dina Amin – btconfMUC2018 from beyond tellerrand on Vimeo.

Make sure to keep checking the channel for more videos coming up. Another absolute highlight was Stefan Sagmeister’s closing keynote which was a gorgeous and sweary rant about how we should embrace beauty instead of following outdated Bauhaus ideas. And it ended with the whole audience singing along with him to a song about beauty.

Stefan Sagmeister's Karaoke about beauty

There is no question in my book that Beyond Tellerrand is a worth-while conference to support and attend. My company agreed to support all the events this year and I am looking forward to seeing the next one in May in Duesseldorf. You should, too.

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January HTML/CSS Updates

What’s been happening with HTML and CSS?

Just like having the ability to speak a foreign language, this sort of skill is helpful in almost all professions. HTML and CSS are the foundational languages of the web. As web professionals we should know what updates are taking place in HTML and CSS world. I came across few articles about what’s new about both CSS grid and HTML.

Latest news about HTML and CSS

CSS Grid Layout excels at dividing a page into major regions, or defining the relationship in terms of size, position, and layer, between parts of a control built from HTML primitives.

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