Back when I was first paid to build web-based applications (around 1998 or so), the world of Web Development as we know it today did not exist. When I began working my first post-college full-time job, things had improved a bit. I learned all that fancy JavaScript, VBScript, Applets, and ActiveX stuff. But I couldn't really put it to use because the cross-platform and cross-browser support was horrible. I swore off DHTML and went on with life, focusing more on the backend and server side stuff (Perl, Oracle/MySQL, etc).

Nowadays, Google is dazzling us with their DHTML in Maps and Suggest. Ajax is all over the place. And don't forget that little photo sharing site. It's once again cool to do fancy client side web stuff, but more importantly, it is possible to do it and cover the majority of the users and platforms.

The problem for me, of course, is that the technology has advanced 4-5 years since I swore it off. That's a lot of time on the web. So I figure that if I ever wanted to get back into it, I'd have an uphill battle.

Brad Fitzpatrick confirmed this today when he wrote:

I've been doing a lot of JavaScript the past couple days, trying to expand my horizons.

Holy crap, man.

I'm pretty smart, but this shit is hard. Between IE, Moz/Firefox, and Safari/Konq, I've seen everything. I'm now educated in quirks mode, strict mode, the different box models, the different event registration models, the different DOMs, the different ......

This tells me three things:

  1. this stuff is still hard to get right--lots of little pitfalls still
  2. I certainly would have a lot to learn or relearn
  3. webdev folks really don't get the respect they deserve

That last point it worth reinforcing. I think a lot of people who've been doing "web stuff" long enough think that web developers are the same as the "HTML monkeys" we use to refer to back in the day. That couldn't be farther from the truth.

Posted by jzawodn at March 23, 2005 01:31 PM

Reader Comments
# Brent Ashley said:

I was one amongst a number of people who were doing javascript-based remote procedure calls with object marshalling as far back as 2000 using various techniques. Microsoft's RS went as far back as 1998. XML wasn't part of it then, but it doesn't really need to be part of it now - depends on the level of overhead you want.

The technology really hasn't advanced appreciably in 5 years, it's just taken until now for the wider dev community to grok the implications of all the pieces fitting together just so, and for NS4/IE4 and their ilk to drop off the must-have compatibility radar thus raising the common-denominator bar. JJG's article suggesting the Ajax name just happened to come at the right time to spread as a meme.

Don't sell yourself short, Jeremy, I bet you'll catch on very quickly.

on March 23, 2005 02:17 PM
# Matthom said:

I think a lot of people who've been doing "web stuff" long enough think that web developers are the same as the "HTML monkeys" we use to refer to back in the day. That couldn't be farther from the truth.

I agree with that, and I think the majority of those people are clients and/or bosses.

on March 23, 2005 02:23 PM
# Dougal Campbell said:

Hear, hear!

There is still a lot of that "my nephew is pretty handy with that FrontPage intarweb stuff" attitude floating around. We have a hard time convincing that sort that there's a lot more to developing a web site than picking your favorite color, slapping on a photo, and deciding how big you want the page title to be. Usually with that sort, though, it's not even worth the effort -- better to just nod, smile, and move along before you get your soul sucked out.

on March 23, 2005 02:31 PM
# ernie said:

Thanks for the nod to web developers, Mister Zawodny.

I think back in the days of dot-com bubble, there were a lot of web monkeys - companies were hiring people who read the first chapter of an "Idiot's Guide to Learning HTML" book, and a lot of people in the business trying to get the quick buck.

As the bubble burst and jobs got harder to find, most of those webdevs went in two directions - they either looked for another source of income, or decided to delve deeper in the technologies. A lot of webdevs I knew in the marchFIRST days are now bouncers, bartenders or office managers.

on March 23, 2005 02:36 PM
# Dutch Rapley said:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

on March 23, 2005 02:38 PM
# David Schontzler said:

Amen. Amen. Amen.

on March 23, 2005 02:47 PM
# oli young said:

Thank You - that's all I'll say .. it's rare that those around us actually take a moment to think about what we 'Acronym Wranglers' have to handle when doing our jobs.

on March 23, 2005 02:48 PM
# Mike said:

Something like flickr surely could have been done years ago with Java applets. And Google's suggest appears to be pretty basic javascript.

on March 23, 2005 02:57 PM
# kasia said:

Java applets are an abomination.. and the google javascript is not so simple or basic.

I see a huge future in xml & xsl.

on March 23, 2005 03:18 PM
# Dossy said:

[...] it is possible to do it and cover the majority of the users and platforms.

That's because the majority of the users are running MSIE on Win32. Not because the technology has advanced sufficiently, just the diverse range of technologies to support has gone away and has reached a steady-state.

Web dev is still a collection of HTML monkeys and Pixel Jockeys. Many varying implementations of CSS support has bred a whole new generation of "tweakers" (those who spend hours tweaking CSS to find ways of making it render similarly across all browsers).

Indeed, you're right: it's still as hard today as it was back in 1998 to make stuff "just work" and for that, that growing army of tweakers doesn't get the credit it deserves. But, it doesn't change the fact that they're still HTML monkeys and pixel jockeys ("is it below the fold? is there a 1px gutter? OMGWTFBBQ!") and CSS tweakers a-plenty.

on March 23, 2005 03:18 PM
# Ben Nolan said:

Although I agree with you - there are toolkits to make dhtml development easier. For example - Ruby on Rails makes building applications with ajax crazy-simple.

on March 23, 2005 03:22 PM
# matthew said:

i've been reading a lot lately about the resurgence of xmlhttp and javascript via ajax.

so, as i understand it, all this technology doesn't really help out people using screen readers (blind people) because the screen readers don't pick up on dhtml changes like that. plus, there might still be people out there that dontt have javascript turned on or they browse via command line (damn linux users!)

with that said, i really haven't heard that much about degrading the tricks so the pages will still work with the above mentioned situations.

just a thought, looking for discussion.

on March 23, 2005 03:49 PM
# Mike said:

> Java applets are an abomination.

LOL, no they're not. They can do some pretty slick things. Flash is the same idea as Java applets.

> the google javascript is not so simple or basic.

Have you looked at it? It's not that complicated and it very likely could have been achieved years ago. At any rate, it's hardly anything exciting - other apps have had similar functionality for years.

> I see a huge future in xml & xsl.

XML, yes. And XML has been in use for years. XSL? Did you mean XSLT? XSLT is a huge PITA. And it's been around for years too.

on March 23, 2005 05:40 PM
# Mike said:

Ruby on Rails is kind of neat. But I think it's only really suited to small, basic web apps.

on March 23, 2005 05:41 PM
# kasia said:

No.. I meant XSL, XSLT is just a part of it. Yes, I'm aware it's been around for a while, but too many people are still using php, jsp, asp, etc.. they will catch on eventually.. or maybe another language will develop that separates visual elements from code.

Anyway, flash can do what Java applets can, sure, and faster and usually better. Java is better as a server-side language, it never really did well with UI.

on March 23, 2005 06:20 PM
# Mike said:

There already are plenty of ways to separate code from presentation. PHP has templates, JSP has struts and several others, ASP has code-behind. Sure, XSLT could be used, but it's just more painful.

Take a look at Yahoo Finance's Stock Screener - that's a Java applet, no? Pretty nice. Look at Eclipse - it has a great GUI.

on March 23, 2005 06:37 PM
# jean-paul said:

yo J. yo J. thanks. yes it's grown to be quite a discipline.

on March 23, 2005 11:49 PM
# jean-paul said:

yo J. yo J. thanks. yes it's grown to be quite a discipline.

on March 23, 2005 11:50 PM
# justin said:

one thing i cant figure out is why Javascript is no longer developed. according to wikipedia "The standard (as of 1999) is JavaScript 1.5" - 1999! that's , what, 6 years ago?

who "owns" javascript? why isnt it being developed anymore?

on March 24, 2005 03:32 AM
# Michael Trausch said:

Yeah, it really is a lot of information to try to figure out. What's even worse is that IE does not support CSS2, and while Mozilla and other browsers (mostly) support it, that's just one hiccup that you need to figure out.

Then there's the whole idea of what you can do, where. JS doesn't work in every browser and you have to have nasty hacks for one thing verses another. Want to appease both IE and Mozilla users, on different platforms? Using ActiveX alone won't cut it - you could in theory supply the Mozilla installable packages, however, most extensions require a restart.

Some browsers don't even support XHTML 1.0 yet.

MSIE, isn't W3C standards compliant.

Some of the smaller browsers do quirky things, and don't have a functional strict mode - neither does MSIE.

It's really a pain.

on March 24, 2005 05:49 AM
# brandy said:

Heh, if brad says that... I know there is no hope in my even trying lol

on March 24, 2005 07:38 AM
# Scott said:

Is it unreasonable to say Web Development is still a young and growing, changing area?

I think Web Dev has matured a lot from the late nineties days of tables and spacer .GIFs; granted we still have to deal with the same cross-browser bugs in 2005, only now they are typically more convoluted. I try to see it as one of the unique challenges (well, most days,) of my job.

Given this whole cleaning agent/JSRS/xmlhttp/remote scripting "thing" is finally getting major attention, I am hoping that there will be more advocacy from the standards/usability group in this area (ie. best practices.)

[Insert acronym of choice here] should be an enhancement to the base functionality of a site, gracefully degrading to a "click and reload" experience (eg. form submission without reloading where supported, leaving "unsupported" agents to submit the form normally.)

Either way, I think it's cool that these things are being discussed - ideally everyone will benefit and learn from it, and we'll see more sites doing nifty (gracefully-degrading, ideally) things with client-side code.

In short, thanks to Jeremy for the hat tip. Web Developers everywhere are likely nodding their heads in agreement. The occasional frustrating, head-scratching browser bug aside, I think it's a great time to be a Web Developer.

on March 24, 2005 08:15 AM
# Kent Brewster said:

Nope, webdevs don't get the respect they deserve. Is this news? Neither do members of many professions that to translate nebulous plans to concrete reality, even though they have to be technically proficient and deeply in tune with the emotional needs of their eventual customer. When's the last time you looked at a building contractor and thought "There goes an artist!"?

on March 24, 2005 08:37 AM
# Mike said:

ECMA is supposed to be in charge of Javascript. But, yeah, it seems there hasn't been anything new in Javascript in many years.

on March 24, 2005 12:38 PM
# Dutch Rapley said:

It's interesting to look at the trends in web development. Web development isn't about one piece of software, or even one technology. It's a conglomerate of many, many, different technologies. It you look most web developers resume, you'll most likely see the following: HTML/XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, XML, server-side languages (PHP, ColdFusion, JSP, ASP, etc.), web server administration, database administration, and some server administration. Any one web developer can not master ALL of these, but each web developer is going to have a specialty. Once one technology has been mastered, a good web developer will move on to what he feels is the next "important" piece.

I noticed the comment that JavaScript hasn't been updated since 1999. JavaScript is a client side language. Yeah, it's neat to tweak the interface, but if you look at the last several years, the empahsis has really been on maturing the server-side languages. Now, that those languages have been matured, and most developers have mastered them, those that are constantly studying web developmnet, are now starting to place emphasis on the client.

on March 25, 2005 06:42 AM
# Ben Poole said:

Amen to that. And have pity on the poor sods (i.e. people like me, OK I said it) who years after the bubble still have to put these damn things together...

Whilst also coding this, that and the other, be it web-based or Someting Else.... Still, it keeps things interesting I suppose.


on March 27, 2005 10:50 AM
# John Spitzer said:

Another Amen. I've been doing web design and front-end coding since the messy, hackish tag-soup heyday of late 1990's to the XHTML, CSS, DOM, ECMA Script standards of today - but that "monkey" feeling still clings to my back.

I think anything that has become so common just gets written off as "easy" and gets thrown in at the bottom of job qualifications ('..oh, and by the way you need to know HTML, CSS and Javascript stuff too...")

on March 29, 2005 08:51 AM
# Joshua Mostafa said:

I reckon a good example of Google's dextrous client-side scripting is GMail. It's mental!

on March 31, 2005 05:05 PM
# Doug said:

Have you seen the crazy detail they got on the Yahoo corporate campus (that dude's got a lot of hair) with Google Maps:

on April 9, 2005 01:50 PM
# Drew said:

That ajax article is great, and so are many of the articles it references. Gmail is redic... haven't looked closely, but it seems like they're obfuscating their javascript?

on April 22, 2005 09:39 AM
# mgsloan said:

I respect web devs, certainly. They are able to do good work with slipshod languages and markup techniques.

This stuff is hard, but it shouldn't be. I think this is part of the source of disrespect from software programmers, even the good ones - they know that most of web dev is learning to deal with the tools' fetters.

on December 11, 2006 10:27 PM
# HoltWW said:

Web design is hard? You ain't kidding! But designing and building websites has come a long way since the early 1990's when I started, and it's been a fun learning curve all the way. Building CMS websites, with dazzling but simple designs that belie the complexity behind them is a real source of satisfaction.

The biggest laugh came when one client complained about not having a website after I'd finished designing one for him. "Where is my data?" he asked angrily. "I asked for a website and you haven't given me one!"

I sat him down, logged him into the CMS and showed him how to upload his own content. When he saw the results he was astounded and walked out beaming like a Cheshire cat. He emails me every now and again to tell me how pleased he still is. That's what makes it all worth while. You slog away working in PHP/MySQL, or ASP.NET, or any of a dozen other technologies, and the client's just don't see it. All they see are the pretty pictures and a website that does exactly what they asked for.

Sure, it's hard. But don't let anyone ever tell you it ain't fun.

on December 12, 2006 05:53 AM
# Wesley said:

Spot on, Mr. Zawodny. Being web developer myself, I know exactly of what you speak.

To those who would dismiss our profession as "easy", I would say you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is we really do. Sure, I'm an "HTML monkey", just as much as a physicist is an administrative assistant. There's a lot more to web development than markup languages, client-side scripting, and graphic design software. This might come as a surprise to some, but web developers are also programmers, DBAs, server admins, project managers, diplomats, crisis managers, counselors, and the list goes on. Well, maybe the last three are a slight exaggeration, but you get my point.

The act of authoring an HTML document and throwing in a bit of JavaScript spice may not be rocket science, but that does not, by any means, imply that web development is easy. Even if HTML and JavaScript were the only tricks in our bag, that does not make our job inherently easy. Besides, what legitimate purpose does it serve to trivialize another's profession (or hobby) anyway? If writing HTML is just a bunch of monkey business, then I say be thankful for the monkeys! We certainly wouldn't want to leave our precious Web in the hands of those brainy types, would we? ;)

Remember folks, take no offense when someone tells you what you do is easy or unimportant. Such observations rarely merit validity by virtue of knowledge and experience; therefore, such observations are nothing more than a product of ignorance.

Keep up the great work!


on April 24, 2007 11:00 PM
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