Web Development: How Making Our Own Lives Difficult Is More Important Than We Think

Published on August 1, 2017 (↻ September 20, 2023), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

Many moons ago I wrote that web developers wouldn’t need debugging tools. I was half joking and half serious. We were just coming out of the dark ages of web development, so to speak, undernourished of useful tools, frameworks, libraries; we were nowhere near this opposite of tool obesity we’re facing now.

Some people picked up on the intent and the usefulness of the idea. There is, and I’m dialing down on philosophical-ness, a delicate tension here. On the one hand, having good tools makes our work (and life) more efficient, more productive, a lot easier. But on the other hand, and this is what I was aiming at back then, and what we observe these days as well, does lack of tools make us set better priorities, make us more focused, and make us better craftsmen.

As in other situations in life, we cannot simply compare life with tools to life without tools. These lives are just too different, and the simplification rather naive. With tools it’s not all roses. It may be quite nice to imagine what we’d do if we, say, were the heads of our states or such, but we wouldn’t just wake up with more power.

What this should mean, now, is first more awareness. Tech life with tools is great, but it changes our lives, and these changes are not all positive. In my mind it’s certain that the issue of training (that many web developers these days aren’t as experienced with core technologies anymore) as well as the issue of quality (from the size of our sites and apps going out of hand to a general lack of focus on code quality) are both attributable to a lack of this awareness. Our dev tools, in a way, are like addictive sugar drinks. They make our websites fat.

What it also means, second, is choice. Not as “either/or,” but as it’s not required to use tools everywhere. I, for example, run several sites of low complexity where I intentionally avoid using a CMS. UITest.com is such a site. Sometimes that hurts, for I have some extra pain maintaining these sites. But overall it keeps me at the edge, for that pain makes me more aware of maintenance problems and helps me become better at web maintainability. Beware of that sugar. If we always take escalators and lifts, how fit are we ever taking the stairs?

At the end of the day, each of us does make these choices, whether they be informed or uninformed. More awareness of this problematique will lead us to choices that are more conscious, and hopefully get us to better discussions, because the different choices make for quite unique developer profiles—with each their particular strengths.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!