As of this week I am no longer an employee of Orange Vision Ltd, but working for Ning, Inc. where I am now Senior Designer. It doesn’t take a genius to realise what a fantastic opportunity this is, and one I don’t think I have fully come to terms with.
This is just the latest and greatest episode of an online journey that I have been on since 1999. Given my amazing new position, I thought I would try and summarise the road travelled so far. A big part of this journey has involved developing a passion and interest in web standards, but more recently I have been thinking more about how we can use the web in more positive ways rather than as just another marketing tool.
My first ever experience of the web came in 1999, during my time at WALCAT. After the long mind-numbing days at college, I would spend a couple of hours in the library, where I would log on and surf this interweb thingy everyone was raving about. Before long, I had signed up for free web space with Tripod and begun building my first site in Microsoft Word.
I found the web to be a free and easy way for me to get creative, and the instant satisfaction of online publishing and design caught my imagination and has never let go!
Over the following years, my Tripod webspace was replaced with a proper hosting account and later a domain name. I experimented with web editors such as Frontpage and Dreamweaver and in the process learnt about ‘great’ HTML features like framesets, tables and used hacks such as spacer images that allowed me to create the layouts I wanted.
My growth as a professional web developer however, only begun once I started to learn and implement web standards. What started out initially as finding out how the links on BBC News Online changed colour on mouse over, turned into a new path of learning.
During the summer of 2001, I decided to read up and learn about CSS (which was how the fancy links on BBC News were created), and stumbled across web-standards via the NYPL Style Guide. Now I’m a stickler for doing things properly, so reading about clean, meaningful and structured code, and the separation of presentation from content, seemed not only to make sense, but simply best practice.
In July 2004, with this new bag of tricks, a newly gained Graphic Design degree, and the eventual realisation that McDonald’s wasn’t really a great career choice, I gained employment with Orange Vision. Orange Vision was a company that had a growing reputation, especially in the property industry, but built sites that swam in the deepest of tag soup, and as a result were slow, inaccessible and hard to manage.
However the first opportunity I got to design a site from scratch, I found myself up against an argument I hadn’t foreseen. Having spent a Thursday and Friday building a property site laid out entirely using CSS and XHTML, I returned to work Monday to find that the site had been re-coded using tables for layout. Why would someone do such I thing? Speaking to the companies Managing Director, it became clear that there was a massive knowledge gap between what was being taught in the emerging web standards community and what was being practised on the front line.
A continued resistance to using web standards, spurred me on to learn more so that I could argue my case in the daily discussions and heated debates that were very much a part of my early employment at Orange Vision. Finally, in February 2005, I was given the opportunity to propose a move towards using web standards, and I produced the following document:
Web Standards with Vision (PDF, 126Kb)
This proposal was agreed upon, and as a result the studio team also attended the @media 2005 conference in London. Here I got to listen, meet and talk to many of my peers, and was probably the highlight of last year.
However, during 2005, events like Live8 and MakePovertyHistory also made me think about my place on this earth and the responsibilities it brings with it. Working 9 til 5 designing web sites for estate agents seemed the most useless thing I could be contributing to this world. I wanted to do something much more positive with all I had learnt over the past 6 years.
Fate came a knocking, and in November I was given the chance to do some freelance work with Ning – a web 2.0 start-up that ‘enables anyone to match, transact, and communicate with other people’. It may not be a solution for world poverty, but it certainly ain’t about selling houses, and the opportunities it presents both for me personally and for the web as a whole are compelling.
That brings me to today, where I am now a full-time contractor for Ning, and where a lot of exciting stuff is set to happen for all involved. I get the feeling my next steps on this journey will no longer be as focused as much on web-standards and other technologies that underlay the web, but something far more exciting. And I can’t wait!