On Specialisation

Ian Devlin
Sep 20, 2017 · 4 min read

Specialisation is nothing new, and it is required across many roles in many industries, and the web industry is no exception, although one particular area of specialisation in our industry tends to get ignored or seen as “easy” or “not technical enough”. I am of course talking about HTML and CSS, and this opinion needs to change.

Talking Point

Last week there were a number of excellent and thoughtful posts and Twitter threads on this very topic.

First of all Mandy Michael asks is there any value in people who cannot write JavaScript?, the answer to which of is course “yes” but her question arises from the devaluing of those whose main skills are HTML/CSS and she makes many good points.

Susan Robertson also talks about this problem in her article against the grain in which she mentions her difficulty in finding a new role because she chose to specialise in accessibility, HTML, and CSS, and struggles to find one that doesn’t demand extensive JavaScript knowledge, ignoring the fact that her skills are very important to any company that builds things for the web.

In a conversation on Twitter, Una Kravets wrote:

Don’t think I would’ve been hired w/o JS, but lots of times companies don’t realize their need for HTML/CSS specialty till they have it

And this is something that I also see in many job adverts out there for frontend developers, the demand is usually for excellent JavaScript and HTML/CSS, and within interviews, it has been my experience that knowledge of JavaScript and frameworks is tested heavily, and the HTML/CSS skills are largely ignored. It is assumed that you know them, and assumptions are dangerous.

One rarely sees companies advertising for frontend developers who specialise in HTML/CSS with sufficient JavaScript, which should be considered just as important.

Full Stack Developer

I used to consider myself a full stack developer, I knew enough about HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, .NET, and SQL to be able to hold my own and carry out the work that was required of me.

But of course I didn’t have equal knowledge of all of these subjects, I was a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, as Brad Frost alludes to in his article full-stack developers:

The term “full-stack developer” implies that a developer is equally adept at both frontend code and backend code, but I’ve never in my personal experience witnessed anyone who truly fits that description.

For this reason, I am no longer a full stack developer, I chose to specialise in HTML, and the rest have moved on, leaving me behind. I still use some JavaScript, but I struggle to understand what is going on with the new way of doing things.

But this is ok. I specialised.

Before I got into frontend at all, I was a C developer, working with speech recognition, although even then I was designing and building interfaces for users to interact with, they were just using speech. Back then HTML/CSS always interested me, even though it was still in its infancy as an industry. But I chose to specialise more in frontend work, and I moved into this industry, leaving speech recognition behind. I specialised.

Back then CSS was a lot simpler than it is today, but now it has become much more complicated, and having CSS specialists is no bad thing.

I am not one of these specialists, I am hesitant to use the new things that CSS has to offer, mainly due to browser compatibility issues. For example, I have only recently started to use Flexbox when building things, and I won’t use CSS Grid for a while. Perhaps I am too conservative, but I bide my time and let specialists work with these new things and I learn from them.

Respect

For me, HTML is more important, and this is what I choose to specialise in. Do I know everything that there is to know within HTML? No, of course not, but when I am unsure of how something might be marked up, I check, I ask others, read articles, and check the specification. I want to do it right, because if the HTML is semantically correct, then the chances of what I am building being more accessible increases, and that is something that has also become important to me.

When it comes to JavaScript, PHP, databases, or performance, I respect and defer to those who have chosen to specialise in those topics, for that is their speciality. All I ask is that others respect and defer to those of us have chosen to specialise in HTML and/or CSS.

As Belén wrote on Twitter:

And, above all, do respect the work of those who ARE specialized in coding HTML & CSS. They just chose a different language than you


Originally published at iandevlin.com.

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