Grandmothers Who Code

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Age, Gender, & Technology

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a blog by Sari Jozokos Morninghawk

Experience vs Research

Can Experienced Programmers Reduce Technical Debt?

February 17, 2018

I'm running a workshop for CSS this week called CSS The Right Way. If you're a developer, I'm sure you're quite aware of the bad CSS code that is written every day. My workshop is about best practices, code guidelines, and overall easy maintenance of CSS. You're expected to have a grasp of CSS already before attending the workshop. The class starts with a short 20 minute lecture regarding CSS history, usage, and best practices followed by a hands-on CSS exercise. When I gave the practice run, my colleague commented that he was happy I did the research on how CSS started and when it was truly adopted. Except for searching who is responsible for starting CSS, I didn't really research. I was there.

I Was There — No Research Required

One of the earliest online ad agencies was Modem Media, where I happened to work for a year and a half starting at the end of 2000. My job mostly consisted of making these mini-sites for a few large corporations, one or two page websites that you would get to by clicking on a banner ad. At that time there were smaller standard-sized computer screens, limited fonts, and no circles or rounded anything with pure HTML and CSS. Therefore, the mini-sites were static in size and really image heavy. Just about everything was an image!

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We would get these Photoshop mockups from the clients, flatten them out and cut them up to put inside of table cells. The trick was to have a one-pixel-high row, built with a transparent gif to set the widths and the same with a one-pixel-wide column to set the heights. We referred to them as the control-row and the control-column. Sometimes the table could get really complex, depending on where there was text or a link causing lots of colspan and rowspan attributes. But at the end of the day, it was still just a table of predefined rows and columns. As far as the World Wide Web, coding was simpler back then. Since very few really understood how to use it for sales and marketing, never mind making a web app, the requirements were simpler too.

I worked at my next two jobs until 2007. Those two development shops were not using external stylesheets. They were still using tables for layout with some inline CSS for colors, fonts, and form elements. So for me personally, I was late to the party. I didn't really adopt true CSS until March of 2007 when I began working for a startup that was trying to be on the cutting edge of web development.

The Dawn of CSS

Regarding layout, tables were out and it became all about floats, and negative margins; elements all had classes and IDs. There were no "font" or "center" tags, no "bgcolor" or "size" attributes. My CSS journey was not unusual. Most programmers did not start adopting CSS until the mid-2000s. Since I was there, I didn't have to research CSS history and usage; I truly understand how so many bad CSS coding habits came into being. It's just like cell-phones in restaurants. By the time we were using cell phones, our culture stopped teaching, or even talking about proper etiquette (or good manners) for anything. We started hacking CSS like the wild west - best practices, code guidelines were not part of the culture.

The Value of Experience

As a grandmother who codes, I have insight into how we got here, why there is so much spaghetti-code, what has and has not worked, and what we need to do moving forward. CSS is just one example. Why is this so undervalued in the tech world? Why is it assumed that I don't know about flexbox, the CSS grid, or media queries — or modern JavaScript frameworks? Do hospitals assume an older surgeon is not up-to-date with the newest surgical breakthroughs? Until the tech world starts to embrace its experienced programmers, especially in start-up culture, we will continue to reinvent the wheel, creating unnecessary technical debt.

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Avatar for Sari Jozokos Morninghawk

Sari Jozokos Morninghawk has been writing code professionally since 1994. For the past two decades she has worked as a front-end engineer with a specialty in user experience (UX). Having worked at several start-ups as well as a number of large corporations, Morninghawk’s background has given her a wealth of work-place experiences regarding age and gender. View resumé

She has volunteered for Girls Who Code helping to close the gender gap in technology, and Citizen Schools creating opportunity for success through hands-on after school classes for kids in middle school, where she designed a program to teach sixth and seventh-graders how to build a website.

Morninghawk is an active grandmother of three children (who don’t necessarily have an interest in technology). Together they enjoy movies, board games, cooking, outdoor activities, arts & crafts, books, and hanging out.

Sari Jozokos Morninghawk and grandchildren