Elika J. Etemad (fantasai)

1. Tell us about the role you play in web standards work - what, where, and how are you contributing?

I’m one of the tech leads in the CSS Working Group, and have co-edited a significant proportion of its specifications for well over a decade. Before that I was a volunteer contributor to the Mozilla project, primarily in standards-compliance QA. I’m also on the W3C Advisory Board for these two years, helping with process and governance.

2. How did you first get into web standards work?

Through Mozilla in the early 2000s: back then they explicitly invited people to participate in QA and support Mozilla’s mission to improve the Web and help them counter Microsoft’s dominance by filing and triaging bugs and writing testcases. Since I had to refer to the specs a lot while I was doing this, I started finding bugs in the specs, and reporting those to W3C. Eventually the CSSWG invited me to join as an Invited Expert. Basically I followed Ian Hickson’s footsteps, who went down a similar path a few years earlier.

3. What skills do you rely on most in your work? Which do you find most important for success?

Skills are part of the equation. Here I rely on my ability to analyze technical problems and proposals in the abstract in depth, to look at the higher-level of design quality, to thoroughly understand a complex interconnected system and its myriad interactions, to figure out how a given proposal can and should integrate with that entire system, and to draft up new proposals that elegantly solve multiple constraints. I also rely on my ability to communicate all of this clearly to my colleagues, verbally and informally, and also formally in excruciatingly precise yet readable technical prose…

The other important part is attitude: valuing the input of others, patiently working through a seemingly never-ending stream of critiques knowing that each comment is valuable for some reason, whether it be altering the proposal to address deficiencies or clarifying the text. Wanting to make everyone happy, while adhering to the core design principles of the Web, this is what motivates my work.

4. What advice would you have given to your younger self when you were starting out?

Nothing to add here. :) I would say things that helped include

  • humility, to know that there are other people whose work is better than yours and whose input is useful to your work; and to be comfortable with that rather than disheartened or intimidated by it

  • patience and stubbornness, to learn in depth all the relevant materials; to keep working at hard problems and working through all the details and all the issues

  • integrity, to prepare thoroughly and to do thorough work; to speak up when there’s some thing to add, question, or correct in the discussion; and to keep working at a solution, and to keep soliciting and integrating feedback, until one is found that truly reflects the design intentions of the technology and is thoroughly worked out, rather than going with a rough idea that seems good enough for some people

  • the desire to do good, because the goal of Web standards is to make the Web a better place for everyone

  • a focus on the future and the world, because due to Web-compat constraints, the decisions, and the quality or sloppiness of our work, is embedded in this worldwide platform forever.

The main advice I’d give to other people starting out is: don’t be afraid to speak up! As long as your comments are well-considered and offered constructively, we want to hear them. And ask questions if you’re confused: if you’re in a discussion, we want you to understand what’s happening so you can participate effectively.

5. Why do you think web standards work is important? What’s at stake?

Web standards are better than proprietary standards not only because they’re free, but because they’re open and collaborative. They allow for a wider community to be able to define the future of the Web, and the collaboration and the deliberation, while it seems slow to people working on individual products, allow for a much higher quality Web platform for us all to build on.

If we lose the Web standards process, it means one or two companies have come to dominate the direction and the possibilities of the Web. Their work might be faster, but it will also be lower quality, and it will have a narrower intent. Because it won’t incorporate such a diversity of interests and expertise, it will address fewer use cases and do so with less integrity. In the short run, 1-3 years, it might be exciting to move faster, but in the longer run, it will be painful for everyone trying to build on a sloppier foundation.

Brian Kardell (bkardell)

1. Tell us about the role you play in web standards work - what, where, and how are you contributing?

My role in standards (like a lot of people’s, I imagine) has grown and changed over time. I am currently an AC Representative in the W3C and am somehow involved in a long list of things from working group memberships like CSS, to community group memberships like MathML, to contributing to issues and discussions. I’ve been involved in some form or another with a lots of proposals across standards bodies and working groups.

Generally speaking, I suppose (and now professionally), I am an advocate for how we can improve things for everyone. From the process, to the time frames involved, to how we can better involve voices that are historically lacking. This plays out at many levels: I helped found the Extensible Web Community Group, co-authored the Extensible Web Manifesto and have advocated for practical changes to how we manage standards, make good progress and involve developers and open source projects. I lead or help lead several outreach groups, I helped start the WICG discourse and advocate for a particular model of ‘incubation’. I also am very interested in figuring out how we apply all of these things well so that users, developers and all stakeholders are best served.

2. How did you first get into web standards work?

Its hard to say where one ‘begins’ to get into standards. I can point to 3 pivotal moments, I think: First, I’d been an early adopter of the Web in the mid-90s, and web standards were my introduction to the idea of standards. I imagined these as some kind of great school of athens-like think-tank where the best and brightest minds would come up with “the answer” and hand them down to us, almost as if they were some kind of holy writ - saving all of us mere mortals. However, as a developer, over time it seemed increasingly clear that that was wrong. By the mid-2000’s I had plenty of my own thoughts and opinions. I would talk about these pretty incessantly with co-workers and local community. One day my “partner” at work said “You know… I am convinced. The trouble is, you need to convince the whole rest of the world.”

This led to me creating a blog, and occasionally actually contributing thoughts on mailing lists instead of only reading them.

In this I began sharing my own ideas as well and that’s where I got a little deeper. A few people like Brendan Eich, Tab Atkins were privately very helpful and encouranging - helping me understand lots of details and break things down.

Finally, this overlapped in time with a lot of things that were happening and being discussed and aligned with the things I cared about. Through this I made a lot of friendships and had great discussions advocating for some common things - often finding myself having some of the best conversations with folks from jQuery’s new standards team. Yehuda Katz and I in particular had a lot of great conversations and ultimately the jQuery Foundation nominated me to my first Working Group (CSS).

3. What skills do you rely on most in your work? Which do you find most important for success?

Really, I think it’s mostly communication. I’m very willing to reach out, talk to, and listen to a lot of people. I also try to help them understand one another - which is actually surprisingly challenging: we have amazingly different perspectives.

Then, there is a real challenge in imagining what a solution might look like and further still - is there an actually achievable path to it? Is there a way to safely test this theory and iterate towards something good? I’m not sure how to describe that skill -but in a way, my approach is definitely employing skills formed in my years of consulting and the particular sort of roles I played in companies - how to listen to a lot of people, come up with a plan that is deliverable, and build consensus around it.

4. What advice would you have given to your younger self when you were starting out?

Ooph, so many things.

  • You are probably wrong.

  • Take the time to learn the things you don’t really understand and be ok with the fact that it’s a process.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask someone questions that you imagine are silly if you get stuck: That will only hold you back. Nobody knows as much as you think they do. Knowing that both helps you feel better and can help you dig into problems you assumed others had dug into. Share your thoughts. Be involved. Be patient. Appreciate your limits. Don’t burn out. You can’t do everything.

5. Why do you think web standards work is important? What’s at stake?

I think that standardization, in general, is important - and particular open standards. Standardization matters because it’s ultimately a very valuable way to reach the kind of scales, guarantees and interoperability that our world currently depends on. You can look at lots of interesting bits of history where this really challenged us in important ways that ultimately lead to modern standards development organizations. Most businesses today realize that there is benefit to them in this regard, but that wasn’t always the natural state of things. One of the key drivers that ultimately created the pressure necessary to even consider this was that operating at the sorts of scales we began around the industrial revolution was downright dangerous. There was lots of loss of life and tons of preventable damage. While one might think that things like networks and software are somehow different in this regard (their creation isn’t likely to cause direct, physical harm), they are a technology that can be (and is) used to better share information. There’s probably nothing in human history that has had a bigger impact than the ability to share knowledge and ideas efficiently. In nearly every way this is key to advancements in improving safety, longevity, and equality. That’s why I think open standards are even more important: They help us build, define and guarantee a commons that we all benefit from.

Valerie Young (spectranaut)

1. Tell us about the role you play in web standards work - what, where, and how are you contributing?

I am a member of TC39, the 39th technical committee of the Ecma International, which is responsible for maintaining the JavaScript standard. At the time of this writing (2020), I am also one of the editors of ECMA-402, the internationalization extension to the JavaScript language, the development of which falls under a Task Group of TC39. As an editor, I review new features and help to fix parts of the spec that are vague or inconsistently formatted.

Additionally, I help maintain Test262, a test suite for testing conformance of a JavaScript engine (such as a browser or Node.js) with the ECMA-262 standard. I also work on, a website that runs Test262 on all the major JavaScript engines and reports on the results.

Outside of JavaScript, I work on the WAI-ARIA Authoring Practices, which aims to be a resource for developers trying to make accessible, interactive modern websites using HTML, CSS and ARIA. ARIA is an extension to HTML and SVG that can be used to provide necessary information to users who are navigating a website using a screen reader.

2. How did you first get into web standards work?

When I was in college, I studied physics and expected to go into physics research, but my first programming class completely derailed my plan. I immediately found programming enjoyable, and was impressed with the incredible way in which computers and the Internet allowed people to collaborate and share information freely across great distances. I wanted to be involved in the creation of such empowering technologies!

My first job out of college was web programming for an electronic medical record company. I left a few years later to work on the Linux operating system Debian through Outreachy, a program that funds women and minorities to work on free software projects. There I got my first experience in testing, working on the Reproducible Builds project (the goal: test all of Debian for “reproducibility” – every binary Debian ships should be reproducible bit-for-bit by any curious developer!).

Eventually, I needed a regular job again, so I began looking for a work place where I could contribute to free and open source software projects. Luckily, I found Bocoup, a software consulting company that specializes in reliability, standards and testing of the web platform. In my first interview I was exposed to the ECMAScript specification and the Test262 test suite, and I thought, “This is cool, I would totally work on this.” It is through my work at Bocoup that I got involved in all of the answers to question 1!

3. What skills do you rely on most in your work? Which do you find most important for success?

First, patience. Writing and reading and understanding specifications, writing tests of specifications, getting to the bottom of a web platform bug (is the bug in the specification? the implementation? the test I wrote???) can take a while. You have to have patience, and let yourself slowly build up your understanding of all the technologies involved. Take notes, draw diagrams, experiment with code.

Second, courage. After all these years, I still get nervous asking a question to strangers online, on GitHub or IRC. I’m even more nervous when I open a PR for something I know I need more feedback on. Some people need more or less courage, depending on where they are starting from, but I definitely still need it.

Third, all the skills and knowledge of a regular programmer. We are working on technologies for programmers. It’s nice to work on a product when you are the consumer!

4. What advice would you have given to your younger self when you were starting out?

You will be rewarded for your courage and humility! Keep going!

Also, you will find yourself in committee meetings with mostly men who have much more experience than you (more experience on the committee, specifically) – this can be intimidating. Remember there are good people on those committees, people who are excited to have more diversity, excited to have you contribute, and want to help you succeed. Focus on those people when you ask questions and offer opinions!

5. Why do you think web standards work is important? What’s at stake?

I initially thought free and open source software was the most important way to keep technology democratic. But really, it keeps technology do-ocratic: whoever does the most work gets the most say. Sometimes this is good, and sometimes it is bad.

Web standards are another way to democratize the creation of technology, but more intentionally. The committees are structured to make collaborative decisions and to try to prevent any one person or company’s individual motivations from overwhelming the best solutions to a problem. The W3C and TC39 are both increasingly reaching out for community involvement from others besides those who make it onto the committee through their jobs or expertise. If you are interested in helping the democratic evolution of the web in this way, I encourage you to join.

Simon Pieters (zcorpan)

1. Tell us about the role you play in web standards work - what, where, and how are you contributing?

I am one of the editors of the HTML standard. I have contributed in particular to images, video, form controls, rendering, and the HTML parser.

I try to improve interoperability between browser engines, and at the same time address web developers’ pain points and improve accessibility.

I analyze web compatibility, identify pain points for web developers, discuss with implementers to understand their requirements, design solutions, write specification prose, write conformance tests, review specification changes and tests, find, report, and sometimes fix bugs in specifications and implementations.

2. How did you first get into web standards work?

I first got interested in web design after a class in web design at school, around age 17. I learned that there were multiple web browsers, but sometimes web sites would only work correctly in one of them. I quickly ran into differences between browsers. This was when before Firefox was called Firefox, but I learned that this browser was better than Internet Explorer 6.0 at following the web standards.

This was an interesting space. So much to explore. I would read tutorials, blogs, specifications, and discuss front-end web development in forums. Eventually I learned by helping professional web developers who were asking for advice in these forums. Following the web standards first and applying hacks and workarounds for IE6 was challenging and fun.

I did a lot of “view source” to find out how things were done. I would read the HTML (or XHTML) and CSS source code of I recall one day I was viewing the W3C homepage and in the sidebar it was showing a graybeard who was working with W3C specifications, and I thought to myself “I wonder what it would be like to have this as a job”. A split second later I snapped back to reality and realized that was never going to happen.

I started studying “Innovation and Product Design” at Mälardalens Högskola in Sweden. I was going to become a product designer – designing physical products. Web development was still a strong interest, but it shifted more towards web standards and web browsers. I read a document by Ian Hickson about how to minimize a test case and started reporting bugs to browsers. I was chatting with Anne van Kesteren in ICQ about why CSS didn’t have a parent selector.

In 2005, I subscribed to the WHATWG mailing list, and started to participate in discussions about this exciting next version of HTML. One of my earliest contributions was suggesting the new doctype.

In 2007, I applied for a summer internship at Opera Software in Linköping, to work on writing tests for HTML5. I got the job, and after the internship I was offered a full-time position to work on Quality Assurance for the DocXS (Documents, XML, and Scripting) team. I accepted the offer and dropped off University.

3. What skills do you rely on most in your work? Which do you find most important for success?

Communication is critical: In my case, this is almost always asynchronous written communication. This allows me to think things through and do my research before responding to a question.

Research and analytical skills: Making decisions in web standards often requires research into what browsers currently do and what web content expects to happen.

Literacy with web standards: Ability to read and write a specification correctly.

Imagination: Ability to imagine the behavior of a complex system or an algorithm.

Creativity: Coming up with novel solutions. Identifying interesting cases to test.

4. What advice would you have given to your younger self when you were starting out?

Maybe to study Computer Science, which I have not done. I think it would have been more relevant knowledge for me (for example, algorithms and data structures), given what I ended up working with. On the other hand, maybe I would end up on a completely different career path?

I think my advice would be to have the courage to change what to study when I realized what my interests were.

5. Why do you think web standards work is important? What’s at stake?

The web, in principle, gives anyone free speech and access to information. No one entity has full control.

Throughout the lifetime of the web, it has been in competition with other information or application platforms that are often under control of one company.

Without working on web standards, the web would probably have been replaced completely by one or more of those, enabling censorship and limitation of access to information.