One of the reasons I care so much about the web platform remaining open and accessible to new people who want to publish on and build things for the web is because of the route I took to get here.
As mentioned earlier, the W3C is celebrating their anniversary by inviting people to share stories of how they became involved in the web. In that spirit (and perhaps to encourage Smashing readers to share their stories), here is mine.
I had never intended to work with computers. I intended to become a dancer and singer, and I left school at 16 to go to dance college. My father is a programmer, however, so we were fairly unusual at the time as we had a computer in the house by 1985 when I was 10.
As a child, I liked typing in the code of “choose your own adventure” games, which appeared in books and magazines. I liked spotting the strings of text which would then show up in the game I would later play (usually, once my dad had fixed it up) on our Amstrad CPC464. I liked to visit the computer lab at Newcastle University, see the huge computers, and talk to the women who worked on them. Perhaps most importantly (and despite my arty interests), I never grew up thinking I couldn’t use computers. I just wasn’t especially interested.
Then I became pregnant with my daughter and had to leave the theatre. I was good at crewing and loved the theatre, but it was heavy and sometimes dangerous work with unsociable hours — not really a job for someone with a baby. I didn’t know what I would do, but I could type so I thought that perhaps I could type up essays for people. I was upsold to a computer — having gone into PC World looking for a wordprocessor. It was a Packard Bell 486 with a built-in 640×480 screen — a terrible machine that would allow me to either get the sound card working or the modem, but not both at once. I chose the modem and this is where my web story really begins. Even getting this modem working and getting the computer onto the Internet was something of a challenge and, once I did, I went looking for information about… babies.
I didn’t know anything about babies. All my friends were men who worked backstage in theatre. I had no support network, no family around me to help, and so I logged onto ParentsPlace and found people who didn’t mind my questions and were happy to help. At the time, there obviously was no Facebook. This meant that if you wanted to share photos and stories, you built a website. So among the forums about childbirth and toddler tantrums, there were people teaching each other HTML and sharing sets of graphics along with the code to place them. It was like typing out those “choose your own adventure” books again. I was amazed that I didn’t need anyone to fix my code — it just worked!
Before long, people would pay me to build them a website, and I felt that I should repay at least in some way for all of the questions I had asked. So, I started to answer questions in the forums. That was how it seemed to work. People would learn and move one step up the ladder, the new people would come in with the same questions and the people a step ahead would answer — all the while asking their own questions of those further along. I loved this. I could never have afforded lessons, but I had time. I could help others, and in return, people helped me.
I became interested in web standards essentially because it made no sense to me that we would have to build the same website twice — in order that it would work in both browsers.