The Extinction Alert On Creative Development

Credits where credits are due, but I don't know who owns this photo. So, (c) by someone...
Credits where credits are due, but I don’t know who owns this photo. So, (c) by someone…

Overqualified? I hardly think so. I have never considered myself overqualified for any kind of work. Sure, I have 20+ years of full-time experience in Usability Design, Front-End and Back-End development, but there is always something new to learn, and there are enough people to learn it from.

But lately I have been asking myself the question if IT is still the area that I am interested in. I am not yet 40 – although that age is reaching very quickly – and I always thought that if I would change anything in my career, I should do it before I was 40. But I don’t want to, since I simply love to let my brain work, find out new things, and try to make it into something practical. I love working with a team of people, who help me achieve exactly that goal. That is my passion.

But over the last couple of years, I also noticed that it is harder and harder to find people who actually really like this work. And the feeling of being old, really old, creeps up on me. When I started working with computers it was still in the late ’70s, when I got my 4-year old fingers on the keys of the computers my father took home from work. From when I was 10 we had a computer at home that was actually for my father’s work, but I saw that from a different perspective; it was my playground. And that is when I got interested in everything with computers; a computer was a blank canvas that, with hard work, you can do almost anything with. It is the perfect tool for exploring creativity.

When I started my career in Usability Design, Graphic Design and development, it was still in the early ’90s. The Internet was still not a commodity, and everything you did had to be thought over. We were trained at the art academy, the very first school in the world who taught usability design – which meant that creativity was a major part in everything. Creativity, psychology and technical knowledge.

And it was necessary as well; because to make sure a web page would load up in anything that could be considered a reasonable time, you had to be creative to make it work. Especially if your design was extravagant, and you had to cut every corner to make sure you page loaded up in the 30 second time mark. Nowadays, people will not wait even 10 seconds for a page to load, but back then, you had to write your HTML wisely, remove every possible color from your GIF images, and work correctly with memory management.

After that, the browser wars would keep us all on our toes; your design should work in IE and NetScape, and that was not an easy feat at all. Especially, again, when you wanted to show something really creative. Creative use of tables, iFrames (how hated they might have been) would really keep you working. But when it worked, it was also an amazing happening.

The introduction of Flash made the browser difference obsolete; if it ran Flash, it would look the same. And then it was about pure creativity, without making it too long to load. Again, if you were in web development, it was an exciting time.

And at the same time, something else happened that was inevitable. The web was here to stay, everyone had a computer at home, and with the break-through of smart phones with the iPhone, when app development hit the main-stream market, so did the platforms. It had to happen. A tiny machine like the iPhone, or any computer, now had so many more uses that it was impossible to have someone develop everything. And the libraries became a powerful development tool. And the use of different libraries, API’s and everything were, and are, still necessary to make things work.

But it also brought the media that once was filled with pioneers mainstream. There was too much work, and people were trained to fill up all those places. It is the Natural Evolution of an industry. But the world is now flooded with developers who know how to use libraries to make things work very quickly, but without the knowledge why it actually works.

Countless times I have been faced with issues of productions that were created by developers almost purely using libraries. The moment that a tiny change had to be made that was custom and outside of the scope of the library that it was developed in, all progress came to a screeching halt, with the words ‘That Does Not Compute’ written across their faces.

During my career I have worked with absolutely marvelous people, great thinkers, creative developers who understood the foundation they were working on, and I have seen people who rose to the occasion when a situation forced them to think about what they are working on. But sadly to say, those time I worked with those people were few.

When I had to hire people to work for me, most people were send home simply because the test question that showed if someone actually understood what they were doing once a library was not available was almost always answered incorrectly or answered with a simple bewildered look on the face of the one interviewed.

When I had to hire someone, the feeling that gave me the right impression was a feeling of fear. That I would hire someone that I would think also was a threat to myself. Because that feeling meant that I could learn a lot from someone in my area of expertise. And in the last couple of years, I had that only twice. First with a developer I hired almost a decade ago, which I appreciate still a lot and respect a lot simply because he just found a way to make things work. And once it worked, he would go back an find out how to make it better. So many times would he mention that he made another search seconds faster, simply because he knew he could.

The second one was a temporary front-end developer who mentioned he had limited experience. But anything from the interview gave me the impression that this guy would be something special. The advice from upper management was not to hire the guy, but I insisted to try him. And in front-end development he was absolutely amazing. Not so much on his end-products, but his ability to learn, stand his ground, and once he had his goal in sight, he would not let go, even if it meant learning a whole new language on the spot to get it done.

But sadly, those were just 2 out of about 40. I don’t and cannot consider myself an authority on my area of expertise. I can’t simply because that would mean there is nothing to learn; and there will always be new developments, new insights and perspectives that would make you discover new things.

I don’t want to work with a library in any kind of development before at least understanding what it does. I have worked in plain JavaScript years before switching to jQuery. Simply to know that when jQuery cannot do the job, I can still fall back on it’s foundation.

The same thing is with the usage of pure HTML where CSS falls short. And a lot of front-end developers will jump high-and-low trying to convince you that CSS solves all the visual problems, but there are situations where it simply does not. And to be able to work in those areas, requires the ability to be creative.

The last 6 months I have been getting in contact with a couple of different teams, and that makes me long back for the teams I have been working with in the last decades. With a well formed team of people who could think outside the box, never took anything for granted and who earned their stars by thinking before doing. And with teams of 3 to 8 people at different companies and productions, we always were able to do in far less time and far better stability than what other teams of 40-50 people were not able to do.

Maybe it is also good that these people are rare… it makes them stand out.

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