About The Author

Rachel Andrew is not only editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine, but also a web developer, writer and speaker. She is the author of a number of books, including … More about Rachel

Representing Web Developers In The W3C

Rachel Andrew writes about her involvement with the CSS Working Group, and why she feels it is important that web developers understand what is being worked on in CSS, and have a way to offer feedback.

One of the many things that I do is to be a part of the CSS Working Group as an Invited Expert. Invited Experts are people who the group wants to be part of the group, but who do not work for a member organization which would confer upon their membership. In this post, I explain a little bit about what I feel my role is in the Working Group, as a way to announce a possible change to my involvement with the support of the Dutch organization, Fronteers.

I’ve always seen my involvement in the CSS Working Group as a two-way thing. I ferry information from the Working Group to authors (folks who are web developers, designers, and people who use CSS for print or EPUB) and from authors to the Working Group. Once I understand a discussion that is happening around a specification which would benefit from author input, I can explain it to authors in a way that doesn’t require detailed knowledge of CSS specifications or browser internals.

This was the motivation behind all of the work I did to explain Grid Layout before it landed in browsers. It is work I continue, for example, my recent article here on Smashing Magazine on Grid Level 2 and subgrid. While I think that far more web developers are capable of understanding the specifications than they often give themselves credit for, I get that people have other priorities! If I can distill and share the most important points, then perhaps we can get more feedback into the group at a point when it can make a difference.

There is something I have discovered while constantly unpacking these subjects in articles and on stage. While I can directly ask people for their opinion — and sometimes I do — the answers to those direct questions are most often the obvious ones. People are put on the spot; they feel they should have an opinion and so give the first answer they think of. Even with they’re in an A or B choice about a subject (when asked to vote), they may not be in a place to fully consider all of the implications.

If I write or talk about a subject, however, I don’t get requests for CSS features. I get questions. Some of those I can answer and I make a note to perhaps better explain that point in future. Some of those questions I cannot answer because CSS doesn’t yet have an answer. I am constantly searching for those unanswered questions, for that is where the future of CSS is. By being a web developer who also happens to work on CSS, I’m in a perfect place to have those conversations and to try to take them back with me to the Working Group when relevant things are being discussed, and so we need to know what authors think.

To do this sort of work, you need to be able to explain things well and to have a nerdy interest in specifications. I’m not the only person on the planet who has these attributes. However, to do this sort of work as an Invited Expert to the CSS Working Group requires something else; it requires you to give up a lot of your time and be able to spend a lot of your own money. There is no funding for Invited Experts. A W3C Invited Expert is a volunteer, attending weekly meetings, traveling for in-person meetings, spending time responding to issues on GitHub, chatting to authors, or even editing specifications and writing tests. This is all volunteer work. As an independent — sat at a CSS Working Group meeting — I know that while practically every other person sat around that table is being paid to be there — as they work for a browser vendor or another company with an interest — I’m not. You have to care very deeply, and have a very understanding family for that to be at all sustainable.

It is this practical point which makes it hard for there to be more people like me involved in this kind of work — in the way that I’m involved — as an independent voice for authors. To actually be paid to work on this stuff usually means becoming employed by a browser vendor, and while there is nothing wrong with that it changes the dynamic. I would then be Rachel Andrew from Microsoft/Google/Mozilla. Who would I be speaking for? Could I remain embedded in the web community if I was no longer a web developer myself? It’s for this reason I was very interested when representatives from Fronteers approached me earlier this year.

Fronteers are an amazing organization of Dutch web developers. One of my first international speaking engagements was to go to Amsterdam to speak at one of their meetups. I was immediately struck by the hugely knowledgeable community in Amsterdam. If I am invited to speak at a front-end event in the Netherlands, I know I can take my nerdiest and most detailed talks along with me; the community there will already know the basics and be excited to hear the details.

Anneke Sinnema (Chair of Fronteers) and Peter-Paul Koch (Founder) approached me with an idea they had about their organization becoming a Member of the W3C, which would then entitle them to representation within the W3C. They wanted to know if I would be interested in becoming their first representative — a move that would make me an official representative for the web development community as well as give me a stipend in order that I would have some paid hours covered to do that work. This plan needs to be voted upon my Fronteers members, so may or may not come to fruition. However, we all hope it will, and not just for me but as a possible start to a movement which sees more people like myself involved in the work of creating the web platform.

My post is one of a few being published today to announce this as an idea. For more information on the thoughts behind this idea, read “Web Developer Representation In W3C Is Here” on A List Apart. Dutch speakers can also find a post on the Fronteers blog.

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