inessential by Brent Simmons


It’s been said by other people, but it’s worth repeating: the best programmers these days know how to use the Web to solve problems.

I’m not talking about just knowing how to find things on MSDN online or Apple’s developer site. As often as not, the problem I need to solve hasn’t been addressed there—but somebody, somewhere has run across the same thing and found a solution.

It also requires some flexibility and an open mind. For instance, more than once I’ve run into a case where there are Visual Basic examples that show how to fix a problem, but nothing in C. No matter—a willing programmer can translate, even without having any VB experience.

Of course, my hope is that any programmer who uses the Web also gives back to the Web, posts their solved problems, tips, sample code, and so on. (I’m lucky that I get to do this as part of my job.)

For a programmer these days, knowing how to learn on the Web is more important than knowing any particular language or environment.

Were I interviewing a programmer today (I’m not), I wouldn’t ask as much about their education or experience with specific tools as I would about their use of the Web. And, because I believe in a sort-of instant Web karma, I’d also find out if the Web for them is a two-way street.

It’s possible that I wouldn’t hire anybody who doesn’t already have a weblog. Given the choice between a programmer with a computer science degree and a programmer with a weblog—everything else being equal, I’d hire the programmer with a weblog.

I’m a big fan of usability guru Jakob Nielsen—but I don’t go to his site very often because I find it hard to use.

Some things bug me about the home page. The big colored boxes have no borders—so they sort of bleed into the white space. It looks amateurish (in the negative sense).

The two yellows clash (to my eyes).

The search box in the upper right is too large—it suggests that, to have any hope of finding what I want, I’m going to have to type in multiple keywords.

Worst of all, the margins are very small. I appreciate that the page re-flows as I resize my browser window, but I have difficulty reading with small margins and really wide blocks of text.

This is even worse—much worse—when reading one of the AlertBox columns. Again, liquid design is good, but tiny margins, super-wide lines of text, and long paragraphs is just way too difficult to read.

So what I invariably do when I read one of his columns is resize my browser window width to about one-third of its normal size. I have to, in order to read it.

So, before following a link to his site, I always stop and pause and wonder if I feel like dealing with it. Most of the time the answer is no. Which is too bad for me.

By the way—this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I know it.

Papa chases bugs.


He also tells me we have a terrible invisible mouse problem here in the house. And we’re infested by ghosts.

Sometimes it’s not cats but squirrels.