Report from WDN 09: Web Professional Education Summit

Live blogged . . .

This session was led off by Bill Cullifer from WOW. He was joined by Leslie Jensen-Inman, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Nick Fogler from Yahoo!, and Mike Smith from the W3C.

John Allsopp conference organizerJohn Allsopp introduced them by asking how we should be preparing web professionals of the future. Each of them will provide a different perspective.

Cullifer gave a high level look at where we stand in education. He mentioned the disconnect between education and industry needs. He pointed out that although educators say enrollment is down, industry people say jobs are empty and waiting.

Bill Cullifer from WOWWOW is a bridge between industry, education and government. Cullifer sees the cup as half full rather than half empty. There is progress in web design, development and buisiness. There are online AA degrees now. We still need university degrees. Lots of jobs are available, but we face competition from engineering, green industry, and other industries that are looking to recruit young students and workers.

The industry is so diverse, with so many skill sets and so much diversity of knowledge that it is a complex task to organize.

Leslie Jensen-Inman from academiaLeslie works in both academia and industry, so she has an interesting viewpoint. She looked at the needs of industry and compared that with what education is doing. She went looking for perspectives on web education. Her article in A List Apart talked about what she found. She surveyed on the question: how can colleges and universities keep content relevant? What she found made her realize that we really need to connect industry and education and talk to each other to stay relevant. Teachers need to find out how to attend more conferences and help each other keep up. She talked about Open Source Teaching, which means you build all your course materials and then give them all away. Even giving away all your course materials, you are still valuable because you still stand in front of the classroom and give your unique knowledge.

She showed a list of skills that need teaching – at least 60 skills – that was a pretty overwhelming list. Everyone needs to see that chart, I’ll try to find out if it’s online anywhere. [Addendum: the skills are listed in this Monograph.] She suggested having students subscribe to blogs that teach what we want them to learn. She  suggested having students keep blogs related to the course content. She suggested making interships part of required coursework, and having people from the real world come into the classroom.

Nick Fogler from YahooNext up was Nick Fogler. He talked about how Yahoo developed its own internal training programs. He talked about the core technologies needed for front end development and front end engineering. He mentioned that the skills are diverse and that makes planning a course of study difficult. He talked about how the dot com bust from 2001-2002 meant that people who should have entered the field in those years did not, creating a hole in the talent pipeline. The pace of technology is outpacing the supply of qualfied workers. Hence, Yahoo created 10 week training programs taught by Yahoo engineers to train people to do what they needed. Yahoo, in dealing with the new reality of the web today, needed application development. They found that the best people who came out of the training were people who had backgrounds in computer science and an understanding of objects. The successful trainees cared about visual design and attention to detail, and they had a passion for front end engineering. He showed a chart of the scope and sequence of what they taught from HTML to DOM, JS design patterns, performance, and accessibility. I didn’t actually get the URL for their training courses, but I think this is it: http://developer.yahoo.com/yos/. [Correction: developer.yahoo.com/yui/theater is the proper URL. Thanks, Nick.]

Mike Smith from the W3CFrom the W3C, Mike Smith was next. He came all the way from Tokyo. He was co-chair of the HTML WG for  6 months. He said he was the worst chair ever, but was the best at getting a great chair to replace him.

He talked about Do’s and Don’ts. Of course, he talked about the need for standards and semantic markup. His reason was that it facilitates unanticipated reuses of content. He talked about the difficulties of evolving technologies that aren’t perfect in the first place. He urged that you build as much semantic meaning into content as possible up front. Use device interoperable markup. Nice phrase that clearly defines accessibility.

The longer you wait to add semantic structure to content, the more it will cost.

He got a laugh when he said don’t use the name attribute on the <a> element, an old practice that causes all sorts of problems now. Stop thinking in presentational terms; his example was “click here” a phrase that is meaningless but also describes something that may not be true in all devices. When you create id values, think about how they would work as bookmarks and link destinations. Start learning about HTML5 now. He urged people to work in development versions of browsers as much as possible.

A lively discussion followed. An interesting point John Allsopp made during this time was that because the web is fast becoming out main means of communication, decisions made about education, training, and professionalism are incredibly important. It was a blessing to be in room with so many people who are passionately about the education of web professionals.

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