Givers and Takers in the Web World

I’m reading Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Successby Adam Grant. Here’s the premise of the book from the book jacket:

In professional interactions, it turns out that most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

The book dissects how givers, takers, and matchers achieve success – and hang on to success – while others may ultimately fail. Adam Grant is a professor at The Wharton School. The book is based on research and many studies. I was afraid from the title that it might be some of that woo-woo stuff like you read in The Secret, but this is based on research.

It’s an enlightening book and a new way of thinking about success.

Grant’s premise is that givers, people who put the success of the team or the company or the other person in an interaction above their own success, if they do it right, ultimately become the most successful and valuable people to have around.

I’m only a little over half way through the book, but I keep having the same thought as I read. Grant talks mostly about famous men: Ken Lay from Enron, George Meyer from “The Simpsons,” basketball star Michael Jordan, Obama aide Reggie Love. I keep thinking, but what would he say about Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah Winfrey?

As I read, my mind also goes to the people in the web design world. Not world famous names, but people who make this little niche of the world work. Who are the givers are takers and matchers? It was easy to come up with names of men I think would be considered givers. A couple of quick examples: Jeffrey Zeldman, Eric Meyer. But what about women?

Two Women

I want to mention two women in the web design world that I’ve had the experience of working with, and who I consider givers.

Glenda Sims (@goodwitch) is someone I’ve always thought of as a connector. She knows everyone. Ten minutes after you meet her and she hears a bit about who you are and what you do, she’s giving you names of people you should meet, dragging you off to meet them, telling both of you how you can help each other.

I worked with her when creating the web education curriculum that began its life under the name InterACT and has now gone to live at the W3C. This was a team of people who volunteered to build a web standards based curriculum and put it on the web to give away. Glenda wrote little bits of this material, but the real contribution she made was in herding everyone along, in keeping everyone productive, in finding the right person for a job, in managing time and information for everyone else, in knowing where to get funding. Glenda’s name is not the big name attached to this project, but if she hadn’t been there acting as a giver, the project might not have succeeded.

Search Flickr for Glenda Sims and you find her face next to most of the people you’ve heard of in the web design world. I wasn’t kidding when I said she knows everybody.

Another woman I consider a giver is Zoe Gillenwater (@zomigi). I first became aware of Zoe years ago when the CSS Discuss mailing list was part of my regular reading. The list was about 9 parts people struggling with CSS questions and trying to learn it and 1 part people who were willing to answer questions and help others learn. Zoe was one of that 10% who spent hours answering, explaining, clarifying, helping. She was obviously brilliant at CSS and has gone on to prove it in many ways since. But back then, she was an unknown.

She’s not unknown now, as you can see in a Flickr search.

I worked directly with Zoe when my publisher asked her to be the technical editor for one of my books. Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but technical editors get paid about 50 cents an hour for what they do. It’s a crappy job. But Zoe took on the job with every intention of being the best at it and she was. She was most excellent at making sure that the CSS material in my book was correct and in helping me learn about and use the best CSS examples and techniques available at the time. It was my name of the cover of the book, not hers, but she took the time to give me a lot more than she actually had to to make sure the book was a good one.

If you have stories about the givers in the web design world, men or women, I hope you’ll share them in the comments. Let’s recognize the givers who make all of us a success.

Links to Amazon are affiliate links.

Meet Glenda Sims on Ada Lovelace Day

Glenda Sims is a whirlwind of accomplishment in information technology, web education, museum accessibility, web accessibility and web standards. She’s someone who makes things change and gets things done, and the worthy honoree of attention on Ada Lovelance Day.

Ada Lovelace Dayis an international day of blogging (videologging, podcasting, comic drawing etc.) to draw attention to the achievements of women in technology and science.

Take a visual tour through Glenda’s life, from her childhood in Texas to her current position as Senior Systems Analyst in Information Technology Services at the University of Texas at Austin.

Her blog is Oz: the blog of glenda sims (the goodwitch) and she’s @goodwitch on Twitter. The rest of her information is listed at Flavors/goodwitch.

Before we get into the professional activities that made her an Ada Lovelace topic, let Glenda tell you a bit about her personal life.

I’m happily married (20+ years) to the love of my life, Scott. We have two of the most wonderful children on the planet (both boys). I am a native Texan. Born in Houston. Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Business Management from the University of Texas at Austin. Began my career as a human resources professional at UT Austin. Had an opportunity to become a programmer (for Human Resources) so I could automated the tasks that could be done by computers, allowing employees to use their brains for more useful tasks.

I love to read. I’m really into kid-lit and discovering new authors with my youngest son. Last year we had a blast reading almost all of the book son the Texas Blue Bonnet Reading List.

One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to making jumping origami frogs…and yes…I still love to make them.

At UT-Austin, Glenda works on Team Web and help supports the central web site for the University.  She is the self-appointed web standards and accessibility advocate at UT. Her work on campus includes museum technology, usability, accessibility and universal design. She’s currently leading the project to redesign UT’s mobile web site.

She works with Knowbility, an accessibility training and advocacy organization based in Austin, Texas. She’s been an accessibility consultant, judge and trainer with Knowbility since 2001. She said,

My dear friends at Knowbility are a huge part of who I am today.  Sharron Rush, John Slatin, Jim Thatcher, Jim Allan and the whole accessibility crew in Austin have filled me with the burning desire to make sure that the web is available to everyone, regardless of their disabilities. Knowbility is like family to me.

I know Glenda best through her work with Web Standards Project, the InterAct curriculum, and OWEA (Open Web Education Alliance)—all projects I’m involved with myself. She’s an influential and dynamic leader in these projects and is moving mountains to bring change to web education. I asked her how she got into this area.

My journey into Web Standards started in December 2000 when I asked if I could become the web accessibility expert for UT. I was quickly introduced to Dr. John Slatin, an international accessibility expert and faculty member on our campus. John and I were an incredible force on campus. We shared new techniques, brainstormed creative solutions, developed training classes, policies and guidelines for campus and ran accessibility competitions for our webmasters.  We weren’t merely satisfied with teaching the “how” of accessibility…we wanted to build a culture of universal design on campus and created accessibility evangelists. My years working with John were priceless.

John introduced me to Sharron Rush and Knowbility in early 2001. We become the 3 Accessibility Amigos.

In SXSWi 2005, I was preparing to speak on an accessibility panel with James Craig, Ian Lloyd and Derek Featherstone. As we worked on our game plan for the panel, I was introduced to a whole new crew of web and accessibility advocates from the Web Standards Project. As I sat and listened to the vision and plans of the WaSP members I felt deeply inspired to take my work to the next level. Up until 2005 I was focused on making things accessible here in Austin. After SXSW this year I realized that I wanted to act globally as well as locally. I set a personal and private goal for myself. I wanted to become a WaSP.

In 2006 I had an opportunity to volunteer to work on a project that Molly was kick-starting called the WaSP International Liaison Group (ILG). Steph Troeth and I were asked to co-lead this project. I had the honor to work for more than 2 years on this project with an incredible group of web professionals who spent countless volunteer hours spreading the message (and the techniques) for ensuring an open web.

Glenda delights in telling the story of how InterAct and the now-forming Open Web Education Alliance came into being at SXSW in Austin. Here’s how she describes it.

At SXSWi 2008 I met the energetic Aarron Walter at the Red Eye Fly. Aarron had this idea that what the web really needed was a web education curriculum framework. His vision to build this framework as a way for educators, industry professionals and students to build and sustain a living curriculum gave me goosebumps. Within 24 hours of my conversation with Aarron, I was approached by Chris Mills who was already working on a similar and complimentary project (the Opera Web Standards Curriculum). Then Leslie Jensen-Inman and I were having a conversation where she was focused on solving the challenges of teaching the web and preparing students for real-world expectations.

I shook my head and said…”this is the magic of SXSW”…and realized I had to get these three people together. The next round of conversations took place in the middle of a bowling alley (at Geeks Love Bowling) and continued throughout the conference. The result of these conversations (and the hard work of many dedicated individuals can be seen at

Every time I talk to these people, whether it is in person, Skype or email, I’m filled with energy and excitement of what we can accomplish when we pull together.

In early 2009, John Allsopp was hosting Web Directions North in Denver. John has heard about the InterAct Curriculum and brought many members of the InterAct team together to host a Ed Directions Day in Denver. The synergy that occurred in Denver was off the charts. What happens when you add equal parts of WaSP/InterAct members + Passionate Educators + Web Industry Visionaries + Brilliant W3C Minds? You get the magic we call the Open Web Education Alliance.

A completely different facet of Glenda’s personality is her love for art museums. She said,

I’m deeply and madly in love with art museums.  And there is nothing I enjoy more than making museums and their collections accessible. I have had the great honor of working on a number of projects with the Blanton Museum of Art. My favorite project was developing an interactive handheld tour (iTour) for a research project. The research question:  Does having access to rich multimedia (on a handheld device) enhance or detract from the experience of exploring a work of art inside a museum gallery. Our research paper is published. The iTour project lead to a string of exciting adventures with Anne Manning, Dan Updegrove and Eric Guaglione.

Web Education Rocks
If you attended SXSW Interactive this year, I hope you ran into Glenda there. She was on a Web Education Rocks panel with the WaSP  team.  She says,

I have the great fortune of living in Austin where the amazing SXSW Interactive Conference occurs every year. What is SXSWi? It is like spring break for geeks…where geeks come to be with their own and dream beyond the edges of the horizon…and then…filled with some magically SXSW energy…actually turn those dreams into reality. SXSW is nothing short of magical.

She works to make the web accessible and she works to train the future professionals of the web. So, what does she look for in a web page?

There are two types of sites I love:  1)Super useful and usable sites  2)Immersive sites that make me think in an entirely new way.

One of my favorite “super useful” sites is Basecamp. If Basecamp were alive I would want to marry it.

One of my favorite “see things differently sites” is SFMoMA’s Art Scope.

I don’t think I look at websites like normal humans. I tend to turn websites inside, outside, upside down. I’m a big believer in the principles of creating a delightful user experience for the end user.

That is a fitting last comment from Glenda Sims. A big thank you to Glenda for her help and cooperation.