Interviews by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.
Dori Smith: Internationally Respected and Widely Acknowledged Internet Authority, Author, Speaker, Technologist, Web Developer
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Dori Smith.
Doriís work is highlighted at these sites:
Q: Dori, you are coming up to 30 years of program development experience, with many successes in your career. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview and sharing your diverse background knowledge.
A: Thanks very much for this opportunity, Stephen!
Q: You learned Basic on a teletype-terminal connected to a mainframe in 1977 and realized a passion. What applied at that time, applies today such as when you reviewed RealBasic for Macworld magazine back in 2001. What aspects of programming intrigued, confounded, excited, and challenged you back in 1977 and which [itemized] universal skills still apply today?
A: What I primarily enjoyed when I first started out was the challenge of solving puzzles, and thatís still the case today. Iím one of the few programmers Iíve ever found who likes the challenges of debugging code Ė you have to think completely logically, assume nothing at all, and go through what your code ought to do, step by step. Itís a very satisfying feeling to stamp out bugs and take pride in the end result.
What still applies today is the how-to big picture. Someone might say that they want an application or script that does one small thing that would make their lives simpler, but when you quiz them about what theyíre trying to accomplish, you often find that thereís a more straight-forward, general way to solve the same problem Ė and one that works not just for them, but for a larger group. Along with debugging, knowing that youíre creating not just a solution but also the right solution for someone is fulfilling to me.
Q: You are a well-respected expert in Web development but you still donít consider yourself an expert in design. What is missing from your design portfolio and knowledge scope? What ten attributes make for an expert web developer?
A: There are a number of interesting growth areas in the Web programming field that are just starting to take off right now. The two that Iím watching most closely are:
Q: Share your top ďadvancedĒ Web developer tips:
Q: You started writing and teaching in 1997. If someone in our audience wanted to take on these roles, what advice would you give them? How would they prepare for these roles? What are the major challenges?
A: Thatís several questions!
The biggest problem programmers have in becoming writers and speakers is that they often have trouble explaining what they do in English. By the time theyíve become expert enough to be asked to talk or write, theyíve forgotten what itís like to not know the subject that theyíre experts in. You really have to be able to take yourself back to the point where it was all brand-new, and thatís a hard jump for a lot of people. But if you canít do that, youíll never be able to explain it to those who are there.
What they can do to make the transition is to talk to novices (as much as possible). Talk to your target audience, and find out what they want to know, and what they already know. Too many beginning programming books assume that the readers have years of programming knowledge already, and then the readers have to buy another book just to understand the first one.
Q: You are a steering committee member of the Web Standards Project or WaSP (www.webstandards.org), which was founded in 1998. Your first concerns centered around cross-browser compatibility. You are a champion of the three legs of compliance: standards compliant browsers, user browser upgrades, and the creation of standards compatible tools used to build websites. Where are you now in this campaign and where is the overall industry heading? What are your major peeves regards to the fight for standards? Who are the leaders? Describe the perfect world? Where are the best resources?
A: This is an exciting time for the Web Standards Project, because people and corporations now understand the size of the problem and the advantages of standards support. We spent our first few years having to explain, over and over, why standards matter. Now, every browser thatís shipped in the last few years has excellent standards support. While the oldest browser in common usage, IE for Windows, is from before this advance, thereís a good chance that the next version will be considerably better.
At this point, instead of just yelling from our Web site, weíve got task forces that work with major companies like Microsoft and Macromedia. And instead of trying to convince developers and corporations that their Web sites should support standards, we get email from Web developers bragging about their new sites.
Our #1 major peeve is the most popular browser: IE for Windows. For its day, it was an advance, but its day is past. Thankfully, Microsoft has recently agreed that they shouldnít wait for Longhorn to update it, and now weíre working with them to help figure out what their next browser should support.
So far as resources, the place to start is at the Learn section of the Web Standards Project site http://www.webstandards.org/learn/. Thereís a wide variety of useful links there.
Q: As you have been quoted, ďÖ.Weíre not chicks, babes, girls, or even grrlsóweíre woman, and weíre okay with being women.Ē Where is wise-woman.org positioned today and where do you see it heading? How will it make a difference? What is its value proposition?
A: Iím not sure how a community has a ďvalue proposition,Ē actually!
The community itself has learned over their years together that everyone is a novice at something, and that something is generally where you need help right now. Because itís a community thatís not just about one small niche, itís able to help out in a large variety of areas. For instance, someone asking a beginning question today about databases might be the one to give the expert answer on CSS tomorrow.
As to where itís heading, who knows? Itís an open group; anyone can join, regardless of gender. The community itself decides whatís going to go on the Web site, and thatís become an interesting and useful adjunct to the lists.
Q: Please share your top tips from Mac OS X Unwired?
A: Mac OS X Unwired covers a broad range of technology, from AirPort and Bluetooth to IR and RF. If I listed just a few tips from each, this part would be twice the length of everything else in the interview, so here are just a few Bluetooth troubleshooting tips to help if youíre having problems:
Q: So you have the ďbackup brainĒ site to store all those links you would want again. Comment on your ďrantsĒ and wish list items?
A: I started backupbrain.com back in 1999, when hardly anyone had heard of weblogs. Now, it seems like everyone and their six-year-old has one, so itís been an interesting journey watching this medium evolve.
My Amazon wish list is just that Ė a list of items on Amazon that Iíd like to have. Itís mostly there on the blog to remind my husband about birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
My rants are where I put my longer-form pieces from the weblog. The site started off as just my literal ďbackup brain,Ē but since then itís become a little more Ė itís also a place to put my writings that need to come out, but for which I donít want to try to find a publisher. The rants tend to be op/ed-type pieces, and I try to make it easy for other people to find, read, and link to them.
Q: How do you see yourself and your web sites evolving in the medium and long term?
A: My name is Dori, and Iím addicted to buying domain namesÖ
I say that as a joke, but it has got a bit of truth to it. I have trouble remembering all the different domains Iíve already got, so Iím trying not to buy any more!
But given that, the next area thatís really going to grow is at http://www.dori.com/dashboard/, which is currently a list of Dashboard Widgets resources. Itís eventually going to be the support site for my next book, Dashboard Widgets for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide.
Q: This is a staple in our interviews. Here is where we turn it around. Pick four topic areas of your choosing and provide commentary.
Area 2: Vanilla versus chocolate: vanilla, because you can always add chocolate toppings on. And I do.
Area 3: Thereís this common idea in the Web business that thereís a shortage of women Web designers. Thatís not the case at all! In fact, most of the top-selling Web design books are by women. Many of the leaders in the community are women. The problem is that some guys just donít see them, and some women like to play the victim card. While women are under-represented in most technical areas, Web design is one of the few success stories.
Area 4: One of the reasons Iíve been successful in the tech writing business isnít so much that I know the field better, or that Iím a better writer Ė itís because most geeks canít speak English.† For some reason, people who are technical tend to have poor writing skills, and editors are always on the lookout for techies who can also write clearly and grammatically. Itís a niche that Iíve fallen into, and it works for me.
Q: Can you share a story or two--something amusing, amazing, surprising?
2) One of the strangest things about this business is that while I keep getting older, the people I work with donít. For instance, one guy Iíve been working with recently turned out to be a junior in high school Ė heís the same age as my son. I suspect that he has no idea that Iím probably older than his mother.
Q: Dori, we do appreciate the time you spent sharing your incredible breadth and depth of knowledge. Thank you!
A: Thanks for giving me this opportunity!