Andy Hume on being a web person

This article first appeared in issue 239 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: Who – or what – inspired you to become who you are today?
The web inspired me. It sounds dumb to say it now, but the first time I plugged a modem into my parents’ PC in 1997, got it to dial out through the phone line, and looked at some web pages, I was pretty much hooked. When I figured how to make a web page and put it online (using Frontpage Express and Lycos Tripod hosting) I was fully hooked. I’d always been messing about with computers (first programming on a tiny Psion II in about 1988), but publishing web pages and being able to learn from others online taught me that writing code was actually a thing people did, and that it was fun and hugely rewarding.

.net: So, what are you working on right now?
My day job is at the Guardian where I’m the client-side architect in the digital development team. It’s a massive privilege. I get to work with some extremely clever people on products that users are genuinely passionate about and on issues that are often shaping the world’s political and cultural agenda. It’s a company that’s quite progressive with its product design and the technology powering them.

I’ll be spending some time this year putting together talks for conferences, including the Responsive Day Out conference in Brighton.

.net: CSS, HTML5, JavaScript: the Web Standards Trinity. What up and coming developments and technologies are you most excited about?
I’m spending a lot of time looking at the CSS layout modules, which are starting to find their way into browsers: specifications like Grids, Regions, and, one that we’re starting to use in production sites at the Guardian, Flexbox. There’s a lot of new and under-explored stuff in those. It’s an area that’s important given the focus on responsive design and cross-platform web products.

.net: The HTML5 vs native app debate. Which side of the fence are you on - and do you foresee there being a winner?
Well, I’m unashamedly a web person. Long term, I’d bet on the web a million times over against one or two proprietary platforms with their vendor and hardware lock-in. Platforms like Android, iOS, Blackberry are of a time and place. That time is early 21st century and the place is mostly western, developed countries. The web has loftier goals than pushing the business interests of a bunch of large corporates.

Native apps for today’s popular mobile platforms are an important part of the digital landscape by pushing the boundaries of both user experience and technology. The web is often playing catch-up in terms of the latest shiny fun, but that’s more fun for developers who are pushing the boundaries with web technology.

.net: Looking around the web, what’s impressed you most recently?
Well, the FT HTML5 app is a very impressive piece of engineering. It’s taught the developers (and the community they’ve shared it with) an awful lot about what’s possible in modern browsers. I’m also very excited by a lot of the responsive web sites we’ve seen appearing, particularly the BBC News ( site, which is a superb representation.

.net: Of the tools you use on a daily basis, what do you find indispensable?
I spend an inordinate amount of time in Chrome Canary’s developer tools. My view of a website is just as much judged by what the Network and Timeline tabs tell me as how they look visually. And of course the features for debugging JavaScript and CSS are invaluable to developers every day. I use Sublime Text 2 for writing code, and I’m very excited by the ecosystem of tools springing up around Node.js; things like Grunt, Yeoman, and the ease with which they integrate with RequireJS, LESS, JSHint, and others.

.net: What advice would you give to young coders?
You’ll never know everything. I find I’m either overly confident in my knowledge of something (normally when I’ve barely scratched the surface of it) or I’m terrified I’ll be found out for being behind on a certain topic. Just don’t ever believe you’ve finished learning. The best people I’ve worked with are curious about everything.

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