Christian Heilmann

⚡️On towards my next challenge…

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 at 11:36 am

One of the things I like where I live in London is my doctor. He is this crazy German who lived for 30 years in Australia before coming to England. During my checkup he speaks a mixture of German, Yiddish, Latin and English and has a dark sense of humour.

He also does one thing that I have massive respect for: he never treats my symptoms and gives me quick acting remedies. Instead he digs and analyses until he found the cause of them and treats that instead. Often this means I suffer longer from ill effects, but it also means that I leave with the knowledge of what caused the problem. I don’t just get products pushed in my face to make things easier and promises of a quick recovery. Instead, I get pulled in to become part of the healing process and to own my own health in the long run. This is a bad business decision for him as giving me more short-acting medication would mean I come back more often. What it means to me though is that I have massive respect for him, as he has principles.

Professor X to Magneto: If you know you can deflect it, you are not really challenging yourself

As you know if you read this blog, I left Mozilla and I am looking for a new job. As you can guess, I didn’t have to look long and hard to find one. We are superbly, almost perversely lucky as people in IT right now. We can get jobs easily compared to other experts and markets.

Hard to replace: Mozilla

Leaving Mozilla was ridiculously hard for me. I came to Mozilla to stay. I loved meeting people during my interviews who’ve been there for more than eight years – an eternity in our market. I loved the products, I am still madly in love with the manifesto and the work that is going on. A lot changed in the company though and the people I came for left one by one and got replaced by people with other ideals and ideas. This can be a good thing. Maybe this is the change the company needs.
I didn’t want to give up on these ideals. I didn’t want to take a different job where I have to promote a product by all means. I didn’t want to be in a place that does a lot of research, builds impressive looking tools and solutions but also discards them when they aren’t an immediate success. I wanted to find a place where I can serve the web and make a difference in the lives of those who build things for the web. In day to day products. Not in a monolithic product that tries to be the web.

Boredom on the bleeding edge

My presentations in the last year had a re-occuring theme. We can not improve the web if we don’t make it easy and reliable for everybody building things on it to take part in our innovations. Only a tiny amount of the workers of the web can use alpha or beta solutions. Even fewer can rely on setting switches in browsers or use prefixed functionality that might change on a whim. Many of us have to deliver products that are much more strict. Products that have to adhere to non-sensical legal requirements.

These people have a busy job, and they want to make it work. Often they have to cut corners. In many other cases they rely on massive libraries and frameworks that promise magical solutions. This leads to products that are in a working state, and not in an enjoyable state.

To make the web a continuous success, we need to clean it up. No innovation and no framework will replace the web, its very nature makes that impossible. What we need to do now is bring our bleeding edge knowledge of what means well performing and maintainable code down the line to those who do not attend every conference or spend days on Hacker News and Stack Overflow.

And the winner is…

This is why I answered a job offer I got and I will start working on the 2nd of February for a new company. The company is *drumroll*:

Microsoft. Yes, the bane of my existence as a standards protagonist during the dark days of the first browser wars. Just like my doctor, I am going to the source of a lot of our annoyances and will do my best to change the causes instead of fighting the symptoms.

My new title is “Senior Program Manager” in the Developer experience and evangelism org of Microsoft. My focus is developer outreach. I will do the same things I did at Mozilla: JavaScript, Open Web Technologies and cross-browser support.

Professor X to Magneto: you know, I've always found the real focus to be in between rage and serenity

Frankly, I am tired of people using “But what about Internet Explorer” as an excuse. An excuse to not embrace or even look into newer, sensible and necessary technology. At the same time I am bored of people praising experimental technology in “modern browsers” as a must. Best practices have to prove themselves in real products with real users. What’s great for building Facebook or GMail doesn’t automatically apply to any product on the web. If we want a standards-based web to survive and be the go-to solution for new developers we need to change. We can not only invent, we also need to clean up and move outdated technology forward. Loving and supporting the web should be unconditional. Warts and all.

A larger audience who needs change…

I’ve been asking for more outreach from the web people “in the know” to enterprise users. I talked about a lack of compassion for people who have to build “boring” web solutions. Now I am taking a step and will do my best to try to crack that problem. I want to have a beautiful web in all products I use, not only new ones. I’ve used enough terrible ticketing systems and airline web sites. It is time to help brush up the web people have to use rather than want to use.

This is one thing many get wrong. People don’t use Chrome over Firefox or other browsers because of technology features. These are more or less on par with another. They chose Chrome as it gives them a better experience with Google’s services. Browsers in 2015 are not only about what they can do for developers. It is more important how smooth they are for end users and how well they interact with the OS.

I’ve been annoyed for quite a while about the Mac/Chrome centric focus of the web development community. Yes, I use them both and I am as much to blame as the next person. Fact is though, that there are millions of users of Windows out there. There are a lot of developers who use Windows, too. The reason is that that’s what their company provides them with and that is what their clients use. It is arrogant and elitist to say we change the web and make the lives of every developer better when our tools are only available for a certain platform. That’s not the world I see when I travel outside London or the Silicon Valley.

We’re in a time of change as Alex Wilhelm put it on Twitter:

Microsoft is kinda cool again, Apple is boring, Google is going after Yahoo on Firefox, and calculator watches are back. Wtf is going on.

What made me choose

In addition to me pushing myself to fix one of the adoption problems of new web technologies from within there were a few more factors that made this decision the right one for me:

  • The people – my manager is my good friend and former Ajaxian co-writer Rey Bango. You might remember us from the FoxIE HTML5 training video series. Rey and me on the beach My first colleague in this team is also someone who I worked with on several open projects and got massive respect for.
  • The flexibility – I am a remote worker. I work from London, Stockholm, or wherever I need to be. This is becoming a rare occasion and many offers I got started with “you need to move to the Silicon Valley”. Nope, I work on the web. We all could. I have my own travel budget. I propose where I am going to present. And I will be in charge of defining, delivering and measuring the developer outreach program.
  • The respect – every person who interviewed me was on time, prepared and had real, job related problems for me to solve. There was no “let me impress you with my knowledge and ask you a thing you don’t know”. There was no “Oh, I forgot I needed to interview you right now” and there was no confusion about who I am speaking to and about what. I loved this. and in comparison to other offers it was refreshing. We all are open about our actions and achievements as developers. If you interview someone you have no clue about then you didn’t do your research as an interviewer. I interviewed people as much as they interviewed me and the answers I got were enlightening. There was no exaggerated promises and they scrutinised everything I said and discussed it. When I made a mistake, I got a question about it instead of letting me show off or talk myself into a corner.
  • The organisation – there is no question about how much I earn, what the career prospects are, how my travels and expenses will work and what benefits I get. These things are products in use and not a Wiki page where you could contact people if you want to know more.
  • The challenge – the Windows 10 announcement was interesting. Microsoft is jumping over its own shadow with the recent changes, and I am intrigued about making this work.

I know there might be a lot of questions, so feel free to contact me if you have any concerns, or if you want to congratulate me.

FAQ:

  • Does this mean you will not be participating in open communication channels and open source any longer?

    On the contrary. I am hired to help Microsoft understand the open source world and play a bigger part in it. I will have to keep some secrets until a certain time. That will also be a re-occuring happening. But that is much the same for anyone working in Google, Samsung, Apple or any other company. Even Mozilla has secrets now, this is just how some markets work. I will keep writing for other channels, I will write MDN docs, be active on GitHub and applaud in public when other people do great work. I will also be available to promote your work. All I publish will be open source or Creative Commons. This blog will not be a Microsoft blog. This is still me and will always remain me.

  • Will you now move to Windows with all your computing needs?

    No, like every other person who defends open technology and freedom I will keep using my Macintosh. (There might be sarcasm in this sentence, and a bit of guilt). I will also keep my Android and Firefox OS phones. I will of course get Windows based machinery as I am working on making those better for the web.

  • Will you now help me fix all my Internet Explorer problems when I complain loud enough on Twitter?

    No.

  • What does this mean to your speaking engagements and other public work?

    Not much. I keep picking where I think my work is needed the most and my terms and conditions stay the same. I will keep a strict separation of sponsoring events and presenting there (no pay to play). I am not sure how sponsorship requests work, but I will find out soon and forward requests to the right people.

  • What about your evangelism coaching work like the Mozilla Evangelism Reps and various other groups on Facebook and LinkedIn?

    I will keep my work up there. Except that the Evangelism Reps should have a Mozilla owner. I am not sure what should happen to this group given the changes in the company structure. I’ve tried for years to keep this independent of me and running smoothly without my guidance and interference. Let’s hope it works out.

  • Will you tell us now to switch to Internet Explorer / Spartan?

    No. I will keep telling you to support standards and write code that is independent of browser and environment. This is not about peddling a product. This is about helping Microsoft to do the right thing and giving them a voice that has a good track record in that regard.

  • Can we now get endless free Windows hardware from you to test on?

    No. Most likely not. Again, sensible requests I could probably forward to the right people

So that’s that. Now let’s fix the web from within and move a bulk of developers forward instead of preaching from an ivory tower of “here is how things should be”.

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