David Walsh Interview

by Kyle Simpson

Recently I sat down for a chat with David Walsh, the notable blogger, Mozilla employee, and web development sage. Let’s listen in to see what bits of wisdom David has to share with us about the web platform and the community.

David, thanks for chatting with us today. We’re honored to have you.

You have a popular developer blog where you write original content and also have other great guest posts. Tell us about your blog and about how you see it impacting the developer community.

I started my blog six years ago because I was tired of endlessly looking for solutions to common problems. My goal was to create a central site that myself and other developers could find answers to those problems efficiently and with a sufficient but brief explanation. It’s grown into a bit more than that over the years, now acting as a code playground and dumping ground for my web development thoughts.

As for how it has impacted the developer community, I can’t really say. What I can say is that my blog has impacted my life tremendously. It has allowed me to meet other talented devs, get awesome jobs at SitePen and now Mozilla, and has pushed me to continue growing as a front-end developer. I learn loads from user comments and I can’t picture my career without David Walsh Blog.

You’re being awfully modest. Your blog is broadly read and well-respected.

Speaking of Mozilla, tell us about MDN and what you’re doing there with your team.

When I joined Mozilla a year ago, we were just getting ready to launch a new Django-powered MDN – a complete backend rewrite. We’re in the middle of creating a complete front-end overhaul of MDN which I joyfully work on every day. I look forward to its launch in the coming months and look even more forward to making the MDN user experience more enjoyable.

Since developers these days have to work across a broad range of browsers, why should they care about the Mozilla documentation site?

MDN isn’t just dedicated to Mozilla technologies — MDN has always been dedicated to providing accurate, reliable documentation for web standards. MDN does feature documentation for XUL (the Firefox add-on language) and Firefox OS-specific documentation, but MDN is first and foremost a standards documentation website. That will never change and I’m proud to improve MDN each day.

It’s also important to note that MDN’s documentation system is built with a wiki feature set, so anyone can pitch in to make documentation more thorough, clear, and accurate.

Great point: MDN being a public wiki isn’t as well known. Can you think of any specific areas that non-Mozilla developers could really help MDN through content or review?

Of course! Providing code samples within documentation always helps developers to understand a given API, and MDN has an embedded “live sample” system which can be leveraged to display working code. Another great way for bilingual developers to pitch in is to translate documents to other languages. The translation interface makes translation easy and with the explosion of HTML5 apps which will come as a result of Firefox OS’ world-wide launch, translated documentation will be come even more important.

That’s great to hear. I know I for one will try to help contribute more to MDN.

You mentioned Firefox OS, which is of course Mozilla’s latest effort, an HTML5/JS based OS for smart phones. That must be exciting to see Mozilla venture into that space. How do you foresee FirefoxOS changing the way developers build content and experiences for the web and mobile?

I’m ecstatic about Firefox OS’s release. I know I’ve been longing for a reliable HTML5-based mobile solution and I’m proud to work for the best organization to do it. Firefox OS is changing the mobile game by lowering the barrier of entry for phones and app development. We all know front-end, we all love front-end, and now there are no more hoops to creating your app with front-end. I respect PhoneGap and think it’s a great tool, but I don’twant to need it.

Also realize that our WebAPI effort pushes to standardize mobile HTML5 APIs, so we’re really pushing the front-end forward as well. Look at the list of APIs that Mozilla is implementing in Firefox OS, and you’ll see that this project is ambitious and could change the HTML5 landscape.

For me, Firefox OS is a massive win for everyone, especially those in countries where the general population can’t afford an iPhone or Android device!

“…could change…” is putting it mildly. These efforts are definitely pushing HTML5 forward!

You talk about how the web has a global audience appeal. What are some of the things you’ve seen recently that really amazed you in terms of what the web is capable of, and how that will help developers reach that world?

Each day on @davidwalshblog, I tweet a “Best demo you’ll see all day”, and let me tell you, I’m finding someincredible stuff. WebGLcanvas, and even advanced CSS animations are allowing us to do things we wouldn’t have dreamed of ten years ago. Mozilla has recently released asm.js, which allows for much faster JS execution speed. Check out the Mozilla BananaBread demo and you’ll be amazed at what’s possible. We’re out of excuses for saying HTML5 isn’t good enough, because it certainly is and the only limitation is ourselves.

Those “Best demo…” tweets are always fun to check out. What do you think will be highlighted in that tweet 6-12 months from now? What’s your biggest, boldest prediction for where the web platform is headed?

I think the next giant push will be HTML5 gaming for both mobile and desktop. Technologies like WebGL and asm.js will make that happen. Chisel that prediction in stone!

That’s a pretty safe bet!

Finally, you see the best of the web, but you probably also run across areas where the technology, or the developers, could improve. What’s the one step forward you’d like us all to take in terms of how we build on the web platform?

I think we as developers need to focus more on performance and rely less on massive JavaScript and CSS libraries. There’s no excuse for not optimizing for performance. That’s not just a developer issue though — browsers should do better and standards bodies should do more to help us accomplish this goal.

We also need to fix obvious problems with CSS. Vertical centering can be a nightmare, whitespace issues crop up with inline-block elements, etc.

We’re all doing our best but now it’s time to step it up a notch!

If only someone had written recently about CSS vertical centering and how it needs to be fixed!

Any parting thoughts for our readers before we let you go?

What I always tell developers is that you need to keep pushing the web and improving yourself. Don’t get involved in petty open source trolling and always stay positive. Every web developer should start a blog — you may end up in your dream job some day!

Fantastic advice and vision, David. Thanks so much for sharing your sage wisdom with our readers! Keep up with what David is up to by checking out his blog and his @davidwalshblog twitter. Oh, and don’t forget to check out and participate in the MDN site and wiki!

On that note, we agree that all developers should be writing about the great stuff they’re doing. Start a blog, as David says, or reach out and contribute to this site. Even if you don’t feel confident in your writing, we’d love to help mentor you. This is your web community.

For more complete information about compiler optimizations, see our Optimization Notice.