25 years making websites

Wow, where did that time go? Twenty. Five. Years. Making websites.

A career in three acts

Building the web began for me in June of 1996, although if you trace it all the way back I guess we could pin it on the VIC-20 my parents bought me for Christmas in 1982.

That being said, it feels like my career has mimicked the arc of the web itself.

The wild west

It started for me when I telnet-ed into the ISP that I'd chosen for my employer Whitbread, in order to build a site for The Sherlock Holmes Pub.

From there I found a manual on how to write HTML, and my web-building career was born.

A year or two later, I was at IBM. This truly felt like the time of the wild west. We were rebuilding the IBM PC site every six months, and my team was tasked with building the first consumer faced e-commerce site for IBM.

This was also the time of the web where things like tables and images appeared as novel ideas.

Dizzying times.

The adolescent

It feels like the noughties were a period of discovery and growing up, both for myself and the web industry.

CSS was starting to take off as a serious pillar of web building thanks to sites like CSS Zen Garden. Flash opened up the possibilities of what could be done on a web page (for better or worse).

This decade also saw the birth of the big players in social media. (That turned out great didn't it?)

For me, this was the decade of marketing.

Almost every role I took – from Tequila in 2000, Taglab in 2004, to Mason Zimbler in 2008 – was as part of a marketing agency.

This gave me amazing freedom to work on all sorts of interesting projects and technologies, including games and animation.

I also marketed a lot of laptops, and I ended the decade wanting more.

The maturation of the industry

I quit my role as head of digital in 2011, and took a chance on moving to Cornwall.

A few months later, I was at fffunction as technical director, an unplanned move that nevertheless feels preordained upon looking back.

We were bleeding edge at fffunction from the beginning, and we kept pushing forward until shuttering the agency in 2019.

We were UX-led before that was really a thing.

We jumped on Django, and switched to Wagtail over Wordpress as soon as it was mature enough.

We made good websites for good people.

But this was also the time of maturation for the industry.

DevOps, Node, Git - all the technologies that to an old hand sound scarier than simply firing up a text editor and an FTP client, but actually gave us the stability and reliability to move forward and make interesting things, rather than just breaking things.

I liked that myself and the web grew up together, and while these new technologies might have been a little scary at first, I jumped in with both feet.

Same as it ever was

So, everything's changed since I started right?

Yes, but no.

A lot has changed, but I think it's still the same in at least a couple of important ways.

To be good at this, you have to understand the fundamentals of how the web works. I'm looking at you, request-response.

And you should be ready to learn new technology all the time, as the ground can shift under your feet at any moment. Just ask any Flash developer after reading Thoughts on Flash.

I'm always ready to start anew.

Where will we be in another 25 years I wonder?