Christian Heilmann

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Archive for October, 2010

A bit of harmless Friday fun – what is your Ninja name?

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Going through my RSS feeds this morning I found this Ninja name translation table:

Ninja translation table

I thought that was a perfect candidate for a YQL table, so I made one. So find out your Ninja name in the YQL console.

Conversion was easy – simply convert the table to a hash, check that the user has not entered any non-alpha characters, lowercase and loop over the different characters with a lookup. You can see the source of the table on github

Yours, mirishikiari.

So what is the job I am going to?

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Luke Skywalker hanging from the Bespin weathervaneOK it is time to end the cruelty of the cliff-hanger.

As mentioned yesterday, today I shall reveal the identity of my new employer. I left clues – videos of people with Dinosaurs and some CSS geekery:


So yes, this is it, to say it with (mock) YQL:

insert into mozilla (employee) values (
select chris from yahoo where color=”red”

From the first of December 2010 onwards my job title will be “Principal Developer Evangelist” at Mozilla. The job contract came from Denmark but as far as I know I don’t have to start eating pork.

My new employer - Mozilla

Principal Developer Evangelist – what will I do?

The job is more or less the same as I have in Yahoo right now, with a few differences:

  • The main topics are the open web and HTML5 - we want to move the amazing Mozilla Developer Centre to become the “Switzerland of HTML5” which means reporting on all the cool HTML5 stuff that happens and showing people how you can apply them cross-browser. Microsoft, Apple and Google all do a great job evangelizing HTML5 but a lot of it is product centric without fallbacks for “the other browsers”. We want to change that.
  • Instead of being the only one doing it the job already comes with two open headcounts to fill to fight the good fight with me.
  • My office shall be my flat – I will finally use it!
  • I will work closely with the Mozilla Drumbeat people to also drive the adoption of open web technologies in schools and universities.

Why Mozilla?

People already asked me why I would go to Mozilla and then vented their frustration about Firefox. Well, when I talked at Fronteers this year I concentrated on the great things about our jobs in my talk and explained that happiness and excitement is the main factor that makes you successful and get up in the morning with a “fuck yes, I want to do something cool” attitude rather than “here’s to my paycheck, I hope my boss is late, too”. Whilst I wasn’t unhappy at Yahoo I felt redundant (as explained yesterday) and Mozilla made me feel incredibly excited:

  • I always was a Mozilla fanboy – heck, I even preferred Netscape and worked with Firebird, Phoenix, even Kmeleon before switching to Firefox as my main browser. More importantly I love the open attitude of Mozilla. Read the Mozilla manifesto and check what I have done in the last years and you see how this meshes completely. This web has to constantly become better and only open discussion and collaborative efforts will make that happen.
  • I went through a few other interviews (no, I won’t mention names) and felt unhappy during the interview. A lot of companies try to make you uncomfortable or intimidate you during an interview. I find this pathetic. The interview in Mozilla was 5 hours of the best brainstorming I had done in a while. We bounced ideas off another and people came into the meeting room in between interviews as they were excited to see me there and asked me for a quick comment on a new idea of theirs. It was pure creativity.
  • People walked around with dogs in the office – you can’t argue that that is not awesome
  • I knew most of the people who interviewed me and had worked with them before – it is a great sign to see people you like and trust ending all up in one spot
  • Sections of the office are called “Ten Forward” and “Holodeck”- c’mon, do tell me you don’t want to work there!
  • Firefox4 is friggin exciting and I am looking forward to working with Paul Rouget in Paris from time to time to build great demos

Settling in

So, I am right now handing over my responsibilities, ordered my hardware from Mozilla and look forward to the Christening of Mozilla – as I am Chris, I work directly for Chris Beard (who is clean shaven) and with Chris Blizzard. I am so looking forward to the confusion that will happen on conference calls because of this name clash. I am excited as heck!

The book that never was – the why of YQL

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

YQL is great, it is a technology that turns the web into a database and allows you to mix and match and filter before writing your first line of code. It also allows you to release an API without any infrastructure, knowledge of authentication and access control. In essence you can use Yahoo’s server infrastructure and processing power to unleash the awesome of the web into your products or the awesome of your data on the web.

There is a truckload of documentation, forums and blog posts about YQL on the YDN web site but as it is people love books so I was asked to write a YQL guide for Yahoo Press.

Specifically I was asked to write a demo chapter for the book to pitch to O’Reilly over Christmas, which I did. I then waited for the paperwork to be signed off and so on and time came and went until I was offered to write the YQL Guide for O’Reilly together with my colleague Tom Hughes-Croucher (as he had also sent in a proposal for a YQL book). We agreed on some collaboration and then Tom moved on to write another book.

As I am leaving Yahoo and yet have to see a contract about this book to sign, I announced that I am not going further with this project. Being the techno-hippie that I am though I thought it would be a waste to not give the first chapter to the world, so here it is:

You can read the chapter online, download the PDF or browse the “source” on GitHub in case you want to translate or quote it. I licensed it with Creative Commons so go nuts!

Goodbye, Yahoo – it was an awesome time

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Last week I handed in my notice at Yahoo to leave them for pastures new. I’ve been with the company for almost 5 years (which would have given me a gumball machine) and I have to say that I do not regret a single moment.

So yeah, I quit! Anybody for a Hot Piece of Engineer/Evangelist?

Hot piece of engineer/evangelist anyone?

So yeah, another Yahoo jumps the ship – I can already see people talking about talent bleed and all that. To all the people who blog, write and publish that Yahoo is not a technology company and there is no innovation going on I can only say: bullshit.

Yahoo rocks as a tech company

The amount of talented people I was lucky enough to work with is one of my best takeaways from the time I had at Yahoo. The amount of innovation and kick-ass tech being produced is staggering, too. Yahoo doesn’t blow its own horn about it enough, that is all. If, as a web developer you look at the Yahoo homepage and see the JS implementation and the performance you will see what I mean. Yahoo also publishes and gives out the findings for free. The design pattern library, YUI and the performance guidelines can be used by you to be as awesome without much work.

In Yahoo I learnt a lot I previously thought I knew already – having come to the company with already 8 years of experience. I got a chance to hone my speaking and training skills and I witnessed the birth of amazing technologies like GeoPlanet, YUI, YQL, YSlow, BrowserPlus and all the other things you probably miss out on if you see Yahoo as a huge ad company on its way out like some of the rag mags of our tech world love to paint it.

It is about the people

The thing that kept me for a long time in Yahoo are its people. You can have fun working there. Travelling the world and visiting different offices I was amazed just how much local flavour is retained rather than being a Silicon Valley drone someplace else. It is also OK to be outspoken in the company and nobody gets stopped from blogging, tweeting or writing their own thoughts on their own server. Going through a few interviews I found this not to be the norm at all with other companies like Yahoo.

I find myself being in contact with all of the people I care about outside the company channels and there is no way that I will not use these connections in the future to share great ideas, get inspiration and bounce off previews of the things I will release. There are far too many people to thank personally for the time I had in Yahoo and this is not for public – you know who you are.

Yahoo has its problems, and given time I will write about a few I can mention. None of these are really surprising given that they are a big company. Putting too many people together to solve a problem will always result in a lot of noise vs. signal – it is simply human nature.

So why am I quitting?

It is actually very simple – my job is done here. I’ve spent the last two years evangelising Yahoo and left over a hundred different presentations, numerous blog posts, demos and screencasts and other info on its technologies and how they fit into the larger picture of technology or how you can use them to make your life easier.

I find myself repeating what I said before and getting congratulated for getting people excited about technologies like YQL just to get the final blow of “I had no idea Yahoo did anything like that! I thought you guys were almost dead”. I don’t mind the misinformation – albeit wrong – I mind that I feel I ran in circles telling people about the real Yahoo just not to be backed up by other official statements and actions of the company.

I proposed to start a full evangelism department in the company (based on requests from engineers which also lead to me writing the Developer Evangelism Handbook), training up engineers to talk to the world and get them excited and offer evangelism and training as a natural evolution for engineers who want to talk about what they do. Right now Yahoo has two full-time developer evangelists: Tom Hughes-Croucher in the US and me for the world. There were no plans for that to change in the near future so maybe a change is in order.

The other thing is that I have been in the company too long. As I mentioned in my talk at Fronteers this year it is amazing how much better you work when you concentrate on the good things about your job. If you’ve been at one place for a long time you start to get tainted and always see the “this will not work as it didn’t before” instead of the “fuck yeah, let’s do this”.

The good news is that the man who brought me to Yahoo in the first place, Murray Rowan, is now in charge of YDN international, so I am confident he will find a replacement for me soon.

So what’s next?

Later today I will publish a chapter of a book I started but never went anywhere – so this is one of the goodies I will leave immediately. Update this is now live get the book chapter here.

As for the new job…

You know, what? I keep that announcement for tomorrow. I have a new job and I am as excited as a 12 year old in a candy shop with a free puppy section. There is a hint in the source code of the start page and I can say that I am very much looking forward to being Wash and playing with Dinosaurs:

I am also very much looking forward to being able to rant and realise that it is me who can and will fix the thing I am annoyed about:


Again, me leaving Yahoo is not on a bad note – I just see myself in the way of people who should get a chance to shine. I will still be rooting from the sidelines and talk about their stuff when I like it. My last day is the 24th of November, my last official Yahoo gig is YUIConf in Sunnyvale and I will be at Science Hack Day in Palo Alto. Then I will go to Jordan to talk to the Maktoob people about the wonderful world of Yahoo Tech and on the first of December my new job starts – with me brewing a coffee in my own flat in North London and writing my first mails to the people I had so much fun with during the job interview.

Fronttrends2010 in Warsaw, Poland – my impressions, slides and audio

Monday, October 25th, 2010

I just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable trip to Warsaw to speak at the Fronttrends 2010 conference. This new conference managed to assemble a stellar line-up of speakers and around 400 developers who were very eager indeed to learn about new techniques and products. Big names like Tantek Çelik, Douglas Crockford, Peter-Paul-Koch were the first to be recruited and I was also happy to see Jake Archibald (who I pimped mercilessly to conference organisers), Robert Nyman and Anthony Ribot again.

Together with these known people, Fronttrends took the daring move to have 8 speakers who gave their first talk ever at conferences. I do very much applaud the organisers for that and I managed to spot some very interesting new talents who I am sure I will see much more of – check out the conference line-up for the details.

The conference organisation was good with the main problem being once again the wireless connectivity. This is always an issue and I can only say that if you are a speaker at a conference do never rely on having web access. Take screenshots and screencasts of what you want to show and you will be safe and leave a happy rather than confused audience.

So here are some things that surprised me positively about the conference and showed that preconceptions of anything are most of the time wrong:

  • The catering was amazing – I loved the food and was very much surprised to have a wealth of Vegetarian options to choose from. For some reason I remembered Polish cuisine to be mostly sausage and cabbage based but this was very good indeed.
  • There was no language barrier to speak of. I had pitched my talk to be very low on puns and language and heavier on the content and code (Robert Nyman was surprised to see that much JS in my slides) as I thought I might not be easy to understand but the audience even stomached Jake Archibald’s Northernisms without batting an eyelid.
  • Geeks of the female side of the species – whilst the amount of ladies in the audience was predictably low it turned out that all of them were developers and very outspoken in their interest to take some tech info home with them (which manifested itself in very detailed questions). I loved it and was very interested in the level of knowledge I encountered. I am right now working on some of them to make them share this knowledge and speak at conferences very soon.
  • The mix was very good – to me this was the first conference that really managed to have a mix of mobile and web development and talk about the open web rather than providing a sounding board for battling SDKs and App Stores.

Talent spotted: Lea Verou

Lea Verou - "Pragmatic CSS" (3)The big surprise to me though was Lea Verou who gave a 2 hour session on Pragmatic CSS3. I’ve met Lea at Fronteers in Amsterdam and heard that she’d speak at Fronttrends but I’ve never heard of her before which confused me. When she confessed that she is very nervous and I offered to go through her slides with her to give some speaking advice I was simply amazed. Not only were her slides very thorough and detailed but also written in HTML/CSS/JS and interactive. She used contenteditable to allow her to change some values live on stage to see the differences. Clever piece of work and beautiful to see.

Her delivery was also spot-on. Yes, nervous, but also no-nonsense, no-fluff information delivered at an understandable pace. That Lea is from Greece and very versed in newest technologies is just wonderful to see – we need more good people in countries with great weather and food to run some very relaxed conferences there. Keep your eyes out for Lea’s talk and videos – it is very much worth it.

My talk – using webservices with JavaScript

I shifted my talk as Anthony was getting too “spiritual” the evening before and didn’t show up on time (he pulled through like a trooper though and delivered a great talk later on). As I thought the audience would be very technical and mostly interested in takeaways I kept the slides very to the point. Specifically I talked about how to use webservices in JavaScript and the issues about it – making asynchronous calls come back in a predictable order, local caching on the client with localStorage and how to move your JavaScript server-side by embedding it in YQL open tables. The slides are available on SlideShare:

Using Web Services with JavaScript – Fronttrends 2010

As always I recorded my talk (to find out what I said) and uploaded the audio files on


Fronttrends was the first of its kind and I was very happy to be part of it. The audience was engaged, the organisation worked out well and I am looking forward to coming back to Poland and to see more of the things the organisers are planning to do. One thing they already announced is Falsy Values, a pure JS conference in May.