Christian Heilmann

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Archive for May, 2013


Friday, May 10th, 2013

As developers we are incredibly lucky. We work in a very growing and immensely well paid market, our companies shower us with benefits, companies offer us jobs rather than having to send out hundreds of CVs on the off-chance and even the mass media and politicians start talking about “coding” being a skill everybody needs.

Quite some part of this success is based on the stubbornness we showed in the past. When we got a task to build something we didn’t give up on it and said it is impossible. Instead we went back in our corner and tried and failed and tried again with sparks flying and code explosions happening until we achieved what we wanted. Think Dr. Bunsen Honedew’s laboratory instead of Statler and Waldorf.

This gave especially the web a strange “hack it together” reputation that many people keep bringing up when it comes to replacing JavaScript for example with “more organised and professional” languages. But you know what? I really think when it comes to the web, this is its main strength.

The fun of coding


As explained earlier in my Flash is not the enemy post, whimsy and spontaneous ideas is what made the web a larger media outlet than it was. It wasn’t the large sites that got non-technical people excited. It was the funny animation and short-lived game that you could mail to your friends.

Therefore I think it is important to celebrate this for yourself from time to time. Personally I find myself extremely lucky to have been at the right time (and moving around to the right places) when the web exploded into an offering of amazingly cool things and while I am sure as hell not proud of the code I had to write to get things done in the past, I am happy that I did and that I didn’t give up or wait until someone else solves my problems for me.

Having just taught a workshop on HTML5 at Industryconf I found that we are losing a bit on that. Attendees were worried that they need to learn a lot of libraries and find the right plugins to get started and once shown that they have the power to do most of what they want using the things browsers come with out of the box got quickly into enjoying themselves reaching new levels.

One thing I did with the attendees is a To-Do List App in plain HTML/JS/CSS (No sound).

This is what the Mozilla Webmaker Project is about – to get non-programmers excited about building things for the web. And it is incredibly exciting to see some of these events as a “professional”.

I think it is very important to never forget about the wonder we experienced the first time we made something show up on screen or wrote our first condition that printed out “is amazing” when you entered your name or “is boring” when it was another one.

Be fearless

A lot of times being creative means being fearless. Watching Bret Victor’s talks and seeing his Learnable programming course and Seb Lee-Delisle’s training courses they consist of one main thing – play with things and worry about them breaking later. Amazing results happen when the outcome and the input get as close together as possible – not when things happen using dozens of abstractions.

This does not have to be visual from the get-go though. The MPEG-1 decoder in pure JavaScript for example is pure byte-shifting but blew me away in its fearlessness of what could go wrong.

Go, code!

Why not have a go? Take 10 minutes, half and hour, an hour out of your life right now and use it to #justcode something, anything. Just play with an idea, put it on JSFiddle, Codepen, JSBin, Dabblet, or whatever other amazing tool we have right now and share it.

Don’t build a perfect plugin, don’t build a solution dependent on preprocessors and libraries. Go vanilla and just play with what we have in browsers today. CSS Animations and Transitions, Canvas, Audio and Video, HTML5 and Friends – we have so many cool toys to play with. Don’t explore the main use case either. Yes, Canvas is for putting things on the screen, but it is also about reading image data.

We got where we are by playing with things. Never forget this and never stop playing.


Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Back in November my colleague Robert Nyman wrote about a word that annoys him. I like that. I think our day to day online conversations are full of little misunderstandings and knowing what ticks someone off or brings up weird connotations is a good thing. So I thought I should quickly write this bit here.


There is a pretty bullet-proof way to make me feel uncomfortable and not react to requests that you have and that is by calling me “Bro”. There are two people on this planet that can call me “Bro” and that is my sister and my brother and both call me “Christian”.

I don’t like “Bro”. I understand that for some this is a very normal way to talk to each other but I don’t get it.

First of all, it assumes a relationship that we just don’t have. I have quite a lot of friends and I have some very good friends (you know the ones that helped you when you were sick or show up without any questions when there are things to be done like moving flat). Friendship is something that grows, that gets earned. A bond that would warrant calling someone else a brother (or sister for that matter) that is not related to some religious lingo is something that so does not happen by using the same social media channel or commenting on the same pull request thread. Someone calling me “Bro” out of the blue makes me twitch and reminds me of the fake friendliness the bazaar salesperson shows when asking you to “want to look at my carpets, friend?”.

Secondly when I hear “Bro”, I have in my head the caricature of a beercan-on-forehead-crushing frat boy jock who is boisterously shouting about how awesome all his bros are and that they come “before hos”. I never went through university and the mere concept of fraternities and sororities is beyond me. It seems so fake and artificial and with its initiation and hazing rituals flat out creepy. Where I grew up we used to have (and still have) student organisations that have sword-fighting as the initiation rites and you might have seen old German men of power with scars in their faces. That is where that came from. All of these smack of nationalism and old-school class systems, all of which things I don’t get and that make me feel uncomfortable.

So in short, every time someone calls me “Bro”, I lose a bit of respect – subconsciously. Maybe that is something I should work on. But seriously, I think the whole “Bro” culture is outdated and seeing the effects of it in mainstream media scandals and “Brogrammer culture” is something we shouldn’t support but actually move away from. So, sorry, but #nobro from me.