Christian Heilmann

On towards my next challenge…

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.

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.

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:

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:

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”.