The academic vs the builder

An article, posted almost 7 years ago filed in bazaar, cathedral, open source, architecture, web, w3c, standards, css, xhtml & pragmatic.

“dichotomies make it easier.”

The academic vs the builder

Just over two decades ago The cathedral and the bazaar by Eric Steven Raymond was published. It talked about software development and kind of suggested that a more bazaar like ‘architecturing’ would improve the way complex systems could be build. Nowadays BDUF is a swear-word. In an ever-changing world, you can’t predict the future. So why design for one year. Experiment! Extend!

When I was visiting the Fronteers conference a few weeks ago I had a short interaction where I apologized for my maybe bit academic bias. I remembered I was still quite fond of some old xhtml standard that never really arrived.

Reading the online resilient web design-essay I was reminded of the continuous struggle between practitioners and the standards committees et al., the “academics” (note it doesn’t require a PhD, or Master’s degree, it’s more of a mindset). Both are needed, both recognize each other but both parties also experience moments of despair when either party doesn’t seem to understand their side of things.

Practitioners may not always try to fully understand the standards and how they are supposed to be used. They work around their lack of understanding (or the lack of fun) by hacking around in their comfort zone (sure, JavaScript allows you to do anything, sure you can make a meaningless <div> to look like a title). Sometimes pushing the boundaries of what was thought to be possible. But at other times recklessly ignoring (thorough? smart? keen? structured?) thinking that has made the web this resilient, accessible, back and forwards compatible place.

Challenging what is possible is great. But making great stuff last requires you to cooperate with others. It will sometimes generate a bit academic, less pragmatic, exchange of ideas. Things will never be ideal, but for sure, you can make things better.

You can be just a builder and don’t carry responsibility. You can hire just a builder, but don’t give him of her responsibility. It may be a bazaar we’re working on, but we’re shaping a society with our technologies here.

Image by David Leo Veksler (CC-BY licensed)

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