Web development

Best things I heard at Altitude London

The most exciting things I heard about yesterday at Altitude London were QUIC and HTTP/3, BBR, TLS 1.3 and some of the exciting things that you can soon do on the edge with VCL.

Patrick McManus on TLS 1.3: “It includes a performance dessert to make the security vegetables go down better.”

Moving TLS negotiation to the edge is in itself a performance improvement.


  • “Time management” is not a solution — it’s actually part of the problem.
    Being prolific is not about time management. There are a limited number of hours in the day, and focusing on time management just makes us more aware of how many of those hours we waste. A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes.
    This reminds me of agreeing to a fixed scope: all emphasis is placed on delivering a set number of features irrespective of their value or quality. In fact, in this situation, the only thing that can give is quality.

  • Wilfred Hughes: The siren song of little languages. “Sometimes a usable language struggles simply because it’s too much fun to write your own. Developers end up building their own implementation rather than actually using the language.”

  • We can teach women to code, but that just creates another problem.
    The computing historian Marie Hicks can’t stand it when people tout coding camps as a solution to technology’s gender problem. “I think these initiatives are well-meaning, but they totally misunderstand the problem. The pipeline is not the problem; the meritocracy is the problem. The idea that we’ll just stuff people into the pipeline assumes a meritocracy that does not exist.”

  • Mozilla releases Common Voices, the largest to-date public domain transcribed voice dataset.

How to build product/market fit

How Superhuman built an engine to find product/market fit. Ask your early users: “how would you feel if you could no longer use the product?” Focus on the “very disappointed” group. These are your biggest proponents, they will tell you why your product is important.

This reminds me of finding a beachhead from Crossing the Chasm.

I also really liked this piece of advice:

Our next step was somewhat counterintuitive: we decided to politely pass over the feedback from users who would not be disappointed if they could no longer use the product.

This batch of not disappointed users should not impact your product strategy in any way. They’ll request distracting features, present ill-fitting use cases and probably be very vocal, all before they churn out and leave you with a mangled, muddled roadmap. As surprising or painful as it may seem, don’t act on their feedback — it will lead you astray on your quest for product/market fit.


  • Don’t say “homoiconic”. “When asked what’s so great about Lisp, many aficionados will say that the language is Homoiconic and that this property gives it certain magical advantages over other languages. When asked what homoiconic means, however, the answer is often much less clear.”

  • Learning CSS grid layout with the Swiss. A very nice introduction to CSS Grid and how you can combine it with Flexbox and CSS Columns. I love how the examples recreate the layouts from contemporary print magazines to Bauhaus posters to Wolfgang Weingart’s New Wave work.

  • Don’t release the Zalgo! A zalgo is a function that is not predictable, for example returning synchronously in some cases but asynchronously in others.

A highly subjective guide to prototyping tools

Nine prototyping tools compared. Because none are perfect but choosing the right one matters.


  • Ask HN: What do you care about the most in a tech job post? Interesting points mentioned: salary, obviously. Being able to see a picture of the working environment or “your future desk”. How many meetings there typically are. What would the split between architecture and coding be. How long the working week is. Some suggested to make the application process as little effort as possible. But this is problematic from the hiring side, as a considerate commenter pointed out.

  • AtF Spark, a font to render sparklines with only text.

  • How AI is streamlining marketing and sales. More interestingly, bots can elicit information: “I’ve learned things about my visitors that no other analytics system would show,” said Wentworth. “We’ve learned about new use cases, and we’ve learned about product problems.”

  • How Etsy ships apps. The engineers wanting to have their code shipped join a push train. “This strategy has been successful for a lot of reasons, but especially because each deploy is handled by the people most familiar with the changes that are shipping. Those that wrote the code are in the best position to recognize it breaking, and then fix it. Because of that, developers should be empowered to deploy code as needed, and remain close to its rollout.” But it doesn’t work for apps.
  • Increment is a new magazine dedicated to covering how teams build and operate software systems at scale. The inaugural issue focuses on industry best practices around on-call and incident response. Looks interesting and has gorgeous artwork by Mark Conlan.
  • Things to use instead of JWT. Kevin Burke: “In general, specifications that allow the attacker to choose the algorithm for negotiation have more problems than ones that don’t (see TLS).” Burke helpfully covers four use cases.

What happens to older programmers? and other questions on Quora

Quora: What happens to older programmers? Some become managers, many keep coding, the answers are pretty good. Keep in mind that there’s hardly been many old programmers yet.

As an aside, I find Quora questions fascinating. The questions run from the practical to the existential (what’s the point of life?) to the polemic (don’t good programmers use ‘else’?; will PHP die out in 2017?).

There’s something both startling and amusing when someone asks: what are the best gems to be used with Ruby on Rails for a dating / social network website? — and receives candid answers! I appreciate the specificity, but that’s baldly a bold ask.

I suppose what’s most fascinating is what the questions say about us.


Normalised or not, SQL is 43 years old and the 2nd most common language

In 2008, Jeff Atwood suggested maybe normalising isn’t normal. Still a great reference and reminder for designing your database structures. Also, SQL, the second most common programming language in Stack Overflow’s 2017 developer survey, is 43 years old—here’s eight reasons we still use SQL.


  • Google pitches AMP as a solution to bloated websites and poor user experiences. But, Andrew Betts asks: “could AMP actually be bad news for the web, bad news for news, and part of a trend of news distribution that is bad for society in general?”

  • The tools you use matter, even your CMS. Good tools are a joy to use, bad tools don’t protect you from your mistakes. A good example of this is Washington Post’s trouble adopting a new CMS.
    “The redesigned website is just the surface manifestation of a huge organ transplant,” Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton said, pointing out it took more than a year to complete. The most important remark was his description of how difficult the change had been. “Every newsroom employee is struggling with it, not just the tech people.”

Varying contexts of sense and ability

This diagram listing varying degrees of ability in different situations, from Inclusive Design at Microsoft, is handy if you ever need to explain the need for accessibility and usability.


  • Juozas “Joe” Kaziukenas: Becoming a CTO. “If you ever find yourself writing a blog post on why PHP sucks, you are not ready.” How’s that for a provocative opening?
    CTO is a job in business strategy, one which defines the direction of technology inside a company. It’s not the right job if you hate meetings, dealing with non-technical people and think that all managers sit all day and do nothing.

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