Herding Code 131: Chris Williams and Matthew Podwysocki on the Javascript community

In this episode, the guys talk to Chris Williams (organizer of jsConf) and Matthew Podwysocki about the Javascript community, fighting negativity in the programmer community, emerging Javascript trends, and the merits of spring beers.

  • Jon asks Chris to catch us up with what’s happened since we last talked to him, just after jsConf.us 2010.
  • Chris starts with his jsConf.eu 2010 talk, including Promote.js and the reminder not to forget the roots of the Javascript community.
  • Chris doesn’t speak at the jsConf.us conference, mostly because he organizes the US conference and doesn’t want to present an appearance of unfairness.
  • Chris then moves on to his jsConf.eu 2011 talk, An End To Negativity.
  • Chris says that the negativity is rampant in the programming community, and it feeds on itself. There are far too many people who participate in community conversation just to cheer on the fights. Our profession has a unique opportunity to create and try new things, but the negativity in the community stifles that. We need to stop the negative “hating” in private conversations, not shouting matches in online forums.
  • If you disagree with a technology, put your energy to constructive use via open source contribution (fork and create) rather than writing scathing blog posts.
  • Scott K says that negative discussion’s everywhere – all online discussion, politics, media. Rather than discuss ideas, people just call others idiots. Chris says you’ve got to start locally. His recommended solution involves beer.
  • Matt says it’s easier to lob bombs from afar, and personal discussions solves that. Kevin says one on one discussions over beer aren’t always possible, and Chris says even the offer is what’s important.
  • Jon says that he’s never tried to resolve issues one-on-one and come away convinced that the other person is just plain evil. Usually there’s some unspoken history that explains why people think as they do. Chris applies that to prejudices against Javascript that were formed by bad experiences people may have had long ago.
  • Jon says he’s noticed that Chris’ speaking style is disarmingly humble. Chris says he really values humility in developers, and that the current rock star ninja terminology is too self promoting.
  • Jon says that the online discussion forums like Reddit and Hacker News are all about voting up or down, which encourages negativity. Chris talks about trite these arguments often are, such as focusing on features which aren’t yet implemented in new technologies.
  • Scott K. says he’s amazed at the overall positivity on StackOverflow. Chris says he thinks it’s a matter of time before it creeps in. Jon says he thinks that he thinks the vote engineering and overall problem solving focus of StackOverflow is designed to produce overall positive results.
  • Jon reacts to Chris’ Fork and Create call by saying that when he’s releasing code publicly, it’s a lot harder to criticize others. Chris says that people who are busy creating don’t have time for trivial arguments, and Matt says that working publicly gives you a healthy dose of vulnerability.
  • Chris talks about the negativity he encounters in putting on conferences. At jsConf.us 2011 they raised over $3000 to contribute towards increasing gender diversity and it received no attention at all, while a negative incident at the conference got a lot of attention.
  • Jon says that in teaching his daughter some basic programming, he’s reminded of the fun of creation that got him started in development. That’s got to be our focus. Chris and Matt talk about how their parents spent time introducing them to computers, and would love to see parents introducing their kids to computers.
  • Scott K says that he’s seen the community as a whole move from a focus on writing code to macho chest thumping.
  • Jon says he liked the part of Chris’ keynote that welcomed Dart and CoffeeScript. Chris said that innovation and new languages are great since they move things forward. Chris points out that people bash on Flash, but forget that it was instrumental in the development of Javascript through things like JIT compilation.
  • Scott K wonders if we’d do better to just create new languages more often. Jon says that’s tricky with Javascript since it runs on so many platforms, but Scott K says that he thinks there’s more room for extending Javascript inside the language itself. Chris says both can be powerful, and mentions ClojureScript. He says that the velocity of change for Javascript is accelerating with more frequent browser releases and the things he’s seeing in Windows 8. He says we need to embrace that change by being more willing to drop support for older browsers.
  • Christ talks about how TeamJS is raising money in the Mozilla Firefox Challenge (please join in!).
  • Jon reacts to Chris’ keynote question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail,” noting that most of his personal failures come from not attempting things. Chris says that quote is inspirational to him, and agrees that we fail in 100% of things we do not attempt.
  • Twitter question from @elijahmanor – “Recently Chris tweeted that the trolls may be right. What did he mean by that?” Chris says that a reaction to hype around node.js, and there’s a general discussion about node.js.
  • Jon asks Chris about his reactions overall to Microsoft getting involved with things like node.js and Javascript on Windows 8. Chris says that the community sometimes has an initial shock, but Microsoft-of-new is a different company that’s doing a lot of great stuff. He says he’s happy to see talks from Microsoft developers that aren’t “Microsoft presentations.”
  • Matt talks about a recent node.js talk focused on maximizing node.js hosting efficiency.
  • Jon asks Matt and Chris to give us a heads up on some emerging technologies in JavaScript land. Matt mentions emscripten, jsmad, and RiverTrail.
  • Jon asks if people (himself included) will eventually realize that Javascript isn’t inherently too slow for these computationally intense applications. Scott K and Matt talk about how things like V8, JITing, and investment by big companies continue to make Javascript faster and faster.
  • Jon asks Chris what trends he’s noticing, and he mentions dynjs, pdfjs, and jslinux. He mentions browser vendors moving towards extension systems based on Javascript. Jon talks about how he thinks Mozilla’s XUL was so far ahead of the game, using HTML/CSS/Javascript as a development platform.
  • Matt brings up JSIL (a compiler that transforms .NET applications to Javascript). There’s a discussion of Javascript as a VM for other languages. Matt mentions Microsoft’s Volta initiative.
  • Chris and Scott K talk about putting other languages in the browser. Chris says that Javascript has been battle tested in a way that no other language has.
  • There’s a discussion of the node.js work that Microsoft’s been doing – not just getting it to run on Windows, but in making Windows / IIS hosting for node.js compelling.
  • Jon asks Chris and Matt for their current recommendations, and an argument over spring beers erupts.

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Herding Code 131 – Chris Williams and Matthew Podwysocki on the Javascript community