Web professionals or craftsmen?

The interview of Andy Clarke has really started a buzz about web professionalism that sounded so good to me. While we need to take our education about web standards out of the collective herds of standards users (think preaching to the choir) and educate the coming generations better (as Rob Dickerson Holly Marie Koltz aptly points out), what we really need is to consider what web development really is about.

Both Molly and Roger are heading in the right direction by bringing up and emphasizing the word craft. This struck a nerve with me as I was talking with a friend of mine on how standards based web development is a form of craftmanship instead of just doing the work. Which then lead to a whole discussion of trying to translate craftmanship into Finnish which isn’t an easy task. But I think that Kevin Leitch is in the right direction when he points out that a professional can be defined as anyone who earns money from the work they do.

Dictionary.com gives several good definitions for craft:

n 1: the skilled practice of a practical occupation; “he learned his trade as an apprentice” [syn: trade] 2: a vehicle designed for navigation in or on water or air or through outer space 3: people who perform a particular kind of skilled work; “he represented the craft of brewers”; “as they say in the trade” [syn: trade] 4: skill in an occupation or trade [syn: craftsmanship, workmanship] 5: shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception [syn: craftiness, cunning, foxiness, guile, slyness, wiliness] v : make by hand and with much skill; “The artisan crafted a complicated tool”

  1. Skill in doing or making something, as in the arts; proficiency. See Synonyms at art1.
  2. Skill in evasion or deception; guile.
    1. An occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or skilled artistry.
    2. The membership of such an occupation or trade; guild.
  3. pl. craft A boat, ship, or aircraft.

The requirement of skill is an important factor. Also note the use of the term proficiency. I think we can all agree that a professional can also be skilless or less than proficient in their profession. However, if someone used the term craftsman (let alone master craftsman) to describe someone we will presume that they are skilled in what they do. After all, craftsmanship carries with a requirement for skill and the language we use communicates this knowledge.

To me craftsmanship also carries with it the requirement of passion for the work that is done. I look at the work of craftsmen of days gone by and stand in awe. The skills and knowledge that were required of carpenters to build houses and furniture that have lasted for centuries amazes me. Especially when compared to most modern buidling which may last in shape for a couple of decades without extensive need for repairs.

A passionate approach to your work brings along with it a desire to keep learning about your chosen field. It also brings an attention to detail – to the small things that others may never even realise or notice. Think of all of the little details you see in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That’s craftmanship.

Some of the commentary surrounding this current storm in the cup has disparaged hackers. I will now rise to the defense of hackers once again, as I have so many times before. First, as a reminder, hackers are not crackers. Hackers are computer programmers who enjoy creating new things that may even do something useful. And hacking does not carry any inherent desire to do a crude job. In fact most hackers that I personally know take pride in what they create. The pride and craftsmanship is reflected in the code as well. It is clean, readable and maintainable.

Instead of trying to define who can call themselves web professionals we could concentrate on working on the guild rules for web craftsmen. Is anyone willing to create the tests to rise from web apprentice to web craftsman and onto web master-craftsman? We must take pride in our skills and ability to understand why and how different solutions are chosen while not forgetting the need for manual skills (read text editors instead of whatever WYSIWYG editors).

But from this point on, I would rather be called a web or IT craftsman than professional. I know I have skills and the passion to learn more as time goes on.

2 thoughts on “Web professionals or craftsmen?”

  1. Just wanted to point out (and avoid any potential confusion) that I am not the author of “Beyond New Professionalism”. Holly Marie Koltz is the author. As a member of the Web Standards Project Education Task Force, Holly’s article was cross-posted from the Web Standards Project site to my site in order to take comments.

  2. “The skills and knowledge that were required of carpenters to build houses and furniture that have lasted for centuries amazes me. Especially when compared to most modern buidling which may last in shape for a couple of decades without extensive need for repairs.”

    Incredibly well said! This goes to the absolute heart of the issue. I think we’ve spent far too much time worried about the short-term and far too little time planning for the long term. It’s forgivable right now due to the early and unstable realities of crafting the Web, but we now have better tools, if I can extend the metaphor.

    Great article, thanks! – M

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