A practicing Web professional and Past Web Design Contest Competitor Perspective

image of Mulholland out and about

Clark Mulholland out and about 2020

In this 10 minute QandA interview, Bill Cullifer the founder of the WebProfessionals.org reached out to Clark Mulholland a practicing Web professional and past participant in the National Web Design Contest regarding why Best Practices and Web Standards matter.

Bill: Clark, it’s been a while since you competed in the National Web design contest. How are you and what have you been up to?

Clark: Thanks for asking Bill, I have been doing great. Over the years I have been able to spend time working for myself, working for others, and even was able to take a little break from work and do some traveling. Currently I am working at one of the big tech companies on a team that focuses on streaming video to the browser and internet enabled devices. I love it, this part of the industry is very exciting right now and allows for a little further reach beyond the standard web stack.

Bill: Awesome, congrats Clark and good for you! Say, question for you. We continue to conduct our annual Web design contest, our 16th year in fact. For the benefit of those that haven’t participated, I have a question for you ok?

Clark: Ok, shoot.

Bill: How did the contest help you in the world of work?

Clark: There are very few opportunities in life that allow for this level of peer to peer skill comparison on a transparent playing field. A lot of value can be drawn out of finding your shortcomings and strengths when compared against a cross section of web designers and developers from across the nation.

When it comes to the world work; one of the things this competition allowed for was creating a great talking point in interviews. This is invaluable when you first start getting into the workforce with little real world experience. Having something to draw on that reflects your strengths and weaknesses can provide a huge impact on your interviewer(s) when you tell the story in an engaging way.

Beyond the interview process this competition helps you find and hone skills like teamwork in stressful, deadline driven environments where it is important to put your best foot forward. I find this is very comparable to real world situations in business and employment.

Clark: Now Bill, I have some questions for you! As the founder of the sponsoring organization of the Web Design and Development contest and Webprofessionals.org, what was the vision behind this effort and why did you establish the .org and the Web Design Contest?

Bill: The mission of Webprofessionals.org is to support Web workers and those that teach. In every industry sector, a professional association or trade group forms up to represent those that work in that field of study. A “professional association” is how we are best described and members consist of Web designers and developers, Web administrators and Web business people too. Trade groups are typically industry groups as well, but they most often represent the corporations that make the products we buy. Other industries such as healthcare, building industry trade groups for example, have their own respective organizations including hospital associations. They too would be considered “trade groups” that typically represent their business interest. Front line professionals such as physicians, nurses, contractors, electricians, plumbers and likewise now Web professionals, participate similarly in professional organizations of their own. It’s worth noting that both professional organizations and trade groups have been around for years. In fact, many for hundreds of years which believe it or not, is about the time it takes to gain real traction, organizationally speaking. More like 50 years actually, but you get the idea. It’s a natural evolution of things and success factors depend on leadership and management and the buy in from the rank and file. Those that hire and companies that make products that Web workers want and use matters here too. The beautiful thing about Web work is that we can get but with the minimal tools. and we can work anywhere at anytime.

So in a nutshell, education and training and quite often, certifications or credentialing are the cornerstone of most professional organizations and we share that in common. By publishing and raising awareness of best practices, which by the way are typically written by practicing professionals in their respective specialties, it’s the basis for Webprofessionals.org and the Web design contest as well.

Bill: Clark, can you share with the next generation of Web design and developers how exactly the contest best practices and Web standards have helped you now?

Clark: Standards are what makes the world go round. Without standards we wouldn’t have interoperability between web browsers, networks, operating systems; the list goes on forever. Standards make sure that the work we put into our websites is able to be enjoyed by all, across all of the different browsers, devices, screen sizes, new and old alike. It also allows us to easily and consistently design products and pages that include accessible features for people with a wide range of disabilities. Right now that might not seem like that big of a deal but when you build a website for your customer/employer, it can only truly create value if many people are able to make use of what you have created. Using standards allows for you to stand on the shoulders of giants. Many very intelligent people worked very hard to come up with these standards these allow for people like us to focus on our end goal while having easy access to tools and processes that we can harness to create great things.

Without organizing bodies like the W3C and community organizations like Web Professionals promoting web standards, education, and adoption, we wouldn’t have the ever growing list of technologies readily available to us.

Clark: Bill, Why are standards important to you personally?

Bill: Well, first of all, very well said Clark! The world would be chaos without standards. Can you imagine a world without stop signs or stop lights? Whether we know what the standards are or how they work exactly we all benefit from them. As you may recall, I have a background in telecommunications. Just like the rapid expansion of the Web today, the telecom industry transformed our lives and continues to do so today. It too is built on standards and for good reason.

Did I ever tell you that AT&T was provided the opportunity to develop wireless technology in the early years and declined? Funny thing, the consensus from the “experts” within AT&T corporate ranging from Engineering, Operations, Legal and Management thought that “consumers would not adopt the new technology.” In fact, in their report and yes, I’ve seen it, they concluded that consumers, “liked being tethered to the wall by a cord.” Lol. Can you imagine?

So as it stands, telecommunications also has evolved over time too. Similar to the Web today actually. In fact, in the earlier years of telephones, it was total chaos. Kind of like the evolution of Web browsers we’ve experienced over time today. Imagine back in the day when the dozen or so companies competing for your telephone business strung a gazillion wires in every direction to reach your house or office. Each company had their own idea regarding how and where and the wires were connected to get there. As a result, it was madness in the streets and looked like spaghetti. I’ll post the images that I was granted rights to publish sometime. It’s hilarious. You can draw parallels to the evolution of the web and that’s one illustrative example of the past and the needs for standards. Best practices and industry standards are kind of my kind of thing, I guess and they really do matter.

Clark: Bill, what have been the challenges for supporting the Web design contest and Web standards?

Bill: Things have evolved quite rapidly and it’s very difficult for those that practice and teach to keep pace. From an education perspective, formalized and vetted curriculum is really lacking. Career Technical Education or CTE offerings in schools are limited here in the U.S. and schools lack the time in the day to teach electives too and that’s a problem. Also, many educational institutions lack the funds for additional teacher training and salaries that have resulted in limited support for UX design and Computer Science education. Many students figure it on their own, but sadly sometimes and way too often and out of frustration, many do not. It’s a jungle out there really and difficult to navigate at times for aspiring Web professionals when you don’t know what you need to know and at what depth.

The contest and the .org key interest are to promote the baseline of what every Web professional needs to know. For example, most agree that mastering the fundamentals of Web design, development and business concepts, best practices and Web standards would be ideal for every Web professional. Clark, you’re an example of the benefit of that. Truth is, some schools do better than others mapping to this principle for this competition and it’s a real challenge for the context Technical Committee here at the .org for the reasons I stated. The contest is great, I too learn something new every day and it’s great to follow your success over the years Clark.

Bottom line is, all Web professionals need to incorporate best practices and the fundamentals of Web standards into their working lives. Too often, teachers will teach what they know or what they’re comfortable with. This creates an educational bias and this needs to improve too. Students will have to establish a work around and many do. Sad but true.

Anyway, as a community group we need to promote that best practices and Web standards including where to find these resources and that is the message. The entire profession owes a lot of respect to the trailblazers that have and continue to develop and advocate for. To acknowledge their efforts including dedicated individuals that spent countless hours establishing these best practices and Web standards is a good thing and the right thing to do.

By the way, you said it best Clark. “We’re standing on the shoulders of giants.” And that “many very intelligent people worked very hard to come up with these standards.” This allows for people like us to focus on our end goal, while having easy access to tools and processes that we can harness to create great things. “We owe it to those like the w3c and the Web standards project for their efforts to support those of us that benefit from working on the Web.” Clark, that’s so spot on and thanks for sharing that!

Bill: Clark, ditto for you? What are your thoughts?

Clark: You are correct in that the web industry whether it be Backend, Frontend, UX, Accessibility, QA Testing, SEO, etc; everything moves at a pace that is faster than Technical Education can create new Curriculum for. We are in a time where today’s hot technology might be tomorrow’s bad idea before an instructor has even been able to finish the lesson plans. With that, I think it is important for everyone to understand that being successful in any tech sector position will always require a constant force of curiosity on your part. Instructors can and should be teaching the basic building blocks, HTML/CSS/JS/etc. However, it will be up to the individual to seek out and play with the latest techno-fad. Your tasks in the industry will range from bleeding edge technology to things that were built with technology designed and adopted 20 years ago. You will be expected to adapt to the situation and overcome the problems in front of you, no matter the tool-chain. But that is also what makes this industry so much fun and exciting.

Bill, thanks Clark. Agreed, and also well said. I think the fundamentals can provide the baseline for understanding and students can build on that over time. By doing so, this might also help individuals determine their area of interest and which specific Web professional specialty to focus on for their career as well. UX to the full Web stack to Web business provides ample opportunity and it’s totally wide open. Think about it this way, in the early days of medicine, like let’s say our grandfather’s time, the typical doctor did it all. It was one stop shop for patients. Today, we have medical and Web specialists in hundreds of sub specialties from the top of the head to the bottom of your feet to designing the front end, managing servers and infrastructures and this is a good thing. All physicians study the same baseline of topics regardless of their specialty. Web students today like those that study medicine also find their path many years into the education cycle. it’s an exciting time to be working on the Web for sure.

Bill: Clark, Any closing thoughts?

Clark: I am excited to see that 16 years later SkillsUSA is still working with WebProfessionals.org and promoting Web Design and Development in high schools, community college and vocational schools. I honestly have to say my life would be a totally different place if it wasn’t for having the opportunity to compete in SkillsUSA and make the connections through WebProfessionals.org that I have. At the time I didn’t realize it, but hindsight is 20-20 and I now see the value it provided in my life and I would like to thank SkillsUSA and WebProfessionals.org for keeping this up and making positive impacts on so many young people’s lives.

Bill Cullifer and Clark Mulholland in 2005

Bill Cullifer and Clark Mulholland Web Design Contest 2007

Bill: Thanks Clark. So great to talk with you again! Congrats on the new corporate gig. I hope that they give you a fat 401k plan lol.

Clark: Ha, likewise, Bill and best to you and future competitors and keep up the good fight!