Dori Smith: Internationally Respected and Widely Acknowledged
Internet Authority, Author, Speaker, Technologist, Web Developer
week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Dori Smith.
QuickStart Guide, 5th edition", "Mac OS X Unwired," "Java 2
for the WWW: Visual QuickStart Guide." She has written numerous authoritative
print and online magazine articles. She is a frequent speaker at industry
conferences and is a member of the Web Standards Project Steering Committee.
She maintains the Backup Brain weblog, and is also the List Mom for the
Wise-Women mailing lists.
work is highlighted at these sites:
you are coming up to 30 years of program development experience, with many
successes in your career. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview
and sharing your diverse background knowledge.
Thanks very much for this opportunity, Stephen!
learned Basic on a teletype-terminal connected to a mainframe in 1977 and
realized a passion. What applied at that time, applies today such as when you
reviewed RealBasic for Macworld magazine back in 2001. What aspects of
programming intrigued, confounded, excited, and challenged you back in 1977 and
which [itemized] universal skills still apply today?
I primarily enjoyed when I first started out was the challenge of solving
puzzles, and that’s still the case today. I’m one of the few programmers I’ve
ever found who likes the challenges of debugging code – you have to think
completely logically, assume nothing at all, and go through what your code ought to do, step by step. It’s a very
satisfying feeling to stamp out bugs and take pride in the end result.
still applies today is the how-to big picture. Someone might say that they want
an application or script that does one small thing that would make their lives
simpler, but when you quiz them about what they’re trying to accomplish, you
often find that there’s a more straight-forward, general way to solve the same
problem – and one that works not just for them, but for a larger group. Along
with debugging, knowing that you’re creating not just a solution but also the right solution for someone is fulfilling
are a well-respected expert in Web development but you still don’t consider
yourself an expert in design. What is missing from your design portfolio and
knowledge scope? What ten attributes make for an expert web developer?
elements: What I don’t have is the eye for color and style that a good designer
needs to have. I can look at someone else’s design and see at a glance if it
will work or not, but I’ve never been able to do it myself. If I took classes I
believe that I could improve in this area, but my plate’s too full as it is!
A good sense of style
A good sense of color
Experience with what works
Even more importantly, experience
with what doesn’t work
The proper tools (the only one of
these that you can get just by spending money!)
An interest in keeping up with what’s
new in the field, as there’s always something
An eagerness to learn new tricks,
new tools, and new technologies
The ability to put yourself in
other people’s shoes and imagine how they would use your creation
A knowledge of who a given site’s audience is and the ability to
10) And finally, curiosity is always important!
yourself these areas. Where do you see web programming evolving in the short,
medium, and long term?
are a number of interesting growth areas in the Web programming field that are
just starting to take off right now. The two that I’m watching most closely
Ajax, (which stands for Asynchronous
as Google’s Gmail. Now that there is finally a large enough percentage of
standards-compliant browsers around, scripters can depend on their target
audience having the necessary features. The technology itself isn’t new, but
the way it’s being used is.
Apple’s new Dashboard Widgets,
which will be part of the upcoming Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger software release. This
is going to allow all those people who’ve thought of themselves as “Web”
developers and not “real” developers to be able to create their own
double-clickable mini-applications, using the skills they already have. It’s
the OS to create something that I think is going to be huge.
your top “advanced” Web developer tips:
Budget a realistic amount of time
for testing. The last 20% of the project can often take 80% of the time.
Have people who aren’t involved
with a project take a look at it and let them give you feedback without telling
them how it should work. If your user interface isn’t intuitive, this will show
Test even on the weirdest
browsers you can find. Too many people just test on IE/Windows and then think
that they’re done.
When you start developing, work
with the most standards-compliant browsers you have. Bring in the non-compliant
browsers later, and add hacks to cover them as necessary.
It is possible to make sites with
the latest bells and whistles that work in all browsers. It’s not possible to
make sites with the latest bells and whistles that work exactly the same in all
browsers – but don’t let that stop you from using them. Instead, make your
Don’t go live before you’re
actually ready. Conversely, don’t wait to get everything perfect before you go
live. While this may sound contradictory, that’s the way this business works.
There are a number of great
mailing lists out there for Web developers, and, especially if you work by
yourself, it’s great to have a second (and third, and fourth) set of eyes
looking at your work. Join up, help others out, and then ask for help yourself
– your sites will benefit from it.
Make sure your sites validate
using the W3C HTML validator. Besides all the other good reasons to support
standards, it’s a great way to find those niggling layout bugs.
Don’t work on anyone’s Web site
without a signed contract. I’ve seen too many people start work after a
handshake deal and a, “We both know what we’re going to do” agreement who end
up getting burned. Even if you’re just doing some work for a friend, get what
you both want in writing, so you can stay
Don’t use IE/Windows as your main browser. It’s amazing how many mistakes you’ll
see on other sites when you’re surfing with a browser that’s less used, and that
experience will help you create better sites.
started writing and teaching in 1997. If someone in our audience wanted to take
on these roles, what advice would you give them? How would they prepare for
these roles? What are the major challenges?
That’s several questions!
biggest problem programmers have in becoming writers and speakers is that they
often have trouble explaining what they do in English. By the time they’ve
become expert enough to be asked to talk or write, they’ve forgotten what it’s
like to not know the subject that they’re experts in. You really have to be
able to take yourself back to the point where it was all brand-new, and that’s
a hard jump for a lot of people. But if you can’t do that, you’ll never be able
to explain it to those who are there.
they can do to make the transition is to talk to novices (as much as possible).
Talk to your target audience, and find out what they want to know, and what
they already know. Too many beginning programming books assume that the readers
have years of programming knowledge already, and then the readers have to buy
another book just to understand the first one.
are a steering committee member of the Web Standards Project or WaSP (www.webstandards.org), which was
founded in 1998. Your first concerns centered around cross-browser
compatibility. You are a champion of the three legs of compliance: standards
compliant browsers, user browser upgrades, and the creation of standards
compatible tools used to build websites. Where are you now in this campaign and
where is the overall industry heading? What are your major peeves regards to
the fight for standards? Who are the leaders? Describe the perfect world? Where
are the best resources?
is an exciting time for the Web Standards Project, because people and
corporations now understand the size of the problem and the advantages of
standards support. We spent our first few years having to explain, over and
over, why standards matter. Now, every browser that’s shipped in the last few
years has excellent standards support. While the oldest browser in common
usage, IE for Windows, is from before this advance, there’s a good chance that
the next version will be considerably better.
point, instead of just yelling from our Web site, we’ve got task forces that
work with major companies like Microsoft and Macromedia. And instead of trying
to convince developers and corporations that their Web sites should support
standards, we get email from Web developers bragging about their new sites.
major peeve is the most popular browser: IE for Windows. For its day, it was an
advance, but its day is past. Thankfully, Microsoft has recently agreed that
they shouldn’t wait for Longhorn to update it, and now we’re working with them
to help figure out what their next browser should support.
as resources, the place to start is at the Learn section of the Web Standards
Project site http://www.webstandards.org/learn/. There’s a wide variety of
useful links there.
you have been quoted, “….We’re not chicks, babes, girls, or even grrls—we’re
woman, and we’re okay with being women.” Where is wise-woman.org positioned
today and where do you see it heading? How will it make a difference? What is
its value proposition?
not sure how a community has a “value proposition,” actually!
community itself has learned over their years together that everyone is a
novice at something, and that something is generally where you need help right
now. Because it’s a community that’s not just about one small niche, it’s able
to help out in a large variety of areas. For instance, someone asking a
beginning question today about databases might be the one to give the expert
answer on CSS tomorrow.
where it’s heading, who knows? It’s an open group; anyone can join, regardless
of gender. The community itself decides what’s going to go on the Web site, and
that’s become an interesting and useful adjunct to the lists.
Please share your top tips from Mac OS X Unwired?
A: Mac OS X Unwired covers a
broad range of technology, from AirPort and Bluetooth to IR and RF. If I listed
just a few tips from each, this part would be twice the length of everything
else in the interview, so here are just a few Bluetooth troubleshooting tips to
help if you’re having problems:
Verify that the device is
Class 1: 100 meters / 300 feet
Class 2, 3: 10 meters / 30 feet
Verify that the device is
For both the Mac and the
Turn Bluetooth off and back on again
Turn discoverability off and back on again
In Bluetooth Preferences,
delete the paired device and set it up again
On the device, delete the
If you normally pair from
the Mac, try initiating the process from the device and vice versa
If things still aren’t
Remove and reinstall the Bluetooth adaptor
Restart your Mac
Reset the Power Manager
you have the “backup brain” site to store all those links you would want again.
Comment on your “rants” and wish list items?
A: I started backupbrain.com back in 1999, when hardly anyone had heard
of weblogs. Now, it seems like everyone and their six-year-old has one, so it’s
been an interesting journey watching this medium evolve.
My Amazon wish list is just that – a list of items on Amazon that I’d
like to have. It’s mostly there on the blog to remind my husband about
birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.
My rants are where I put my longer-form pieces from the weblog. The site
started off as just my literal “backup brain,” but since then it’s become a
little more – it’s also a place to put my writings that need to come out, but
for which I don’t want to try to find a publisher. The rants tend to be
op/ed-type pieces, and I try to make it easy for other people to find, read,
and link to them.
do you see yourself and your web sites evolving in the medium and long term?
name is Dori, and I’m addicted to buying domain names…
that as a joke, but it has got a bit of truth to it. I have trouble remembering
all the different domains I’ve already got, so I’m trying not to buy any more!
given that, the next area that’s really going to grow is at
http://www.dori.com/dashboard/, which is currently a list of Dashboard
Widgets resources. It’s eventually going to be the support site for my next
book, Dashboard Widgets for Mac OS X:
Visual QuickStart Guide.
is a staple in our interviews. Here is where we turn it around. Pick five topic
areas of your choosing and provide commentary.
Mac versus PC: because I’ve been a Mac user for so long, everyone assumes that
I’m one of those stereotypical Mac bigots. Far from it! Right now, while I’ve
got two Macs sitting in front of me, I’ve also got a Dell tower. I’m a firm
believer in using whatever tool is best for the job, and consequently, there
are times when I need each machine.
Vanilla versus chocolate: vanilla, because you can always add chocolate
toppings on. And I do.
There’s this common idea in the Web business that there’s a shortage of women
Web designers. That’s not the case at all! In fact, most of the top-selling Web
design books are by women. Many of the leaders in the community are women. The
problem is that some guys just don’t see them, and some women like to play the
victim card. While women are under-represented in most technical areas, Web
design is one of the few success stories.
One of the reasons I’ve been successful in the tech writing business isn’t so
much that I know the field better, or that I’m a better writer – it’s because
most geeks can’t speak English. For some
reason, people who are technical tend to have poor writing skills, and editors
are always on the lookout for techies who can also write clearly and
grammatically. It’s a niche that I’ve fallen into, and it works for me.
you share a story or two--something amusing, amazing, surprising?
Someone once came up to me at a
had just not been able to understand the concept from his descriptions – and
then he remembered our book. He used the same analogy we had, and suddenly, it
all made sense to her! He was very appreciative, and it really made our day to
know that we’d had that kind of an impact on them, as it sounded from what he
said that that conversation had been going downhill fairly quickly…
One of the strangest things about
this business is that while I keep getting older, the people I work with don’t.
For instance, one guy I’ve been working with recently turned out to be a junior
in high school – he’s the same age as my son. I suspect that he has no idea
that I’m probably older than his mother.
we do appreciate the time you spent sharing your incredible breadth and depth
of knowledge. Thank you!
A: Thanks for giving me this opportunity!