I recently saw a Twitter conversation in which a skilled and well-regarded developer mentioned that one of his pet hates is when others refer to their code as being ‘hand-crafted’. ‘It’s just code’, he said.
That made me sad.
Web developers ought to be proud of the work that they have mulled over, planned, thoughtfully put together, and which required their skills and expertise to create.
If crafting is:
to make or manufacture (an object, objects, product, etc.) with skill and careful attention to detailDictionary.com
Then coding is a craft.
Granted, learning to build websites is easy. Anyone can pick up the HTML and CSS it takes to code a simple site quickly. But building complex websites that hold their ground and that work no matter which environment they find themselves in, takes a lot of practice and experience. You need to know which tools are right for the job and understand the nature and varying outcomes of different parts of your code.
It is a bit like painting: Anyone can take a brush, paint and a piece of paper to paint a picture. But it takes skills, practice and experience to understand which brushes and strokes to use for which effects, how to apply and combine colours, and which type of canvas or paper is suited best.
I think this notion of ‘code is just code’ reflects a couple of other detrimental attitudes and views within the web industry.
Firstly, it worries me to see so many people (not always experienced developers) using complex sets of code as the construction base for their site. I understand the need for a code base and have written about why I think all developers should have one, but whenever I look at sites which have been built with big frameworks or themes, I find that they are convoluted, loaded with unnecessary code and difficult to update. This ‘not fitting quite right’ also spills over to the user experience with slow loading times, sluggish behaviours and design oddities.
Secondly, the attitude of ‘code is just code’ reflects badly on how our work as developers is valued. With so many free frameworks, cheap themes and site generators out there, why would anybody pay a premium for our work? Everyone could just head over to 1&1 and get a site for a quid or download a theme from ThemeForest. After all, if it’s ‘just code’, how can we justify that our service of creating custom, well-built sites costs at least 1000 times that?
Any developer who has spent years learning, refining and optimising her/his coding skills and who can keep up with the fast-paced, ever-changing and often unpredictable nature of the website world has every right to stand up and say:
I hand-crafted this website. I've built it from the ground up using the best tools and techniques that experience and knowledge have taught me. I am proud of the code I have written and the website it has given life to.