Bridging the Web Professional Education Gap: Interview with Nick Fogler, Yahoo

Greeting WOW members and Web Professionals everywhere!

For today’s podcast, I sat down with Nick Fogler, Manager of Engineering at Yahoo. Nick participated in the Web Professional Education Summit that WOW spearheaded in conjunction with Web Directions North in Denver last month. I sat down with him to discuss Web professional education, Web standards, Web jobs, WOW’s role in the mix and the skills he recommends that teachers should focus to prepare students for jobs within the Web profession.
Check out today’s three minute podcast on the Web Professional Minute website.

Today’s Web Professional Minute is sponsored by Peach Pit Press. Peachpit has been publishing top-notch books on the latest in graphic design, desktop publishing, multimedia, Web design and development, digital video, and general computing since 1986.


Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: I am here with Nick Fogler, Engineer of Yahoo! here at the Web Directions North Conference in Denver. Nick, good afternoon and thanks for agreeing to the interview.

Nick Fogler, Yahoo: You are welcome Bill. How are you doing?

Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: I am doing well. Thanks. Nick, you participated in the WOW Web Professional Educational Summit the other day and Yahoo brought an incredible insight, you presented on [Inaudible] and your interest in promoting jobs within Yahoo and elsewhere. Could you summarize that session?

Nick Fogler, Yahoo: Sure. Well, you know the point that I was really trying to make was front end engineering is really shifting from being more in the camp of design, visual designers and really becoming much more of an engineering discipline and that’s a good thing. It legitimizes the practice and it just generally helps professionalize it. The flip side of that is that we all have to get much more up to speed on core programming concepts. So, it’s both a challenge and an opportunity.

Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: Yeah, fair enough, well said, and you know I made it a point to interview[Phonetic] at least from a WOW perspective that we see the [Inaudible] of the fact that a lot of universities and colleges, community colleges, high schools are not up to speed because we have only been around for a short period of time, things are moving rapidly. Can you comment on the comments that were made about the disconnect between education and industry? How can we specifically improve from your point of view to [Inaudible]?

Nick Fogler, Yahoo: Well, I think there is a lot of eagerness on both sides to fill the gap. The gap is there, you know there… from my perspective as a hiring manager at Yahoo! you know there aren’t enough people graduating with the skills that we are looking for, but having said that, we are really actively looking at partnerships with universities and the folks that we have approached are really receptive to listening to the skills that we value and some of the other resources we are trying to make available to them to help improve their curricula, so. I think… I think this is a… you know the half empty aspect is a very temporary aspect. It’s really just kind of this little blip in history where the technologies have moved so quickly that some elements of academia haven’t really quite caught up, but that’s a small blip in time and there is a lot of time good smart folks working on it on both sides of the equation.

Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: Yeah, well, how do you see WOW’s role in that equation?

Nick Fogler, Yahoo: Well, I think WOW is really critical because you know having the connections and contacts with both the academic side of things, government, direct outreach to students, I think it’s really a conversation that needs to be brokered and folks like WOW I think are very instrumental in brokering a conversation.

Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: Yeah fair enough, thanks and so last question, teachers want to know what would you recommend short term that they can focus in on?

Nick Fogler, Yahoo: Two things, a sort of a modern approach to HTML and CSS and I mean it’s very much standards based. We are focusing on separation of the different layers of HTML, CSS, JavaScript layer as well as a modern approach to mark up and on the other hand JavaScript and JavaScript through object oriented JavaScript, so really kind of embracing that language.

Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: Thank you so much.

Nick Fogler, Yahoo: You are welcome, thanks Bill.

Bill Cullifer. Web Professional Minute: Today is Web Professional Minute is sponsored Peach Pit Press. Peach Pit has been publishing top notch books on the latest in graphic design, desktop publishing, multimedia, web design and development, digital video, and general computing since 1986.

Web Professional Education Summit summary courtesy of Virginia Debolt WebTeacher

Web Professional Education Summit This session was led off by Bill Cullifer from WOW. He was joined by Leslie Jensen-Inman, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Nick Fogler from Yahoo!, and Mike Smith from the W3C.

John Allsopp conference organizer John Allsopp introduced them by asking how we should be preparing web professionals of the future. Each of them will provide a different perspective.

Cullifer gave a high level look at where we stand in education. He mentioned the disconnect between education and industry needs. He pointed out that although educators say enrollment is down, industry people say jobs are empty and waiting.

Bill Cullifer from WOW. WOW is a bridge between industry, education and government. Cullifer sees the cup as half full rather than half empty. There is progress in web design, development and business. There are online AA degrees now. We still need university degrees. Lots of jobs are available, but we face competition from engineering, green industry, and other industries that are looking to recruit young students and workers.

The industry is so diverse, with so many skill sets and so much diversity of knowledge that it is a complex task to organize.

Leslie Jensen-Inman from academia Leslie works in both academia and industry, so she has an interesting viewpoint. She looked at the needs of industry and compared that with what education is doing. She went looking for perspectives on web education. Her article in A List Apart talked about what she found. She surveyed on the question: how can colleges and universities keep content relevant? What she found made her realize that we really need to connect industry and education and talk to each other to stay relevant. Teachers need to find out how to attend more conferences and help each other keep up. She talked about Open Source Teaching, which means you build all your course materials and then give them all away. Even giving away all your course materials, you are still valuable because you still stand in front of the classroom and give your unique knowledge.

She showed a list of skills that need teaching – at least 60 skills – that was a pretty overwhelming list. Everyone needs to see that chart, I’ll try to find out if it’s online anywhere. [Addendum: the skills are listed in this Monograph.] She suggested having students subscribe to blogs that teach what we want them to learn. She suggested having students keep blogs related to the course content. She suggested making internships part of required coursework, and having people from the real world come into the classroom.

Nick Fogler from Yahoo Next up was Nick Fogler. He talked about how Yahoo developed its own internal training programs. He talked about the core technologies needed for front end development and front end engineering. He mentioned that the skills are diverse and that makes planning a course of study difficult. He talked about how the dot com bust from 2001-2002 meant that people who should have entered the field in those years did not, creating a hole in the talent pipeline. The pace of technology is outpacing the supply of qualified workers. Hence, Yahoo created 10 week training programs taught by Yahoo engineers to train people to do what they needed. Yahoo, in dealing with the new reality of the web today, needed application development. They found that the best people who came out of the training were people who had backgrounds in computer science and an understanding of objects. The successful trainees cared about visual design and attention to detail, and they had a passion for front end engineering. He showed a chart of the scope and sequence of what they taught from HTML to DOM, JS design patterns, performance, and accessibility. I didn’t actually get the URL for their training courses, but I think this is it:

Mike Smith from the W3C, Mike Smith was next. He came all the way from Tokyo. He was co-chair of the HTML WG for 6 months. He said he was the worst chair ever, but was the best at getting a great chair to replace him.

He talked about Do’s and Don’ts. Of course, he talked about the need for standards and semantic markup. His reason was that it facilitates unanticipated reuses of content. He talked about the difficulties of evolving technologies that aren’t perfect in the first place. He urged that you build as much semantic meaning into content as possible up front. Use device interoperable markup. Nice phrase that clearly defines accessibility.

The longer you wait to add semantic structure to content, the more it will cost.Check out today’s three minute podcast on the Web Professional Minute website.

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