The Power of the Web Developer

It was at EECI New York last Friday that I gave this brief talk. I wanted to recount some of the points here as there were no slides to distribute and no other way to capture it for those who were interested and missed it. I improved the talk, but it distills some things I have been thinking about our community for some time now.

It was not too long ago that someone in the community referred to me as a grandpa. It was not meant as a compliment. It was a constructive criticism. I was actually honored. But after feeling honored I felt nervous, nervous about the obligation that it entailed.

I have been in the EE community a long time, hence the grandpa reference. I am in the unique position of knowing what the vibe used to be like back in the day. It is with great pleasure that I say that the vibe is almost exactly the same now as it was in the beginning. But I am here, as grandpa, to keep it in check.

I asked people to reach over and shake the hand of the person next to them. I reminded people that THAT is who were are; friendly, open, generous, caring. I said that back in the day, anyone would help you at just about any time with an EE problem. If you did not get help right away with what you were trying to do or learn in EE, it was usually because EE devs were getting really busy with the demand for their solutions. I also acknowledged an unprecedented percentage of women attending EECI, a demographic change that is welcome and overdue.

I said that among being friendly, open, generous and caring we were also something else, something new as a community. We were powerful.

If you want to run a mom and pop business, you need a web developer. If you want to run a larger business, you need a web developer. If you want to run a nonprofit, you need a web developer. If you want to pass or defeat legislation, you need a web developer. If you want to elect a president, you need a web developer. If you want to overthrow an authoritarian dictatorship, you need a web developer. If you want to do any of these securely, quickly, reliably, you want to do them with ExpressionEngine.

This puts us in a position of power, as designers, coders, sys admins, etc. This is power that most of us have never experienced before. Most of us have experienced power from the blunt end, whether in grade school, high school, college. Most of us know what it feels like to be on the outside of the power group. Most of us know what it feels like to be excluded, ostracized, held back, held down. And now that we are in the power group, we are in danger. Power corrupts.

How is it that we hold the power? An example helps to explain and convince. In our past, Solspace has served political consultants. The vast majority of projects that we did with these political professionals were consistent with our own politics and ethics. However, one or two slipped through. I realized too late, a couple of times, that we had enabled the wrong message. We had supported the wrong side of an election. We had allowed the power and the money to put down legislation that would have helped The People. We had the power to walk away from the job. And if all web developers had also walked away, the message would not have made it into the world. The People would have been better off. This is the power we hold. We're the gatekeepers now.

In my brief talk I said I had faith in us as a community. The nature of our work attracts people who worship and obey logic and reason. These are two profound checks against power. They are of course useless in a vacuum. It is through dialogue as a community that logic and reason exert their check on power.

What I really wanted to convey though was this, whether I managed it or not. We have power now. When you have power, you become more difficult to reach. Logic and reason begin to elude you. You begin to forget what it felt like to not have power. You begin to forget what it felt like to be put down and alienated and excluded. You begin to forget what you promised yourself when you did not have any power. You promised yourself that if you ever had a turn, you would speak up when you saw someone hurt. Remember? You promised yourself that you would let the experience of alienation happen to no one else. You promised yourself that you would make sure the community dialogue continued and that it included everyone and would do so in a way governed by and in obedience to logic and reason.

Now that we have the power to see that people are elected to office or removed from office; now that we have the power to shed light on suffering or cause it to go black we need to hang together. What we were as a community in the very beginning was nice, but that same spirit is a necessity now. We need to hang together, keep talking, keep each other in check, and bring out the best in each other.

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