I was recently recognized by Google for my contributions to Chromium and wanted to write a few words on why I contribute to the project, other rendering engines and the web platform in general. I also wanted to share how it helped me evolve as a developer and why more people should contribute to the web platform for their own benefit.
The web platformI’ve written before about why I think the web platform is an extremely important asset for humanity and why we should make sure it'll thrive for years to come. It enables the distribution of knowledge to the corners of the earth and has fundamentally changed our world. Yet, compared to the amount of users (billions!) and web developers (millions), there are only a few hundred engineers working on maintaining and improving the platform itself.
That means that there are many aspects of the platform that are not as well maintained as they should be. We're at a real risk of a "tragedy of the commons" scenario, where despite usage and utility, the platform will collapse under its own weight because maintaining it is nobody's exclusive problem.
How I got startedPersonally, I had been working on web performance for well over a decade before I decided to get more involved and lend my hand in building the platform. For a large part of my professional life, browsers were black boxes. They were given to us by the browser gods and that's what we had to work with for the next few years. Their undocumented bugs and quirks became gospel, passed from senior engineers to their juniors.
Then at some point, that situation changed. Slowly but surely, open source browsers started picking up market share. No longer black boxes, we can actually see what happens on the inside!
I first got involved by joining the responsive images discussions and the Responsive Images Community Group. Then, I saw a tweet from RICG's chair calling to develop a prototype of the current proposal to prove its feasibility and value. And I jumped in.
I created a prototype using Chromium and WebKit, demoed it to anyone that was interested, worked on the proposals and argued the viability of the proposals' approach on the various mailing lists. Eventually, we were able to get some browser folks on board, improve the proposals and their fit to the rest of the platform, and I started working on an implementation.
The amount of work this required was larger than I expected. Eventually I managed to ship the feature in Blink and Chromium, and complete large parts of the implementation in WebKit as well. WOOT!
Success! Now what?After that project was done, I started looking into what I should do next. I was determined to continue working on browsers and find a gig that would let me do that. So I searched for an employer with a vested interest in the web and in making it faster, who would be happy to let me work on the platform's client - the web browser.
I found such an employer in Akamai, where I have been working as a Principal Architect ever since. As part of my job I'm working on our performance optimization features as well as performance-related browser features, making sure they make it into browsers in a timely fashion.
Why you should contribute, tooNow, chances are that if you're reading this, you're also relying on the web platform for your job in one way or another. Which means that there's a chance that it also makes sense for your organization to contribute to the web platform. Let’s explore the reasons:
1. Make sure work is done on features you care aboutIf you're like me, you love the web platform and the reach it provides you, but you're not necessarily happy with all of it. The web is great, but not perfect. Since browsers and web standards are no longer black boxes, you can help change that.
You can work on standards and browsers to change them to include your use-case. That's immense power at your fingertips: put in the work and the platform evolves for all the billions of users out there.
And you don’t have to wait years before new features can be used in production like with yesteryear's browser changes. With today’s browser update rates and progressive enhancement, you’ll probably be able to use changes in production within a few months.
2. Gain expertise that can help you do your job betterKnowing browser internals better can also give you superpowers in other parts of your job. Whenever questions about browser behavior arrive, you can take a peek into the source code and have concrete answers rather than speculation.
Keeping track of standards discussions give you visibility into new browser APIs that are coming along, so that you can opt to use those rather than settle for sub-optimal alternatives that are currently available.
3. Grow as an engineerWorking on browsers teaches you a lot about how things work under the surface and enables you to understand the internals of modern browsers, which are extremely complex machines. Further, this work allows you to get code reviews from the world's leading experts on these subjects. What better way to grow than to interact with the experts?
4. It's a fun and welcoming communityContributing to the web platform has been a great experience for me. Working with the Chromium project, in particular, is always great fun. The project is Google backed, but there are many external contributors and the majority of work and decisions are being done in the open. The people I've worked with are super friendly and happy to help. All in all, it's really fun!
Join usThe web needs more people working on it, and working on the web platform can be extremely beneficial to you, your career and your business.
If you're interested in getting started with web standards, the Discourse instance of the web Platform Incubator Community Group (or WICG for short) is where it's at (disclaimer: I'm co-chairing that group). For getting started with Chromium development, this is the post for you.
And most important, don't be afraid to ask the community. People on blink-dev and IRC are super friendly and will be happy to point you in the right direction.
So come on over and join the good cause. We'll be happy to have you!
By Yoav Weiss, Chromium contributor