Software Developers Journey Podcast

#230 Melanie Sumner from psychology and the Navy to webdev and accessibility


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Melanie Sumner 0:00
by building up this little bit of knowledge every day, okay, I don't want to miss my interactive elements. CERT there, okay, I want to install you've been just installing or using lighthouse, they've built accessibility checks into Lighthouse now. People are already looking at Lighthouse already using it for their performance scores. There's an accessibility champion there too. And just start familiarizing yourself, it's not a big deal. Well, I mean, it is a big deal if it's you need accessible websites, and they're not. But I don't want developers to beat themselves up because they didn't get this right that one time.

Tim Bourguignon 0:42
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey to podcast, bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host team building on this episode 230. I received Melanie summer, Melanie is passionate about building things for the web. That journey started in 1997. And as she said, she hasn't looked back. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, you might have come across her work already. If you work with Ember, js or maybe a work on accessibility through our conference talks, or maybe the W AI area workgroup that's the Web Accessibility Initiative. And area is for Accessible Rich Internet Applications that's sent out of the W three C but as a veteran herself, Melanie also served as a board member of vets who code and organization helping veterans learn how to code and find jobs in tech. And you should remember this organization as well, because it was created by Jerome Hardaway, whom I interviewed in Episode 110. So if you haven't listened or listened to this episode, yet, you can schedule it for right after this one. Melanie, welcome to dev diary.

Melanie Sumner 1:54
Thank you, I'm so happy to be here. And it's

Tim Bourguignon 1:57
my very pleasure. But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show every month, you are keeping the dev journey lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew, and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests, then editing audio tracks, please go to our website, Dev journey dot info, and click on the Support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable dev journey. journey. Thank you. And now back to today's guest. So melody, as you know, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like and imagine how to shape their own future. So as is usual on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your tech journey?

Melanie Sumner 2:51
Oh, goodness, I think it really is back in 1997. I was a senior in high school. And I had an uncle who gave me a computer for a graduation present. And he said, no matter what you do, learn how to make websites. And he said not just through the UI or a GUI, learn how to write the code behind it. Because websites of the future and and this was 1997. And looking back, he's correct. You didn't do everything online yet. But we were just about to and so I started doing it just kind of for fun. This is back in you know Netscape browser and table based layouts and geo cities

Tim Bourguignon 3:44
to to make rounded corners in.

Melanie Sumner 3:49
And I think he was talking about Dreamweaver, because 97 is when Dreamweaver came out, I think if I remember correctly. And so his advice was don't use Dreamweaver, like actually learn how to write code. And I tell you what the first time, I wrote some markup for a web page, and didn't render to the browser and I'm like, oh my god, this is so exciting. I can totally do this. And I've just been hooked ever since. Like, I tried to do some other things. But like that is the moment in 1997 when I had my first computer and I found myself like just fascinated. We could do stuff on the internet. Cool. Yeah, yeah, it's been 25 years now and I'm just completely hooked still. I'm still excited when what I make renders on the page.

Tim Bourguignon 4:43
Where are you? This is so cool. Hooked. Oh, where are you? This is so cool. I want to make my living out of that hook.

Melanie Sumner 4:50
So that's a good question. I was actually raised in a religious cult. So my options were like housewife and mom missionary not I ended up kind of, I would say running away, but I was a grown adult. So I just left and went into the military after that, because I was kind of like trying to figure out what what do I do in the world? What is this world? I don't understand. I didn't know how to do anything like open a bank account or go shopping, like all of those things that weren't part of my reality. So I thought, Okay, I need some stability first. So programming was really my hobby for a long time. But I kept doing it like I was in the military, I served for six years in the United States Navy. And I worked as an intelligence analyst. But of course, you have everything internal. Even if it's on a closed network, you still have, it's still a network, you still can make webpages and you still can write code. I just kept at it. Like I kept building like an a wiki before there were wikis, I guess. And like keeping our documentation updated, and writing guides for how to do the stuff that we did. And when I would go home at night, I would work on like a blog or blog. And that got me into well, I don't really like the way their themes look. Could I teach myself how to change the color or the font not going into CSS, right? And, and it's just sort of, it's always just been like, one thing leads into the other. When my six years was up, I realized, well, I'm not really cool with death. And working in the intelligence community, you're kind of around death. A lot. You we might be in big windows or big buildings with no windows, but like, you still know more about death than you wish you did. So as I was looking for, like what to do next, I just thought, well, I just finished trying to save the world. And that didn't really work. So why don't I do what I think it's fun. And that for me, that was building websites. So I started doing the looking for jobs, I took a couple of like admin jobs to try to like pay the bills, but really worked to transition while I was at UNC Chapel Hill, I worked to transition into more of a web developer job. And that got me doing WordPress, and oh my god multisite WordPress installations on a Windows server. It's not like, oh, it's horrible. I hope nobody ever has to do that in the history of ever. And, you know, we used to call ourselves full stack developers, not because we wanted to be, but that's how you got your stuff on the web. Like you had to note. Remember, we used to have to FTP stuff. Like, now we just push it again. And it deploys automatically. But like, I remember the first time I actually made a website that wasn't in like geo cities or something. And I kept thinking, Well, I've written all this code, about how do I get it onto the internet. And like, I had to go learn, here's how you do FTP. And like, you find a program and you download it, and you look at all the settings to get it just right and oh, man, pushing to production, and then you inevitably realize you made a mistake, see that go back in and push edits really quick and hope nobody would notice. So thinking about what we call a full stack developer now, like, a full stack developer doesn't really need to exist anymore. And, and so much so that we've kind of diverged into full stack front end, which really means you're just not writing API's, really, but you're pretty much doing everything else. And maybe you're not doing DevOps, maybe you got someone else that does DevOps. But we have such great automation now. And I think that's really changed the barrier to entry for being someone who writes code for the web. And the thing I love about this, so I was an intelligence analyst in the Navy. My degree, my degree, I have a bachelor's degree in psychology. But I'm a software engineer. And that is so cool to me that we could, you could just learn how to do this thing that you really liked doing, and do it for your job and do My whole life I was taught that to be anyone in the world I needed to be married, that a man would provide for me that I would obey Him, like all those terrible things that we wouldn't dream of teaching our daughters now. So being independent on my own, and being able to take care of myself, and not have to depend on anyone in that sense, was really important to me. And I would say that like choosing to become a programmer was partly a pragmatic move. Like I really wanted, that was like, the most important thing for me. So I looked at everything I could do spend a little time trying teaching, realize that wasn't gonna pay very much, especially in United States, no way. I looked at kind of like administrative work, because of course, I could organize anything like you just, I'm the oldest of four children, and like, fourth oldest of like, 70 grandkids, like I was used to big things with bit lots of people. And I could just run everything, you know.

Tim Bourguignon 11:09
And you had a few experiences in the army, which is known to be organized,

Melanie Sumner 11:13
correct? Yes, in the military is very, very much about being organized. So. But being an administrative, administrative, anything really also doesn't pay very well. And then I started seeing well, what about websites, websites are fun, you know how to do them, right? And kind of entry level stuff, saw what I could do so that I could be, like, successful at it. Learn some design principles, I remember the first time I read Ethan Marcos responsive design book, just blew my mind and changed my whole world, you know, and learning CSS from standard Easter, or Estelle, and Eric Meyer and his CSS reset, and just then learning how all the different browsers work together or don't actually hate each other. And, you know, like, God, I use six, and eight and all of the IES actually now that I think about it. So like, I just found this world where I felt like, not only did I belong, but I could excel. And it was through the things I learned on my own and practiced and could learn from others in a very open source kind of way. That's probably why I'm so much into open source now. Because having that knowledge freely available to me, is what's gotten me to where I am now, which is a pretty great place. So

Tim Bourguignon 12:50
wow, that is a pretty cool buildup. Did you feel ready? When you started applying out of this self learning place? How did you decide now is a time

Melanie Sumner 13:03
Bill's like, honestly, the thing is, is that people try to sell you on these big, flashy, like manga jobs, or Fang or whatever we're calling it these days, but you can actually build a really decent life for yourself. Just being a regular developer, you can take care of yourself, you can have a nice life, you can start putting some money away for retirement. And you can just by making websites, and so I just decided like, Okay, if not now When though. And there's a certain amount of fearlessness that you learn when I was in the military almost died. And that was a really kind of, it was a really weird experience, because I fully expected to die. Like, I can still remember like, everything kind of went white, like the bright light thing happens. I was like, Oh, I'm dying. I guess this is how dying feels. And it was just very kind of surrealist. And then I woke up and then I wasn't yet. And that kind of changed something in me to where you can still feel afraid. But I was kind of fearless after that. Like, I'm gonna speak because other people need to see me speaking. Especially other women who could think, Oh, she's speaking I could probably speak to other people need to see me being successful, despite my background, because no matter what their backgrounds are, they need to know they can be successful if they go for it. And there's some stuff to learn along the way, but it's totally possible. If I can do it. I am absolute proof anybody can do it.

Tim Bourguignon 14:50
That is something I really admire. I remember Jerome's interview as well. He was saying exactly the same thing. So he Well, I I just say that I'm going to do it. And so I did it. Yep. Okay. Is that is that the mindset that you're trained into in the military?

Melanie Sumner 15:54
No, in the military, it's if someone else told you to do it, you had to do it. So you really they and they really, literally drilled it into you to make doing a response to a request or command I've learned for myself that if I feel like, Oh, I'm not ready for that yet, I'll make a list of why do I not think I'm ready. And then I can fact check myself. Because my brain is not always, like in the facts, it's more like in the feels in my emotions. So I had to pull myself out of those emotions, because our emotions are useful. They've kept us alive, they taught us how to rationalize how to cope, all those great things. But really, we've got to pull those feelings back, in fact, checked our own emotions, to see what is factually accurate. And most of the time, I thought, well, I don't meet all the criteria, but I mean, most of them. So I'm gonna go for it. And it's really weird, you don't have to be, I used to think you had to be the perfect everything on the piece of paper. But really, you just have to be some of them. And better than anyone else who showed up. So like, show up showing up is the thing, just keep showing up. And eventually, you'll Outlast people. I've done that before, you know, or you're the only one who showed up. Sometimes that happens too. And there's your opportunity and just take the opportunities where they come because that's what will give you the stepping stone to whatever's next.

Tim Bourguignon 17:37
And at some point, you're gonna have more opportunities than you could take it how you decided.

Melanie Sumner 17:45
So this is my life right now, I got into accessibility while I was working at UNC Chapel Hill, because it is a federal requirement for state universities. And the UNC Chapel Hill is State University. And I don't know if you know, the, the theme or the color of UNC Chapel Hill, but it's really light blue. And if you're blue colorblind, it's like a really light gray. So I had a boss who was colorblind. And he kept sending my work back to me saying, I can't see what is on this page. And that's what got me into learning about color contrast. And I found the accessibility success criteria. And I figured out that it was a thing and I started teaching myself absorbing everything right. I tell you what, I had to read through the accessibility accessibility specification, like five times before I even started to understand. I was like, what, what are these words? These are not English words, right now, I don't understand what you're saying. And it seems like you're, like, you're saying the opposite thing in two different sentences that are right next to each other. So I just was really determined to understand it at like this. Like, this will not conquer me. Nothing. Death has not conquered me a specification, sir, certainly is not going to conquer me. And I just started becoming better at it. And then people started asking me questions, and I'm the kind of person that is so excited to tell people. Other things I know. Like, that's my favorite. If I get to teach something. I think it's the oldest sister thing, right? I taught all my siblings how to read and tie their shoes and spell and it just really, oh my God, I know a thing. I can tell you this thing I know. And I And when it comes to accessibility, there's so much knowledge that's just not there. Because we've really been focused, and I think this is the way kind of capitalism works, we've been so focused on what what makes us money, or what makes us money is time to interactive. That's not accessibility really. I mean, it is if you, you know, think about the long game, but it's not really, you need better JavaScript engineers for that. So as our culture has invested more and more in performance, and as someone who loves the web, I'm very glad that we've done that, but it's left this kind of unreal, I kind of call accessibility like the final frontier of the web. Because it's like, of all the things we figured out, we haven't really gotten there when it comes to accessibility, when it comes to making accessibility more developer friendly. Understandable.

Tim Bourguignon 21:00
I have this saw that isn't completely formed in my mind, formulated. Accessibility to me is, or at least, maybe the lack of accessibility, is this this kind of black hole that isn't really graspable, you can really put a number on it and say, well, companies are losing that much because of accessibility. And that might be some kind of hindrance for accessibility work. But to me, this is absolutely huge. I have the chance to not have any any color blindness. And I still get away from from some websites saying good luck, I cannot navigate into this. I, I just can't it's just it's just crappy. And so how much are those websites losing just because of crappy user interface, user user experience? And we're not they're talking about accessibility? In terms of disabilities, we're talking about using your demo site. And this is and then if you had all the all the the problems of accessibility, this is huge. And this is not just for for disabilities, it's really for everyday use. And is there a way to to put a number on this black hole on this on what companies are losing by not doing this?

Melanie Sumner 22:19
Right. And I think that's one of our challenges is that we don't have a way to capture our losses that have never materialized. So say we buy something and just don't work out we can we can say, Oh, that's a loss, that investment was a loss. But how do you say we didn't hire the person who would have been five times more productive than any other engineer on our team? How do you put that into a number? Because you don't know you missed out? So I don't want to introduce FOMO into people's lives. I really do think thinking about, you know, we used to think about accessibility is like you had a disability or you didn't have a disability. And but if you think about it, people who are colorblind don't identify as having a disability in most cases. Like one developer came up to me after a conference talk. He's kind of offended that I call colorblindness a disability. It's like, well, I don't consider myself disabled at all. I'm like, Oh, cool. And it really started me on this, this kind of way of thinking. And Microsoft puts it really well. They said, it's not about having a physical disability. It's, it's about a mismatch between a person and their context, the device they're trying to use at the time they're trying to use it. Think about that for a second. Oh, my God. Yeah. So think about the, we can go ahead and talk about people who are blind, and have to use screen readers to kind of have our browser code, talk to the screen readers, you know, the code needs to be able to talk to each other to translate. But we could also think about the parent who is on their way to the hospital and trying to find the phone number at the hospital website, but it's so poorly designed, and they're like shaking because they're thinking about their kid in the hospital, right? Maybe their kids in the ambulance and they're falling the ambulance in the car and they're trying to find the phone number at the same time. And they're shaking. Do we think about those people? Do we think about the parent who needs to interact with our website while they're holding a baby? Or the person who's trying to gain while they have a broken arm? Link? I think if we started thinking about it accessibility in terms of situational, maybe I'm outside the sun is bright, but I can't see what's on my screen. There's not enough color contrast, or temporary, I have a broken arm. So I need a little bit extra help. I can't spend too long on the website, or permanent. Like I have RSI now and I can't spend too long using a computer at all. And I need to be able to complete my tasks quickly. I think if we started thinking about accessibility as providing for the context, I don't think it would be. I think developers would stop saying kind of dumb things. To be like to be completely fair, they are kind of dumb. Like, I've had things like, well, if I was blind or wouldn't use the internet. Yes, you would. You'd be annoyed at it. But you'd still use the internet because we all do. We pay our bills. It's how we grocery shop or other shopping Amazon, like have you tried living without that it's really, really hard. Actually. I tried it once and lasted like a week. And then I was like, No, I can't do this, you know. And we talked to people through email and we interact, we get our news, like all of this stuff happens now on the web. So to say that you wouldn't use the internet, if you had a permanent disability that affected your relationship with technology. I think that's really just pardon the pun, a very short sighted thing to say. So I've had other people say, I won't care about accessibility until the browser gives me the API to handle it correctly. Oh, okay. So no, but I mean, that's a cool idea. And I think there's a lot of possibility there. So keep an eye in that space. But we should still, there's still lots of things we can do. And I also think there is in the like spaces of things we can do. This is why I think accessibility is kind of like the final frontier of the web. Because we know how to make our sites fast. We know how to make them beautiful. We know how to make them responsive, and they can go on any device in any browser and be good enough. And pixel perfect is a lie. I'm just going to put that out there now. It gives a lie. Pixel Perfect does ally accept it and move on your life will be much better. But what could we do to make accessibility easier? Yeah, there's probably there's probably I bet there is if we were to analyze the different frameworks. What are they doing similarly, work go in the browser instead. I bet there's some accessibility things in there that we could do. That would make our lives easier. There's a ton of tooling that still needs to be written for accessibility. Now we have tooling it does. F I love chili. I love CLI tools. I think they're the best I happen to work in Ember and embers generate. Ember CLI is cool. It's like a cattle. I don't know a really nice car that drives really well. I don't know what the equivalent is. Because I live in a city and I walk everywhere, I don't drive. But imagine the best car you can possibly imagine. And that's what a good CLI is like, I can generate a component, I can destroy the same component. It puts all the files I need, plus my test files and put them all in the right places and names everything correctly. This is amazing. What can we do for accessibility? I've been working in the past few years on embers template launcher, writing accessibility rules into so while you're writing your code, you can get real time feedback. No, you can't do that. You're nesting an interactive element. You can't do that, please. You're trying to put interactive behavior on a div. No, don't use a div when you you should be using a button. This is a button but you're saying read more. In a link. Don't say read more to link who's going to know what read more is. If you're using a screen reader just says read more. And when you're using a screen reader, you can pull up a list of like the links. And imagine you have a page that's just used read more. You just get this whole list of read more, read more, read more read. How are you supposed to so we say no. And number two that like I have a rule that says no, you have to actually give it a descriptive link name. And I started a little site a 11. Why automation. And what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to itemize all of the potential violations and whether or not we have some kind of automated checker for it either a lint for like static analysis This aura test for like dynamic analysis. And it's been a really fun open source kind of project. And also the website turned out really pretty. So I'm like, Yay, because I'm a developer, not a designer. So when I actually make something look pretty, it just feels like I've conquered the entire universe. And I can do anything for flying to the moon tomorrow, dammit. You know,

Tim Bourguignon 30:26
I feel I feel like one thing that was coming to mind when you were talking is first of all, is the end goal to not talk about accessibility anymore, and just have UX. And we're done.

Melanie Sumner 30:40
Yes, because we want to talk about universal design. That's where we really want to go. Because by designing it more universally, by thinking about all these different use cases, we're expanding who we can deliver to, we're expanding our customer base, we're expanding to our future selves. I don't know about you, but like, My eyesight is not the same as it was 20 years ago. And I am always having to, like zoom in on a browser or increase the color contrast, just so I could read it. Like, I don't know, who first thought of gray on light gray as a color scheme, but like, it doesn't work. So like, we're not just thinking like, we're being kinder to our future selves. And I think as we watch the developer population age, really immature, like we had developers whose children are now developers, you know what I mean? And I think as we get this, we're such a new industry. And I think as we get this generational thing going, we're gonna see a lot of the things that we didn't see, when we were young, and the web was small, and we all had great eyesight and perfect health. And we're going to be like, oh, yeah, we, we should look outside ourselves. Because the principle of universal design is nothing new. You know, going on search for universal design, you're going to come up with zillions of books that teach you how to teach in a universal design kind of way, how to think in a universal design kind of way. And as we bring those principles to our web design and web development, and our engineering practices. Oh, it's gonna be so much better for everyone. I'm excited about it. I think it's just gonna be like, fence has stick. I'm so here for this.

Tim Bourguignon 32:50
Yes, do that. First. I have one anecdotes that comes to mind. My dad was here a couple days ago. And at some point asked me, Well, where did you find this in Gmail? I said, Well, it's right there on the right on the sidebar, as it were, I couldn't find it. I looked over. His brother is so so zoomed in, this just completely disappears. But it really is only, I mean, something like, like five times where I use, and okay, no, interesting. What would that mean? That was that was the comment part. The other one is ended, it's more of a question. Is there a way to win this this battle? And I don't necessarily like the martial vocabulary. But but but let's frame it as a battle anyway, again, against people not adhering to accessibility, if we don't frame it as what's in it for you. For people designing it? Is it which when without doing this,

Melanie Sumner 33:43
I think so. Here's what I think. So we have some laws now. Because we had to do that. And it's a shame we had to do that. But like, I like to think of law is like the salt in your cookie recipe. And I totally stole that metaphor from an accessibility lawyer. But like, think about if you went to buy a cookie from a bakery, and you taste and you're like, This is disgusting. You didn't have any salt in there. And they're like, Well, you didn't ask for salt. And I think of like accessibility as like the salt, like you have to include it in the recipe or else it's just not going to be good. So that's one way to think of it. The other way to think of it is if we focus on quality, inclusive design, if we pray, what do we praise, we have praised and rewarded performance JavaScript engineers. If we start rewarding and praising and putting the people who are working on inclusive design and inclusive principles for engineering, more into the spotlight, and we're looking At those people as the future, I think other people will follow naturally, we have to decide to make it a trend. Okay, like, or an anti trend, maybe because developers are very like hipster and you have to kind of like, be hipster. I liked it before it was cool. Thank you very much, I think if but I think when people really just spend the time to focus on praising what is good, praising what is excellent. And like giving these examples of excellence other people want, I think in our deepest selves, we want to be excellent. We don't want to be terrible people, but it's hard to be good, whatever that means, when other things are terrible. So buying holistically, improving everything, making better tools, like and also how many things you do developers already have to consider. Like, by DevOps, coming to existence made our lives a little bit easier, but no, seriously, all the things we have to think of. If we, the simpler we can make that the more room we have for improving everything. And I think that's really important to think about, like, sometimes we use this JavaScript hammer for everything. It's a hammer, we know, and we're good at it. But it's not the right tool in all the right places. And I think that's one thing that, like software engineers and web developers really forget, is that it's not the right tool for everything is a giant hammer, you can do a lot with it. But what if you could make intricate woodworking carvings with woodworking tools and not with a hammer, and not switch to your other tools, you have a shemale you have CSS you have RH support, you were the other two, like have some gaps. Like then think of this like very holistically and balanced and you're gonna get much better outcomes.

Tim Bourguignon 37:26
Yes to all this, but I still I still I'm trying to play the devil's advocate. And making this back to my experience with testing. So as I told you, I've done a lot of XP coaching, and there was a lot of TDD in there. And bringing testing to to developers and showing them why it's not for it's not for for satisfying the the DevOps tools you mentioned, and then the coverage, it's really for you. And only when that started to click in a team in a person, then I managed to really see the effect. And then all the the the avalanche of effects that come with it. But we really needed to see this and forcing it on people. Rarely, I'm never gonna say never, but rarely works, or you had a short term effect, but not the long term effect. And I wish we had something like this for accessibility where you can really show Look at that. There's there's before doing this, and there's your life, not not the life of your user your life after that. So maybe, maybe the designs and I mean by that the architectural designs that you made, are proved to be way more relative, that you can evolve them in the future that they are well formed that did exactly that a sensible didn't stand in your way. And that's because you considered accessibility upfront, and made some simpler design choices and stuff like this. But first of all, I'm pretty sure that's wishful thinking. And is there such a thing? I haven't found one yet.

Melanie Sumner 39:02
You know, the example I like for this is keyboard accessibility. How many developers do you know love their keyboard shortcuts? And like can navigate anything really quickly with keyboard navigation? Well,

Tim Bourguignon 39:17
all of them minus one, probably

Melanie Sumner 39:21
one or two. I still like my mouse if you think about it that way. And you say Well, imagine you can't use a mouse. Maybe your batteries died on your Mac. That weird.

Tim Bourguignon 39:36
The one that you have to plug from the bottom. Wireless Charging Yeah.

Melanie Sumner 39:41
So I have like the ones that you can stick the macros on the side buttons, okay? But imagine you can't use your keyboard. But imagine you just don't want to. Once you like that option. Imagine how fast you could navigate through a website if you just use your keyboard and you were like really good at it? Oh, that'd be nice when it.

Tim Bourguignon 40:04
But for that you would then need to really be dogfooding, you're also using your own site. And if you don't, then it's somebody else's problem, not yours, or we can

Melanie Sumner 40:15
make standards and we could you how to how have we popularized anything else. We've had people give talks, and about a year later, it will show up in a corporation. You know, their programmers will fund they get excited about it. There's some room here. And so credit where credit's due, I think companies like Google and Apple are really starting to pay attention more to accessibility in more of an inclusive, or Universal Design kind of way. And you're seeing a lot more or at least I'm seeing a lot more tutorials, a lot more developer guides a lot more. How do we actually do this March, Marcy Sutton, really famous for accessibility just created, launch that incredible learn how to test accessible accessibility course, like it's self paced and everything. So we're seeing more content, we're seeing more information, and it's not so much a black hole of mystery. And I think that's the part that developers object to. They don't object. I don't think they honestly, I really don't think there's maybe two or three jerks. But for the most part, I think this is a matter of just not knowing. And we haven't really created a culture in our industry, where you can say, Oh, I don't know. You have to know, you have to give an opinion. And you have to be very opinionated buttons, like stunt double, triple down, doesn't matter who tells you that you're wrong? No, no, no, not me. I'm not wrong. I'm a software engineer. So of course, I think there's a lot of like, built in resistance, because we built this culture that doesn't give you room to grow, really, you kind of have to change jobs and reinvent yourself. You kind of have to like, burn all your bridges and start over somewhere else new, and like try to be the better person next time, you know. So maybe we could work on our culture in our communities, and like, hey, you know, it's fine to not know, there's so much Oh, my God, I work on a JavaScript framework. And there's so much JavaScript, I do not know. But I can tell you anything about accessibility? And because there's so much complexity, right now, we kind of need each other. Yes, we know, like, think about guys like Yehuda Katz, he knows everything about everything, and then everything about everything else. But he's still we he and I still have conversations about accessibility, and like, stuff like that. So I think that's the important part is that we're, we number one, create a better culture where we can say, you know, I don't really know or last time I checked, this is the knowledge I had. But then, like, be open to learning. I mean, how many times have we learned hard stuff? Oh, my God. And we can keep learning hard stuff, because that's what we do as engineers. That's our that's our space. So I think we have a hard problem. But I don't think it's not solvable. I think it's totally doable.

Tim Bourguignon 43:49
And let's do it. Yeah, that's usually the place where I ask for advice. But it's been nice to have di for for for half an hour. So I wouldn't be practical. You mentioned this this project you're working on. So the a 11, why innovation? What would be the baby steps to get started with it, use it maybe, and maybe help you in this regard? Sure.

Melanie Sumner 44:11
So the accessibility automation tracker, a 11 y dash automation dot Dev, start reading through the violations. There's a violations page. And what I've tried to do is just simply summarize and itemize all of the violations. And you can kind of go into each one and see what the violation is. There's a link to read, like, understand more about it and get more in depth if you want to. But you can also just get a TLDR. And then you can see well, is there a lynch test or is there like x or something kind of test automated tests that exists to test this? I think there's so start familiar arising yourself with the potential violations. It's not going to happen overnight. Like I've been doing this for. So I've been doing it for a long time, but I've really only been focusing on accessibility for maybe the last 10 years or so.

Tim Bourguignon 45:15
That's still a long time. Yeah.

Melanie Sumner 45:19
I should be like a principal engineer now or a CTO or something. No, see much paperwork could never do that. Yeah, but by building up this little bit of knowledge every day, okay, I don't want to mess my interactive elements. Start there, okay, I want to install you've been just installing or using lighthouse, they've built accessibility checks into lighthouse, now. People are already looking at Lighthouse already using it for their performance scores. There's an Accessibility tab in there too. And just start familiarizing yourself, it's not a big deal. Well, I mean, it is a big deal. If it's you need accessible websites, and they're not. But I don't want developers to beat themselves up because they didn't get this right that one time. Right. Like, yeah, okay. And I think accessibility also feels worse, bad, if that makes sense. Because you realize that you didn't mean to hurt someone else's life, but you did. And here you are being this awesome, smart, Ninja Rockstar unicorn person. You can do with only a few handful of people compared to the total population. Only a little bit of people can do this thing. build websites. That's awesome. That feels amazing. But then you find out that you've been hurting people. Oh, my God. No, I would No, I refuse to believe you. I'm not even I don't accept, right? Return to sender. So I think there's like this emotional weight to of like getting this wrong and feeling like you're a bad person. And I want developers just to stop it. Don't stop. Like if any of you think that someone's made you feel bad. I know I've had people come up to me after talks is like you made me feel bad. Like, get over yourself, number one. Number two, it's not about you. Now, you know better do better. And like, think about anything we do if we want to become better at running, what do we do? Run every day. If we want to become better at public speaking good. We do. Speak in public. If you want to become better accessibility, spend a little bit of time invest in yourself invest in increasing the skill set and just do a little bit every day.

Tim Bourguignon 47:52
I've been nodding the whole time. Fantastic.

Melanie Sumner 47:58
So sensible. I mean, go too far, right. But we take we had to take this emotion and angst out of it. Disability is a civil rights. Full stop. Like that's not even, let's just leave that to the side. Because like, we're not even talking about that. We're talking about the implementing of universal design principles to make our code better. And also, like there's this really informal metric I like to use if a website irritates me, it's probably not accessible.

Tim Bourguignon 48:39
It doesn't mean it's just the the Melanie metrical Melanie caveat.

Melanie Sumner 48:45
I'm sure somebody else has already written about it. Like everyone's written about everything. This is why I don't write a book.

Tim Bourguignon 48:51
Just get someone to write a Wikipedia page about it. And there you go.

Melanie Sumner 48:54
If a website irritates you, it's probably not accessible. Like this. I bet you I, like send people can send me on Twitter or like all their irritating websites. And I will tell you the ways that they're not accessible. Like that will be a fun game. Actually.

Tim Bourguignon 49:10
Let's do this. Let's do this. So do your listeners. Send some websites to Melanie and she's gonna tell you where in a minute and we'll play this game.

Melanie Sumner 49:21
My Twitter handle is a one one y Mel a 11 y Mel M E L. And for people who don't know, accessibility is often shortened to a 11. Why? Because there's 11 letters between the A and Y and accessibility. Kind of like localization. l 10. Yep.

Tim Bourguignon 49:42
Radius K s and internationalization, I think exactly.

Melanie Sumner 49:47
18 in Yeah. A little bit wise accessibility. That's where you can find the answer. Yes. And let's play this game. Because I bet if it's an annoying, irritating website, it's not accessible.

Tim Bourguignon 50:00
Hey, I hope you're gonna, I have too much to do. Let's see anything else you want to plug it in any other channel to reach you or anything on your plate?

Melanie Sumner 50:12
Yes, one thing I do want to. So some people asked me like, Okay, so you've talked about accessibility? And you've said we should do it. Like, how do I actually convince my boss? So please fund Alm and why.com will give you a list of things in accessibility that need funding, and the business use cases for how they will help or how they will improve the world.

Tim Bourguignon 50:47
So I'm talking points, and I'm talking about arguments to get into the discussion.

Melanie Sumner 50:53
also open source code. I tried to do everything open source. So anything I do, I'm Mel Sumner on GitHub, and any projects I have up, folks are always welcome to submit a PR or an issue. Or like, here's an extra thing I think you could add to your reasoning list or, you know, there's a lot of stuff to do. So I think there's lots of ways to get involved. And I keep all of my projects open source so people can come do a tangible thing to make the web better for accessibility in a real practical way that has results. Amen. Hallelujah. Exactly.

Tim Bourguignon 51:36
Mel, thank you very, very much. It's been a wild ride. Indeed. We talked about accessibility as you correctly Yes, the beginning. But that was very, very, very insightful. And I we could see your your psychology background as well come through. Helps now in that. Very, very cool. Thank you very, very much. Thank you for having me. And this has been another episode of developer's journey with each other next week. Bye. Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you liked the show, please share rate and review. It helps more listeners discover those stories. You can find the links to all the platforms to show appears on our website, Dev journey dot info, slash subscribe. Creating the show every week takes a lot of time, energy, and of course money. Will you please help me continue bringing out those inspiring stories every week by pledging a small monthly donation, you'll find our patreon link at Dev journey dot info slash donate. And finally, don't hesitate to reach out and tell me how this week store is shaping your future. You can find me on Twitter at @timothep ti m o t h e p or per email info at Dev journey dogs info talk to you soon.