jenn schiffer

javascript considered...useful

Most people connected to the Web are carrying JavaScript in their pocket without even knowing it, and those of us making tools for building with it are either unaware of or blissfully ignoring that population. While JavaScript’s pervasiveness grows, so is the gap in its literacy, and this is a gap we need to solve if we’re ever going to survive self-driving cars on the blockchain. Let’s talk about JavaScript, the tool, as opposed to JavaScript, the Oracle-run Twitter account.

Portrait photo of jenn schiffer


JENN: Hello. Just kidding. My friend at Apple taught me that. How is everyone doing tonight?

[ Applause ]

It's like 2:00 in the morning. You did it. I so, backstage they have like a makeup station and the sound guy is like, oh, do you need makeup? I think I have enough going on here? Do I look good? Of course I do. Anyway. Along with that and the layout and aggressiveness of this slide, I think that should set the tone for the rest of the talk.

So, despite what Lori said in his talk this morning, I'm not talking about WebAssembly. I think they misread the schedule. That's actually Max's talk which is moved to tomorrow. So, please check it out.

I'm here today to talk about package managers. I'm just kidding.

[ Laughter ]

Oh! Oh! And before I go on, I know this counts towards a ton of my talk. Where is Keith Kurson? Is Keith here? Oh, here. Happy birthday, Keith.

[ Applause ]

Cool. Clapping, a round of applause for the organizers, volunteers, speakers, sponsors. Awesome. Thank you so much for having me tonight. Which was supposed to be a talk I called JavaScript considered useful.

But then I saw that the conference schedule had my talk this late. And so, I switched things up a bit. So, thank you for sticking around this late for the first episode and maybe last of my new hit show "JavaScript After Dark."

Night time is a time to reflect on the past day. Like, did we feel productive? Did we meet our goals of meeting new people? Saying hi to old friends? Not drinking too much coffee? Who here drank too much coffee? Did we learn some new stuff from the talks today? Like how capitalism is bad, right? Wow.

It's also a time to reflect on those moments we can't ever take back. Whose flashbacks keep us up at night. Important and impactful meaningful moments like this time a woman asked me in lower Manhattan three years ago at that red X there where the Chase bank was. And I said I didn't know.

But it turns out we were literally in front of a Chase bank. I think about it every night.

Tonight, we're going reflect on some just as insomnia inducing past and present moments of JS. The language, the community and me. Tonight, I am your tall shadowy figure hovering over you above sleep paralysis. Now, we're not going to reflect on the birth of JavaScript 23 years ago.

There's a wealth of content online you can read about. How it came to be.

And it wasn't even the most exciting thing to happen in 1995. That, of course, goes to Space Hog's debut album, if you're into British glam rock. Oasis released what's the story morning glory. But that's just as uninteresting to me tonight as the JavaScript origin story.

I bet you didn't think that someone from outside the world of package managers would be bringing the hottest takes to the JavaScript conference. But here we are. The only year in the past that we are going to talk about is probably the most impactful to all of us tonight and that is ten years ago. That is 2009. I know a lot of math.

So, what were JavaScript, the community and I up to in 2009? And how we all have collectively grown up since. So, let's explore. In 2009, JavaScript had just about started getting use to the actually being useful. Both for normals and nerds.

The iPhone had only been out for about two years. So, the idea of JavaScript in everyone's pockets was real.

But it was still in its infancy. Not a lot of people knew. And it had been about four years since AJAX had come about. And I think stronger than dirt is a pretty good bar to reach for scripting languages.

In part with AJAX, web 2.0 was evolving from user interactions like shit posting comments, to collaboration and real time shit posting comments with Google wave. They reprogrammed the algorithm that most use today like Glitch. So, honestly, haters of Google Wave can eat it. GitHub and StackOverflow were about a year old. And the most popular JavaScript questions from that year were a reflection of the language's youth and complexity.

Which nearly matched that of the social construct of time which to this day we still have issues with in JavaScript. Prototype, jQuery, all a few years old. It's about the user interface, baby. I'm sorry, I cringe whenever I hear that.

For the client side, there wasn't much besides the cringy taglines and logos. Entirely exciting or dramatic going on. And to be fair, this is the year before backbone was released. So, there was no real framework wars in sight yet.

It would be another year before Steve Jobs would release his viral YouTube video/open letter, thoughts on Flash. By the way, Flash ends of life next year. So, rich people and blogging males weren't quite yet talking about HTML5 as if it were like an actual brand new language literally to solve every problem yet. It was a simpler, softer, more down to Earth time for the document object model and those of us fucking around with it.

But that's not to say that 2009 was without excitement or even conflict and drama. Shouts out to the TC39 panel a little bit earlier. It looked a lot different back then. Looked a lot different last year. They were having a tough time coming to a resolution to a debate that I will summarize as I do most in the community, grownups fighting on blogs instead of saying it to their faces.

Blogs, for the unfamiliar, it was how people put long threads of Tweets into a single page, by the way. RIP. And TC39 for those that missed the panel, it was great panel. It's a technical committee to which large companies pay 70K or more dollars to join.

And what does or doesn't change with JavaScript the language. It appears that in 2009 the committee of the pulling a weekend at Bernie's with the math icon John Von Neumann. Fun fact, Neumann invented merge sort, the second best sorting algorithm next to Jortsort. I don't know. Maybe this is what TC39 was fighting about.

Honestly, it was one of the least interesting things I was reading about in 2009. But to be fair, there was a lot of competition in being interesting. Remember, Google Wave came out that year.

And by the way, it's hard not to see some irony in the year collaboration was disrupted, some dudes from large companies had a hard time collaborating with each other. Maybe that's the hardest problem in computer science.

But if you stare directly into the sun, you may find it interesting that the resolution of this particular conflict was the committee renaming ECMAScript 3.1 to ECMAScript fifth edition. The version, one point, nine points, is a huge thing back thing. It was a few years later that TC39 had another conflict and moved up the version 2009 points. Obviously, an homage to the 2009 renaming. Numerologists should be all over this shit.

Most of the news about JavaScript 2009 was not about JavaScript, but about browsers who were all allegedly the best. Stallman was mad about open source. And, yeah, some things haven't changed. Companies tracking us.

So, you know, we knew. We were warned.

But the most exciting news you would agree in the JavaScript cannon for developers was the founding of the modern JavaScript specification and the release of NodeJS a few months later. Whoo, yeah. Whoo. So, like 2009 was like a growth spurt year.

Our youthful and complex JavaScript was finally going through puberty. You know who wasn't going through puberty? Me. I was 24 years old in 2009. And if you go off my Tweets from that year alone, I was dealing with excruciating wisdom tooth pain which I couldn't afford to fix because I was broke as fuck.

So, I took recreational drugs to curb the pain instead and expressed myself on the Internet and doing so. I was in Rob Thomas and deleting the Internet before that became cool.

And I freaking loved Yahoo! Pipes. Shouts out. What would probably surprise you, I was not writing much JavaScript. I was in graduate school working on my master’s in computer science and my last year's courses were virtually all mathematics. And when not writing pages and pages of pure math, quite beautifully, I must add, I was programming in R.

Who here knows R? So, for those of you who are unfamiliar with R, it's similar to S. Very self explanatory.

[ Laughter ]

I had a lot of odd jobs back then. But my most fulfilling was teaching non technical college students how to use Excel at 7 a.m. I love this review from them who said the class topics themselves are really boring. But it's not like she invented Microsoft Office and forced it upon us. I did not invent Microsoft Office, but I did create the curriculum.

So, yeah. 7 a.m. Fun times.

I have no idea what StackOverflow or GitHub were. And those sites are probably not even actively considering me a part of their target core demographic. I was a young white woman studying computer science, stats and linear algebra in a state school in New Jersey. In 2009 that was like the conventional path to becoming a software engineer if you were broke and living on your own and the only person in your family to go to college. I don't think there were any web developer bootcamps in 2009.

And most higher education engineering programs were using Java and C++ and to this day to teach programming at an applicable level. JavaScript was copying and pasting from cool sites and blogs I liked to look at and follow using Google Reader. Remember? I do. Googlers in here, I remember what you did.

Also, I want to shouts out to my old D and D crew. Brian Brennans here. I forgot to take my D and D handbook and my glittery dice out of the shop before I took it. And the elephant says PHP. PHP is JavaScript with question marks.

[ Laughter ]

I did a lot of really shitty part time freelance web design and development. Yes, design. With a wide range of low or no paying clients and most of that development work was written in PHP. Which is way prettier than the designs I was expected to come up with.

So, yeah, my then boyfriend's dad's friend's real estate company who didn't pay me learned. Joan Osborne, Grammy nominated singer, performer, of what is God is one was us hated what I designed.

And the movie baby geniuses was adapted from. He was sick as fuck. He hate what had I designed. But as my friend said when his kid vomited on him, tough, but fair.

I didn't Tweet about JavaScript until 2010. Far from helpful. I shan't be purchasing this services from you. To me, programming community let alone JavaScript community didn't really exist. Programming in general didn't exist outside of the classroom and maybe in a couple of channels.

And this one mailing list I participated in about my favorite operating system, open Solaris. Pour one out for that. While TC39 was arguing about whatever they were arguing about in 2009, Oracle was buying Sun microsystems.

With that was the end of the Open Solaris project. I was heartbroken and still pissed at Oracle. You know what else died in 2009? GeoCities. Yeah.

So, this may seem hella dramatic. But I was basically watching everything important to me about open source and building the web being destroyed in a very tiny bubble that was very far and very different from the bubble that I am in today which is the JavaScript community.

The JavaScript community, what many of us call the communities, what we see here tonight. Young, we think of JSConf, the family conferences and EU. And this conference started in 2009 in response to or after the inaugural JSConf US earlier this year. You may recognize the organizers.

Little baby Jan. I like that Jan grew his beard over the past ten years so he can dye it pink just for us tonight.

In the pink there, I can't believe you spoke at your own conference. That's like wearing a Green Day shirt to a Green Day concert. It's bad ass. And notice I'm not making fun of AMP in this talking.

So, while to me there was no community, it definitely did exist somewhere. And allegedly it was rock and roll. And remember, I love rock and roll. So, why didn't anyone tell me about this? I mean, if you look at this image and you look at the earlier couple of years' images and that like intro, you'll probably realize that I wasn't part of the core target demographic of not only many of the tools that came out in 2009, but these events.

And that's not meant to be shade. That's reality.

In 2009 it was very hard to see someone like me in the audience of an event like this. Let alone on stage visible and admired by the tech community. Also, these conferences were in they're expensive as hell. And I don't know about the rest of you all who at least like went to college.

But the predatory textbook industry ate up whatever so called disposable income I had. Plus, I needed to buy weed because my wisdom teeth were hurting. Just kidding, I've never done a crime.

But today, 2009 plus ten equals 2019. I can better support myself and others. And not only am I actively part of the JavaScript community. I'm literally right here on stage at the tenth JSConf.

Or at least the tenth year that they've had it. Soc, congrats to the organizers and everyone for such a long run. Let's give everyone a another round of applause.

[ Applause ]

What a wild ride this past ten years have been. For one, I don't have wisdom teeth anymore. So, that's great news. In less great news, I also don't have Google reader, Google wave or Yahoo! pipes.

Ten years I was mad at Oracle. Today the feeling is mutual.

This is a Tweet by an Oracle employee after this conference announced my speaking. Please don't find this person and I give him shit. He is correct, JSConf EU is better than this. Using this to represent me. This conference will be hearing from my lawyers.

And by the way, it needs to be said that me making fun of Oracle owning the JavaScript trademark is not punching down. Because unlike Larry Ellison, I don't own a fucking island with a volcano on it. He's going to be just fine. JavaScript the fame, though.

Maybe it's not time to worry about that. Capitalism is bad.

So, yea, not only do I write a lot of JavaScript, I'm an exec at one of the most exciting in the JavaScript ecosystem. Yeah, Yeah, shouts out. I get to lead and work with some of the best engineers, designers and business people in the world and we're all working together to make it so that everyone who uses the web can create the web. It's been wild to start to see that happen.

And not only is it happening, but people are building apps on Glitch that I couldn't imagine would be possible within the confines of the browser and this beloved portable dynamic language we use. Like, I'm not even saying hard to see like ten years ago. Like, I couldn't imagine this stuff, or double stuff, five years ago. Things like virtual reality and motion detection in the browser. We have a cool web VR starter kit and we have been working with Mozilla on making cool demos.

And like, in the browser. Like, who'd have thank you? Machine learning and music, shoutout to really cool stuff with JS. And people asking about the questions about the new metal group Evanescence, the answer is going under is their best song. And people on the note extending services and even content management services like WordPress with their Gutenberg editor.

So, it's sick. Game Devs are not only making games on Glitch, but they're building them in a way so those that don't typically design and build games can do so with their own levels. And that is also super sick.

And speaking of games, that quiz game that you have been playing is a Glitch app. But also like under the hood, we have a powerful as hell collaborative editor written in JavaScript that runs in the browse their lets everyone write JavaScript and other languages collaboratively. And even view server-side JavaScript in the browser. So, like the scale of access to writing JavaScript in 2019 among all the editors is matched only by the access to learning it this year.

You know? There are bootcamps now and there's online learning and they're expanding the options and opportunities for people to enter the community and industry. Even the books about JavaScript today show not only is the community growing in number of developers and technologies, but the backgrounds of those using JavaScript is changing. I want to give a shoutout to Daniel of Coding Train, awesome series. Nick Morgan, writing with JavaScript for kids book. And all the like awesome great initiatives like Black Girls Code.

Giving like people getting people of all ages and backgrounds into our community so that we all collectively cannot only build the web together. But build like an ethical web that solves the problems that we all actually have and solves everyone's problems. Not just a core group.

People aren't just asking, you know, anymore how to use JavaScript to redirect a page or figure out the name of the month. They're asking JavaScript they're asking how to JavaScript to tell a story with data around gun violence and political activism

And we're learning and teaching literature and art using the language. So, shouts out to re Publica, color of change, awesome organization. My large son, Angus Cole for writing with JavaScript. And the institute, my own project. It's like the side project or indefinite hiatus and fronted.

And not only does JavaScript the language look different, the people writing and talking about JavaScript do too. Shouts out to all of my fellow speakers that the event. Round of applause for them. And the MCs.

[ Applause ]

And don't you dare let anyone tell you that the diversity and who is writing all this code and the brilliance of what is being made with it are a coincidence. It's not. And we have a lot more work to do to make it actually diverse and inclusive and we can only imagine how awesome and how brilliant the things coming out of this language will be when we are at the point and beyond that we could say that. Anyway, 2009 was a wild year. But 2019 is fucking lit.

Which makes it incredibly hard to imagine what could be in store for us in 2029? But I flew all the way out here so let's give it a go. These are my hopes and dreams for 2029. The first: You might have noticed my avatar on the website. I gave them one that had my face and the skeleton zoomed in.

I was told that the reason my conference head shot is zoomed in on the skeleton is because of AI. Which means we're all going to die.

But honestly, in 2029, a significant amount if not majority of code will be written by machines. That shouldn't be surprising with all the talk about artificial intelligence in this industry. This has been planned for decades. If you read early text that's on artificial intelligence, like the people who created that idea did it so like machines would write our code for us. Like, work for ourselves.

Like, machines can do it. And we've already boilerplated and automated a lot via command line interfaces. Which is rad.

But we're going to need some nice slick graphical user interfaces to bring that development to the masses. Much like some of our favorite operating systems did for computing in general. So, that's a cycle we're entering into now. And because we need GUIs, there's a lot of abstraction and design challenges that come with it.

So, that means that those specializations we saw starting to disappear over the past ten years like content and style, separate concerns from interaction, I think that those things are going to become more discrete again. And with that, like the role of frontend and backend will become rarely used unironically as much as the phrase close to the middle is.

I think we're gonna see a lot more specialization in our community. And front and back will be replaced with UI, ML, AI, IoT. hope they come up with another phrase than IoT. I don't like that.

Too many letters. VR.

I would say hobbyists or maker, but I think that's also kind of like the maker movement is still quite misogynist because women have been doing crafts and yarn and that shit for years. Hopefully there's a better word that doesn't bring the patriarchal theme in. Way specialized and there are going to be generalists to mentor, coach and educate new and seasoned specialists. So, I think like the thing that we need to worry about, and I'm seeing it already in our community, is the gap in value and pay of educators in the industry.


[ Applause ] shouts out to my teachers. And not like the engineers who teach on the side because it's extra money and they don't really care about the people that they're teaching. No. Anyway.

I can't go on these tangents. I'm going to get people mad. That gap, by the way, I think should be can be filled with all the money Microsoft is spending on trying to figure out who horse JS is.

Just saying. Ryan Dahl will be doing a mistakes I made making Dino tour. Ryan, if you watch this video, you're a treasure. Please don't hate me. But I'm right.

Microsoft is going to shut down GitHub and VS code in their master plan to get us back to using Microsoft Word to build HTML pages like nature intended.

And because Word doesn't allow JavaScript, all y'all who are like JavaScript is considered harmful folks will finally be happy. But then you'll realize your brand has become obsolete. So, sorry about that.

Make E CMA will update their website design. Also, you see all the trademarks down there? That's an update. If any of y'all are here still. I want to propose some hot new trendy dark modes. Or an old classic, hot dog stand.

Even better, maybe in 2029 we'll have designed and implemented a more diverse and inclusive way to evolve the language than leaving it up to only large English speaking corporations who can afford not only a seat at the table, but the flight and hotel to wherever that table keeps moving around to.

Now, given the number of people in this room and my background in statistics and getting yelled at on the Internet. I will say it's highly probable that some of you are thinking, Jenn, why are you complaining about diversity when you said this event is more diverse than it was ten years ago? And yes, Uncle Bob, from my extreme white woman perspective, we're doing a bit better this decade when it comes to D&I. But I predict and hope that by continuing and evolving this work, in ten years the need for diversity scholarships will have dwindled or have been made obsolete by the fact that companies will value all of their employees enough to sponsor their being a part of these events. Or at the very least, people will not complain on Twitter about people of color having their own space at these events.

[ Applause ]

Just a reminder. We are living in a misogynist and white supremacist society. And that plays into a lot of the stuff happening over the next ten years in AI. I don't want to slip that under the rug.

These are hopes and dreams and I'm hoping that more people are involved, and more diverse people are involved so we can undo the damage and prevent that. That's an aside off script. I can talk for hours about that.

But I think another thing is that all of us community organizers will have hopefully evolved the conference experience so that yeah! Fuck yeah! Are they playing Foosball? Are they getting excited about Foosball? Shaking my head. Anyway, yeah! I think that we will make it so that all people can still know the community exists and feel like they're a part of it even if they're like I was in 2009. Which was too broke to travel and/or too lost to know what I was supposed to be looking for. And I predict that a lot of people writing code in ten years, if not the majority of people writing code in ten years, will not be developers but trade.

So, we need to welcome them to this experience as well. As well as TC39 whatever hopefully non corporate professional group is running the show.

And it's been said that this will be the last JSConf EU which in the wake of my Microsoft Word prediction, I'm not surprised. Much like every conference, though I think they'll skip a year or two and keep going for years to come. I'm thinking this might be my last JavaScript talk. I said that a few years ago and came back. Jay Z said he wasn't making music anymore and then he came back.

I don't know. I just think that something like this is too magical and beautiful. And to give up this ability to bring different people together to learn and grow with each other.

It won't run quite the same, this conference, though, and it shouldn't, because what the language and community look like is rapidly changing. So, you know, those of you here running companies and popular projects in the ecosystem, I want you to take note of that dynamic changing.

I think it's becoming hella evident today and not that not only are more companies in our ecosystem going to have to live by the value that all people matter more than the tech we're building. But the survival of their business will depend on their being accountable and honest to those values. You know? They're staffed by and used by the community. And so, those of us running companies in that space need to like walk the walk sprint, even more than talking the talk.

Yeah. I mean, as an aside, I was just thinking a lot about CJ's talk. It's been really hard to witness what's been going on at npm. Because like at Glitch we talk about like we're trying to get everyone to be able to build the we can, and our product is very focused on people. And it just sucks when like someone in the ecosystem just like fucks up something and it sets the rest of us who are trying to do good work back.

And that's fine. We were ready to do the work. We're here for the fight. Like, we're gonna do it.

And we're gonna win. We're counting on it. But I'm just hoping that you all still you all question companies and ask questions and keep us honest and hold us accountable. Because some of us like want to do you right.

We're trying. We're trying really hard. And while tech is already political, in 2029 I predict there will be significantly fewer cowards pretending it's not.

[ Applause ]

As for me, I don't know where I see myself in ten minutes, let alone ten years. Besides, of course, hotter and smarter. Let's be honest. Thank you.

Where I see myself in the future has always been my hardest problem in computer science. Like, I know where I'm at now and that's like living a life and in a world that I never could have imagined ten years ago.

Let alone two years ago. Three months before I joined Glitch, I was exploring how to quit tech because I fell really ill and I just couldn't manage going to work every day miserable and also physically being miserable. One of those had to give, that was tech. And fortunately, an opportunity came around and I ended up at Glitch.

And I felt great. But I could never see that path happening and it's very scary when you enter a space. Even someone in the game as long as me and not knowing what's ahead of you. Not having any visibility. It took a lot of hitting road blocks, earning degrees and dodging obstacles, getting yelled at on the Internet on the regular and a fuck ton of work to get where I am today.

It was not a direct path, becoming a woman in leadership. And I'm not confident that such a path is available for anyone else. Let myself to continue.

You know? Something might happen and in three months or six months I might be like you know what? Something's got to give. I got to go back to teaching Excel at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. Whatever the fuck it was.

I'm not a morning person anymore. I don't want that to happen.

But I predict or at least hope that with like the work we're all doing, like all of us in this room and helping everyone on the web create the web that our community in 2029 will be more visible and accessible. As well as the definition of success for individuals. More and different people will not only get a say in how our language evolves, but they'll get time on stage. The safety that comes with being valued and fairly paid.

I think that or hope that they'll be able to see themselves continuing on that path and reaching their ideal destination. That they're not just sort of walking blindly like I feel I am myself today.

And I think with that, they'll hopefully be a little more confident in coaching other generations and types of coders to reach their ideal destinations as well. And I think a lot of prominent visible marginalized people in this industry have many stories like this to tell. But, you know, one day a woman came up to me and was like, I really look up to you. I follow you on Twitter.

I'm like, sorry. And she's like, I want to, like, be you in two years. And I'm like, girl, I couldn't be me in two years.

And I can't tell you how to be me in ten years. That's what I'm hoping will change. I hope that path will include building like awesome apps that solve everyone's problems. I hope it includes leading a team of the Greatest engineers in the world and, you know, even flying thousands of miles to shit post Larry Ellison.

A volcano on the island. Look it up.

If I play my cards right, and y'all let me play them, I think that I'll be doing all of those things still. Maybe not flying miles to shit post Larry Ellison. That's like a one and done thing. I think that maybe I'll be helping some Glitch employee work on their dot doc XEU talk where they showcase all the amazing apps that our rad community made that year.

And we asked the community about 2029, it was facilitating farming, supplying energy, quantum computing, challenging the social construct time. The news in a social media dystopia. And maybe even just simply making websites.

I know that my hair will probably be all gray which will look sick as hell. I hope any wisdom teeth don't grow back. I don't know, climate change. Like you never know what's gonna happen.

Anti vaxxers. But I'm pretty confident that every night I'll be lying wide awake, just like for years, reflecting on the moment where I told the woman in front of the bank that I did not know where the Chase bank was. Maybe the sun will burn out.

Thank you. Thank you for sticking around for JavaScript after dark. I'm Jenn, smash those links, please subscribe. And I'll see you on Thank you.

[ Applause ]