Building a Strong Product on a Solid Foundation: An Interview With Logikcull's Pete Lambert

Building a Strong Product on a Solid Foundation: An Interview With Logikcull's Pete Lambert

At Logikcull, our incredibly talented—and completely distributed—engineering team is focused on pursuing our core value of power simplicity to help solve our customers' problems. Our Lead UI engineer, Pete Lambert, takes that to heart. Lambert recently wrote an article about HTML and the importance of creating a strong foundation for any web-based product that resonated with the global UI development community. We sat down with Lambert to discuss his article and what it's like to work at Logikcull.

HTML Is the Web—And What That Means for Engineers

Hey, Pete. You recently wrote an article arguing that “HTML is the web.” Tell us what you mean by that.

Logikcull's Pete Lambert

Pete Lambert: Hi! The main point I was trying to make in the article was that we, as builders of the World Wide Web, use myriad different tools and techniques for doing our work—Javascript frameworks, pre-processors, post-processors, build tools, etc. All these give us a great deal of developer-convenience, but at the end of it all, the thing that matters is the output. What gets rendered in the browser, no matter what language or framework we start in, is HTML. It’s the format and structure of every web page or web app.

If we ignore that fact and don’t treat HTML with the respect it deserves, not only do we produce a technically inferior product, but an inaccessible one.

What spawned this article? Was there anything in particular that got you to think about the importance of HTML to engineers?

Lambert: Well, to be entirely honest, this article came about after speaking to colleagues from around the web development industry who had learned very little HTML. I was slowly learning that there is a generation of developers who have learned their trade almost entirely on frameworks such as Angular, React and Vue. They’ve learned the very minimum of HTML and CSS to be able to produce an app or an interface that looks like it works, but seem to have missed out on a large part of what I, as an Old Man of the Web, consider to be an essential component of the education of any web developer.

In some cases it was naïvety. In others it was apathy. It frustrated me immensely.

Just to clarify though, this is not the case for all front-end engineers, or even all the engineers I talk to. There are many, many web developers who care about and work for Web Standards every day.

As a senior UI engineer, how important is understanding “the bottom of the technology pyramid,” as you call it?

Lambert: I used a few analogies in that article. The pyramid one is probably the most accurate but the least funny 😄. You could have picked the one about the trifle.

The bottom of the pyramid is the HTML, the document structure—and yes, it’s a document, even when it’s an app. As with any building, a pyramid with a weak base will not stand. It might for a while, but it’ll be fragile. Everything else is built on top of that.

Likewise, a web site or web app with poor HTML will be an inferior product. It will be less accessible, have less semantic structure, and will be less useful to people who want to use it in the future.

When you build a solid foundation of semantic HTML, you’re building a better product, a product that will be more usable right now, for sighted users, users of screen readers and other assistive technology, search engine bots, Siri and Alexa, browsers with a ‘Reader’ mode, and many others.

I don’t know where technology is going to be in five, ten or twenty years' time. But I know that when I started writing HTML, I didn’t expect people to be reading it on watches or having its contents read out by an electronic hockey puck on somebody’s kitchen worktop.

There are pyramids in Giza that still stand after 4,600 years. Now tell me it’s not worthwhile building good foundations.

Your article received a lot of attention—reaching the top of Hacker News, getting tens of thousands of views, and even being translated into Korean. Were you surprised by the reaction?

Lambert: It’s certainly been a crazy couple of weeks. Within half an hour of publishing the article, my phone started buzzing with Twitter notifications—retweets and likes of its announcement, but also lots of quote tweets along the lines of “This. 100% this!” The amount it was shared in that first week was really heartening, and I saw very few dissenters. It seemed to really strike a chord.

Earlier this week when it hit Hacker News and stayed in the top three articles there for a day, my website traffic rocketed. I’d gone from 130 visitors a day before the post to 45,000 visitors in that one day. The Hacker News page has 315 comments, most of which seem positive.

I’ve had a number of emails this week from people who’ve found the article. Some just to thank me and wish me well—which is nice—and some asking for advice about how to learn the fundamentals in a world full of React tutorials where every code example is a nest of “div” tags.

I replied to one chap today who was working in marketing but learning web design with a view to moving into his company’s engineering team. His colleague, a senior front-end engineer, had told him not to bother spending too much time on HTML because all he needed was Javascript. That made me sad, but I was pleased that this person had identified that it was probably a bad attitude and had reached out to me for guidance.

It’s all very flattering.

Working at Logikcull—for Over 9 Years

You have been at Logikcull since early days, tell us a little bit about how things have changed over time?

Lambert: I joined Logikcull in 2010, when I think there were only about 14 of us. The majority of the company was in Washington, DC, and I was over here in the North of England.

When I started, there wasn’t really even a product to work on, not in terms of a frontend, anyway. It was a green field and while we were moving fast and breaking things as a bootstrapped company to build a product that was going to disrupt an industry. We were also trying to do it right, building responsibly.

Today, here are nearly forty people in engineering alone. We’ve got a great product team and an amazing troop of designers working closely with us to move this thing forward.

In the last few years at Logikcull, as the team has grown and the process has become more robust, we’ve been afforded the time to really concentrate on getting things right and that feels really good.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that Logikcull is a company made up of people who care deeply about the quality of their output and know its value to the end product.

Working on a Dispersed Engineering Team

How have you liked working remotely? Any highlights or challenges you tend to face?

Lambert: With the engineering team spread out across the US, Canada and the UK, we have to have a strong remote culture. Everybody’s in the same boat, so there’s no sense of a remote employee being a second-hand citizen, either in meetings or office events. Our people department does a great job of making sure we’re all included. If there’s an office outing—sports game, bowling, comedy club, etc.—from HQ, the company picks up the tab for us to take our families out to an equivalent event locally. It’s nice touches like that that make a lot of difference.

We have Slack, daily standup calls, and all-hands meetings. We pair on code problems and we sometimes just connect a call for a chat while we’re working on different projects. It’s never felt like I’m not part of a team, even if I’m thousands of miles away from my team.

Working remotely, I’ve found that it’s very important to get your space right. For eight years, I worked from a home office that I spent quite a lot of time getting just right. The best desk, the best chair, a decent sound system, etc. But the option of changing scenery and actually working alongside real people, physically, has been vital for me.

Nowadays, I have a desk in an office that I share with two friends who are also web developers. It’s a forty-minute walk from my house and it looks out over York’s historic Shambles, a thousand-year-old street that served as the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. The location and the company and the fresh air commute have been really beneficial. I’d find it difficult to start working from home full time again.

What the Future Holds

What are you most excited about for Logikcull’s future?

Lambert: I’ve always been excited about Logikcull’s future because it means I get to work on things that are new to me. Every day since I joined the company, it feels like I’ve had the opportunity to learn and grow by working on new things, new technologies, new features, new techniques.

In terms of the short term future, I’m excited to be working with the designers on what will essentially be the next iteration of Logikcull’s UI. I’m excited to be building that in React, which is new to me, and I’m excited by the way the business is moving in a way that will attract many more users. That’s good news because it allows us to grow and build more new and exciting things, but also because it means we’re lowering the barrier to entry for justice for those who need it the most.

If you had any advice for someone joining the team, what would it be?

Lambert: I think the most important thing in any job is to care about what you do. I love working with passionate people. Share your knowledge with others and soak up as much knowledge as you can from those around you.

Interested in joining Pete and others building the future of discovery and investigations? Apply to an open role at Logikcull here!

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