All Fired Up About Specificity

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You never know where the next Grand Debate™ in front-end is going to come from! Case in point: we just saw one recently based on a little poll by Max Stoiber in which 57% of people got it wrong. There were reactions ranging from the innocuous hey fun a little brain teaser! to the state of web education is in shambles and beyond.

I heard from a number of folks that they just felt sad that so many people don’t know the answer to a fairly simple question. To be fair, it was (intentionally, I’m sure) rather tricky! It wasn’t really a question about CSS — it was more about the idea that the order of HTML attributes doesn’t matter. It’s the order of CSS that does.

One extreme response I saw said that front-end stuff like this is needlessly complicated and getting it wrong is almost a point of pride. This sentiment was so strong that I heard it suggested that people who know the answer have filled their brains with useless information and that somehow makes them a worse developer. Equally extreme were suggestions that writing HTML and CSS raw like that should always be avoided in favor of tooling abstractions to “fix” these “problems.”

(Excuse the quotes there, I’m not trying to pick a side so much as to emphasize that not everyone considers these problems that need to be fixed.)

Another take was that the vibe would be different if something similar happened in JavaScript-land. The perception is that it’s embarrassing or bad not to know JavaScript basics, but not knowing HTML and CSS basics is the fault of the language, or that the value of knowing it is not worth bothering to understand.

At the same time, this poll became the perfect mirror to see the strong opinions people have about front-end practices. Fascinating, really.

Here are a few more takes from folks who chimed from their own blogs:

Keith Grant:

I hate that this has somehow become some “old guard” vs. “new guard” thing.

The problem with drawing lines like this: whichever side you find yourself on, there are some whackos out there throwing ridiculous arguments into the mix. And now people on the other side associate that viewpoint with you.

Tim Kadlec:

It doesn’t bother me too much that people are getting the question wrong. Everyone is at different stages in their career and everyone has different problems they’re facing in their daily tasks, so sure, not everyone is going to know this yet.

I do find it a bit alarming just how many folks got it wrong though.

John Allsopp:

One the one hand (and this will somewhat simplify each ‘side’, for the sake of brevity, not disrespect to either), we have those, and I’d on balance probably include myself in this camp, who’d argue that the core technologies of the Web are precisely that–foundational, and a deep understanding of them conceptually (not necessarily an encyclopedic knowledge of every syntactic aspect) is fundamental working knowledge for professional Web developers.

Kevin Ball:

With the growth of the importance of front-end development, we’re seeing the story play out again.

The systematic devaluation of CSS, and more, the people who use CSS.

The constant “mansplaining” of CSS features to women who literally are the reason it exists.

Conference speakers asked questions about whether “there is any value in people who cannot write JavaScript?”.

All of this at a time when CSS is improving faster than ever and enabling dramatic changes in web design.

This isn’t about better technology, it’s about exclusion.

Have you seen any other takes or have any of your own?