Tools aren't skills aren't knowledge

Yesterday I was asked by a colleague in another local authority what software I had used to make our website accessible. The question threw me for a second. Since I no longer think of web development in terms of tools, it hadn't consciously occured to me that others in the business still do. I started to list the software tools I do use - HomeSite, TopStyle, Bullet Proof FTP, Firefox, CSE Validator Pro and so on. But of course software doesn't make websites accessible - at the stage we're at as an industry it's pretty much down to knowledge, research and understanding.

So I explained that it wasn't really the software I had used that was important so much as the time I had invested in learning what makes an site accessible, through the GAWDs mailing list, AccessifyForum and many websites. The more I thought about it the more I realised what a steep learning curve I'd been on in the past 12 months, and just how much time I'd dedicated to re-learning the fundamentals of the job of a web developer. Lists like css-discuss and Evolt's thelist, sites like ALA and QuirksMode, books by Zeldman, Meyer and Clark - I've read them all over the past 2 years or so, tried to learn from them and apply what I've learned. How do you get that across to someone who's looking for a magic software bullet to achieve a worthy aim, without scaring them off?

When it comes down to it tools can only be used to apply the knowledge you have using the skills you've developed (or if you're lucky were born with), and the production of just about anything of quality relies on all the presence of all three.

Comments

I think those three principles are important to the production of anything of quality. People so often misjudge the work that goes into making something look good or work well. It's not until you try and do it yourself that you realise it takes a lot of effort and dedication and that's why creative goods cost so much! The general consensus these days is that everything should cost nothing and everything is not worth what is being charged for it. I think a lot of that is because people no longer want to think of the effort that goes into creating/producing/delivering the goods. I guess you know alot about that kind of thing from your self-sufficiency thing and from the trials of building accessible websites. When you think about it, it's almost offensive that your collegue credited all your hard work just to some tool... if only it was that easy.

Posted by: Dave at November 10, 2005 8:17 PM

I couldn't take offense from it - I'm sure they were asking from a position of genuine ignorance. As you say there's a tendency to look for and expect convenient, easy solutions to all problems, especially when technology is involved, and to underestimate the effort some things take. Like the Frontpage user who can knock out a site in a day and wonders what all the fuss is about this web business. The thing is that owning and using a pen doesn't mean you can write bestsellers...

Posted by: Dan at November 10, 2005 8:41 PM

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