Thoughts From CSS Day

Last week I had the privilege of attending CSS Day for the second year in a row (and MCing the second day!). I have to say it’s pretty much the most inspiring conference I’ve ever been to. Right off the bat, Una hit the nail on the head when she said that (paraphrasing) if we thought 2022 was a good year for CSS, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Una’s talk was a whistle-stop tour of a huge number of features recently or just about to be released, which was mind-blowing in itself, but what was even more striking was the number of features she didn’t even have time to cover — a whole slide’s worth. It illustrates the blazing pace at which CSS is evolving right now, which as a CSS person, I’m very happy to see.

But I can understand why some people who aren’t quite as deeply immersed in the world of CSS might be concerned about keeping up. It’s clear that companies don’t value CSS skills in the same way as, say Javascript — which is reflected in pay disparity, bootcamp priorities, and the lack of visibility in job descriptions. It’s not uncommon to see front end job specifications listing React, Redux, Typescript and more, with barely a passing mention of HTML and CSS, despite being core web technologies. New developers are encouraged to learn just enough CSS to get by, rather than cultivate a deep knowledge and appreciation for the language, and that’s reflected in the messy, convoluted code, riddled with bad practices, that many of us have to clear up afterwards.

I’m not going to speculate on all the reasons why this is, as plenty of others have their own theories. But for me, being at CSS Day felt simultaneously energising and heartbreaking: while it was fantastic to spend two days in the company of so many people who care about our chosen craft, it was also a reminder that it’s one of the only places it’s truly valued.

On the other hand, one or two people mentioned that the CSS community seems actively hostile towards JS, which is a real shame. I don’t think it’s true for the most part (many of us are JS developers, and have a far more nuanced opinion), but we can certainly come across as having a chip on our shoulder. It certainly doesn’t help those from outside of our bubble feel welcome, and I think we need to be conscious of that in the language we use. Taking an adversarial approach to web development doesn't do us any favours when we want to build a bigger tent, not shut others out.

Una ended her talk with a call-to-arms to go out into the world and share our CSS knowledge, to build the CSS community. I can’t help thinking that’s essential if we want to establish proper appreciation of CSS skills.

CSS for all

Another thing that was notable was Google’s dominance in the world of CSS. As well as two speakers (and one MC) from the Chrome Dev Rel team, Google also sponsored the help desk, and hosted a panel during one of the breaks. While I’m glad that Google is investing in CSS, I’m slightly wary of the lack of representation of other browsers. I don’t know how we address that as a community, other than other browsers stepping up and putting forward their own representatives. As Paul Robert Lloyd puts it:

A web dictated by Google would be a real tragedy.

The web needs diverse voices to thrive, and it shouldn’t come down to one company to determine the future of its fundamental building blocks.

Levelling up

Manuel closed out the conference with a rundown of some awesome new features he discovered in his explorations of modern CSS and how we can use these in practical ways. It was great to see how he had levelled up his CSS knowledge, and is a timely reminder that all that’s really needed is a bit of time, care and focus. People like Manuel documenting their experience are part of what makes the community great, and part of how we can broaden it to include more people.

I can’t wait for next year’s CSS Day, but I also hope that in the meantime there will be more specialist CSS events to get involved with.

Some more write-ups:

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  • @michelle That was an excellent write-up. It conveys my experience better than I could. I really wish that next year we can welcome speakers from all 3 mayor browser engines at #CSSDay

    cssday - ysbreker
  • @michelle really great read and thanks for the list of additional write-ups too 🙏

    - Apple Annie :prami:
  • @michelle If you think Google is the only company innovating CSS, then you aren’t paying attention. Please watch “What’s new in CSS” from WWDC23. Safari shipped a lot of new CSS this year that Chrome is missing.

    Why did I not speak at CSS Day? Because the event was completely inaccessible to me, with no willingness to provide accommodations.

    - Jen Simmons