Looking At Life Through the Lens of a Web Developer


After spending so many years programming, about 20 now, I have been through a lot of things over the years. I have seen the evolution of the web when it started out to what it has become today. Being in this profession for so long, you really need to step back and think about what has happened, what is going on and where things are going in the future. It really is amazing to see something that started out so small become something that we all use everyday. Have you really ever thought about that? I hope that I can impart my perspective on how the web has changed our lives and how massive it has become. First, I would like to talk about my background.

My Background as a Programmer with 20 Years of Experience

I am Tuan Nguyen, a full-stack LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP) web developer. I received my undergraduate degree in Information and Computer Science from the University of California, Irvine. Then I did my Master’s at California State University, Fullerton. I started doing search engine ads out of UCI, then eventually landed several web development positions along the way. I started as a back-end developer, which focuses on data. Then I made my way to the front-end where I handled how the websites look and not just the information. So I was fortunate to learn both the back and front-end, which made me full-stack. 

I also dabbled in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), graphics, video and copywriting. I have expanded into many different fields. My unique background of starting in the back-end and going into so many other areas gives me a perspective that I would like to share. I will definitely say that you should really focus and master one discipline at a time. Do not spread yourself so thin that you are not a specialist in anything. The only reason why I have spread into so many fields is because of all of the years I put into my profession. You cannot expect to learn so much in so little time. Do not place that pressure on yourself. Learn what you can, understand it well and be able to apply it with full confidence. You will create something that people will use and need to be fully sure that it works as intended and takes in account many different possible scenarios. I want to move on to what topics I would like to cover here. 

What Has Happened Since You Started Web Development?

Where do I start? A lot has changed in the past 20 years. I mean, back then in 2000, people were using Internet Explorer. Flash was still common and browser compatibility came before responsive design. These are all very interesting topics that I would love to delve into more. I think the most amazing thing that I have seen is how some things changed but others remained the same. This is why I have not used the word “technology” yet. Everyone assumes that technology is always changing and that it becomes so hard to keep up with. Things do change but because of standards that are in place, technology can only change so fast. There are protocols in place that prevent technology from changing so quickly that no one can even keep up with it. We have adoption rates that can only go as fast as the population deems. Some people just say, “Things are good as is, so why change and get something new”. Change is scary and unknown and new technology is expensive. A lot of people are comfortable with how things are. As they say, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. I get that everything ages and reaches an end of life. Only we can guess just how far something lasts before it gets replaced.

Adobe Flash? Macromedia? Really? That Was a Long Time Ago

I dabbled in Flash, ActionScript 2.0, movie clips, all of that. Back then, there were websites created completely in Flash. What is Flash? Flash existed back then before Adobe acquired MacroMedia. When Adobe and MacroMedia merged together, some redundant programs were eliminated to streamline the graphics suite. Flash was popular because it was used to add slick animation to a website. This was before the days of jQuery and animated CSS. Flash was fun but there were a lot of inherent problems with it.

What Was Wrong With Flash?

For starters, Flash consisted of two files, a modifiable FLA file and the published embedded SWF file. So you would use the FLA in Flash and publish a SWF file that you embed on your page. The problem with this is that if you only have the SWF file, then you would need to reverse engineer to get the FLA file back. This does not always work and getting the original FLA again will not be 100%. There might be some things missing when reverse engineering.

Another problem is that everything is stuck inside a SWF file. So if the browser could not run the SWF file, then the Flash will not work. You could not take parts of the SWF file out and integrate separate pieces. SWF files were all or nothing. Just imagine an entire website in Flash and if it does not work in the browser, then your website is done. No point in having the entire website in Flash when its main purpose was just to add some animation here and there.

For SEO purposes, having all text embedded in Flash is a bad idea since search engines cannot read embedded text. This is the same reason why your buttons should have separate text and images. Yes, you can use alt tags in images to describe them for search engines, but still. I prefer the image description to be HTML on a button.

These are just a few of the problems with Flash. Eventually, browsers blocked Flash altogether. Once Flash disappeared, it never returned because jQuery and CSS 3.0 animations replaced it. These are much better replacements because you have more control over events and animations without having to rely on a FLA file anymore. So I just wanted to talk about Flash for a bit because it was fun, but was terribly flawed and quickly replaced.

Relating My Adobe Flash Experience to How Information Works

Getting back to information, what we need to learn from this is that every experience that we have in life is a learning experience. For example, yes Flash disappeared but learning and using it was not all for nothing. The knowledge, which is actionable information, that I gained from Flash easily transferred over to jQuery and CSS 3.0 animation. With jQuery, I quickly learned event handling like click and on mouse over. CSS 3.0 animations, I learned how to do transitions using keyframes just like Flash. 

So the stuff that I learned in Flash transferred over to its replacements. What we should do is take “obsolete” information and figure out how to re-apply it another way so that it does not go to waste. I say “obsolete” because Flash has disappeared but I learned how to re-use the concepts from it to learn something new. Flash itself has been obsolete but not the ideas that it taught. This is truly the power of information. Having the ability to use information to learn something and keep it with you even when the vessel or the outer shell has outlived its usefulness.

Getting Back to the General Idea of Information

These topics simply fascinate me as a programmer. As I reflect back on what these things mean to me, I become more anxious to share my thoughts on these topics with you. I brought up some topics from what I first started in the industry. There are some other topics too that I would like to discuss on this website.

What Else Do I Want To Talk About?

I want to discuss the Web and information in a way that might be useful for anyone, through the lens of an (software) engineer. I really want people to stop and think about how information affects their lives and how it impacts their decision making. When we receive a piece of information, what really goes in our mind as we process it and use it to make a decision? We make decisions every day that we wake up but we do so instantaneously without much thought? Why is that? We rarely stop and think about this because there is only 24 hours in a day after all. So I want to slow things down and talk about information. The web is basically just information at our fingertips with the advent of mobile devices.

Many topics will discuss a specific nuance of information and I will place my spin on it. Hopefully, you will find my perspective interesting. Maybe even learn something in the process. We all offer unique perspectives on life. My just happens to be on information. Since we use information every day, I might be able to shed some light about it. I really hope that I can help you think about information in a different way that might prove useful in your life.

One example that I would like to bring up about information is al of its different properties:

  • Accessibility
  • Consumption vs. Production
  • Cost
  • Importance
  • Power
  • Timing

This is a lot of go over in just a single post. I might just touch upon a couple or a few properties on the list just to give you an idea of what I think about each one. See if you agree with me, perhaps like I said earlier, I might just help you think differently about information. Let me take one property from the list, “cost”.

What is the Cost of Information?

Cost is an interesting concept. We have the type of cost that is associated with having to purchase something with money. Information sometimes lies behind a cost in order to access it. For example, if you want to know something important that can change your life, you might have to pay for that information. But do you really need to pay for that information? Or, can that information be gotten for free? That is what happened with the web. “Free” information is easily accessible through our fingertips. I said “free” because there is an indirect cost of accessing that information. First, you need to have access to the information whether it is via online or someone. You have to pay to either access someone or have access to the Internet. The information itself might be free but the vehicle that you use to access the information has a cost because it cannot just pop out of thin air. So then, is information actually free?

I just touched upon another associated cost of information, time. The time spent to find information is another cost. The problem with this cost is unlike money, you can never get time back. With money, you might be able to get that cost back in terms of a refund or a cancellation. With time, time only goes forward. If you spend a lot of time looking for information and it is all for nothing, then all of that time is wasted. The loss of time can be very hard to deal with because you are not getting it back. Hopefully, the time spent on gathering that information was fruitful. So information has a cost of both money and time. Information might seem free because you just look something up online and find it right away, but actually is not. Therefore information is not actually free, just the superficial perception of it is free. 

This is an example of what I would like to bring to light on this website. This is the kind of thinking that I hope will help you ponder a bit more about not so much the information that you are looking up online. Rather, all of the subtle nuances that come along with obtaining information. When I think about this, we have to be more mindful of what kinds of information will truly be beneficial to our lives. Let us take another property of information, timing.

What is the Timing of Information?

The timing of information is different from the time cost of information. What timing is, is how the value of information only lasts a certain period of time. For example, you know that there is an event happening next week. You know the time, the date, the location, everything. This information had to have reached you before the date of the event. Otherwise, the information means nothing if delivered to you after the event date. So timing is very crucial in keeping information relevant. What this means is that lots of information has a very short time span. Once the information expires, it becomes useless. This works both ways. Some information can be meaningful forever without an expiration date. This is information that lasts forever because it is always useful. 

What this means is that we should balance learning information that is both short-lived and everlasting. We have this huge responsibility to gather, retain, process and actionate loads of information. This is a lot to handle. This is why having a good understanding of information can be useful because we never really stop and think about any of this. We just go about our days consuming and producing information without truly understanding everything that goes behind it.

This is a lot for just the first post. However, I think that it serves as a glimpse of my mind as a programmer and what is to come from this website. I really do think that our lives have become a little too busy and we are always rushing to the next thing nowadays. We all need to take some downtime in order to think about information more since it has such a large impact on our lives. There will be some more technical topics here mixed in with more general ones. As I write more and share my thoughts with you, the topics here will evolve. 

My goal here is to impart some “wisdom”, if you will, that can apply to anyone regardless of your background. As you saw in the Flash example earlier, I took a very technical topic and tied it into my goal of showing you how obsolescence can be beneficial if you know how to take the parts of the information that you learned in your next endeavor. Again reusable information is very powerful. As humans, we possess the ability to successfully retain and discard information. We keep what we need and throw away what we do not. So I think that we are coming to a good stopping point for a first post. Since this is the first post, I tried to give a very basic and shallow outline of what I would like to talk about on this website. Again things will evolve along the way, but the main focus is still to use my background in information to hopefully benefit you.

This will be fun. I think that my 20 year background in programming will provide a unique perspective on the Internet. If anything, I can regale you with tales of what the web was like before cell phones. A really different time back then. Alright, I think that this really is the end of the first post. A small little trip back in the time machine is always. Who does not love a little reminiscing of their past?

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